Music

Madonna's Celebration tour proves this is the Material Girl's world – we're all just living in it

More than ‘just’ a greatest hits 78-date tour, Celebration is a musical journey through Madonna's life, her art, even her family

Madonna's tour 'Celebration' has kicked off in London. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

It’s almost impossible to believe that any Madonna tour since 1990’s Blond Ambition could be anything but a greatest hits, such is the body of her work, but the aptly-named Celebration – which kicked off in London this month – is actually her first. More than ‘just’ a greatest hits 78-date tour, this is a musical journey through her life, her art, even her family, with most of her children joining the icon on stage as an integral part of the polished production.

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As such, it’s also more than just The Immaculate Collection – people on a boozy night out, please remember that she’s had another 33 years of music since then. Whether you’ve paid attention to it or not doesn’t matter, you should be paying attention now. While it would be the envy of any artist to have a catalogue such as hers to choose from, you have to admire Madonna for not only curating an incredible set list, but also for having the balls to make notable omissions. After all, there aren’t many musicians who can sideline seven UK number one singles (out of 13, fact fans, from her 12 UK number one albums).

Yes, you’ll hear that more than 30 numbers are included – but they’re not all in their entirety or perhaps the versions you might expect. There’s a roar throughout The O2 Arena when the opening strings for Papa Don’t Preach begin, for example, only for it to play out as an introduction, a nod to something so great that alas simply isn’t great enough to sit alongside everything else in a show as incredible as Celebration.

Madonna onstage at London’s O2. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

If you’re a fully-fledged Madonna devotee – and if not, why not? – then you’ll pick up on so many nods, references and Easter eggs. That is, if you can catch them over the screams. It seems that the time Madonna spent researching her currently on-hold biopic has not been wasted – her life is quite literally flashing before your eyes here. There’s so much going on you almost wish there was time to fully assimilate the staging of each number or video screen littered with nostalgic throwbacks.

The musical stings, the audio references, the visual hits, the direct recreation of various moments from previous record-breaking tours – Celebration is a relentless barrage of brilliance with thousands of people screaming for Madonna to hit them harder. But she’s not wallowing in past glory – she’s way too busy soaking up the adulation now while tearing up the stage, spread as it is across multiple catwalks representing areas of New York, a rising cube with imagery projected around it and a square ‘portal’ that lifts her into the ceiling and around the venue.

Madonna performs during opening night of The Celebration Tour at The O2 Arena. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

She’s never better than when a joy-fuelled club moment segues from the hedonistic Holiday with friends, to lamenting the loss of loved ones to HIV/AIDS in an incredibly moving performance of Live to Tell. Never have the lyrics hit so hard as she slowly soars above the arena, the faces of those lost to the disease filling the screen and taking the focus from her. It is, quite simply, breathtaking. Her twelfth tour once more leans into the theatrics she’s synonymous with – why simply sing your hits when you can make it a multi-media 360° experience? Because she’s Madonna, that’s why. Elevate, never imitate. This means Bob the Drag Queen isn’t simply the warm-up act, as people may originally have assumed – instead they’re an integral part of the production throughout, acting as host, narrator, ball emcee, security guard and at one point even a comedy cow. Yes, that might sound strange but trust me, it all makes complete sense when you’re in the material girl’s world.

It’s not perfect of course – you wouldn’t be a Madonna fan if you didn’t have conflicting opinions. A cover version of the perpetually-naff hen night staple I Will Survive feels tacky and, well, reductive for a woman able to discard so many hits from a set list. While the tribute to Michael Jackson is a direct nod to 1985’s The Virgin Tour, it now feels dated and unnecessary. Repeating The Beast Within from at least two previous tours obviously allows for a much-needed break – after all, it does feel as though Madonna spends the majority of the show on stage – but it adds little to the flow of the production.

Madonna performs during opening night of The Celebration Tour at The O2 Arena on October 14, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

This all pales in comparison to the show as a whole, mere niggles when you could spend all day watching her perform an arena show and still not get the full picture of Madonna’s life, success and achievements. Of course, it’s not just her life – it’s all of ours, with every song evoking a memory it’s a journey through a life soundtracked by one of the most influential women of our time.

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Arguably the closing section – there is no encore – which features multiple Madonnas, some of which have appeared at various points throughout, dancing to Bitch, I’m Madonna feels that it could equally have opened the show. That honour, however, goes to stone-cold classic Nothing Really Matters – which, when listening to the lyrics, feels as though it’s never been more resonant. It’s an artistic choice which sets out Madonna’s stall perfectly for the evening ahead with a show that lives up to its name perfectly. It’s long been tiresome seeing people knock Madonna – sections of the show flash various examples of ageism, sexism and more throughout her career – yet no-one works harder to constantly prove herself with less reason to do so. This production is a stark reminder of how culturally relevant she’s always been. Those who are loudly proclaiming that Madonna is ‘back’ simply haven’t been paying enough attention – Madonna has always been here and this celebration shows why the world she changed is all the better for it.

Madonna is currently touring across Europe and returns to London in December. Visit madonna.com for details.

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