A Look Back at Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour

In celebration of Madonna’s 59th birthday, as well as her provocative Rebel Heart Tour coming to DVD, Blu-ray, CD and digital download in September, I’m reflecting on her fabulous Nashville concert stop back in January 2016. The two-hour-plus show was the first Music City performance of the superstar’s career, which now spans more than three decades. This egregious fact didn’t go unnoticed by the singer as she jokingly professed to be a “Nashville virgin” when she took the stage.

The pop diva’s show was divided into four themes: Samurai, Asian, Latin and Party Celebration. Each segment was individually characterized by distinguishing wardrobe changes, choreography, and song selection. The show’s setlist heavily incorporated material from the singer’s most recent album Rebel Heart, but also contained many fan favorites, some of which she hasn’t performed in years, namely “Dress You Up,” “True Blue,” Deeper and Deeper,” “Who’s That Girl” and an electrified version of her early hit “Burning Up.”

This show marked my fifth Madonna concert overall, since first seeing her live on the acclaimed Who’s That Girl World Tour way back in 1987. I also attended her Drowned World, Re-invention and MDNA World Tours, and each show was an inimitable and exhilarating vision. As every true-blue fan knows, no one else puts on a show quite like Madonna. All five times I was lucky enough to witness Madonna perform live on stage was analogous to sneaking into a master class of the performing arts. [Read Full Review]

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40 Years of Love: Donna Summer and the Derivation of Electronica

It’s been 40 years since the world first heard the future of music when “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer shocked us into a new sonic awakening. The electronic masterpiece – composed by Summer along with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte – was the foundation for what was to become known as electronic dance music. Whether you loved or loathed disco, “I Feel Love” commanded everyone’s attention and became a dance floor anthem during the summer of 1977. At the time, no one had previously heard anything like it. It’s hypnotic melody, combined with an irresistible synthesized bassline and pulsating dance beat was musical nirvana. Summer’s sensual vocal delivery was the icing on top of the cake as she perfectly conveyed the euphoric essence of the song’s timeless and universal message of love. The first lady of love had struck gold (and platinum) again and delivered another game-changing record every bit as earth-shattering as her breakthrough hit, “Love to Love You Baby.” [Read Full Review]

Queen of Pop Plays Music City

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(Rebel Heart Tour: Bridgestone Arena Nashville 2016)

Pop music icon Madonna played Nashville last night at Bridgestone Arena during a stop on her global Rebel Heart Tour. The two-hour-plus show was the first Music City performance of the superstar’s career, which now spans more than three decades. This egregious fact didn’t go unnoticed by the singer as she jokingly professed to be a “Nashville virgin” when she took the stage.

The concert opened with “Iconic” (featuring a rapping Mike Tyson), as images of the pop music innovator splashed across a colossal video screen as she was eventually lowered from the ceiling in a metal cage. The all but sold-out crowd roared as Madonna emerged from the cage and was delimited by ten male dancers dressed as medieval executioners adorned in gold and black and armed with large metal pikes.

The pop diva’s show was divided into four themes: Samurai, Asian, Latin and Party Celebration. Each segment was individually characterized by distinguishing wardrobe changes, choreography, and song selection. The show’s setlist heavily incorporated material from the singer’s most recent album Rebel Heart, but also contained many fan favorites, some of which she hasn’t performed in years, namely “Dress You Up,” “True Blue,” Deeper and Deeper,” “Who’s That Girl” and an electrified version of her early hit “Burning Up.”

The musical spectacle’s wow moments included Madonna body surfing atop a nun while swinging from a crucifix-shaped stripper pole during the racy “Holy Water,” which segued midway into an updated version of “Vogue.” Also noteworthy was a death-defying routine choreographed to “Illuminati,” which featured several dancers swaying back and forth over the audience while atop twenty foot poles.

But the evening’s most unique moment arrived halfway through the set when Madonna unexpectedly broke into an acapella version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The impromptu cover was interrupted as the singer explained in a faux southern accent “Okay let’s start this again ‘cuz I fucked it up and I’m not gonna embarrass myself in front of Johnny Cash right now. You have to understand I did not rehearse this, it just came into my head, underneath the stage a couple of minutes ago. Let’s start again okay? So, I’m playing my pussy (the opening notes of the song were synchronized with Madonna’s vaginal hand movements), that’s what I’m doing,” the singer humorously clarified.

Throughout the night, Madonna seemed surprisingly unguarded and radiated a vivacious spirit and playfulness which was devoured by the enamored audience. We were treated to an engaging mix of high-energy dance numbers such as “Music,” as well as a few stripped-down acoustic numbers including “La Vie en rose.”

Ultimately, the ambitious production concluded with an energetic encore of the singer’s first hit single “Holiday,” which had the late night crowd up on our feet as we clapped, danced, and sang along with the Material Girl, until she eventually disappeared after being hoisted up into the air. At age 57, Madonna convincingly demonstrated she is still a force with which to be reckoned when it comes to the art of live performance. The reigning Queen of Pop delivered an incomparable show, the likes of which Nashville will doubtfully ever see again.

Madonna: The Dichotomy of Her Rebel Heart

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Madonna: Rebel Heart

What is there to consider regarding a new Madonna record that hasn’t already been discussed? Why bother saying anything at all? Not because she recently scored her 44th U.S. number one on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart, or her 71st Top 40 single in the U.K. Certainly not because her Rebel Heart Tour is currently commanding top dollar ticket sales and is on track to becoming the highest grossing tour of 2015. But just maybe it’s worth stating her new music is arguably as relevant as anything currently trending.

Nearly every Madonna review states the same tired phrases: she should record songs more age appropriate, she sounds like she’s trying too hard, or she sounds like some other artist, which is funny if you stop to think about when Madonna began making records in the early 1980s, not only were her contemporaries not born yet, but the dance-pop genre was barely in its infancy and had yet to attempt to crossover into the mainstream. Yet, if you actually take a beat to set aside all the bullshit that typically accompanies the release of new Madonna material and listen to the way her voice resonates on the confessional “Joan of Arc,” or the evocative “Wash All Over Me,” you might remember why Madonna has reigned as the Queen of Pop for more than three decades. Besides, what gives anyone the right to say she should stop being the kind of artist her legacy is built upon?

Originally intended as two separate records (one half upbeat and rebellious, the other half subdued and reflective), Madonna’s thirteenth studio album, Rebel Heart, which includes heartfelt pop ballads, trap, and house, is her most contrasting work yet. Ranging from heartfelt ballads, to the gospel-tinged “Living for Love” and the reggae-soaked “Unapologetic Bitch,” to the dubstep groove of “Body Shop” and the shit-stirring, tongue-in-cheek cunnilingus ode “Holy Water,” in which Ms. Ciccone boldly quips “Bitch get off my pole/Bless yourself and genuflect/Yeezus loves my pussy best.” Also noteworthy is the international bonus track “Auto-Tune Baby” (easily her Madgesty’s most annoyingly infectious pop confection since her True Blue era), as well as the super deluxe bonus tracks “Addicted” and “Beautiful Scars.”

This time out, Madonna chose to collaborate with such contemporary cronies as Diplo, Avicii, Blood Diamonds, Toby Gad, and Yeezus himself, Kanye West to help her flesh out her latest electronic dance-pop machinations, easily resulting in what can only be described as her best and most provocative set in years, despite being discriminated against by a multitude of self-righteous music snobs and closed-minded ageists. She came, she saw, she conquered.

 

Our New Year

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As one year ebbs and a new one begins, it always seems apt to reflect on the bygone before hurling full speed ahead into the future…

Sadly, the music industry mourned the loss of  some legendary and iconic individuals in 2012 including: Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Earl Scruggs, Dick Clark, Levon Helm, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Marvin Hamlisch, and Etta James. It’s always tragic to see such a long list in any given year. Although they are gone, their contributions will be remembered and honored posthumously.

The past year also saw some decidedly notable musical contributions from Tori Amos, Kenny Chesney, Susanna Hoffs, Matthew Perryman Jones, Madonna, Alanis Morissette, and Carrie Underwood, as well as the high octane trilogy delivered with a gutsy 1-2-3 wallop from Green Day.

Now we look ahead to 2013, which promises to deliver some highly anticipated new releases from Panic! at the Disco, David Bowie, CherJosh Groban, Darius Rucker, Stereophonics, Brad Paisley, Depeche Mode, Mariah Carey, Lady Antebellum, Justin Timberlake, Beady Eye, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and Lady Gaga.

As we bid adieu to 2012 and to those we lost along the way, at least we can look ahead to 2013 with a renewed spirit and high expectations of good things to come on the musical horizon.

Madonna: MDNA

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A lot comes to mind when hearing the name Madonna, but the most important things should be her songwriting and musical legacy rather than her celebrity status and scandalous sexcapades. After all, she has managed to sell over 300 million records, amassed a number one album in four different decades, and her Sticky & Sweet Tour was the highest-grossing concert tour by a solo artist of all time. With her 12th studio album, MDNA, Madonna begins a new phase of her multi-generational career, while reminding us of all the reasons why she initially made us pause and take notice her 30 years ago. The Material Girl’s eagerly awaited new album (her first since parting ways with Warner Brothers Records) features something for everyone: radio pop, pulsating club bangers, and even a smidgeon of balladry (something we haven’t heard from Ms. Ciccone in quite some time), all performed with ample musical panache.

Although it may not be guilty of being this year’s most cutting edge record, Madonna and her co-producers (William Orbit, Martin Solveig, Demolition Crew, and Benny Benassi), make MDNA sound both unique and contemporary. This 60-minute musical time capsule gives glimpses of Lady M’s musical past, present, and future. Yet, despite its profuse variety, MDNA is surprisingly unified and finds her at her most vocally impressive in many years. While no two albums have ever been alike, all of Madonna’s records have her unique musical stamp, which is a testament to her oft overlooked songwriting and production style. It’s also clearly evident learning to play guitar has greatly influenced her songwriting, most notably on “I Fucked Up,” “Masterpiece” and “Falling Free.”

MDNA is loaded with a rousing array of musical gems, including a fruitful revisit to the Ray of Light playbook (“I’m A Sinner”), the rapid-fire rapper “I Don’t Give A” (featuring a fierce diatribe courtesy of Nicki Minaj), and “Love Spent,” most certainly dance music’s first inclusion of banjo sampling. Also here is the darkly violent “Gang Bang,” which finds Madonna blowing off steam about her much publicized divorce from film director Guy Ritchie (“Bang bang shot you dead/Shot my lover in the head/Now drive bitch/And while you’re at it die bitch”).

Unfortunately, the album also includes a couple of tedious throwaways: the laughable “B-Day Song” and the monotonous “Best Friend,” but overall MDNA more than lives up to its title’s triple entendre (an abbreviation of her name, a reference to ecstasy, and a nod to her own musical DNA) and serves up an ample amount of everything that is Madonna. Don’t waste time looking for a meaningful concept or theme because there isn’t one.

No, MDNA can’t be hailed as Madge’s best ever album, and it may not contain the most thought- provoking lyrics of her career (perhaps an intentional tongue-in-cheek poke at the current state of pop music?), but it is the reigning Queen of Pop’s most inspired work since Music, as well as the highly addictive record Madonna celebrants have been craving. Sometimes you just need to dance.

© 2012 ForASong Media, LLC