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Madonna's first Australian tour in 23 years: trainwreck or triumph?

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.

Featured image: © Pascal Mannaerts / www.parcheminsdailleurs.com

16 responses to “Madonna's first Australian tour in 23 years: trainwreck or triumph?

  1. Thank you, Ben. The hysteria seems to come mostly from those appalled enough by Madonna’s transgressions that they never bought tickets to see her in the first place.

    Around six weeks ago I was talking to a Sydney-based friend about the upcoming Madonna concerts, and we both laughed at our belief that she would be pilloried by the media as soon as she hit these shores. Her major crime, as we suggested, would be the fact that she hadn’t toured for so long, and was therefore not on “Team Australia”. It was never going to be pretty.

    As a New York-based Australian who has attended several of her tours in the United States, I can add that Madonna has always been a bit tardy. Most attendees anticipate it. It’s annoying, and not terribly polite, but it’s certainly not news. A quick Google will let you in on the secret.

    It’s always so strange to be reminded of the general nastiness – and utter pettiness – of the Australian “news” media. Like her or not, Madonna is one of the most important cultural and musical icons of the past 50 years, maybe longer. It took 23 years to get her to Australia for a second time. My guess is that she won’t be back.

    Well done, Team Australia.

    1. Thanks Ben for your considered article and yes agree with your response Joe but I think there needs to an awareness that the majority of the negative, spiteful and downright rude press was coming from the international tabloids and not from the Australian media – doing a Google news search on the rebel heart tour in Australia spits out multitude links to negative stories on these international ‘news’ sites but also shows links to the overwhelmingly positive reviews of her show by the Australian media – I guess much to the chagrin of detractors.

      And yes there was some commentary mainly in the Murdoch papers about the late starts, language and some people being upset about all of this but overall I think the Aussie press were supportive. None more so than Cameron Adams who attended both the Tears of Clown show and her Melbourne concerts http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/rendezview/the-real-story-behind-madonnas-meltdown/news-story/e6ae91b3046a42aa6be54608a156e337

      I was fortunate enough to see her in 1993 and then at both Melbourne concerts and all I need to say is “wow” – the energy, the production, the dancers and Ms M herself were outstanding. It’s not difficult to see the reference points today’s young pop female artists make to the performing template Madonna designed many years ago.

      I hope she does come back.

    2. She wasn’t even on stage for two songs – she lip-synced 3 songs, she could hardly walk in her heels, and her on-stage dialogue was self-aggrandising. I was a true Madonna fan and I paid $534 for a Platinum ticket. By the time she appeared on stage in Brisbane the vibe of the place was totally dead and she NEVER got the crowd going – nor did she try or care.
      The concert was average to be kind, and her lateness would have been forgiven if she had been sensational. Its all about grabbing the money before she is totally ostracised for lost talent. Her support DJ travels cheaply and Madonna doesn’t pay the overtime for the venue staff or security. She is no longer enthrallingly outrageous…she’s just a selfish hasbeen.

      1. Janet, you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that the vibe of the crowd was dead by the time she appeared on stage. I saw her here in Atlanta, Georgia back in January, and waited and waited and waited for her to start her concert. 10 pm, nothing, 10:15 nothing, 10: 30 nothing. They started announcing that the public train system stopped running at 12:15 am so here we were, panicking about how we would get home before the concert even began. Finally at 11:00 pm she took the stage and delivered an outstanding concert, but my frame of mind was ruined for the night. She finished around 1:05 am and luckily for us the train system remained open. Got home at 2:40 am, up at 5:30 am for work. I have ZERO complaints about her showmanship, her concert was brilliant but it will always be marred by her apparent refusal to take the stage at a decent hour. Love you Madonna….but please start earlier should you tour again.

      2. Wow Janet! That was nasty. I remember it being a hard act to play, especially to the level that she reaches. Remember that she is no longer a spring chicken. And she enthrals the crowd, she reaches out to all ages.
        WELL DONE MADONNA!
        Thanks again..gobsmacked!..3!

  2. Totally agree with you Ben! She was bloody impressive on all fronts – incredible dance moments, great range of songs, and a surprisingly funny and engaging stage presence. Shame on all those ridiculous and cynical tabloid pieces that shot her down and didn’t bother even getting their facts straight. May there be many more Monday made a little bleary by great, late nights spent singing, dancing and laughing!

  3. It’s inconsiderate to fans to be so consistently late for no good reason. Transport is an issue as is arranging child minding. Madonna is a legend but acting like a cranky old (and slightly dotty) aunty is not a good look.

    1. Madonna is a living legend….which we forget about how Fortunate we are to be here in these Madonna Living years! I remember it THANKFULLY… She reanimated my memories, which had been slow since the tree caught my car from sliding off the road, back in 1999!.. As she sang her classics, I was transported back in time to the schoolyard in my youth, with my Walkman. And even past psychosis I repeated every word, just at the right moment. IT WAS GREAT FOR ME

      1. Thanks Madonna… it was great! You’re a Living Legend..
        It was a magic pill for me to be within the concert
        May God continue to bless you and your son along with
        Your dance crew . You all perform well rehearsed magic.

  4. “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”

    Yes, especially as the concert was supposed to have started hours earlier. It also mean that the Sydney Train and Bus network was kept open to get the fans home after the concert finished well after the network normally shuts down for maintenance. That was a shit pot of overtime paid to rail staff to deal with the aftermath of a pretentious ‘diva’ who apparently finds delivering a concert on time too far beneath her.

    1. Yes, if I make the effort to be on time then I expect whom ever I have paid to see to start on time … don’t care how “special” they think they are. How could anyone possibly not be ready to start at 10.30 that is just being rude to everyone who has made the effort to get there.

  5. i found it very strange that her concerts got such negative reviews. I attended her concert in Sydney on Saturday and it was hands down the most professional and entertaining concert is ever seen. Slickly produced, the dancers and acrobatics were amazing, and Madonna herself was brilliant. She addressed the rumours she was drunk (ironically she doesn’t drink so she was amused by this). She may have been late in other performances which would be a pain no doubt, but the show itself was flawless. She was doing the ‘rebel heart’ tour so ofcourse the majority of the show would be ‘rebel heart’ tracks. Hopefully the negative reviews don’t stop her returning here again

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