HEY Australia. Madonna wants you to know something.
She’s definitely coming down under next March, her first visit here since 1993. Repeat, definitely.
“I’m finally coming and at last,” Madonna says, speaking from her London home just hours after coming off stage during the British leg of her Rebel Heart tour.
“I hear there are people there who don’t actually believe it’s true. But it is true. That’s why we’re talking. I will definitely be there. Yes I will.”
Australian Madonna fans could be forgiven for having a ‘We’ll believe it when she’s on stage’ attitude to her return to our shores.
Since 1993, five consecutive Madonna world tours have bypassed this part of the world.
There was 2001’s stage comeback Drowned World, her first tour after becoming a mother and the first after her creative comeback, 1998’s Ray Of Light album.
We didn’t see 2004’s Reinvention Tour — arguably the closest Madonna has come to a greatest hits tour.
From there things got enticingly closer, but frustratingly distant. Madonna axed an Australian leg of 2006’s Confessions tour to make sure her kids could get to school in London.
“The important thing to remember is that I’m not retiring anytime soon and I am gonna get to Australia as soon as I can,” Madonna said at the time in an apology to local fans.
Australian dates for 2009’s Sticky and Sweet tour were proposed, but cancelled. The global head of her touring company Live Nation personally stated the MDNA tour would come to Australia in 2013. When the dates never eventuated Madonna posted another apology to Australian fans and pointed out that her kids and their school commitments come first.
The good news — her children are coming to Australia next year.
“The family goes everywhere I go anyway, so they’ll be there,” Madonna says.
There is still a large souvenir that reminds Madonna of that one time she visited Australia her every time she’s at home in London.
It’s the didgeridoo she was presented to her by Michael Gudinski, who promoted the Girlie Show in 1993 where she played to nearly 300,000 people in outdoor shows in Sydney (where a show was filmed for release) and Melbourne alone, another 100,000 or so in Brisbane and Adelaide stadium shows.
“It’s here in London, it’s in the corner, waiting for someone to use it,” Madonna says of her didgeridoo.
Madonna’s other memories of that tour?
“Everyone was incredibly welcoming and friendly. That was my impression of Australians in general. Also I remember we did a day trip into the outback and went travelling around in nature when I was given the gigantic didgeridoo. There were lots of parties … Met a rowing team, lots of big gorgeous Australian boys. Only good memories.”
Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour is arguably the best way she could return to Australia after so long.
After witnessing the show in New York, it’s the most relaxed she’s been on stage in several tours. The whole Rebel Heart period has seen Madonna having fun, which doesn’t always seem to be the case with each album. On this tour she is visibly enjoying herself as she slips in a few jokes, pulls up random audience members on stage (a Madonna rarity) and goes off script musically each night, keeping fans on their toes — and on You Tube to see what song they missed.
“I’m really having fun,” Madonna says of Rebel Heart, which started in Canada in September and ends in Brisbane, and includes her first trip to New Zealand
“For me it’s the perfect blend of all the different styles of music that I’ve done, being able to connect to the audience, tell jokes, having big grand epic moments and have small quiet intimate moments. It kind of covers everything.”
There are the classic Madonna sexing up religion moments — re-enacting The Last Supper while breaking into Vogue, pole dancing nuns in hot pants during Holy Water.
Then there’s the things you never thought you’d see — Madonna armed with a guitar doing a rock version of 1983’s classic Burning Up, which was only a hit in Australia (No. 13) after being championed by Molly Meldrum and John Peters on Countdown. Or singing Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose. Or singing 1987’s Who’s That Girl or her cover of Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.
During an acoustic respite from the constant action, Madonna’s able to cherrypick older hits which either replace or accompany Who’s That Girl. So far there’s been Frozen, Secret, Substitute For Love and a song that was a notable omission from the original setlist, Like a Prayer.
Selecting which classic hit she’ll play that night is a highlight of Madonna’s day while on tour.
“A lot of time it just comes to me during soundcheck which song I’m going to do that night,” she says. “Which is fun, because it makes things spontaneous and then the show doesn’t get old for me.”
No Madonna fan expects her to come out and do a Greatest Hits set. She’s just not that kind of artist — looking forward not backwards has always been her mission.
Having said that there’s easily at least 30 Madonna singles most fans could instantly name that they would rather hear in the Rebel Heart setlist than Candy Shop from 2008’s R & B-flavoured Hard Candy — try Borderline, Everybody, Gambler, Angel, Crazy For You, Live To Tell, Papa Don’t Preach, Open Your Heart, Causing a Commotion, Express Yourself, Cherish, Oh Father, Dear Jessie, Keep It Together, Rescue Me, Erotica, Bad Girl, Rain, Bedtime Story, Ray Of Light, Nothing Really Matters, Frozen, Beautiful Stranger, Don’t Tell Me, What It Feels Like For a Girl, Die Another Day, Hollywood, American Life, Sorry and Hung Up for starters.
But, that’s not the Madonna way. She is embracing nostalgia like never before during the Rebel Heart era — posting old photos on Instagram, namechecking her own songs in Veni Vidi Vici — but that Immaculate Collection hits tour just isn’t going to happen any time soon. If ever.
The tour’s setlist has been precisely planned by Madonna to balance then and now in a manner she’s comfortable with.
“I don’t want to just sing all my hits, that’s so boring. There needs to be a thread that connects them all, they have to flow from one to the other seamlessly, and for me it’s always a challenge to make that happen.”
Material Girl, an early hit from the brief period where Madonna recorded other people’s songs, is a surprise inclusion in the Rebel Heart tour.
She’s been dismissive of the song and its message in the past to the point where fans thought she’d have to be at gunpoint to ever perform it again.
Yet there it is towards the end of the Rebel Heart tour. While some hits (Dress You Up, Into the Groove, Lucky Star) are truncated in medley form (after 82 singles since 1982 she’s got a lot of hits to include), Material Girl may be musically de-cheesed but it’s there in full.
There’s even a nod to the video and it ends up with Madonna in a mock wedding and throwing her bouquet into the crowd.
“We do it in such a fun, kitsch way that we present it like a Busby Berkeley musical so it works for me,” Madonna says. “That whole section is very tongue in cheek.”
There are many hits, including classics like Ray Of Light, Frozen and Hung Up, that Australians have never seen live that were in previous tours, but didn’t make the cut in the Rebel Heart setlist.
“Well, I have a lot of songs to do. I can’t do them all,” she says. “But I can if I switch them up from night to night, then I manage to get around to most of them.”
Will Australia get to see Like a Prayer in the acoustic segment?
“Most definitely. Most definitely.”
Another unexpected moment on Rebel Heart is seeing Madonna play True Blue on a ukulele: “it’s only four strings but the chords are completely different to a guitar so it’s difficult”. She hasn’t played it live since 1987 and the song will be 30 years old by the time she plays it down under next year.
“Oh I love it, it’s so much fun,” Madonna says. “I forgot what a good song it was.”
Madonna folklore says True Blue was written about husband Sean Penn.
“Yes,” Madonna confirms. “Yes it was actually. Strangely enough. That was the Sean time of my life!”
Penn was at Madison Square Garden in September watching her sing True Blue. A few days later Madonna referenced their meeting by telling the crowd “He had been at my show 30 years earlier when I was at Madison Square Garden, and he was very upset with me for wearing a costume that was too revealing. That’s not a lie! Anyway, after the show he wrote me a letter and said he finally appreciates my art. And that is what I have to say about marriage, okay!? Thirty f—ing years later.”
Madonna said she wasn’t totally joking.
“Yeah, we talked afterwards. He said something to that effect (finally appreciating my art). He’s been to many of my concerts, he has been supportive and acknowledged me. I think he, I don’t know, with time and being able to have objectivity and things like that …”
Madonna tails off, but in her defence, it sounds like a pipe was about to explode — yes even Madonna has plumbing issues.
“I’m in my bathroom, my toilet’s making weird noises,” she says. In Bathroom With Madonna.
Back to Sean Penn.
“We’ve been friends for ages,” Madonna clarifies.
After his appearance at the New York show, rumours flew the two were back together. Madonna is no stranger to rumour and moves into deflection mode.
You know there’s rumours you and Sean are dating together.
“Yeah. But we’re friends.”
Madonna, 57, has just spent time with another man from her past, Prince.
Rumours suggested Prince staged a private show for Madonna in October.
“That is true and it was unbelievable,” Madonna says.
“We were in Minneapolis. We invited him to the show, he said he was recording an album and he wasn’t really feeling like going out in public, he was feeling kind of shy and staying at home. But he said we were welcome to come to his house and he’d give us a private show for me and my crew. So we were like ‘OK, twist our arm’. So we did. And he did. It was amazing.”
What was he playing?
“A lot of jazz and improvisational stuff. It wasn’t like he was doing all his hits. And he played every instrument, he just moved around the stage, played piano, played organ, played synth, played guitar, played bass. It was amazing. He’s a genius, no question.”
Madonna and Prince recorded the underrated duet Love Song for the Like a Prayer album in 1989. Now they’re back in each other’s orbit could they do another duet or has the moment passed?
“I would never say that any moment has passed. Anything is possible. Why not?”
With time running out it’s time for some rapid fire Madonna questions.
Yes, she saw Adele hail Ray Of Light as an inspiration for an artist coming back to music after childbirth.
“That’s awesome,” Madonna says. “I love it. I’m a huge fan of hers. I was really flattered that she said that.”
Yes, she’s been tentatively following Donald Trump’s presidential campaign while on tour.
“I see bits and pieces. I try not to pay too much attention to it because it’s kind of disturbing.”
Yes, as a lifelong activist for equality she’s aware same-sex marriage is illegal in Australia.
“I will have something to say about that (on stage). I have something to say about plenty of things!”
Yes, despite the alarming fall at the Brit Awards this year (and the amazing comeback) Madonna is still using a cape in the Rebel Heart tour — there is no cape fear after the incident where a string on her cape was tied too tight, causing a dancer to yank the cape and the world’s most successful pop star with it.
“I’ve done 42 shows and worn a cape every time,” she says. “It wasn’t the cape, at the end of the day…”
And no, she hasn’t selected the famous Australians she’ll pull on stage during Unapologetic Bitch, where the likes of Amy Schumer, Graham Norton, Idris Elba, Katy Perry and Stella McCartney have already been publicly spanked by Madonna.
“Is Kylie going be there?,” Madonna asks. “I thought she lived in London. If she’s in Australia at one of my shows she’d be great. Or Molly Meldrum. He’d be good. He definitely deserves a spanking.”
We wind up talking about Diplo, one of Madonna’s creative collaborators on Rebel Heart.
When the album’s first two singles Living For Love and Ghost Town were ignored by Top 40 radio Madonna pointed out the ageism that sees women over 40 struggle to get radio play.
It’s an argument Tina Arena put an Australian spin on during her ARIA Hall of Fame speech.
In a recent Rolling Stone article Diplo, who has had major radio attention for pretty much every other artist he’s worked with this year including Justin Bieber, said Ghost Town would have been a hit for any other artist, but radio prejudge a new Madonna song.
“He’s right,” Madonna says. “I agree. Radio is ageist. If you’re not in your twenties they won’t play you on the radio. It’s bullsh — but that’s the way it is.
“It is disappointing. We live in an ageist society. I’ve tried my hardest to do whatever I can to change peoples’ perception of women, of age, of what is possible and why should any of us limit ourselves in any way, shape or form regardless of our sex, our sexual preference, our age, our religious beliefs, our race etc.
“So for me it’s shocking in this day and age where we’re now accepting gay marriages that we still treat women in a very sexist way. That’s one frontier that has not been conquered. Because if I was a man, things would be different …”
Madonna, Rod Laver Arena March 12, 13. Allphones Arena Sydney March 19, 20. Brisbane Entertainment Centre March 26, 27. Ticketek.
thanks to nemo64