Madonna's Australian Spectacular: The Queen of Pop Reigns Supreme with a Dazzling Greatest Hits PerformanceMadonna,AustralianSpectacular,QueenofPop,GreatestHits,Performance
Madonna's Australian Spectacular: The Queen of Pop Reigns Supreme with a Dazzling Greatest Hits Performance

Madonna’s Australian Spectacular: The Queen of Pop Reigns Supreme with a Dazzling Greatest Hits Performance

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MADONNA REVIEW: Queen of Pop Dazzles with her Greatest Hits

The O2, London

The audience cheers every choreographed dance step as Madonna runs through her ‘broke, starving and homeless’ origin story and enthusiastically snogs a topless dancer.

T he first time Madonna addresses the audience at the O2 Arena – three songs into the opening date of her Celebration tour – it’s to express astonishment. “I’m pretty damn surprised I made it this far,” she offers. “And I mean that on many levels.” Well, quite: it’s a statement you could take in a number of ways.

It might refer to the life-threatening health scare that necessitated the postponement of her current tour, and which seems to have affected the audience’s reaction to tonight’s performance: they cheer every choreographed dance step she undertakes as if it’s a victory against the odds. It might refer to the improbability of Madonna becoming the biggest-selling female recording artist of all time, given her humble beginnings.

A Remarkable Journey

The first part of the retrospective show is consumed by what you might call her origin story: the show’s MC, Rupaul’s Drag Race winner Bob the Drag Queen, makes reference to her arrival in New York from her native Michigan with $35 to her name; her performance of Holiday is preceded by a set-piece recreation of fabled Manhattan club the Paradise Garage, with Madonna insufficiently famous to gain entrance; she plays distorted guitar during a ramshackle version of Burning Up, as she apparently did on stage at CBGB when she was still a member of a band called the Breakfast Club.

Meanwhile, technical issues with the sound mean Madonna has to fill time, which she does, rather entertainingly, with stories from her “broke, starving, homeless” early years on the Lower East Side, living in a rehearsal studio without a bathroom.

Still Reigning as the Queen of Pop

Or it might refer to the fact that Madonna is still here, still filling arenas and stadiums long after most of her 80s pop peers have either died or are operating in vastly reduced circumstances.

That said, her longstanding position as what Wikipedia calls ”the Queen of Pop” has looked decidedly shaky in recent years. It’s more than a decade since Madonna released a single that made the US Top 10; tracks you might reasonably expect to be successful – a 2022 rejig of Material Girl with rapper Saucy Santana, this year’s admittedly wan collaboration with Sam Smith, Vulgar – have barely scraped the charts. Her last tour, the ill-fated 2019-2020 succession of theatre shows, treated her back catalogue as if it were an encumbrance: it largely ignored her hits in favour of 11 songs from her coolly received album, Madame X.

A Celebration of Hits

The Celebration show seeks to redress the balance, reminding the audience of the songs that made her famous in the first place. The section dealing with her life draws to a close with one of the show’s most striking moments: Live to Tell recast as a eulogy for those killed by the Aids epidemic, Madonna floating above the audience on a platform as vast images of New York nightlife luminaries lost to the disease are projected around her.

Thereafter, you could argue that the show loses its sense of narrative thread – you’d be hard-pushed to describe a segue that jams together Human Nature, Crazy for You and Justify My Love with readings from the Book of Revelations as anything other than puzzling – but what it lacks in clarity, it makes up for with its setlist.

Clobbering the Audience with Hits

For all the biblical references, quotations from Gurdjieff flashing across the big screens and occasional diversions into something approaching the realm of the deep cut – Madonna’s daughter, Mercy, plays piano on a version of Bad Girl, a single from 1992’s Erotica, but not a massively successful one – what the Celebration tour is really engaged in is the simple business of clobbering the audience with hits.

There’s a witty recreation of a drag ball for Vogue. She performs Hung Up in the midst of writhing topless female dancers, one of whom she enthusiastically cops off with at the song’s climax. You could see the Celebration tour as a capitulation, an artist in her 60s finally admitting her history is what really matters. Equally, you could view it as Madonna playing to her strengths: as Like a Virgin and Ray of Light boom out over the O2, those strengths seem very strong indeed.


Madonna continues to reign as the Queen of Pop, dazzling her audience with a spectacular performance of her greatest hits. Despite facing health challenges and the decline of her chart success, Madonna‘s Celebration tour reminds us why she is one of the most iconic artists of all time. While the show may lack a clear narrative thread, the sheer power of her setlist and energetic performances compensates for any shortcomings. As Madonna plays to her strengths, she clobbers the audience with hit after hit, leaving no doubt that her history is what truly matters.


<< photo by Nikolai Ulltang >>
The image is for illustrative purposes only and does not depict the actual situation.

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