Madonna’s self-proclaimed world peace tour arrived in Abu Dhabi via Tel Aviv and opened with the Material Girl mowing down with her assault rifle as many minimally dressed, mostly black men with well-oiled muscles as possible while repeating for at least five minutes, “Bang, bang, I shot my lover dead.” Fake blood included. Peace. It’s something to get you into the groove.
There was also Madonna swigging from a Jack Daniels bottle, a parade of monks, herself kneeled in prayer in the nativity position of her namesake, a cross, and a lot of toned flesh and cursing. Heck, more than half the things Madonna did on stage would have gotten a UAE resident arrested. But Madonna became known for always being able to strut her stuff where others can’t: For example, she did what she wanted on stage in Abu Dhabi but the Sex in the City ladies were banned from the big screen here.
I’m used to pop stars in the US calling the audience motherf….and stripping down to their black lace bras. I’ve been used to that since the 1980s, when Madonna pioneered the shock-over-substance approach to superstardom. It was unbecoming yet charmingly unique 25 years ago when she was in her 20s. Now it just feels unbecoming because of time and place—hers and her audience’s.
While she kept her 25,000 waiting for three hours in the 100 plus degree weather (okay, by the time she came on it, it was only in the low 90s, so maybe we have no right to complain), we had plenty of time to watch young women who had passed out from heat and alcohol get carried out in stretchers to the first aid center in back of us, little girls arrive in matching Madonna clothes, and the multinational gay brigade come out in full homage. It was just like being in LA—but in Abu Dhabi. What I was seeing seemed even less likely to be an outdoor event in the Gulf than if Michael Jackson had eventually taken to the stage instead of Madonna (Given how that the looped track of his greatest hits kept playing while we waited and sweated, it did begin to seem like a possibility). But Michael Jackson didn’t make it. She finally did, and that’s when a lot of people left. It was a mix of the lousy acoustics of the DU Arena, her off sync lip syncing, the general fatigue of standing in the heat that long, boredom with all the tired routines, and people taking offense.
The shock value in LA would have been zero—aside from thinking, “Really? Same old stuff? Nothing new to do? Fanning your crotch in your majorette outfit for the benefit of the audience isn’t so cute on you at 54-years old.” At the same time, there’s something admirable about someone who can’t still do the same thing 25 years, like lip sync, pretend to play the guitar and dance all at once–and all in spike heels. Especially for those of us who couldn’t have done it then or now.
But in Abu Dhabi, the concert seemed not so much out of time, but out of place. Or maybe it was in place—after all it did really happen—and time is changing the place. Certainly more than time has changed Madonna. So how much should time change things? Too big of a question of us with heads still throbbing to the beat of “Bang, bang, I shot my lover dead.” Peace out.