Madonna’s ‘Celebration Tour’: The NYC Opening Night Experience

The Queen of Pop comes back home.

L-U-V, Madonna!

After spending several months touring around Europe, the Queen of Pop™ has finally made her way stateside to kick off the North American leg of the Celebration Tour at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where she’ll be performing throughout the week, and then hitting Madison Square Garden in Manhattan in January. (All the dates, cities and ticket info here.)

Many miles, many roads I have traveled chasing that lady down around the globe. In fact, I had a flight and hotel booked to see this tour’s original opening night set for Vancouver back in July. We’re just grateful she’s okay now. And now that she’s in my backyard, I figured I’d walk over and say hey.

People have lots of questions about how it went. So now, I’m conducting an interview with myself about the experience, including every question I’ve been asked thus far. And I’ve also uploaded five million videos. Enjoy!

What’s the deal with this tour?

It’s a celebration.

Ah, okay. Got it. Celebrating what exactly?

This is the first-ever greatest hits tour of an Italian woman who showed up to New York City in 1978 with $35 in her pocket and a modest dream of world domination. She went on to dominate the music industry, shatter records, break barriers, piss off the Catholic Church, and challenge societal norms for well over four decades, and is largely regarded to be the Queen of Pop™. You may know her from such classics as “Vogue,” “Into the Groove,” “Hung Up,” “Like a Prayer,” “Hey You” and “I’m Going Bananas.”

Feel free to ask anything. There’s no such thing as a stupid question.

Is it a good show?

Okay, that’s a stupid question. Bitch, it’s Madonna.

What time did she go on?

10:50 p.m. for the opening night in New York City. And if you’re shocked to hear that: welcome to your first Madonna concert! Settle in, because it’s going to be a long night, and you’re not going to get much sleep.

That said, it sounds as though this particular delay was due to technical issues at soundcheck, so it might have more to do with the venue than her. But I’ve also never known her to be prompt, so. Time goes by so slowly for those who wait.

What time will she go on for my concert, though?

I can’t tell you that. I’m not her tour manager. Yet. It feels safe to assume she’s probably not hitting the stage at the time listed on your ticket, though.

What’s the crowd like?

Girls and gays of a certain age. Loud and supportive. This is mother’s return home, after all. You know the fucking vibes. And Thalia was there too, taking selfie videos the whole night. Arrasando!

How does it start?

There’s a DJ set before she goes on. The legendary Honey Dijon spun for our crowd, but she’s had everyone from Diplo to Stuart Price to Arca filling in.

Roughly five minutes before Madonna hits the stage, Bob the Drag Queen, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 and co-host of Sibling Rivalry, appears in the middle of the crowd in a recreation of Madonna’s classic 1990 MTV VMAs Marie Antoinette look, and begins working his way through the audience. In New York City’s opening night, he called out the legendary Kevin Jz Prodigy, who also had a hand in creating the show. He then walked through GA Pit 2 and onto the stage, and delivered a rousing hype speech about the woman of the evening – the woman who taught us how to fuck – declaring this to be a night of celebration.

As the speech reaches a fever pitch, a rotating platform onstage slowly spins to reveal Madonna in a flowing Eyob Yohannes kimono and House of Malakai halo headpiece, as she launches into an incredible pick for an opening number, “Nothing Really Matters.” It is absolutely electrifying.

What else does Bob do?

The best way to describe the gig is hype man. He shouts her praises before she hits the stage, emcees a “Vogue” ball, struts and poses in front of a video interlude, he comes out as a rodeo clown during “Don’t Tell Me.” They have fun and playful exchanges throughout the night as well, like when Madonna snatches away Bob’s fan during the big finale and cackles: “I’m your biggest fan!” It actually felt particularly appropriate to see someone actually involved in NYC nightlife threading the needle throughout the show in Brooklyn.

What songs does Madonna do?

A lot of them – over two dozen songs spanning the entirety of her storied career, from “Everybody” to “Hung Up” to “Bad Girl.” (!) On the first night in New York City, she performed “I Love New York” for the first time on this tour, because…well, she loves New York. She told us so. (And also called us rats.)

Is she missing any hits?

Oh, tons of them. Millions! Some are more shocking omissions than others. “Frozen.” “Borderline.” “Deeper and Deeper.” “Thief of Hearts.” (Okay, now I’m just being selfish.) The list goes on and on. And yet, it doesn’t really matter. (Nothing really matters, actually.) The set list was destined to be incomplete, because the show would need to be eight hours long at least. This is a fully stacked 2-and-some-change hour concert full of hits and a bit of surprise deep cut picks from every corner of her career. Well, almost. Sorry, Hard Candy.

What’s the theme or vibe of the show?

The show loosely takes us on an autobiographical ride from her early days in New York City – arguing with bouncers to get into clubs – to losing many of her friends amid the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and early ’90s, as well as backlash to her provocative performances as she rises to superstardom. She touches on her biggest and boldest moments as an entertainer over the years, including props and costume homages to her most iconic tours (Blond Ambition, Girlie Show, Re-Invention and MDNA, among others), music videos and live performances.

Projections throughout the night frequently remind us of her impact on pop culture, from magazine headlines tearing her apart to a photo montage of her famous ex-flames, just to remind us who she’s fucked. There are also nods to her enduring support as a LGBTQ+ ally and fighting against injustice, as well as her spirituality, including subtle flourishes of Kabbalah, including the Tree of Life dancer formation during “Die Another Day.” It’s also a family affair: four of her six children are performers for the night, as well as a tribute to her late mother.

That sounds like a lot at once.

It is a lot at once. Madonna is a lot at once. The show is, like most major Madonna tours, total sensory overload, with plenty of mood swings from dance floor escapism to somber reflection to relentless horniness.

How horny? Are there boobs and butts?

Yes, there are both boobs and butts. At one point during “Hung Up,” all the dancers take off their tops. You probably can’t post footage from that particular performance. She’s making out with anywhere from two to four people throughout the night. There’s simulated sex. Intertwined bodies galore. During the “Vogue” ball, she’s fully getting (pretend) eaten out as guys in jocks clap their cheeks in front of herself and her guest of the evening. (In New York City’s opening night, the guest happened to be her hot boxer boyfriend Josh Popper, who very gamely cheered as he was being shown hole.)

@muumuse 🔟s across the board for Madonna and boyfriend #JoshPopper during the “Vogue” ball at NYC opening night of #CelebrationTour, including daughter Estere! #Madonna ♬ original sound – Bradley Stern

Oh wow. Well, what were the highlights?

Highlights are fast and frequent. The “Blond Ambition” section is maybe the nerdiest fan-faction satisfaction moment of the show. As the oiled-up dancers emerge as boxers throwing punches in sync, Madonna-turned-Dita writhes around to “Erotica” (with some “You Thrill Me” demo vocals), briefly paying homage to the original “Papa Don’t Preach” tour choreography, and delivering some “Justify My Love” and “Fever” too. Early ’90s Madonna fans will be more than aurally satisfied.

You also have Madonna performing “Bad Girl” in a red slip alongside her talented daughter Mercy James on piano. Actually, her kids are a highlight in general: David Banda absolutely kills it on guitar and as a dancer throughout the night, especially as Madonna sings “Mother & Father” alongside him. Estere is an absolute show-stealer as the “Vogue” DJ, especially once she tears up the runway. Watch out for her. She’s actually a young icon in the making.

There’s a very cool futuristic section too, complete with Madonna writhing on top of a box to “Bedtime Story” – an all-time favorite – and taking off into the sky for an absolutely electrifying, laser light-filled, rave-ready rendition of “Ray of Light.” And to cap it all off, she performs “Rain” on the catwalk with the fans blowing full-force on her long pink wig, giving 1995 BRIT Awards. (If you know, you know!) It’s a moment. The explosive “Bitch I’m Madonna” / “Celebration” euphoria of the finale full of Madonna looks also thoroughly seals the deal.

At the other extreme, the emotional sequences are all very moving. The “Live to Tell” tribute to friends and family lost to AIDS is incredibly chilling, especially with the way it’s introduced.

How is it introduced?

Madonna is performing “Holiday” joyously with a big disco ball behind her – another big highlight of the show, and perhaps her most fun choreography in the show. And as the song comes to a close, the music starts to slow down and all of the dancers begin to drop to the ground. She looks horrified as they go down one by one, taking off her jacket and draping it over one final friend as she lowers underneath the stage.

That sounds heavy.

It is. There’s an underlying sadness mixed into the joyousness of the tour. At the New York City show, she called out the fact that she feels a kind of survivor’s guilt.

How do you feel about that?

I think it’s honest. I think it’s human. As much as the show is about celebrating her own artistry and stroking her own ego (she’s singing “Bitch I’m Madonna” surrounded by dancers dressed as Madonna yelling the word “Madonna” to herself at one point, after all), it also honors the people that she’s lost – fellow music icons, friends and family – who helped to make her who she is today.

Is she dancing?

Yes, but I think we all need to be extremely honest with ourselves about where Madonna is in her life: this is a 65-year-old woman who has fallen off horses, broken bones, undergone hip replacement surgery, and nearly died six months ago due to a bacterial infection. That she’s walking at all is a miracle, let alone headlining at arenas across the world for months on end.

So she’s not moving like she used to.

“To age is to sin,” Madonna once said while accepting her Billboard Woman of the Year award, which gets echoed during one of the tour interludes. “People say that I’m so controversial. I think the most controversial thing I’ve done is stuck around.”

Yes, she’s moving. No, she’s certainly not performing like she once did. That doesn’t mean she can’t command the stage. It’s still Madonna, after all. I’m tired of watching women – or anyone – reach a certain age and be told to hang it up, age gracefully and disappear. She’s been called “grandma” since she was 35 years old. Don’t ever tell her to stop.

This tour not only serves as a reminder of everything she’s accomplished thus far, but a reminder that the same woman is still standing here today, still putting on the same type of overstimulating mega-pop spectacle that she helped to pioneer in the first place. There are very few examples of artists who have managed to attain the level of success Madonna has who have kept pushing themselves to this degree decades later. She has. That is more than worthy of celebration.

Well, fair enough. Is she singing?

Yes. That mic is on, and she sounds very good.

@muumuse Madonna performs “Rain” at NYC opening night of #CelebrationTour! ☔️ #Madonna ♬ original sound – Bradley Stern

You’re clearly pleased with the show, but let’s get critical here. What doesn’t work?

There’s only one part of the show that really has to go with a quickness: it’s an interlude towards the very end, featuring silhouettes of someone dressed up as Madonna dancing with someone dressed up as Michael Jackson. They perform to a medley of Madonna and Michael Jackson songs. It’s far too on-the-nose, practically screaming at us “Get it? The King and Queen of Pop!” to assure us of her position on the position on the pop royalty throne. It’s hokey bar mitzvah vibes, and feels more like cruise shop fodder than a visual worthy of a Madonna tour. The decision to use it is genuinely perplexing. Nix it.

Where should I sit?

I’m biased, but I really do think I had the best view in the house in Sound Factory (GA Pit 2). For the diehards: GA Pit is it. You will feel illegally close to her for much of the evening. You’re going to have a great experience in either pit – and you get the “Papa Don’t Preach” in bed over on the right side, very crucially! – but it feels like she lingers on the left side a bit longer. (Left if you’re looking directly at the stage, I mean.) Anywhere along the lower section sides will be great, and dead center in the back will let you take in the entire experience. The thing is, you’re going to have a great time regardless because these types of arena shows are built to stimulate across several stages at once. There’s so much that I saw watching a fan’s far away live-stream from London’s opening night that I missed by being up close in NYC. There’s no choice but to go 500 times.


The merch for this tour is incredible! I didn’t have time to check out the table in-person because I was held back at the door for over a half hour. Barclays ran out of the pit wristbands for me and seven other people, nearly causing a complete and utter gay panic meltdown. They eventually found the wristbands. A story for another day – not Madonna’s problem, anyway. Anyway, I got the Blond Ambition bomber jacket months ago from her shop. All the tour merch is here. Really good mix of vintage designs brought back from the vaults and new stuff.

I don’t really know her that well. Do I go?

Look, it’s taken her four decades to finally commit to a somewhat straightforward, greatest hits-only type of tour. Her artistry is always evolving, but it feels unlikely she will want to do another tour quite as accessible to the general public as this one anytime soon. Consider this your opportunity to see her while she’s still agreeing to dance and sing, get up and do her thing to songs like “Open Your Heart.” And if you care at all about doing your pop history homework, seeing Madonna live at some point in your life is a requirement for a passing grade.

I’m a diehard. Do I go?

I know you’re not a diehard if you’re even asking the question.

I scrolled down to the bottom to see if you did a quick summary of the whole situation.

Much like, say, a biopic, it’s an exercise in futility to cram a career as legendary as Madonna’s into a single show. The stan in me could provide a laundry list of songs and looks that got snubbed. But it would be pointless to do so, because Celebration Tour does a fantastic job at ticking so many boxes and packing the essence of who she is as a person, a performer and a pioneer into one massive, euphoria-inducing spectacle.

An artist four decades deep into their career delivering this level of stage production is essentially unheard of. Even while performing a show dedicated to her trailblazing past, Madonna is still making history and paving the way in the present.

All hail the Queen. Long may she reign.

Check out photos from opening night in Brooklyn…

Photos: Ricardo Gomez

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