Madonna’s concert: Bad sound, poor views ruin some fans’ experience

SINGAPORE – Madonna fan Diane Chan paid $388 for her ticket to the singer’s first concert in Singapore on Sunday (Feb 28) at the National Stadium. But she could not make out what the star was saying most of the time and could barely see her, either.

“From where I sat, the sound was horrible,” says the 43-year-old marketing director, who was seated up in the stands. “There was too much echo and a lot of the time I could not make out what Madonna was saying. And I knew before going to the show that my seat was not near the stage but I didn’t expect the video screens that zoomed in on her to be so small either.

“The fans in the standing section near the stage seem to be only ones enjoying themselves.”

Indeed, while many of her fans were happy that Madonna finally put on a show in Singapore, there were plenty more like Ms Chan who felt like the concert left much to be desired. Apart from the complaints about the venue’s bad sound quality, which also plagued other concerts, fans also said they could barely see their idol – because the jumbo video screens on stage were not jumbo enough for the large venue and also because of ticketing and seating issues.

The tickets to the concert were among the most expensive for a concert held in Singapore, ranging from $108 to $1,288.

Dental surgeon Calvin Chin, who had flown to Taiwan to catch Madonna’s show there earlier this month, says the singer’s set there was much better than the Singapore stop, and not just because the Taiwan show was “unadulterated”, featuring songs and segments banned here.

“I feel that the sound and view in Taiwan was better because it was a smaller and closed venue, rather than the National Stadium, which was much bigger,” says the 36-year-old who paid $188 for his ticket.

Madonna’s Taiwan show was held at an indoor venue, the Taipei Arena, which has a 15,000 capacity. The National Stadium can hold up to 55,000 but was less than half full for Madonna’s concert.

Music and marketing manager Low Seow Yee’s view of the concert was also less than desirable, but she did not mind it because the occasion was special.

Says the 37-year-old: “I bought $188 tickets in the standing pen and in normal circumstances and for any other artist, perhaps I would have demanded a better view.

“But this is Madonna, and I know how much a show like this can cost so I can understand. Ironically, I got a much better view when I went to the back and outside of the standing pen.”

Besides the sound and view, there were also ticketing kerfuffles that left many in a huff.

Last Friday, fans who had bought early standing tickets at $188 got upset when they found out that a new ticketing category was later added in front of where they were supposed to stand.

While the map on the ticketing page was altered to make it look like their segment has been pushed back, the organisers later explained that the map was “not drawn to scale” and that their position was unchanged.

On show day itself, scores of $288 ticket holders received last-minute text messages, informing them that their seats had been upgraded “due to a technical setup”.

Fans such as lawyer Stephen Ong, 40, who had paid $388 for their tickets, were irked by the move because the upgraded fans got better seats than him.

“I don’t think it’s fair and I’ve written in to the Sports Hub Tix to ask for a $100 refund. Why should I have paid more when those who paid less got upgraded to an even better section?”

The organisers did not respond to The Straits Times’ queries for clarifications by press time.

Of course, none of those problems about sound, view and seating took away the fun for those who were near the stage, such as home-grown Mandopop star Stefanie Sun. She told The Straits Times that she was “very happy” with the concert.

Having performed her own show at the National Stadium during the 2014 Kepler World Tour, she noted: “The sound system was a lot better today compared to my show.”

Read more at StraitsTimes

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Pam Oei’s review of Rebel Heart Concert: Madonna sold out, she censored herself

Pam Oei, a prominent Singaporean actress attended Madonna’s concert last night, and she wasn’t quite impressed with the Rebel.

“This was the best part of the ‪‎Madonna‬ concert tonight. Being with my friends Sean Tobz, Neo Swee Lin, Lim Kay Siu and Dal Vinder. Because Madonna had her ass owned by the MDA(Media Development Authority of Singapore) and the catholic church tonight.

She did not perform Holy Water nor Devil Pray, (as expected). A large part of me was hoping that she would really be true to her concert title and be a rebel and fuck care all the authorities and just perform the “controversial” songs. But she didn’t.

She gave in, she sold out, she censored herself and she asked the audience members “Do you speak English?” way too many times.

I went to the concert because I had a bet with a friend – I said she wouldn’t perform those 2 songs, he said he was a True Blue fan and he knew her inside out and she so would. I’m so sorry in this instance that I won the bet.

The moment she dedicated a song to her kids, 2 of whom who were in the audience, I left.

These 2 kids have seen ALL her concerts. They KNEW their mother sold out. I could not take her hypocrisy, so I left immediately.
One Violet Oon Kitchen lunch on the house for me! BURP.”

The Independent

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Forget religion, rebel Madonna plays it raunchy

Madonna at the National Stadium.


To borrow the title of Madonna’s own song, “causing a commotion” was clearly what the US pop queen set out to do during her first-ever concert in Singapore yesterday at the National Stadium.

Sure, the 57-year-old got off to a safe start when she kept to her end of the bargain, removing the contentious Holy Water segment from her set.

But Madonna is Madonna, and the pop star, who is on a world tour to promote her 13th album Rebel Heart, had other provocative shockers for her fans.

Plenty of expletives peppered her interaction with the audience, as she encouraged them to call her “b****”.

At one point, she asked if she could use the four-letter word here.

“All night long I’ve been trying not to swear and it’s f****** killing me,” she said, to much cheer and applause.

Kicking off her performance with the upbeat Bitch I’m Madonna after she was lowered to the stage in a gold steel cage, the Queen of Pop zipped through the two-hour set as she belted out hit after hit, from early ones like Like A Virgin and La Isla Bonita to recent ones like Living For Love and Rebel Heart.

– See more at:

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Singapore tames Madonna’s rebel heart

Madonna played her first ever concert in Singapore last night to a 25,000-strong audience, but obliged the city-state’s censors by leaving two songs out of her two-hour set.

The Media Development Authority had earlier stated that “religiously sensitive content” breached local guidelines and could not be performed. Accordingly, the songs ‘Holy Water’ and ‘Devil Pray’ – part of Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour set – were not performed in Singapore.

“Madonna had her ass owned by the MDA and the Catholic Church,” local performer Pam Oei wrote in a Facebook post. She had attended the concert on a bet with a friend who had been adamant that the Queen of Pop would not give in to pressure from local censors.

“I went with him for a laugh, to settle the bet. And I was really really hoping I would lose, but I won the bet,” she told dpa.

Not all concert-goers were put off by the omission of the two songs, saying that defiance of the regulations might have meant that Singaporean fans would miss out on the concert completely.

“I guess on a personal level, the songs that she couldn’t perform were not my favourites and the ones she did were awesome,” said educator Faeza Sirajudin.

Some fans were annoyed by Madonna’s use of crass language onstage.

“It was way too vulgar. I get it, she was the bad girl of the 80s, but when you’re at that age, seriously tone it down,” Kelly Chong told local broadsheet The Straits Times.

The concert had sparked controversy, with Christian leaders making representations to the authorities regarding concerns over her use of religious symbols.


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Madonna sticks to the script at her concert

SINGAPORE — The controversy in recent days over Madonna’s first concert here — sparked by the Catholic Church’s advice to congregants to skip the show — did not carry over into her performance at the National Stadium last night, as she kept to her word to observe cultural sensitivities.

The pop diva’s 90-minute gig, which was rated R18 for sexual references, was attended by around 25,000 fans, a fraction of whom were moved to better seats so that other fans’ view would not be blocked.

Other than the last-minute shuffle of seats, the show went without incident.

Over the past week, the Catholic Church and other religious organisations expressed their concerns over the American pop superstar’s concert. Archbishop William Goh had reminded Catholics and the Christian community of their moral obligation not to support “the ‘pseudo arts’ that promote sensuality, rebellion, disrespect, pornography, contamination of the mind of the young, abusive freedom, individualism at the expense of the common good, vulgarity, lies and half-truths”.

Responding in a statement on Thursday, a spokesperson from Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour said they are “aware of the cultural sensitivities, and Madonna is excited to share her celebration of art and music with her fans in Singapore”. Earlier, the Media Development Authority had reiterated that content that is offensive racially or to religions would be in breach of licensing conditions, with the singer told not to perform her controversial song Holy Water in her concert here.

Her set-list on Sunday included tracks from her new album such as Burning Up and Heartbreak City. She also revisited old favourites such as Like A Virgin, True Blue and Crazy For You.

The Philippines, her last stop before her Singapore show, wants to ban the singer after she “disrespected” the country’s flag by draping it on her during her concert there last week, AFP reported.

Mr James Lee, chief executive of Kinglun International Holdings, an investor in the concert, said the shuffling in the seats was because of a category of seats priced at S$388 that would have affected the view of some of those who had paid S$188. As a result, around 600 to 700 concert goers got an SMS Sunday morning informing them they would be moved around, including some lucky fans who held S$288 tickets but got bumped up to S$588 seats.

“Some of the S$188 ticket holders wanted to know why there were people standing in front of them. Because of this, we asked for all those holding S$388 standing tickets to be upgraded so they can move to the empty seats up front,” said Mr Lee ahead of the show.

Fans who got an upgrade were pleasantly surprised, noting the tickets were pricey.

Read full article at TodayOnline

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Madonna’s Rebel Heart tamed in Singapore

SINGAPORE: She might be on her Rebel Heart Tour, but when it came to meeting the Media Development Authority (MDA) guidelines the Queen of Pop was a little less than rebellious.

For the Singapore leg of her tour on Sunday (May 28), Madonna performed a modified opening segment of her tour, cutting out the songs Iconic, Holy Water and Devil Pray before launching into the second segment. The cut songs are usually performed in the first of four segments of the concert, also known as the Joan of Arc / Samurai section.

The video introduction of the concert was also modified, with the cross-adorned portion of the staves held by dancers removed.

Fans still got to see the rest of the songs in the segment, where dancers clad in samurai-influenced costumes performed with the singer, and where she performed with a guitar.

Fans got to see Madonna perform with a guitar in the modified opening segment. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

MDA had previously stated that Madonna would not be allowed to perform the segment because it contained “religiously-sensitive content which breach our guidelines”. Organiser Live Nation Lushington confirmed before the concert that the singer would not be performing the banned segment.

Even with some songs removed, Madonna erred on the side of caution, filtering her language until about halfway through the show, when she asked fans if she could swear.

Fans in Singapore also got to listen to her sing Crazy For You live. The song has only been performed on this tour one other time – in Manila. Before that, it was last performed live in 2004, according to concert website

Madonna performed a total of 18 songs in Singapore as she did with other tour stops. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

There were some changes towards the end of the gig as well. Madonna started her encore song Holiday without a Singapore flag, replacing it with a flag with a peace sign. She had come under fire last week for using the Philippine flag during her concert Manila and earlier in the month, sparked ire in mainland China after she draped a Taiwanese flag over her shoulders for her performance in Taipei.

Still, the M18-rated show saw a topless flapper dancer for the song Candy Shop, just as it was done for other stops of her tour.

And fans still got about 18 songs for Madonna’s first concert in Singapore. The singer has been performing between 18 to 20 songs throughout her tour, not including one line from the song Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.

Fans had mixed reactions to the edited set list. Diane S, a banker, said that the concert was “too short”, while her friend Emmie said “they shouldn’t stifle creativity”.

“If it’s not controversial, it’s not Madonna,” fans said. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

Meanwhile, Malaysian couple Cheryl and Peter said that the concert definitely met their expectations “because it’s Madonna”. They added that having controversial segments was “expected” – “if it’s not in, it’s not Madonna”.

However, Japanese businessman Tsukamota said in Japanese that he felt the concert was a normal length and that the experience was good.

Before her concert on Sunday, controversy surrounded Madonna in Singapore after the Catholic Church called its followers to not support those who denigrate or insult religion. Other church leaders in Singapore also later aired their concerns to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, while the Anglican Church also weighed in on Saturday, calling for church members to “avoid everything that darkens and defiles our hearts and minds”.

Organisers said nearly 25,000 fans turned up for the show, which lasted two hours.

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Concert review: No rebel sighted in Madonna’s Rebel Heart show

In her first show in Singapore, Queen of Pop finally showed us what we’ve been missing out on.


Sunday’s (Feb 28) concert at the National Stadium was Madonna’s first ever show in Singapore in her phenomenal three-decade career. And boy, did she show us what we had been missing out on.

The American Queen of Pop sang, danced and thrilled her audience of 25,000 during the show, which lasted more than two hours. Even though Madonna eschewed controversial songs like Holy Water, the notoriously defiant singer swore freely and frequently — and even pretended to play what sounded like a xylophone with her private parts, much to her fans’ delight.

The 57-year-old’s set included newer hits like B**** I’m Madonna, Unapologetic B**** and Rebel Heart, as well as classics like Like A Virgin and Material Girl.

All in all, despite the buzz and controversy, the Material Girl was also a Well-behaved Girl — in her own unique way, of course.

(@By Hon Jing Yi)

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Madonna concert: Some ticket-holders get mystery ‘upgrades’

Hours before Madonna’s first concert in Singapore, some ticketholders have been getting text notifications from Sports Hub Tix informing them that their tickets have been upgraded.

The text message to ticket-holders says that their seats have been selected for an upgrade “due to technical setup”. The message adds that their new tickets will be available for collection from 5pm today, where they will have to produce their original tickets for the exchange.

There is no further indication of what the upgrade entails or where the new seats will be.

Most of those who have received these texts appear to be Category 5 ($288) ticket-holders, though it is not clear what other category tickets have been upgraded.

The texts were likely to have been sent from as early as 9am this morning. One ticket-holder who originally bought Category 5 tickets and received the text this morning is Ms Chin Yiwen, 27. The finance analyst says: “I don’t know what the upgrade will be, so I have to see when I get there.”

As of concert day, all tickets are not yet sold out. A check on the Sports Hub Tix page shows that VIP ($1,288), Category 1 ($688), Category 2 ($588) and Standing Pen A ($188) tickets still have “limited availability”.

The Straits Times contacted organisers for comment on the ticket upgrade but received no reply.

Singapore Sports Hub is expecting a crowd of approximately 22,000 to 24,000 at the National Stadium.


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In numbers: Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour in Singapore

As the S$14 million (RM42 million) show rolls into Singapore for the very first time, the 74th stop of her tour, tomorrow, we dish out the numbers on what makes a juggernaut show of this size tick.
180: Approximately the number of people who work and travel on this tour depending on the location.
4: Cargo planes required to carry all the tour equipment and other items to the first Asian stop of the tour: Taipei. The stage in Singapore will have to be set up in a little less than a day.
6.3: Tonnes of lights, sound and video equipment used each night; with 2.5 tonnes of that weight being the moveable stage ramp, specially constructed for the main stage.
2,150,400: LEDs lighting up the rear screens on the Rebel Heart stage; and 22 videos are played on the rear screens during the concert. One of the videos — Rebel Heart — consists entirely of digital artwork submitted by fans.
500: Pairs of shoes — custom-made for the entire troupe of performers, including musicians, back-up vocalists and dancers. More than 1,000 costumes were also designed and made for all of them
20: Hand-picked dancers who spent three months putting in 14-hour days, six days a week, to prepare for the show.
2,500,000: Swarovski crystals used on Madonna’s various costumes; Madonna makes at least eight costume changes during the two-hour. Speaking of costumes, Madonna would have worn more than 200 pair of fishnets by the time the tour wraps in Sydney, Australia on March 20.
17: Make-up brushes used to get Madonna’s face ready every night. The Material Girl also goes through five powder puffs a night.
2: The number of times Madonna plays the ukulele (yes, she does!). 25 string instruments are also featured during the show.
1: Stage designed to “flow through the audience” and actually comprises a main stage, with an extended catwalk that has a circular stage in the centre and a heart-shaped stage at the end.

See more HERE

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Philippines May Ban Pop Singer Madonna for Disrespect to Flag: Report

Manila. American singer Madonna may face a ban in the Philippines for disrespecting its flag in her concerts this week in the capital Manila, a domestic broadcaster said on Friday, citing a historical commission official.

The 57-year-old entertainer is on a world tour to promote her “Rebel Heart” album, and did sold-out shows on Wednesday and Thursday.

“She ridiculed our flag,” the official, Teodoro Atienza, told radio station dzBB, adding that Madonna violated a law that prohibits the wearing of the Philippine flag “in whole, or in part, as a costume or uniform.”

The singer and concert producers could be held liable for the violation even if they were unaware of the law, said

Atienza, who is chief of the heraldry section of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

“They may face deportation and might not be able to return to the country. She also allowed the flag to touch the stage floor, which is another violation.”

There was no immediate response from the organizers of the concerts, held in the same hall where Pope Francis met Philippine families last year.

Madonna’s next stop will be in Singapore on Sunday.

A Roman Catholic bishop in the Philippines this week urged the faithful to boycott Madonna’s shows over her “suggestive” performance and “vulgar” clothes.

Roman Catholics make up about 80 percent of a population of more than 100 million in the Philippines, where the church has strong influence, blocking legislation on the death penalty, divorce and same-sex marriage.

Reuters / Jakartaglobe

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Strike A Pose documentary to hit Dutch movie theaters May 19

We can exclusively reveal that the much anticipated and highly praised ‘Strike A Pose’ documentary, directed by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan will finally hit Dutch theaters on May 19.

The dancers of the Blond Ambition Tour tell their personal stories on what happened to them after the tour. The documentary premiered at the Berlinale Festival in Berlin and received nothing but praise from the critics.

For Madonna fans; don’t worry, this is not a negative movie. It is actually a very humble, touching and beautifully put together.

We will hopefully have more information soon on a possible official Dutch premiere.


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Meet the die-hard fans of Madonna

Madonna’s super fans: Panda Tan (left), Rahman Selamat (top right) and Glenn Nolan (bottom right).

Photo: The Straits Times and AFP

He won a Best Dressed award when he dressed up like Madonna in her Nothing Really Matters music video for a Madonna Madness party in 2000 at Zouk.

Since then, he has received offers to impersonate his idol at private functions and events, dancing and lip-syncing in drag and mimicking her signature looks.

Mr Abdul Rahman Selamat, 41, even has his own stage name.

Fellow Madge fans know the customer service officer as Madina, a moniker inspired by the 57-year-old US pop queen.

And she’s the first thing Mr Rahman sees when he wakes up each day.

Almost every surface of his bedroom-turned-Madonna shrine is plastered with her face and filled with over $20,000 worth of posters, CDs, tapes, books, merchandise and collector’s items.

Giant posters are taped to the ceiling, from which silver and pink disco balls hang.

His favourite magazine covers of Madonna cover his wardrobe doors.

Multiple display cabinets hold his Madonna-related prized possessions.

Mr Rahman even has several life-sized standees of Madonna in a corner of his room.

Of course, he’ll be seeing her in the flesh on Sunday, having bought a $688 ticket for her first-ever concert here at the National Stadium, as part of her Rebel Heart world tour.

It will be Mr Rahman’s eighth time watching the music diva perform live. He travelled to the US, UK, France and Holland for her past concerts, and he’ll also catch her in Sydney next month.

The bachelor, who is the youngest of four children, first became a fan in the mid-1980s and had amassed quite a collection of Madonna memorabilia by 1988.

He frequently trawls US e-commerce site eBay for rare items including his most expensive purchase to date: a Like A Prayer exclusive promo box set that cost him $1,000 five years ago.

His collection grew when he and his parents moved to their current three-room HDB flat in Bedok North in 2000.


“I told my mother there’s always space for Madonna in my room,” Mr Rahman told The New Paper.

“I’ve never felt ‘suffocated’ by my collection. Looking at my collection gives me a sense of peace, especially when I listen to her music.”

He’s even willing to sleep on a modest-sized sofa bed to make room for his collection.

“My friends give me grief and ask me what’s the point of a bedroom without a bed. But it’s something I’m willing to do without,” he said.

In the past, Mr Rahman’s parents expressed concern about his obsession with Madonna as they did not want him to overspend.

“My mum has since accepted it, especially after I explained to her that it is also an investment,” he said.

“Except that I don’t think I will ever sell anything from my collection.”

I’ve never felt ‘suffocated’ by my collection. Looking at my collection gives me a sense of peace, especially when I listen to her music. -Mr Abdul Rahman Selamat

– Read full article at:


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Rewinding the Charts: In 1995, Madonna Took a ‘Bow’ at No. 1

The Material Girl traded “Sex” for romance and scored a personal best with “Take a Bow.”

MADONNA’S LONGEST RUN AT NO. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 didn’t take place until more than 11 years after her first chart hit.

On Feb. 25, 1995, her romantic R&B-flavored ballad “Take a Bow” began a seven-week reign atop the ranking. Co-written with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, the track vaulted to No. 1 in the wake of the pair’s performance of the song at the American Music Awards.

“Take a Bow,” which was the second single from then-36-year-old Madge’s 1994Bedtime Stories album, showcased a kinder, gentler Queen of Pop following a few years of boundary-smashing, she-did-what? exhibitionism that no contemporary pop star of her stature has topped. In 1992, she released the album Erotica and its controversial Sex picture book tie-in, followed by the lurid 1993 movie flop Body of Evidence. An F-bomb-filled appearance on CBS’ Late Show With David Letterman in 1994 also made headlines.

Bedtime Stories was a much more commercial release that, in addition to “Take a Bow,” spawned three Hot 100 entries: “Secret” (the set’s No. 3-peaking lead single), “Bedtime Story” and “Human Nature.” It also outsold Erotica in the United States — 2.3 million vs. 1.9 million, according to Nielsen Music — and was nominated for a best pop album Grammy Award, Madonna’s first nod for an LP.

“Take a Bow” also topped Billboard‘s Radio Songs, Pop Songs and Adult Contemporary charts (and crossed to a No. 40 peak on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs), but, despite its success, Madonna, now 57, didn’t perform the song in concert until just recently: Feb. 4 on her Rebel Heart Tour in Taipei, Taiwan. She introduced the number by saying, “I’d like to sing a song especially for Taiwan — a song that I have never sung before ever, ever, ever in concert.”

Afterward, she told the cheering crowd, “A few bad notes, but it felt good to sing it. Finally.”

A version of this article first appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of Billboard magazine.

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LOOK: Madonna in Manila — as rebellious as it gets

Madonna's concert at MOA Arena, February 24, 2016 (MB Photo/Jun Arañas)

These were her “sins”: Swearing out loud, climbing and hanging upside down from a cross, draping the National Flag over her shoulders, sexually suggestive dancing, seemingly strangling a dancer dressed as a priest on stage, having dancers as nuns cavorting in revealing clothes as well as a female dancer that must’ve had a wardrobe malfunction, and, oh, starting her set almost three hours past the show time printed on tickets and performing mostly recent materials than the old chart toppers.

Bad, bad Madonna. Classic Madonna.

The pop diva caused a commotion at the Mall of Asia Arena (MOA) February 24 in kicking off the two-night series of the Manila leg (the 70th stop) of her “Rebel Heart Tour” that’s been to North America and Europe, then to Oceania after Asia. As if purposely thumbing nose at convention—and at a warning by the Philippine Catholic bishops that her show is “the devil’s work,” as worded in an AFP article—Madonna lived up to the title of her show, alright; sans apology and certainly without attrition.

It’s the attitude she’s worn on her sleeves throughout the tour and, one may say, for her entire career. It’s the persona her Filipino fans had been waiting to see live for months on end since the Manila leg was announced and those 57-thousand-peso tickets were bought, if not for more than three decades since she burst into the scene.

“Manila! Are you with me?” were Madonna’s very first words to the concertgoers some 10 minutes into the show which she was quoted in a Macomb Daily article as a “characteristically theatrical spectacle.” The crowd roared back lustily like there was no tomorrow, never mind if that fell on a holiday which it did (the 30th anniversary of the People Power Revolution) at midnight, mid-way through the presentation that ended almost at 1 a.m.

Madonna's concert at MOA Arena, February 24, 2016 (MB Photo/Jun Arañas)

Like in the other legs of the tour, Madonna’s repertoire was categorized into four themed acts: “Joan of Arc/Samurai,” “Rockabilly meets Tokyo,” “Latin/Gypsy,” and “Party/Flapper.” Though all eyes were focused on the multi-hyphenate artist, there were actually four stories going on simultaneously most of the times and these were being told in the sequence of the songs, in the visuals on the video walls, in the choreography and in the synergy thereof.

Amid the alakazam of high production value glossed by the latest technology, the relatively quiet numbers were those that roused the attendees. In fact, “Like A Prayer” (till the middle part), “True Blue” and “Who’s That Girl” had Madonna just accompanied by a guitar and a ukulele. The other familiar hits from her humongous discography that ended up on the set list were musically rearranged almost to the point of being unrecognizable; as if the artist was testing her audience if they would still love those even without the familiar trimmings.

Filipinos who are used to hearing many cover songs in live performances just got two from Madonna on the first night. These were “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” originally recorded by Ross Royce and also found in the Queen of Pop’s “Like A Virgin” album; and “La Vie En Rose,” the signature song of French popular singer Edith Piaf. (Well, there’s another—the chorus of “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone—which Madonna sang impromptu en acapella and more as a joke after noting there didn’t seem to be a sea of light emanating from mobile phones at the venue. Did the people forget to charge their batteries, she asked tongue-in-cheek).

After acknowledging in the latter part of the show that she doesn’t go “to this part of the world much often,” Madonna thanked her Filipino fans for the support they’ve been giving her as professional music artist for more than 30 years now. She also bantered with the audience (some of whom were foreigners), and even picked a guy in female attire to dance with her onstage.

The giant cross-shaped stage with a smaller heart-shaped stage at the tip is a design specific for the tour. It’s the same one fans have seen in other countries where the tour has had stops. Most of the props, if not all, were flown into Manila from Macau on Monday aboard a chartered plane.


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REVIEW | Madonna: a true rebel with a heart

For her grand entrance Madonna descended onto the stage in a cage from high up in the ceiling. For her exit two and a half hours later she ascended back to the air while singing her very first hit, “Holiday.” (That it was already past 1 o’clock in the morning of February 25, a real holiday, made the entire number even more surreal than it was.)

In between those bookends was a show that many if not most in the audience will not soon forget. Not only because “Rebel Heart Tour” was the first-ever live performance of the Queen of Pop in the Philippines but also because it was a spectacle of the highest order.

The stage alone was already worth a big fraction of the cost of admission. (Apparently it’s worth a big fraction of the cost of production, too.) It had a massive backdrop composed of three giant led screens that showed fantastic video images to accompany the live performances. It also had a long cross-shaped ramp, with a heart-shaped tip, that practically extends to the other end of the orchestra section. And scattered throughout the stage are 7 hydraulic lifts that serve as entry and exit points for Madonna and her dancers.

The niftiest feature of the stage, though, is a big panel at the very center that has different functions. Sometimes it’s a vertical led wall, sometimes it’s an angled slide, sometimes it’s a flat platform. There simply hasn’t been anything quite like it on the local concert stage.

The sets and props were also sights to behold. They include a car shop set-up, a swirling staircase (that came from and went back up to the ceiling, for a single number at that), a Last Supper table, and several wildly bending poles that hoisted dancers some 20 feet in the air.

So how was the performance that the stage hosted? Madonna showed why she is the grande dame of pop concert artists. Her terpsichorean days as a dancer may be behind her — gone are the complex choreographies and nimble athleticism even of her last tour, MDNA — but her full commitment and her dowager-like command of the stage remain fully intact. There is still a whole lot of movement throughout the show, including hanging upside down from a horizontal rod and pole dancing, that will certainly tax performers half her age If they ever decide to put in that much effort.

The singing was surprisingly good especially for someone who is still derided for her vocal talent. Madonna now has a low, rich, full voice that was showcased fully in the show’s many slow and stripped down numbers. These include acoustic renditions of “True Blue,” “Who’s That Girl,” the French classic “La Vie En Rose,” and “Like A Prayer,” the chosen “request” song of the night that brought the house down and was one of the set’s highest highlights.

The biggest difference and main surprise of Rebel Heart from her previous tours is how unrigid Madonna is. Where there was a roboticness and remoteness in previous treks there is now playfulness and enjoyment. Whereas before she seemed to be working hard to give her audiences a grand time, it now seems that she is having a grand time herself. In fact there were a few times in last night’s show where she was very in-the-moment spontaneous, including singing a couple of lines a capella from the “West Side Story” song “Maria” for the audience member named Zoreena who caught the bouquet that she threw during a spiel following “Material Girl.”

Thematically the Rebel Heart Tour continues to tread on the now very familiar themes of sex and religion that have been a major part of the Madonna canon since day one. And it may be easy to charge her with “reductionism” (look up “Madonna reduction” online) of her own work especially if you take such numbers as “Holy Water” and “S.E.X.” on their own and on the surface, but that would be missing the new context she is working on. She may still be firing up and fanning the same flames (the rebel half of the show) but she’s now doing it within the framework of love (the heart part).

That’s pointedly clear when she follows up the salacious, nuns-in-undies-dancing-on-steel-cross-stripper-poles-pupulated, Last Supper-alluding “Holy Water” with the haunting plea for spirituality “Devil Pray” and its picture of a sinful woman searching for forgiveness and redemption from various men of the cloth (Catholic, Hindu, Islam to mame just some represented in the number). And when “S.E.X.” features four sets of couples of different persuasions (straight, gay, lesbian) that turn into some sort of orgy in the end. That’s inclusiveness and acceptance that’s very now.

And that’s Madonna version 3.0 for you — a true rebel with a heart.

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