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Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour in New York – New York Times Review

Madonna let fans see her sweat when her “Rebel Heart” tour started its two nights at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. She belted “HeartBreakCity,” a bitter, accusatory breakup song, from a staircase as she battled the embraces of an acrobatic dancer. Then she tossed off a jacket to reveal a sweat-soaked blouse, and traded heartache for triumph with the first words — “I made it through the wilderness” — of “Like a Virgin.” She pranced and strutted through it with some moves from her 1980s videos and opened the blouse to reveal lingerie and cleavage. The lesson: Madonna the indomitable sexpot would prevail.

That’s undeniable. She mentioned, twice, that she first played Madison Square Garden 30 years ago, saying she felt nostalgic. But while much of her audience has grown up with her, Madonna, now 57, hasn’t allowed herself to become an oldies act. She filled the set with songs from “Rebel Heart,” released this year, and thoroughly rearranged her early hits.

Through the decades, Madonna’s tours have delivered spectacles that push hot buttons galore: sexuality, power, faith, rebellion and sheer willfulness. They were all part of the “Rebel Heart” show, too. But on this tour, Madonna isn’t confronting her audience as much as sharing her prerogatives with it. The dance numbers go hopscotching through history and geography, reaching up in the air and across the arena, simply because they can. read more →


Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour in New York – Rolling Stone Review

“You know what they say — it’s lonely at the top,” Madonna told the crowd near the end of her New York show last night. “But it ain’t crowded!” And on the second U.S. show of her hotly awaited new Rebel Heart tour, Our Lady spent three hours proving what a goddess she is, not to mention what an Unapologetic Bitch. Damn right it’s not crowded, because there’s nobody else near her throne. The whole night was a tour of everything only Madonna can do. She’s not the same. She has no shame. She’s on fire.

She sang the Edith Piaf ballad “La Vie En Rose” in French, alone on the stage, strumming her ukelele. (“It’s en français, though, okay? So try and sing along if you can.”) After “Material Girl,” she tossed a wedding bouquet to a gay couple up front, then snickered, “Suckers!” She used crucifixes as stripper poles, doing the “Vogue” rap while writhing against a dancer clad in a nun’s wimple and feathery hot pants. Her cassocked dancers simulated a group-grope orgy at the Last Supper while the guest of honor chanted “Yeezus loves my pussy best!” And all night long, her banter was the toppest of notch, like when she introduced her gorgeous new acoustic country-hoedown version of “True Blue.” “No swear words in this song,” she announced. “This is a song about true love. I didn’t know what I was talking about when I wrote it.” Glad you’re the one who brought that up, Madonna.

She hasn’t reached so far onstage, musically or emotionally, since her 2001 Drowned World extravaganza. Her last couple of tours had spectacular performances, but dodgy set lists. This time Madonna has much stronger new songs to play with, from Rebel Heart — and she brilliantly revamps the hits. She played a Flying V for a punked-out “Burning Up,” dropping to her knees for her guitar solo — the first time she played Madison Square Garden, 30 years ago, she got on her knees in front of the male guitarist while he played a solo, and don’t think she doesn’t remember these things. read more →


Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour in New York – The Guardian Review

In the first of two Rebel Heart tour shows at the historic venue, the pop queen brings out Amy Schumer, Game of Thrones, transgender nuns, a ukulele … and her greatest hits

Madonna’s album Rebel Heart was bedevilled by leaks; she fell flat on her backside at the Brit awards; and her Instagram gaffes have made Jeremy Corbyn look like a Rupert Murdoch-style media mastermind. As she arrives in Madison Square Garden on the fourth date of her 10th tour – the last under her 10-year, $120m contract with Live Nation – she should be up against it. Yet Madonna is always at her best with her back to the wall, when the killer instinct that has sustained her through over 30 years in pop rears to the surface, a visceral refusal to be beaten.

Her choice of support act on this homecoming gig – since New York is the place she remade herself – is very Madonna, all wrong on paper but in practice, right on the money. Amy Schumer takes the stage in front of a massive backdrop of Madonna’s face staring at the heavens and clutching a sword to her breast, the massive machinery of pop music concealed behind it. Swigging from a bottle of champagne, and with nothing but a microphone and a stool, the comic of the moment says that she was asked: “‘Who better than you to open up for Madonna?’” “Uh,” she rhetorically answers. “Any band?”

Yet Schumer’s perfect reading of the audience, in which straight men are such a minority as to be non-existent, (“It’s like taking a warm bath in a ton of dick that doesn’t want you”) weapons-grade filth (“We’re here to rethink cum”) and description of the Kardashians as a family who “take the faces they were born with as a light suggestion” reduce the crowd to marshmallow before Madonna has even made an appearance.

Twenty-five years from her apotheosis, 1990’s Blond Ambition tour, Madonna’s vision of the pop concert – in which music is combined with dance, video and costume, in order to reconceptualise familiar hits into an overwhelming sensory bombardment – has now been copied by generations of pop stars. She’s also notorious for stuffing the setlist with new material, thwarting those who would love an oldies show. At first the signs aren’t promising: the show starts with film of Madonna writhing in a sequinned dress in a cage, while her voiceover chunters that creativity is being threatened by corporations (ironic, given that Madonna is a formidable corporation in her own right). read more →

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Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour in New York – Billboard Review

For an artist who rarely looks back creatively, Madonna was in a particularly wistful mood during her Madison Square Garden concert on Wednesday (Sept. 16) night, the first of three NYC dates on her Rebel Heart Tour.

“I’m feeling very nostalgic tonight,” Madonna said (twice, actually). “I played Madison Square Garden 30 years ago. That’s crazy.” When she trailed off for a moment, you almost thought she was lost in sentimental reverie. But as always, Madonna was laser-focused on the present, even while reminiscing. “You were there?” she asked a fan in the front row who had been talking to her. “Then I gotta give you a kiss.” For the record, a Madonna-on-fan kiss is a controlled affair: She kissed her fingers and touched the fan’s forehead, like a messiah gracing her faithful follower with one touch.

Nostalgia aside, Madonna’s restless creative spirit is on full display on the Rebel Heart Tour. Refusing to coast by playing faithful, familiar live renditions of her hits, Madge recast a number of her classics in different musical molds, with mostly positive results.

Strapping on a guitar, she skuzzed up “Burning Up” to hard rock heights and turned “True Blue” into a ukulele sing-along. For “Like a Virgin,” she lost the original instrumentation, her backup dancers and most of her clothes while turning her breakthrough hit into a sparse, Pharrell-esque jam. read more →

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Consequences of Sound Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” Album

Madonna never lost touch with the culture she once created. Even the weak points in her generation-spanning career throb with a love of pop music, its mass appeal and its potential for mass transcendence — what it can do to people. The singer and performer’s latest album, Rebel Heart, is her 13th in 32 years, and in some ways it carries the most of Madonna’s personality since 2000’s Music. But like her last two albums, 2008’s Hard Candy and 2012’s MDNA, Rebel Heart leans too steeply into too many trends at once, making it a scattered affair that flashes between drudgery and brilliance.

After a polarizing promotional rollout — Madonna was forced to release about a third of the album after a handful of demos leaked, and then she blithely compared herself to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. by photoshopping their faces into the album’s cover on Instagram — Rebel Heart appears in all its glory with features from Chance the Rapper, Nicki Minaj, and (perplexingly) Mike Tyson. Behind the scenes, she’s got Kanye West, Diplo, Sophie, and Blood Diamonds all co-producing on various tracks. At points, that roster is exactly as jarring as it looks on paper. Diplo’s contributions alternate between buoyant and obnoxious, while PC Music affiliate Sophie feels underused, like an afterthought snagged for the name recognition among the SoundCloud crowd. read more →


V Magazine Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

March 10, 2015. A new album release from Madonna should feel like a global holiday—a celebration of innovative music, groundbreaking videos, boundary pushing fashion, memorable album artwork, and dance moves that could only belong to the one and only club crawling space cowboy spiritually seeking disco geisha latino loving queen of pop. In contrast, the saga leading up to Rebel Heart’s drop (in stores and online retailers today) has been well documented. A series of unfortunate leaks of an album’s worth of unfinished material, questionable Instagram posts featuring world leaders Photoshopped into the album’s artwork, and perhaps the biggest blow, her spill during her performance of the first single, “Living for Love,” at the Brit Awards, while wearing a now infamous tied too tight Armani cape. Despite the noise, nothing can distract from the fact that Madonna’s blonde ambition has always persevered through the controversy. And her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, is one of the most challenging and ultimately rewarding records of her career.

Three decades in, she’s still sharp-tongued and in search of the party, but Rebel Heart reveals more vulnerability than she’s allowed since Like A Prayer. The temple and church of the devoted will recognize the familiar themes she continues to explore—sexual fantasy (“Body Shop”), lost and found love (“Heartbreak City”), salvation (“Devil Pray”), redemption (“Wash All Over Me”), and perhaps her most cohesive and powerful narrative, the triumphant and transcendent power of the dancefloor (“Living for Love”). Nostalgia has never been Madonna’s thing, but on Rebel Heart, she takes a time out to reference some of her biggest hits and her rise to the top from the Lower East Side rock scene and vogue balls of the early ’90s with “Veni Vidi Vici” and “Holy Water.” read more →

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Paste Magazine’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

When the tracklist was posted for Madonna’s 13th record, with titles like “Unapologetic Bitch,” “Iconic” and “Bitch I’m Madonna,” it felt like we were in store for another round of songs trying to reclaim her pop supremacy. Even the album’s title, Rebel Heart, smacked of trying to remind listeners that Madonna can still push buttons and boundaries. Then again, the Iggy Azaleas and the Nicki Minajes weaned on Madonna engage in this sort of thing every day.

But this new batch of songs feels and sounds raw and powerful, like the woman herself, if occasionally a little hamfisted. Rebel Heart is not a perfect record—it meanders at lengthy 19 tracks—but it does boast some of the most introspective and lyrics Madonna has ever penned. She also once again brings in a crack team of producers, including Kanye West and Diplo, among many others to add some sparkle and modern-day Futurism to her confessionals.

It works for the songs that would otherwise make you cringe. Diplo throws a dub beat on “Unapologetic Bitch,” whose refrain, “You know you never really knew how much your selfish bullshit cost me, well f*ck you,” absolutely stings. “Illuminati” is a meeting of the egos, with Kanye bringing the bells and whistles and Madonna Vogue-rapping. It’s dark and creepy, and it’s one of the best tracks on Rebel Heart. Nicki Minaj raps over “Bitch I’m Madonna,” doing nothing more than lending it some credence to Millennials.

Madonna taps into her sexuality in songs like the heavy-handed “S.E.X.” and “Holy Water” (which includes some “Vogue” references), although they fail to reach the more restrained sexiness of “Justify My Love.” And she gets self-referential on the retrospective “Veni Vidi Vici.” Those are weak spots, but the overall humanness of Rebel Heart makes up for any lapses.

These moments when Madonna feels the need to again pronounce her validity are noteworthy, since she’s spent most of her career setting the curve. On one hand it brings out a welcome vulnerability to the artist and her music. Then again it’s Madonna, bitch—she doesn’t need to explain anything.

7.6 out of 10


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Pitchfork’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

It’s difficult to take Madonna at face value. She is on her third generation of pop iconhood, after all, and her work comes freighted with decades of discussions about sexuality, appropriation, and whether what she is doing is “shocking” or “fake” or “appropriate.” In the run-up to Rebel Heart, a series of bad-press flare-ups—myriad Instagram-based controversies, comparing her album leak to rape—suggested that maybe Madonna had slipped from our reality entirely. Yet, the surprise of Rebel Heart, her 13th album, is its groundedness, its centering of the Real Madonna in the mix.

In a way, Rebel Heart fits squarely into a growing canon that also includes Björk’s Vulnicura, Kim Gordon’s new memoir and the autobiography of Slits guitarist Viv Albertine: female artists of a certain age making mature, candid work about divorce, and the rediscovery of the artistic self that follows in the wake of the rupture of their domestic life. Rebel Heart, like Vulnicura, digs in on the vertiginous aftermath (most spectacularly on “Living for Love” and “HeartBreakCity”), and finds steadiness in the pure loves of children, the bedrock of self, and spiritualism. As is traditional Madonna™, her lyrics reach for top-shelf Catholicism, conflating spiritual and sexual salvation in a way that never makes entirely clear whether the supplication is being offered at the foot of Christ or a bedmate. read more →


A.V. Club’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

It’s a testament to Madonna’s star power that every new album she releases is an event. However, the promotional cycle for Rebel Heart was provocative even by her standards: A hacker leaked demos from the album back in December, prompting the early release of six full songs just before Christmas (and an arrest several weeks later). That still didn’t prevent another avalanche of demos and remixes from appearing online and infiltrating YouTube, however—ensuring that nobody was entirely quite sure what the final version of Rebel Heart would actually sound like.

That shroud of mystery and intrigue still suits the ever-chameleonic icon, even if Rebel Heart’s main themes are clear-cut studies in contrasts: confident braggadocio and expressions of uncertainty; unfettered lust and tender love; relationship optimism and post-heartbreak sorrow; seeking out religious redemption and tangoing with the dark side. None of this is particularly new territory for Madonna, but these juxtapositions do make for some of her most vulnerable, engaging work in years—in particular “Joan Of Arc” (during which she acknowledges her fallibility when faced with criticism) and the bitter, piano-driven ex-kiss-off “HeartBreakCity.” read more →

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Spin’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

As the woman who reinvented and ultimately defined what pop stardom means, Madonna understands the first rule of it better than anyone else: Never be afraid to embarrass yourself. In her 30-plus-year reign as the genre’s queen, Madge has acutely displayed the difference between self-awareness and self-consciousness, and why it’s as important to have plenty of the former as it is to lack the latter entirely. Top-40 titans are more compelling when it’s evident they know exactly what they’re doing, but once it’s clear that they’re adjusting their music or personality based on audience perception or expectation, it’s probably already over for them.

At age 56, she is still generating excessive debate and extensive criticism for this reason — she fails to kowtow to the public’s assumption that popular icons (and female ones in particular) should age gracefully, or at least obviously. Rebel Heart, Madonna’s 13th and latest album, references drug usage, name-drops (other) celebrities, and contains no shortage of eye-rolling double entendres. It’s not about motherhood, it’s not about nostalgia, and it’s definitely not about being less than a decade away from social security. It’s an album that makes it exceptionally easy for critics — or just the Internet at large — to turn Madonna into a punchline, the old hag that still thinks she’s 25 and just can’t understand that no one wants to hear a 50-something talking about how Yeezus ranks her pussy. It also contains a number of Madonna’s best songs in years. read more →


Time Magazine’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

Rebel Heart Is Madonna’s Most Consistent Album in a Decade

Because nobody can poke fun at Madonna like Madonna

The last decade of Madonna’s career is a testament to the power of thin lines: an inch of slippage, and even the most venerated and groundbreaking artists can tumble from pop’s vanguard to a zone somewhere in the back, fighting to catch up. After the commercial and critical debacle that was 2003’s American Life, she temporarily stepped out of the pop arms race, traveling backwards in time to revisit her days as a Lower East Side disco queen with Confessions on a Dance Floor. As a result, she regained some momentum. But when she attempted to rejoin the present with the chunky, rhythmically dense Hard Candy and cold, shiny EDM of MDNA, she received criticism that was disproportionate to the quality of the product. Rather than being celebrated for working hard to stay contemporary after nearly three decades of work, she was called desperate and calculating, assertions that often stunk of sexism. (Try to find examples of similar criticisms being leveled at Giorgio Moroder, or Nile Rodgers, or Paul McCartney.)

It was a reaction that disregarded the fact that she was simply doing what she’d done for every album she’d ever released: cherry-picking collaborators with the relevance and skill to match her songwriting and nose for trends, and attempting to forge a sort of synergy. But the narrative had been set, and handfuls of good songs — like Hard Candy’s “She’s Not Me,” a funky, strobe-lit romp that beat Daft Punk to the nü-Chic punch — were doomed to languish in relative obscurity. For a moment, it seemed like Rebel Heart, her 13th studio album, was going to be submarined for similarly non-musical reasons. When a huge batch of demos and sketches leaked at the end of 2014, she went nuts in response, comparing the leaks to “artistic rape” and “terrorism.” Given all the turmoil, it’s impressive — and a little surprising — that the final product is her most consistent album in a decade, and one that renders any hypothetical “bid for continued relevance” moot by remaining proudly scattershot. It’s an album that places more emphasis on Madonna the person than Madonna the sonic visionary, and it benefits as a result.

Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s completely eschewed the bleeding edge. About half of Rebel Heart lands somewhere between “contemporary” and “innovative,” with songs that evoke the frenetic uncanny valley pop of PC Music, Kanye West’s serrated and menacing Yeezus and Avicii’s country-EDM fusion. (West and Avicii both appear on the album via writing and production credits; Diplo, enigmatic UK producer Sophie, and indie darling Ariel Rechtshaid are also among the small army of collaborators.) Single “Bitch I’m Madonna” manages to somehow pull from all three, and the result is a glorious mess, a whirlwind of unexpected texture and silly sound. But staying ahead of the curve isn’t the album’s ultimate goal, and there are just as many songs that land with surprising delicacy: simple folk guitars, churchy piano melodies, and arrangements that recall the soft, intimate sweep of 1994’s underrated Bedtime Stories. The album presents two faces, neither of which are designed to stand alone: the #1 Baddest Bitch out for sex and blood (“the Rebel”) and the vulnerable veteran reflecting on love, life, and difficult choices (“the Heart”). And while the songs in the former group are great fun, because nobody can poke fun at Madonna like Madonna — the repeated snarl of “Bitch, get off my pole” on the lurid “Holy Water” is funnier than every Twitter joke about her tumble at the BRIT Awards put together — the latter ones are the true stunners.

They’re rich in the same reckoning with faith, sacrilege, and love that have marked Madonna’s work for three decades, but there’s a new and palpable fatigue to the writing and performance. Her voice sounds great, light and a little worn around the edges; it bears the weight of a full love, of love won and lost, real pain and real joy. On highlights like the gentle “Joan of Arc” and weightless fantasy “Body Shop,” she sounds a little like a mother tucking into an old story at the kitchen table, running through the decisions she’s made and the paths she could’ve taken: her years of purposeful provocation, the isolation that stems from defiance, the fight to accept imperfections within yourself. There are albums where it’s been difficult to remember that Madonna is a real person and not just a figurehead, a concept, a lightning rod. That’s not the case with Rebel Heart: it has surprising gravity, and doubles as a portrait of a lion approaching the winter of a career without precedent. It’s the realest, and the best, Madonna has sounded in quite some time.


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The Observer’s Review of Madonna’s “Rebel Heart” album

The internet is a funny place – so full of porn and hate, but so often as obsessed with propriety as a Victorian maiden aunt. Recently, it decided that women of 56 can’t fall over; online wags reminding them that walking up stairs in capes is solely the preserve of youth.

The ageism unleashed by Capegate makes you warm to much of Rebel Heart, Madonna’s 13th album. The unseemly segments, where Madonna baits and gyrates, can be a hoot. When she acts her age, it is lacklustre and over-enunciated; lived-and-loved stuff trotted out in overblown ballads.

Ever since Evita (and some might argue, Kabbalah), Madonna has too often hankered after a librettist’s voice, in which scansion, character motivation and imagery development take precedence over the giddy rush of pop. Wash All Over Me, the last song on Rebel Heart, is a wordy and portentous digital wallow that finds rave producer Avicii playing Andrew Lloyd Webber to her Tim Rice. Another electronic ballad not ill-suited to the stage, Ghosttown, finds a pair of lovers in extremis, without a shred of originality to hang on to. Do we really need Madonna – MDNA, as was – warning us of the dangerous illusion of drug use, as she does on Devil Pray? Probably not, although everyone should inhale this digital country-turned-Goan-rave romp at least once, just to say they have.

Millennials will cringe, but Madonna just makes a far better basqued polemicist than she does a wise elder stateswoman. The indecorous segments of Rebel Heart locate her sense of wickedness high in the mix. Rebel Heart’s key collaboration with Kanye West finds two of pop’s biggest egomaniacs starring in a wiggly club banger that doubles as a takedown of the internet’s most nutzoid meme – The Illuminati, a secret society that allegedly runs the world with the help of triangles in pop videos. read more →

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