Madonna’s Historic Rio Show Is Why She’s the Queen of Pop

One last ‘Celebration Tour’ show cements her status as the Queen of Pop forever.

The numbers are in: at age 65, 42 years deep into her career, Madonna brought 1.6 million people to Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro for the final night of the Celebration Tour. Not counting annual New Year’s Eve / holiday events with headliners, it’s the largest audience ever for a stand-alone concert by any artist in history, via Live Nation.

The Celebration Tour was already going to be deemed a success once it formally wrapped up after a week-long stretch in Mexico City in April. But the “I’m Going Bananas” performer had one more trick hidden up those “Nothing Really Matters” sleeves: one final, free show on the beach in Brazil.

First of all, I deeply regret not booking the flight to Rio. I should have heeded the words of the country’s people: I should have #ComeToBrazil. Seeing photos and videos of the city over the past week on social media – the murals and posters, the singalongs on the street, the costumes, the news broadcasts, the instantly viral rehearsal performances with the green ski mask – I knew I fucked up. The city looked like one giant stan convention. (Although considering all the cuties we saw in the crowd during that broadcast, it’s likely I wouldn’t have even made it out alive, but what a lovely way to go out.)

Instead, I – well, many of us – stayed at home on a Saturday night, and we downloaded the VPNs, and signed up for the streaming services, and the TV Globo, and we used Google Translate, and learned a bit of Portuguese from variety shows, and figured out how to screen cast, and kept tabs on backup streams on Twitter and Twitch to make it all work. And it was worth it, because we watched history in the making.

Not that she gave it up for us so easy. True to form, to the bitter fucking end, even with over a million people eagerly awaiting her arrival, she kept us waiting about 45 minutes or so later than the TV Globo countdown. Whoever is responsible for filing the class-action lawsuit for her tardiness on behalf of Brazil, forward along the paperwork for me to co-sign – we’re going to get her ass this time, I just know it. Props to the live stream’s hosts for their improv work, though. I had no idea what they were saying, but they were name-dropping every single, album and tour every five seconds.

It didn’t ultimately matter, because nothing really matters. By the time “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” started playing (the signal that the show is starting!), and Bob the Drag Queen came out to hype up the crowd with that speech, and Mother came spinning around the celestial birthday cake with her halo headpiece by Malakai, all tardy sins were immediately forgiven.

We make a lot of silly jokes about Brazil’s passion for getting pop stars to come visit, but I instantly got emotional hearing those 1.6 million people scream-singing the opening song right back to her. “When I was very young…” I can think of no better audience to provide the kind of supportive energy fit for the Queen’s sign-off.

While we knew that the Rio show would be a legendary ending, I wasn’t prepared for how good she was: physically, vocally, emotionally – this was one of Madonna’s best performances in the entire run of the tour. The pipes were powerful. The legs were kicking. She was fired up throughout. You could see it in her eyes. (Ooooh, she’s an angel.) She really felt that Brazilian passion all the way in her pussy, and served it right back.

Even the two big speeches of the show, which have ranged from motivational and uplifting to angry and morbid over the past months depending on her mood (and if the venue left the AC on or not), were much brighter and warmer in tone. She expressed her love for the Brazilian people, and her gratitude for her four decade-plus run in the music industry. “For so many years you have been there for me…I’m just a girl from Michigan. This isn’t supposed to happen. 40 fucking years. I don’t take it for granted. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Also, giving a shout-out to the “Reverend Stuart Price” at one point? Now that’s the kind of religious indoctrination I can get behind.

Beyond Madonna herself, the biggest takeaway from the TV Globo broadcast – apart from the iconic translator, who just wanted to be included in moments (and who could blame her?) – is that we need the live album. Expeditiously.

Even after seeing this show 400 times, hearing those mixes pulled from the soundboard revealed so many more subtle details in the production that are just begging to be heard properly in headphones for workout sessions for years to come, especially in moments like “Everybody” and “Into the Groove,” Like a Prayer,” “Bedtime Story” – the synths, the samples, all of it.

For the performance, there were some adjustments made especially for Brazil: due to the stage restrictions (it was built to be an indoor show), she couldn’t fly around in her time-traveling box. So for the show’s most emotional moment, “Live to Tell,” she sat on a park bench (the “In This Life” lyrics come to life: “Sitting on a park bench / Thinking about a friend of mine…“), and held a red balloon at the very end. It was actually an incredibly effective touch – arguably even better than the floating box concept.

Also, shout out to the harness couple, “gay Mario and Luigi,” as some have dubbed them, who knew they had one chance to spread the homosexual agenda on camera and took it right before “Live to Tell.” (Actually, I’m not sure they knew what was going on, but they’re national heroes nonetheless.)

She would also (sadly) be grounded for “Ray of Light,” which is admittedly unbeatable when she’s trashing up high in the air amid laser lights, but the energy of the dancers and the audience made it as ecstatic, regardless.

When it came time for “Vogue,” Madonna hit the stage in a stunning royal blue coat and Brazilian flag-colored version of the iconic Jean Paul Gaultier corset. (Even more incredibly, it was inspired by fan art.) And as she hit the end of the catwalk to judge the ball, she was joined by the baddest bunda shaker and biggest pop export of Brazil, Anitta, who just dropped an amazing funk album – and even cancelled her Met Gala appearance just to take on the gig.

True to form, Anitta practiced exactly what she preaches, providing her best bien puta performance as she ecstatically got eaten out and dry-humped alongside Her Madgesty during the Sex Siren competition of the Vogue ball. While I would have loved a little “Faz gostoso” between the two, it was so fun to see Anitta and Madonna be Brazilian besties.

Further into the show, Madonna dropped “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and “Mother & Father,” and added one song: “Candy Shop.” No, just kidding. But you know she probably wanted to. No, it was “Music.” Some might say that “Music” should have been included in the set list from the beginning, and that Michael Jackson medley interlude could have been axed to make room for it…but I digress.

As “La Isla Bonita” came to an end, young Rio-born musicians from different samba schools filed out the stage, drumming and dancing to a Samba-fied rendition of the song until those familiar synths and vocoded vocals came pouring out of the speakers. And then, there was a special appearance center stage: Pabllo Vittar.

It’s not a contest, but if it was, Pabllo unofficially won #MadonnaInRio. Being on hand to premiere “Music” for the first and last time on this tour, picking Madonna up like a doll, and rimming her? What an absolute honor and privilege for Pabllo, and what an incredible gesture from Madonna. Pabllo deserved this, and ate. (Literally.)

As the show wound down in its frantic finale, with the dancers all marching out in their various era outfits, and the audience all doing their best “L-U-V” dance as instructed by Bob the Drag Queen on social media leading up to Rio, and Madonna triumphantly waving a Brazilian flag – “Thank you Rio, obrigada!” – there was just an overwhelming feeling of success: this final victory lap was now complete.

It’s going to take me a while to process that after over 80 dates stretched across Europe and North America, this incredible tour has finally come to an end. (Lord knows, I chased her around New York City and Miami for at least five of them.) I’ve seen plenty of Madonna tours in my day, but Celebration Tour truly never did get old for me – each time was a thrilling new adventure.

If that truly was the final concert at this scale and level of grandeur to come from the Queen of Pop, it will go down as the most triumphant cherry on top of an unparalleled career run. And given that this woman nearly died a little less than a year ago, it’s nothing short of miraculous. I’m so grateful that it was broadcasted live.

What’s next for Madonna? Well. It’s unlikely she’ll allow herself to slow down anytime soon. (Don’t ever tell her to stop, if you will.) Let’s face it, though: she’s getting older, and these shows are not getting any less physically demanding. And given that this is her first greatest hits run after over four decades in the industry, it’s unlikely that the artist who generally dislikes looking back will do something like this again. My guess is that she’ll eventually transition to something more in the intimate and experimental vein of the Madame X show, like a months-long residency run on Broadway, a la Bruce Springsteen.

Then again, if there’s anyone that’ll prove us all wrong and be high-kicking and twerking in four more decades from now, it’s Madonna.

As for the short-term plans, if I were a betting man, I’d say Madge will be hunched over in an editing bay for months to come, piecing together her own mile-a-minute, filter and effects-filled, motion sickness-inducing edit of the tour (and accompanying documentary, hopefully) that get placed with a streamer. (Love her, but thank God we’ve got this Brazil stream separate from her own edit. Now can we get this up on streaming, too?)

What a feat, and they pulled it off without a hitch, minus the one incident of throwing a suspected phone thief into the trash which, if true…deserved.

Congratulations to the whole team – the cast and crew that puts this beast of a production together – to the people of Brazil who deserved this moment, to the Brazilian superstars who got a chance to shine on stage, her super-talented kids, and of course, to the woman the show orbits around responsible for making it all happen.

In case there was any lingering doubt, this show in Rio is a reminder why she’s permanently, now and forever, the Queen of Pop – no Internet hyperbole required.

Photo credit: Live Nation / Mangolab / Lucas Alvarenga

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