As they say, a queen is never late—everyone else is just early.
And in the first of Madonna’s two shows last week, the crowd turned up, well, at least two hours ahead. If it were any other lesser act performing, most people, out of eagerness and restlessness, would have likely been already cheering and chanting, willing the artist to come out.
But this is Madonna, regarded by many as the “Queen of Pop.” Diehard fans have been waiting and hoping for her to grace them with her presence in this side of the world for the past 30 years. What is another 30 minutes?
The lights dimmed, at last, at quarter to 11 p.m., eliciting a salvo of hysteric shrieks and applause from the thousands of revelers that packed the SM Mall of Asia Arena. And as dancers in gold, samurai-inspired costumes marched and posed onstage in a steady cadence, Madonna emerged, trapped inside an ominous-looking cage suspended in the air.
From that moment alone, it was apparent that the show—part of her 10th and ongoing Rebel Heart Tour—was going to be a spectacle well worth the wait.
As she descended, a recorded monologue of her talking about wanting to spark a revolution played: “There is too much beauty in the world going to waste. Too much talent going unnoticed…But it is time to wake up.”
And when she finally landed onstage, Madonna broke free, rallying for self-empowerment with the dubstep-laden opener, Iconic, whose pounding bass drops rippled through the arena.
Madonna started the first act covered up in a lush red and black ensemble, each layer of which peeled off as she took on one track after another.
By the time Holy Water came on, the American singer-songwriter had stripped down to a corset—a prelude to what was to come.
Crucifixes were used as dance poles from which lithe female dancers hung and twirled around. On what seemed to be a reimagining of the Last Supper, Madonna lay down and writhed as guests partook of a carnal feast. In the end, she knelt suggestively before a dancer dressed as a priest.
“You don’t mind if I swear, do you?” the music icon asked the fans, many of whom spent as much as P57,000 to be at arm’s length with their idol. Surely, one would assume that cursing would be the least of Madonna’s concerns after what she just displayed.
“Whenever I’m searching for inspiration or getting a little down in energy, I just say, ‘F**k yeah!’” she related in one of her many spiels generously sprinkled with f-bombs.
The acts that followed, while not as thematically daring as the first, were not any less striking and awe-inspiring. For almost two hours, Madonna worked every inch of the cross-shaped stage, which from afar, resembled a phallic symbol.
The stage came armed with a sophisticated mechanism and hydraulics that allowed Madonna and her team to pull off intricately choreographed transitions and jaw-on-the-floor stunts. A jumbo screen doubled as a raised platform, and at times, a dance ramp. Dancers mounted on flexible, 20-foot poles slingshot through the air.
In HeartbreakCity, a spiral staircase was lowered onstage, from which Madonna pushed a dancer into a foam pit.
But amid the exhilarating collision of lights and sounds were moments of intimacy that Madonna, 57, used to connect with the fans, and for a little introspection. She initiated an endearing sing-along in an acoustic rendition of True Blue, the Edith Piaf classic, La Vie En Rose, and Who’s That Girl, which, the singer said, she has not performed in a long time.
While Madonna, who rose to fame in the early 1980s, delivered a set focused on songs culled from her 13th and latest album, also titled Rebel Heart, she did indulge the crowd with some of her biggest hits—but not without giving them entirely
fresh arrangements: La Isla Bonita was a lot punchier, Like A Virgin was loaded with deliberate, discordant beats, and Material Girl featured some vocal distortions.
The most magical moment, however, was the rousing performance of Like A Prayer, which had everyone dancing and singing along.
Toward the end, Madonna reached for a crown being handed to her by a giddy fan, and placed it on her head, reminding everyone of what she still is.
Madonna was delightfully candid with fans, at one point even revealing personal things. “Once, I had a Filipino trainer—gorgeous girl and talented, but she f**ked my boyfriend. So, I fired her,” said Madonna, who closed the show with Holiday, dancing with a Philippine flag draped around her.
Her visit to the country would likely go down as a landmark event in the local concert scene, particularly because she has not toured in Asia extensively; her shows in the continent had been almost exclusively held in Japan, with a few shindigs in the Middle East.
Thus, Madonna, one of the best-selling artists of all time, made sure to thank the Filipinos for their unwavering support through the years. “I don’t go to this part of the world very often, so I don’t really have the opportunity to show you my appreciation,” said the singer, who arrived in Manila last Monday, then spent time with children at orphanages the following day.
“It’s amazing when you think about it…being able to do what I love to make a living, share what I love,” Madonna added.