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Madonna Today, Still The Queen: Fearless, Fabulous, Not An Oldies Act

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"ABLE TO face fear or danger without flinching...resolute...invulnerable...valiant... venturesome." That is a portion of the dictionary definition of the word "fearless."

  • I DON'T know Madonna well enough (believe it or not) to assess that she is actually without fear as a woman, or a human being. In fact she has admitted to being just as, if not more, insecure, than the average person. Fame and constant scrutiny does that to a person. She is far softer and more vulnerable than her public persona suggests. I know that, for sure. But whatever she is with her children, her man, her issues, she remains without a doubt one the most fearless and true-to-herself artists in the world. Madonna kicked off the American leg of her "MDNA" tour in Philadelphia on Monday night. She was full of patriotism, praised America's freedom of speech, demanded the release of the imprisoned Russian performance artists Pussy Riot and denounced homophobia, as she has been doing for the last quarter century. (Long before Lady Gaga was telling her "little monsters" that they were "Born That Way," Madonna was exhorting her fans to "express themselves" and was in the forefront of the AIDS crisis.)

    "MDNA" is what has become the standard mix for a Madonna show--mind-blowing brilliance, dazzling sets, incredible dancing. And then there's the stuff she does because she wants to! She is intent on taking her audience on a journey. Sometimes they are not ready for this journey. They want to groove on the old 1980s/90s jams, presented just as Madonna did in her famous videos. (Tough luck.) Madonna would wither and die if she had to repeat herself over and over. She is not messing with her fans, she's making sure they've grown up. Yeah, and that is despite the campy majorette outfit she wears at one point. She's not pretending time hasn't passed. She's a woman still young, still full of fun. (And wait until you see her marching band, in mid-air, elevated above the crowd!)

    In "MDNA" Madonna gives her fans classics such as "Open Your Heart," "Vogue" "Express Yourself" "Human Nature" and "Like a Virgin." But, as in the case of "Like a Virgin," she has totally transformed the chirpy ode to being "shiny and new," into something almost unbearably dark. Is it pain? Is it pleasure? Is she suffering? Is she in ecstasy? Don't ask me, and don't ask Madonna. She hates to explain herself. She is far happier when the audience either makes up its own mind, or never does. Madonna considers herself a work in progress and she gives her audience the same respect. If you don't get it, don't worry. It's life. Who can explain life?
  • THIS NEW concert relies heavily on her latest album relies heavily on material from her latest album, "MDNA." And though the CD hasn't sold as spectacularly as her past hits, the hot (as in almost passing out from the heat), hysterical audience went mad for newer songs like her opening "Girl Gone Wild," "Revolver" and "Gang Bang." This is the much criticized "violent" section of the show, but many people thought it was less scary and more a pastiche on the cult of violence, not to mention getting some tumultuous feelings off her chest about her ex, Guy Ritchie. She performs a set piece in a tawdry hotel room, swigging whiskey and being attacked by ninja-type assassins dressed in black.It's witty. It's nasty. It's Madonna. The stage is full of movement, the sets gasp-inducing, the onscreen videos and visuals mesmerizing. (Including a gorgeous new black-and-white version of "Erotica" and the controversial "Nobody Knows," with its images of violence, political revolution around the world, and a tear-inducing tribute to gay teenagers who have killed themselves.) Madonna's voice, when she sings totally live, is effective and moving, especially on "Masterpiece."

    She ain't ever gonna sing "Aida, but but she has some chops. Her moves remain a miracle of athleticism, for any age. She looks better than she has on any recent tour, keeping her weight up and appearing utterly joyful. Her enthusiasm was infectious. At one point she declared, "Sometimes it's easier to show your ass than your feelings." Naturally, at that moment, she was showing both! Madonna capped off the night by whipping her audience into a frenzy with "I'm a Sinner," "Like a Prayer" (which was so solid, beautiful sung and reverently raw that it was literally a religious experience) and the bouncy "Celebration," in which her handsome young
    son, Rocco, gave mom some competition in the dancing department.

    If you want Madonna singing the oldies, in the same key, the same outfits, the same mindset, "MDNA" might disappoint. If you want to see a woman still fighting the good fight, trying to entertain, educate and rile up her audience, you're in for a roller-coaster ride, with Madonna herself at the controls. There is only one queen, and that's Madonna, still.
  • Don't miss the chic, suave Departures magazine (it is put out by American Express with the gifted Richard David Story at the helm). In the September Style issue, out now, there is a glorious story of Madrid and the way that city is seen by the glamorous designing Herrera girls. But my pet thing is their cover article on society's "other" favorite photographer (next to the Times' genius Bill Cunningham) I do mean Mary Hilliard, who is on the cover and inside she is photographed at Swifty's hangout and here, there and everywhere. Mary is one of the last of the great ladies with a camera, a woman who also has manners, smarts and good looks herself. Almost everybody who is anybody loves her and they always hope she will appear instead of some others of the paparazzi. Brava, Mary!
  • DON'T KNOW about you but I wrote Lance Armstrong a letter, telling him he'll always be a champ in my book. They can take away titles and medals and everything else but they won't touch his accomplishments. He is a man who has struggled against testicular cancer and overcome and endured and done more good works than you or I can count. I am sick of this harassing of athletes going on and on while we never bring drug laws into the 20th century. And Wall Street still runs amuck and gets away with whatever it wants. A little perspective wouldn't hurt all these whistle blowers. (And, yes, that includes me too.)