The Beatles are number one in singles sales. The Rolling Stones top album sales. And Madonna started a new tour a handful of weeks ago. Postponed due to a severe infection that occurred last spring, this new campaign takes the form of a retrospective of one of the most phenomenal pop careers of the last forty years. After a series of concerts as part of the Grand Rex in 2019, the star returned to the immensity of the Accor Arena for her dates in Paris*. The first of these took place on Sunday November 12. Announced at 8:30 p.m. then 9:30 p.m., the show started after 10 p.m. “For once, it’s not my fault,” she apologized, aware of her reputation as a latecomer. Not the least paradox for a woman who has always been artistically ahead. For the first time in her career, Madonna takes the stage without an album to defend. The issue lies elsewhere: celebrating four decades of constant presence in popular culture. And it doesn't matter if she hasn't had a hit since 2005: Madonna is unique.
The show begins with archival footage of New York in 1978. Madonna explains "it's not just going to be a show or a party but a celebration tonight." In black outfit, on a circular and rotating stage, his silhouette is reflected on the surrounding screens, as if to announce the introspective nature of the show. Madonna is facing herself.
The dancers of the French troupe La Horde descend on Everybody, which suffers from too muffled sound. The New York skyline is silhouetted in the background, images of the city's subway flash by. Into The Groove thunders. The program, quite chronological, continues with the singer's second single, in 1983, Burning Up, which she delivers alone on electric guitar. “This is the story of my life,” she said in halting French, drinking beer from the neck. The program will therefore be very autobiographical. Madonna had never delivered so many elements and reflections on her life before. Very lively, she takes long minutes to talk about her extraordinary journey. “I’m as surprised as you are to have gotten this far. I was lucky,” she says. “I am the most grateful person in the world.”
We have the feeling of attending a master class more than a concert. Madonna recalls the different clubs of her early days, lets her guitar play and wanders arm in arm with a lookalike of her friend Jean-Michel Basquiat, whom she tries to get into a club.
There, the evening takes a shocking turn. A death on the track. The last day of disco? It's the end of carelessness. She delivers a powerful version of the first ballad of her career, Live to Tell. Perched in the heights, it is surrounded by giant portraits of personalities cut down by AIDS, from Keith Harring to Freddie Mercury via Anthony Perkins. The picture is staggering in its intensity. Madonna honors her dead with great dignity. We weren't expecting such a dark sequence in a mainstream show. Death is everywhere around her during this evening. And with it, worship in all its forms, whether Catholic or otherwise. Eros and Thanatos flirt constantly.
During Like a Prayer, a guitarist evokes the figure of Prince, another late 1980s superstar. The following table addresses the 1990s. The Internet is stammering (we hear the ancient sound of a modem), Madonna explores eroticism and causes a scandal with the book Sex and the album Erotica, from which she plays extracts. She sings a piece of Fever, unleashes a fury with Hung Up and its sample of Abba. A procession combines her black-veiled silhouette with a piano playing a classical melody. Madonna gets involved with the police, defends the homosexual community.
The very careful paintings, with their ultra-accomplished production, evoke an opera production. Die Another Day reminds us that she sang in the credits of a James Bond film (not the best) but it was Don't Tell Me, produced by Mirwais, which got the crowd on board, with a nod to Morricone. Madonna takes the time to talk about her mother who died during her childhood in a long monologue where she speaks openly about the 4 children she adopted in Malawi. “In the hospital this year, I was dying from this bacteria. When I woke up with my 6 children around me, I told myself that they had saved me,” she says. “Can I continue talking? »
Grabbing a guitar – acoustic, this time – Madonna hits the chords and sings I Will Survive before moving on to La Isla Bonita. On the screens, the faces of the great deceased whom she admired, from Beauvoir to Bowie via Nina Simone or Sinead O'Connor. The Latin color continues with the song from the film Evita, Don't Cry for Me Argentina.
The last sequence will be the opposite of these moments of intimacy: maximalist as hell, always with the figure of death at his side. Madonna is more than ever a survivor. In another very beautiful sequence, she greets Michael Jackson. As shadow puppets, we hear them singing, each in turn, Billie Jean and Like a Virgin. The Material Girl transformed into a Spiritual Girl.
*Madonna will be at the Accor Arena on November 13, 19 and 20.