How Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour got her back on top | Virgin Media
How Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour got her back on top

How Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour got her back on topby Nick Levine

30/03/2016

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Far from sliding out of view, Madonna's latest tour has popped her right back on top. Nick Levine explains how she's reaffirmed her relevance and reasserted her pop dominance.

Material Girl

A few days after Madonna completed her latest world tour, Billboard announced that she had cemented her position as the highest-grossing solo touring artist ever. The singer's Rebel Heart Tour, which began in September and finished earlier this month, attracted more than a million fans on four different continents, raking in $169.8 million (£119.3 million) in ticket sales. That's not bad for a woman who's been painted by certain portions of the media lately as a deranged old drunk (more on this later).

Justify My Love

But Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour wasn't just a box office blockbuster – it also earned her rave reviews, including five-star verdicts from The Times, The Telegraph and The Observer. I was lucky enough to attend one of her London shows and it was an awesome mix of athleticism, spectacle (pole-dancing nuns, geishas doing martial arts, Madonna drawing gasps as she pushed a dancer off a spiral staircase) and intimacy.

It was World AIDS Day, so Madonna dedicated Like a Prayer to the "dearest, greatest, most amazing and lovely friends of mine who died of AIDS so many years ago, [and] who still do", as well as "the entire family of my adopted son who died of AIDS". It's safe to presume The O2 Arena won't feel quite so emotional when it hosts something called WWE Smackdown in a few weeks' time.

Madonna

Express Yourself

The tour's final leg, which featured her first Australian dates in 23 years and first ever gigs in New Zealand, got hijacked by her personal life. Madonna has always been an artist who lays herself bare, not a soulless pop automaton, so we shouldn't be surprised that she referenced her ongoing custody battle on stage by dedicating songs to son Rocco, who is currently living with his father.

When she played a deliberately lighthearted bonus show for Aussie super-fans called Tears of a Clown, in which she rode a tricycle, sipped a cocktail (gasp!) and told some pretty ropey jokes, the gossip blogs responded by insinuating she was losing the plot. Savvy as ever, Madonna hit back at a subsequent live show in Sydney. "I hope you all don't think I’m having a meltdown," she drawled sardonically to laughter and applause. "God forbid a mother should miss her son. I'm glad you all have a sense of humour, because if I didn't have one, I couldn't survive."

B**** I’m Madonna

As nasty as some of Madonna's recent press coverage has been, it's still a testament to her continued relevance as a pop culture figurehead. As ever, the way she chooses to present herself is making us question society's norms: how a mother should behave, how a woman of a certain age should behave, how a veteran performer should be approaching the fourth decade of her career.

When she accidentally exposed a fan's breast on stage, there was a collective flinch, but then we were left wondering if we'd have reacted differently to this grisly mishap if Madonna were a younger or male pop star. With The Rebel Heart Tour, Madonna pushed more buttons than she has done for a decade.

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