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On Stage: Madonna – The Celebration Tour

The Material Girl puts on a Celebration for the Ages

Madonna – The Celebration Tour
Toyota Center
Houston, Texas
March 28, 2024

Odds are if you were born in the last 40 years, you’ve witnessed one of Madonna’s pop-culture moments. Maybe it was watching her controversial “Like A Prayer” music video on Mtv. It could’ve been slipping into a bookstore to purchase a copy of her SEX coffee-table book. Possibly it was her smooch with Britney Spears on stage at the 2003 VMAs. Or perhaps you were one of the 100 million who watched her Super Bowl halftime performance in 2012.

Britney Spears and Madonna, the smooch seen round the world, at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City (Christopher Pike—FilmMagic/Getty Images)

While it’s thankfully easier in 2024 to find other female artists with a similar level of impact, it’s impossible to find another with her longevity at or near the center of the pop-music universe. But for all she’s accomplished, Madonna rarely looks back. She’s traditionally treated the idea of a greatest-hits tour like the Plague, often shooting down the very notion whenever a reporter deigns to even mention such a thing. Her tours have been primarily reserved to promote her latest albums, with a scattering of hits sprinkled in for the casual fans.

So imagine the shock of her fanbase early last year when the emeritus Queen of Pop announced plans for a world tour encompassing all the eras of her career. Perhaps we have Taylor Swift to thank for the retrospective trend in mega tours, but no one knows better how to capture a trend than Madonna.

The journey to her Celebration Tour has been bumpy. Last year, while prepping for her initial performances, Madonna contracted a life-threatening bacterial infection and spent time in the hospital. The illness thankfully wasn’t fatal, but it did result in a few months of delayed dates, primarily affecting the United States. The delay left much room for speculation. Would Madonna, now in her 60s, be able to handle her typical dance-heavy show? Would the Celebration Tour run into the same health-related scheduling issues that impacted her Madame X Tour a few years earlier?

Despite all the speculation, I’m happy to report that the tour has gone on, and that the Material Girl has lost very little of her showpersonship. The Celebration Tour is, typical for Madonna, less of a greatest-hits show and more of a retrospective of her life. Divided into seven acts, the show starts with her early days in New York, followed by her ascension to stardom, her controversial sex-obsessive eras, and her reinvention as a modern pop star. The Celebration closes fittingly with a nod to everything she’s accomplished.

I’ve remained a fan throughout her entire career, so I was thrilled to hear hits from every era: “Holiday,” “Like A Prayer,” “Vogue,” “Ray of Light,” “Hung Up,” and the setlist goes on. It’s a testament to her hit-laden catalog that I could still find one or two songs missing that I wished she’d added, but that’s what happens when you have a career that spans four decades of chart-topping songs.

The more unexpected moments of the show come in between the heavy hitters. Madonna shared brief stories with the crowd about growing up, how she got started, her family’s influence on her work, and about others who have helped make her who she is today. The showstopper for me came in her memorial to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, during which she lost many friends. While she performed “Live to Tell,” the giant screens were filled with countless images of people taken too soon during one of the most tragic chapters of American life over the last century.

One of the best elements of the Celebration Tour for me was that it was about more than celebrating Madonna. It’s a celebration of queer culture over the last 40 years. From her support of the gay and lesbian community during the AIDS crisis, to her popularization of vogue dancing, to her affirmation of sexuality in her music and her life, the entire concert is a reflection, not only on her career, but on how she has celebrated as an entire community began to feel their power and step out of the shadows. 

I’ve been a devotee for a good portion of her career, and it was easy for me to love the show. But I surprised myself by getting unexpectedly emotional at her tributes to a community that has for so long, through all her eras, called her Queen. Milady, take a bow – it was quite the celebration, indeed.

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