Madonna’s world tour ends this weekend. This is good news for Madonna and the world. The way this Rebel Heart Tour is sputtering to a close in Australia, the only way she could further disappoint fans is if she were to arrive six hours late in a dingo costume. Then instead of dancing, she drops to all fours and growls at the crowd. And instead of singing, backup growlers convey lyrics using sign language.
Hey, I think they’re doing “La Isla Bonita.” Or is everyone having a seizure?
What happened to Madonna this week? After concerts in Melbourne and Brisbane, the gossip sheets Down Under overflowed with scandalous claims: She was drunk. She was lip-synching. She was disoriented. She had a meltdown.
At one point onstage, since nothing revs up concertgoers like domestic strife, Madonna called ex-husband Guy Ritchie a “son of a bitch.” She asked if any good Samaritans might be willing to have carnal relations with her, though she put it in different terms. She flashed a photo of her 15-year-old son Rocco on a giant video monitor. She broke down about the boy who now lives with the alleged son of a bitch in London amid a bruising custody battle.
After the Melbourne criticism, Madonna fired back on Instagram. She was not intoxicated, she insisted. If she was imbibing onstage, if she seemed to be having an internal dialogue with a crack-smoking unicorn, well, this was part of the show.
“Too bad people don’t know the art of acting and playing a character,” she wrote. “I could never do any of my shows high or drunk. And yes underlying all of this is sexism and mysongony (sic) which proves that not only do we not get equal pay but we are still treated like heretics if we step out of line and think outside the box!” Or fall off a tricycle.
Then came the first concert in Brisbane on Wednesday. The character she was playing that night did not own a wristwatch. The show started about 150 minutes late, a problem for anyone with a job, a child, a bedtime, an aversion to tedium or a reliance on the local trains, since service shut down before the encore.
Instead of apologizing, Madonna blamed her fans.
“I’m hardly ever late,” she said, surrounded by dancers who sported the frozen smiles usually reserved for Easter dinner when a half-soused aunt clinks her glass of Zinfandel, wobbles to her feet and itemizes the many failings of loved ones.
“It’s you people that show up early that’s the problem,” Madonna explained.
Another problem, it seems, are the 17-year-old fans who get dragged onstage so Madonna can make unsuitable sexual comments.
Maybe. Maybe not. But the character who strides into the Allphones Arena in Sydney this weekend for the last two shows of this six-month tour is in need of a vacation. Indeed, the contrast between Madonna and Adele onstage this month is striking. While the former is stumbling, terrorising her fans, the latter is belting out sonic gems in an atmosphere of affirmation.
Who did Adele bring onstage during her own tour: A young couple that got engaged while listening to her performance. She serenaded her 3-year-old son, sweetly calling him “Peanut.” Adele’s music is so emotionally spellbinding, a Michigan man facing jail time recently decided to apologize in court by singing “Hello” to the judge.
That’s the cultural power Madonna once wielded. The saddest part about watching her now is just how disengaged she seems to be. In one Aussie clip, from a performance of “Like a Virgin,” Madonna pelvic-thrusts the stage, stands too quickly and careens to her left, as if in gale force winds. She exudes the enthusiasm of a high school student in detention who is forced to write the same sentence on a blackboard.
Play this clip side by side with the “Like a Virgin” Madonna unleashed at the MTV VMAs in 1984 and it’s like you’re watching two different life forms. It’s also a reminder of how far she has fallen. From videos (“Like a Prayer”) to books (Sex) to flashbulb talk show moments (David Letterman) to live stunts (kissing Britney Spears on the MTV stage in 2003), Madonna could set off the cultural seismograph like no one else in music. She hurled shock waves at the masses.
The biggest shock now is those days are never coming back.