Last night Madonna wrapped up her Rebel Heart tour in Sydney, after 82 shows around the world. Depending on who you believe, the six Australian dates of the tour (her first local performances since 1993’s The Girlie Show world tour) were either a triumph, receiving rave reviews and thrilling tens of thousands of fans, or a disaster, marred by the star’s tardiness and on-stage “meltdowns”.
It wouldn’t be a Madonna tour without some degree of controversy, and things got off to a headline-grabbing start with her one-off intimate Melbourne concert Tears of a Clown, before the first of the arena shows. That concert was an eccentric cabaret-style affair, with Madonna performing as a sad clown and picking out fan favourites and rare tracks from her back-catalogue.
The doors for the venue were due to open at 8.30pm, but as Madonna continued to rehearse the show late into the night, the concert ended up starting after midnight, with fans having to wait for hours outside. But what many media outlets failed to note was that tickets for the concert were made available to members of her fan club as a gift. There were few fans too put out by the long wait for an intimate (and free) night with the Queen of Pop.
But by then, several tabloid media outlets had smelled blood in the water, and set their targets firmly on this Australian tour, seeking to paint it as a failure. The Rebel Heart tour, made up largely of tracks from her recent Rebel Heart album with reimagined versions of some of her biggest hits (Holiday, Like A Virgin, Material Girl) thrown in had, up until this point, been hailed as one of her best tours in years: a spectacular return to form which has seen the star embrace her past and break free from some of her tightly-choreographed routines to share more spontaneous moments with the crowds.
But the media played on the familiar tropes that an ageing female pop-star is “arrogant“, past her prime, and desperately attention-seeking. It’s usually religious groups who end up rallying against Madonna tours, although they’ve been rather quiet on this particular show, which features pole-dancing nuns and the Last Supper reimagined as a bacchanalian orgy.
Then came the Brisbane concerts, the first of which started at 11.20pm, and saw Madonna reference her ongoing custody battle over her son Rocco. She was then accused by several international outlets of being “three hours late” (despite the fact that she was always due to begin at 10pm) and having a drunken meltdown on stage.
The mostly positive reviews the show has received around Australia tell a very different story.
The Daily Mail even extraordinarily wrote that Madonna performed to a half-empty arena in Brisbane, and used images of the almost empty arena taken hours before the show began to illustrate their point. The show was actually close to sold out.
The fact of the matter is, most who have labelled the tour a disaster didn’t attend any of the concerts. The response to her shows has been mostly ecstatic, despite some griping that late finishes have left fans without public transport options, without babysitters, or struggling to get to work the next day.
How depressing that a night with one of the most influential and provocative popular artists of the last century can be reduced to somebody’s concern that they’ll be knackered at their nine to five office job the next day.
Madonna is famously late, and despite her protestations that it’s to make sure everything is “perfect”, you get the impression that it’s a bit of old school showmanship on her part — make the audience beg for her appearance and build up anticipation.
Yes, it would have been more convenient if her final Sydney concert last night didn’t start at 11.25pm and finish at 2.10am, but there is something appropriately thrilling about partying with the Queen of Pop into the early hours.
*Ben Neutze attended the final Rebel Heart concert on Sunday March 20.