Madonna emerges from the tip of the heart, wearing a hooded cape with Aya Sato and Bambi, two famous Japanese dancers. It’s the same performance as her controversial 2015 BRIT Awards, where she couldn’t untangle the cape and she fell backwards when Aya and Bambi pulled it. But Madonna is all about challenges as she didn’t let that stop her. Fortunately, she won over the cape and gave a rousing performance of “Living For Love,” the lead single from Rebel Heart. She dressed as a matador as she conquered her dancers dressed like bulls. This was followed by “La Isla Bonita,” where the audience sang the lyrics along.
Here is where it gets tricky. In the official setlist, Madonna sings a gypsy medley of “Dress You Up”, “Into the Groove”, “Everybody”, and “Lucky Star.” But for some reason she skips this and goes straight to “Who’s That Girl?”, which she played with a guitar. After the song, she usually asks for requests. In Manila, where everyone is still obsessed with “Crazy For You,” everyone screamed for her to sing it. I appreciate “Crazy For You” as much as the next fan, but my favorite Madonna song is “Like a Prayer.” I was so disappointed when it wasn’t part of the setlist. So when Madonna asked whether she should sing an old or new song, I waited for a quiet moment to scream “Like a Prayer!”
And she sang it.
She sang “Like a Prayer.”
At this point, I would like to point out that the audience was politely sitting the whole time. I wanted to stand up and dance but I was afraid they would ask me to sit down, so I danced in my seat (sorry to the people next to me). But when she sang the first notes of “Like a Prayer,” I hugged the guy sitting to my left, who was a stranger, and stood up to dance. I didn’t care what they would say. I am reminded of the Madonna quotes, “A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want” and “Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.” I didn’t attend Madonna’s Manila concert there to make friends. I was there to dance.
Madonna then moved to “Rebel Heart,” a song from RH‘s deluxe edition. This song perfectly encapsulates who Madonna is as a singer. The lyrics go, “So I took the road less traveled by / And I barely made it out alive / Through the darkness somehow I survived / Tough love – I knew it from the start / Deep down in my rebel heart.” Appropriately, the screen showed beautiful moving illustrations of the singer through the years submitted by fans, proving that besides the title Queen of Pop, she is also the Queen of Reinvention. She’s still singing live. You wonder why more people don’t listen to this amazing singer.
For the final (and craziest) interlude, dancers climbed 20 foot poles and started swinging from it towards the audience. It was a death-defying experience that got a lot of wild cheers. But even with something as fantastic as that, Madonna is still the star of the show and re-appeared wearing a 1920’s inspired flapper dress to sing “Music” and “Candy Shop.” Right in the middle of “Music,” Madonna talked to the audience, literally jumped around and complained about Manila’s traffic, then quickly jumped back to “Music” as if nothing happened. At this point, the show was almost through but Madonna still had the energy of someone half her age. It was one of the best parts of the show.
This was then followed by “Material Girl,” which made the audience react with thunderous applause. People in my section stood up to dance and sing along to this 1984 classic. Madonna once said that she regrets singing this but she looked like she was enjoying pushing her male dancers down the stage. For those who complain about the expensive tickets (the closest being P57,000), Madonna would have replied, “We’re living in a material world!”
After this performance, she mentioned the possibility of meeting a husband in Manila. She had a bouquet for “Material Girl” and she threw it to the audience, which a girl named Czarina caught (I’m jealous). Madonna then sang a heartfelt cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose,” dedicated to Czarina. She’s still singing live.
For the final number, Madonna sang “Unapologetic Bitch,” where she usually brings one member of the audience to the stage to dance with her. Manila’s unapologetic bitch was my friend Shahani Gania, a stylist and partyphile who organized a Madonna exhibit at Today x Future. I didn’t recognize him right away, and only found out it was her when I recognized his voice. After dancing and hugging Madonna, she gave him a banana and a phallus-shaped straw. I’m both jealous and happy for Shahani.
They then exited the stage and the screen said, “Bye, [redacted]!” Of course, I have already seen the setlist and know that Madonna will come back for an encore of “Holiday.” For a little bit of history, I was disappointed when I first heard that she’s performing “Holiday” for her encore. I love the song, but I was used to the high-octane energy of previous encores like “Hung Up,” “Give It 2 Me,” and “Celebration.” I thought “Holiday” was too slow, but maybe it’s because of age. Maybe she couldn’t do the laborious choreography of the last encores. But it’s a totally different experience when you watch it live. The crowd went absolutely insane when she returned to the stage with the Philippine flag and sang the familiar chorus of the 1983 hit song. She was then hoisted and lifted up over the stage and said good night, ending the show at 1am (She was three hours late and started at 11pm, but it was worth the wait).
I have been a fan of Madonna for 11 years. To watch her perform live is a dream come true. And I’m happy to have seen her at her best, with her guard down and having fun. Madonna as the polished performer is good, but Madonna with her hair down, cracking jokes, and interacting with fans is the consummate entertainer. Finally, people know what I’ve been talking about all these years. At the end of the show, I was left wondering, why is Madonna still the Queen of Pop? Shouldn’t she be the Goddess of Pop?
Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour in Manila is presented by Globe. It is produced by Live Nation Global Touring and presented locally by MMILive.
Have you seen the show? What did you think? Share your thoughts below!