Whenever anyone asks who my favorite singer is, I say Madonna. Those older than me would nod understandingly, while those in my generation would look bewildered, asking if Madonna is still relevant. It’s an expected response. After all, people my age listen to Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift. But even with the popularity of these younger singers, don’t you think it’s strange that Madonna still has the title of Queen of Pop? It’s a title that still follows her even if she’s 57 years old. And after her concert in Manila, she proves that she still deserves to be called that.
Her Rebel Heart concert is her first in Manila. Strange, considering she has been in the business for 37 years. And in that span of time, she still shows every female singer how to do it, as she is the best-selling female recording artist of all time, and is top touring female artist of all time. 2008’s Sticky and Sweet Tour is the highest grossing tour by a female artist. The second? Her 2012 MDNA Tour. It’s too early to say where the Rebel Heart Tour stands, but Billboard ranked it as number one on a weekly recap of concert touring artists.
Still think Madonna is no longer relevant? Allow me to school you.
Age has not caught up to Madonna as she still gave a strong performance as if she were 20 years old. For an eager Madonna fan, this isn’t news. She is known for her elaborate staging, high-energy choreography, and glittering costumes. But something was different. Madonna was having fun. In previous concerts, she looked serious, almost fierce. Her voice, especially in 2005’s Confessions Tour, was so polished that it almost sounded cold. Yes, she gave unbelievable performances for a woman of any age, but she brought warmth, happiness, and joy in Rebel Heart. She interacted more with the audience (including sharing how one Filipino trainer slept with her boyfriend), cracked jokes, and gave off-set performances like Kasey Cisyk’s “You Light Up My Life” (to which she said, “Why do I keep singing songs that aren’t mine?”). Everyone was all smiles at the Mall of Asia Arena, including Madge herself.
She opened the show with a song from her Rebel Heart album, “Iconic.” She descended from the ceiling in a steel cage, while dancers dressed as medieval executioners with pikes gyrated with her. It was a strong entrance followed by another RH song, “Bitch, I’m Madonna.” If we’re going to forget about cultural appropriation, it was another strong performance as she was joined by geisha and samurai. It was reminiscent of her “Nothing Really Matters” performance at the 1999 Grammy Awards. She then sang a rock version of the classic “Burning Up,” which drove the audience crazy. But the highlight of the section was when she mashed up “Holy Water” and “Vogue,” as half-naked nuns pole-danced with Madonna on top of one of them. This closed with a tasteful (yet raunchy) re-enactment of the Last Supper as she sang “Devil Pray.”
While she changed costumes, a video interlude played to keep the audience entertained. Another key Madonna trait is how her interludes are always artistic. For her first one, a lone dancer whirled in the middle of the runway with a piece of cloth that looked like fire, while another danced with an interactive fire on screen. As the dancers left, the stage was quickly transformed into a car repair shop.
Madonna opened the next segment with “Body Shop,” with her dancers dressed as mechanics. She then transitioned to “True Blue,” where she instructed everyone to answer “F*ck, yeah!” to all her questions. Here, dancers left the stage in pairs, until they returned for a rousing disco version of “Deeper and Deeper.” Without any real breaks, she performed this number and danced along. You forget she’s already 57 years old.
And yes, she sings live.
While she delivers the last line to this Erotica number (which, by the way, is rumored to be about accepting one’s homosexuality), a curving staircase emerges from the ceiling. She sings the ballad “HeartBreakCity,” mashed up with “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” It’s an emotional number that reminds fans of her divorce to director Guy Ritchie. But the sadness is only short-lived as Madonna closes the section with the classic “Like a Virgin.” At this point, I was already catching my breath after singing along to all the songs, while the Queen of Pop seems to only be warming up. She didn’t even need backup dancers for this performance. You don’t believe she’s 57.
The next interlude is a mashup of the songs “S.E.X.” and “Justify My Love,” with the screen projecting the music video of “Erotica.” The mashup shows eight dancers simulating sex in four beds, a reference to her “Like a Virgin” performance in 1990’s Blond Ambition Tour. It was tastefully sexy, and some partners were of the same sex. Not surprising, as the Queen of Pop has a large gay fanbase (basically me).