“London are you ready?” Madonna launches her four-day stint at London’s O2 to promote her 13th album, Rebel Heart, with plenty of bling and swagger. Entering with a host of gold-clad dancers costumed as Roman soldiers, she’s modestly – for her Madgeness – dressed in black sparkly dress and a cape, which perhaps due to a choreography rethink after her fall at the Brits earlier this year, is removed a good few seconds before she strides down the steps to the thrust stage shaped like a crucifix.
The demure costume doesn’t last, of course, she soon strips down, and drops to her knees, her crotch meeting her fans’ eye line to play electric guitar on “Burning Up” from her latest Rebel Heart album and pole dances on a crucifix with dancers dressed in pants and nuns’ habits before reenacting the last supper for “Holy Water” and “Devil Pray”. Can you see a theme developing here?
It’s all about her rebellious side, summed up by aggressive, raunchy Rebel Heart songs, “Bitch I’m Madonna” and “Iconic” both peons to her own superstardom. The religious stuff seems a bit tried and tested no matter how much she tries to shock us with it – we’ve seen it before with her black Jesus. We get a smattering of old school crowd-pleasing classics, including “Like A Virgin” and “Material Girl”. More interesting is her “heart” side. We get sweet purring vocals and floaty instrumental on “Body Shop” accompanied by a fun “greased lightening”-inspired dance with stacks of tyres. “If anyone needs a mechanic to work on your body shop I’m your man! And I work hard! And these bitches are my gang,” she yells before asking her dancers to take their tops off to prove “how hard they work.”
A third of the way through she diverts away from the Rebel Heart stuff and finally gives a reminder of why she really is an enduring talent. Adopting a country twang and simple guitar, “True Blue” takes the bass down and let’s us catch our breath – static and unfettered by snazzy pyrotechnics its a really intimate moment, and a reminder that without the gloss and and attention grabbing outfits, there’s still real talent underneath.