She’s Back. September 2015.

Dear Rowley,

Weren’t you dreading the first footage to emerge on YouTube of Madonna’s first dates on the Rebel Heart tour in Montreal? I’m a fan of the album but, on the strength of she at the Brit Awards doing her matador Illuminati number writhing with horned bull-devils, I feared the worst.

Being in the countryside, I simply could not adjust to the early nights and dip in alcohol units so stayed up all night watching as much of Rebel Heart as Madonna’s fans had posted from Montreal. Now here’s the thing. Madonna has nothing to prove. She is the Queen of Pop having enjoyed thirty-five years in the sun as the best-selling female artist of all time eclipsing Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and the like.

As you know I’ve had my concerns about Madonna’s direction ever since she went ‘rap bitch’ for the Hard Candy and MDNA albums. It bewildered me to see a lady in her fifties giving us teenage, foul-mouthed, Latina ghetto ho. Apparently M was refusing to surrender to age or be defined as a veteran performer.

Madonna is entirely right that men don’t suffer the same online abuse for behaving in a sexual manner on stage. Compared to the cadaverous Mick Jagger thrusting his groin and pouting those leathery old lips, Madonna is a spring chicken. But I must admit feeling uncomfortable watching her play Mrs Robinson to Justin Timberlake’s Graduate and that Coachella kiss with Drake turned one’s stomach over.

This is not to say Madonna should not wish to teach the kids a trick or two. I loved Me Against the Music with Britney and adored Taylor Swift paying homage by playing acoustic guitar to Madonna’s unplugged version of Ghost Town from the new album. Both were such respectful, powerful acknowledgements that Madonna is top dog and that the young artists owe her a debt of gratitude as a pioneer.

Although Miss Midler joked that she opened the door for trashy singers with big tits and no talent, I think there’s little doubting that Madonna was the first female artist to push her ambidextrous sexuality to new extremes in the name of artistic expression. I, along with the rest of the gays, loved it. We were there for her when she opened her heart, justified her love and celebrated erotica.

But there does come a time for all of us when spreading one’s legs ever higher and wider in public is simply not dignified … let alone physically viable.  Madonna is a sexy woman. Who gives a damn how old she is? When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. But at this stage in the lady’s career I would take a leaf out of Mae West’s book and temper the full-on sex with a pinch of humour.

So I can only say with deep humility and admiration that, from what I saw of Madonna’s Rebel Heart, the reinvention from rather desperate fishnet-clad floozie dabbling in rap, S&M and black magic is a mission accomplished. The Lady puts on a show like no other artist can. Each segment is a mini-movie and the breathtaking set list is a four-act drama.

Such is Madonna’s brilliance that references are never obvious. There is Samurai, there is 50s Rockabilly, there is Cotton Club shimmy-shawobble and there is Flamenco. But she never lets you get too comfortable or confident as to what might happen next. I did not see the full concert but I saw highlights such as the wonderful Body Shop from Rebel Heart that segued into an acoustic version of a gorgeous old favourite love song True Blue. 

I never thought I would see Madonna sing Material Girl again let alone Burning-Up, Who’s That Girl? and Get into the Groove. I also have huge respect for the Lady singing at least nine tracks from Rebel Heart because it is a damned good album. I don’t like Bitch I’m Madonna or Holy Water but M is an artist and has to express herself. That said, a solo Like A Virgin makes you forgive the lapses in taste.

Being a musical queen, I was most taken with the showgirl section of the concert with Madonna in a rhinestone flapper dress serving us an amazing Unapologetic Bitch but not before sitting at the edge of the stage like Garland at Carnegie Hall to sing La Vie en Rose in French while playing her ukulele. This a-capella version of Paif’s song earned her the most prolonged standing ovation of the evening.

I have only seen Madonna perform live once in her London Confessions on the Dance Floor tour. She was magnificent but also relentless, ruthlessly disciplined and not remotely spontaneous. From what I saw of Rebel Heart, Madonna beamed from ear to ear throughout her two-hour concert. She opened-up to the audience about heartbreak, loneliness and endurance. She laughed a lot and seemed to play for the crowd rather than the cameras.

I think Madonna was genuinely humbled by the response because she’s taken rather a beating of late from the haters in the press and on social media. I’ve been critical too – perhaps unfairly – because she’s done more with her life and her talent than 99.9% of the world’s population. She’s given us hits, glitz and tits and she isn’t going to stop any time soon.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see Madonna in fabulously fierce costumes, in fine voice, at the top of her game artistically and enjoying the adulation that she deserves. More power to your elbow, love.