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Blond Ambition World Tour
220px
Limited edition tour poster
Tour by Madonna
Associated album Like a Prayer
I'm Breathless
Start date April 13, 1990 (1990-04-13)
End date August 5, 1990 (1990-08-05)
Legs 3
Shows 9 in Asia
32 in North America
16 in Europe
57 Total
Box office $29 million
Madonna concert chronology
Who's That Girl World Tour
(1987)
Blond Ambition World Tour
(1990)
The Girlie Show World Tour
(1993)

Blond Ambition World Tour was the third concert tour by American singer-songwriter, Madonna. It supported her fourth studio album, Like a Prayer and the soundtrack of the film Dick Tracy, I'm Breathless. It was supposed to be supported by the soft dring manufacturer Pepsi, whom Madonna signed a deal with. The music video for "Like a Prayer" featured many Catholic symbols such as stigmata and burning crosses, and a dream about making love to a saint, leading the Vatican to condemn the video. Religious groups sought to ban the commercial and boycott Pepsi products, and the company revoked the commercial and canceled Madonna's sponsorship contract.

The concert was divided into five segments: Metropolis, inspired by the 1927 German expressionist film of same name; Religious by religious themes; Dick Tracy by the film of the same name and cabaret; and Art Deco was inspired by early Hollywood films using the work of artist Tamara de Lempicka, and the fifth was an encore. The art direction was developed by Madonna's brother, Christopher Ciccone, while the costumes were developed by designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. The tour garnered positive appreciation from contemporary critics and commercial success. The Blond Ambition World Tour received the "Most Creative Stage Production" at the Pollstar Concert Industry Awards.

Madonna's performance of the song "Like a Virgin" while hanging on a red silk bed with two hermaphrodite dancers simulating masturbation was met with strong negative reaction from religious groups. The performance at Stadio Flaminio, was called by the Pope for a boycott of the show in Rome, and one of three scheduled Italian dates was eventually canceled. Also, the police of Toronto, Canada, were alerted that the show might possibly contain lewd and obscene content and threatened charges unless parts of the show were changed.

A number of concerts were recorded or broadcast. The last concert from the tour in Nice, France was recorded and broadcast on HBO and after released on Laserdisc, titled Live! - Blond Ambition World Tour 90. Additionally, one of the concerts in Japan was recorded and released on VHS and Laserdisc in the Japanese market. In 1991, a documentary film, Truth or Dare, was released chronicling the tour.

Background[edit]

Madonna opening the show with the performance of "Express Yourself".

In January 1989, Pepsi-Cola announced that they had signed Madonna to a US$5 million deal to use her and the then-unreleased song "Like a Prayer" in a television commercial called "Make a Wish" for them.[1] The agreement also called for Pepsi to financially sponsor Madonna's next world tour.[2] Madonna would use the commercial to launch the "Like a Prayer" single globally before its actual release—the first time something like this was being done in the music industry—thereby creating promotion for the single and the album to come.[1][3] In the music video for the song, Madonna incorporated many Catholic symbols such as stigmata and burning crosses, and a dream about making love to a saint, leading the Vatican to condemn the video. Religious groups sought to ban the commercial and boycott Pepsi products. The company revoked the commercial and canceled her sponsorship contract.[4][5]

Sire Records announced the Blond Ambition World Tour, following the success of Madonna's performance of the single "Express Yourself" at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards, which was considered as a tour preview.[6] Regarding the tour, Madonna commented "I know that I'm not the best singer and I know that I'm not the best dancer. But, I can fucking push people's buttons and be as provocative as I want. The tour's goal is to break useless taboos."[7] The tour promoted Madonna's previous album Like a Prayer, and the soundtrack containing songs from and inspired by the film Dick Tracy starred by her, I'm Breathless.[8]

Development[edit]

Madonna performing "Oh Father" during the second segment of the show

Madonna had complete control of the tour. Nicki Harris, background singer and dancer of the tour, said that "With Madonna, it always comes down to clothes and shoes."[9] Her choreographer, Vicent Paterson, stated she wanted to "break every rule we can. She wanted to make statements about sexuality, cross-sexuality and the church. She did it."[9] According to biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, in the tour content, "Madonna brought her sexual image to a new, more concroversial plateau by casually throwing in quips relating to sadomasochism."[9] The art of the tour was directed by Madonna's brother, Christopher Ciccone.[10] According to him, in his book Life with My Sister Madonna, she called him and said, "I'm going on tour, and of course I want you to dress me, but you think you ought to design the stage and art-direct the show as well. You designed my New York apartament and the Oriole Way house, so you should be able to design my show as well."[11] In October 1989, Madonna sent a letter to designer Jean Paul Gaultier, asking him to design costumes for her next tour.[12] Gaultier told The New York Times:

"When Madonna first called me in 1989, it was two days before my ready-to-wear show, and I thought my assistant was joking. I was a big fan. She asked me if I would do the tour. She knew what she wanted - a pinstripe suit, the feminine corsetry. Madonna likes my clothes because they combine the masculine and the feminine. It was, that no, that yes, no, yes, no".[13]

Their first meeting took place at the Carlisle Hotel in New York.[12] Continued their meetings in Paris: in the restaurant Bofinger, Balajo Club, Zoopsie, and the circus Zingaro. In February, they tested the costumes in Los Angeles.[12] Madonna and Gaultier took three months to finalize the details of the costumes.[12] Ciccone also said that he suggested the performance of "Like a Virgin" bo be in a harem.[11] However, the costume for the scenes had problems, as the thread was a heavy gold metal, and the costume was too hard for her to wear.[11] Her wardrobe had twelve different pieces, incluiding a black cassock with a large crucifix.[14] "When I was a child, my grandmother took me to an exhibition, and they had a corset on display. I loved the flesh color, the salmon satin, the lace. She explained that a corset was meant to help you, to make you stand up. It was a solution that I thought was beautiful. The gold conical bra was just an extension of that idea"

Concert synopsis[edit]

Faraway image of a woman with blonde curly hair. She's wearing a black robe with a cross around her neck and holds a microphone in her hand. Behind her several african american males are dressed in a similar way. In the background pillars can be seen.
Madonna performing "Like a Prayer" flanked by her back up dancers, who are dressed up as nuns and priests.

The show was separated into five different sections: Metropolis, Religious, Dick Tracy, Art Deco and an encore. It began begins with "Express Yourself", which included lyrics from "Everybody" during the introduction.[15] The themes were taken from the factory seen in the accompaining music video. [16] As the show started, the set was hurled onstage and Madonna's male dancers, with bare torso, appeared behind the steel structures. They did a choreographed routine on the stage, and towards the end Madonna appeared atop the flight of stairs.[17][18] "Open Your Heart" is the following song. A hunky dancer watches from a distance as Madonna entered the stage with her hair stretched into a topknot and fake blond ponytail, which was replaced by short peroxide tangles in the European leg of the tour.[19] Playing a dominatrix role, Madonna got on top of one of the dancers before carrying off an exhibitionist dance routine with the chair as a prop.[20] "Causing a Commotion" was performed as the third song of the setlist. Madonna opened the jacket and started to simulate sexual intercourse with one of her dancers while playing the dominant role.[21] The performance ended with Madonna wrestling with her female backup singers.[21] The final performance on the segment was "Where's the Party"; Madonna leaves the stage early for a costume change, while three male dancers continue dancing until the song ends. The second segment began with "Like a Virgin". She wore a gold corset, while simulating masturbation on a red silk bed, accompanied by two male dancers who wore the infamous cone bras designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.[22] She utters the word "God" suddenly, as everything became silent. A black curtain opens, and she is surrounded by banks of electrified votive candles and a black-robed chorus.[10] Then she started singing "Like a Prayer", donning a dress that looked like a cross between a Mediterranean widow's attire and evocative clergyman's robes.[23] A medley of "Live to Tell" and "Oh Father" followed "Like a Prayer". In the first one, Madonna evoked Catholic images during the performance.[24] In the middle of "Live to Tell", she started to sing "Oh Father", while a dancer in a black frock played the role of a priest.[25] "Papa Don't Preach" was the last song of the Religious segment. The singer was accompanied by six male dancers, with a platform full of votive candles in the background.[26]

The next segment began with a performance of "Sooner or Later" sung atop of a grand piano. The "Hanky Panky" performance was inpired by 1940's decade. In the final, Madonna joked: "You all know the pleasures of a good spanking, don't you? [...] When I hurt people, I feel better, you know what I mean?"[9] "Now I'm Following You" closes the segment. She danced and lip-synched with the dancer Salim Gauwloos, who was dressed like Dick Tracy. A performance of "Material Girl" opens the Art Deco segment, dressed as old women in fluffy dressing gowns and curling pins in their hair. Singing the song with a strong mid-western accent, they got up and revealed a frivolish pink dress underneath their gown.[27] In "Cherish", the performance mirrored the sequence from the music video, with the appearance of three of Madonna's dancers, dressed as mermen.[28] Madonna gyrated around her dancers, while playing with a harp.[28] During the "Into the Groove" performance, Madonna was portrayed as being seduced by three male dancers in leather jackets. The girls asked the guys to "prove their love to them" and wondered if they would wear a condom when necessary. After that, they sing the Shep Pettibone extended remix of "Into The Groove".[29] While performing "Vogue", Madonna was dressed on black lycra shorts. The encore begins with "Holiday", which Madonna appeared on the stage in a polka-dotted blouse with matching flounces at the bottom of white trousers and hair in a top knot with a ponytail.[30] "Keep It Together" was the last song of the concert. The performance started with her dancers appearing on the stage, with chairs on their back. Madonna appeared in their middle and started doing push-ups on the stage. She starts singing "Family Affair", and mid-way to the song, seques into "Keep It Together".[31] During the intermediate music, Madonna and her dancers do an intricate choreography with the chairs. At the end, all the musicians, dancers and collaborators came to say good-bye to Madonna.[31]

Critical response[edit]

Madonna performing "Cherish" during the tour. She is flanked by her back up dancers who are dressed up as mermen.

Barry Walters from Rolling Stone noted the tour's "elaborately choreographed, sexually provocative extravaganza".[32] John LeLand from Newsday said "In a show in which Madonna appeared to get some vocal help from the wings, the lipsynching that followed cut closer to the edge than most of the negligees."[33] Ty Burr of Entertainment Weekly praised the show by saying, "you get this two-hour spectacle as it was meant to be: uninterrupted and over the top. The gymnastic dance productions in songs such as Where's the Party and Like a Prayer are astonishing, and the theatrical extravagance of Like a Virgin plays as Vegas schmaltz gone hilariously kinky".[34] Spanish newspaper El Pais said that Madonna's "imagination led her to design the most theatrical concert she ever made, and confesses that she likes the result because 'the public also like it'."[14] Esquire magazine called it "exotic".[35] Sujata Massey from The Baltimore Sun noted the concert's passionate and vibrant performances, plenty of skimpy outfits and lots of sexy chatter.[36] Greg Kot from Chicago Tribune gave a mixed review and felt that "with her brassy, up-tempo songs and her Betty Boop vocals, she was no great shakes as a singer" but also stated "Madonna never met a controversy she didn't like and she shattered a generation's worth of taboos during her nearly two-hour show. [...] By the sheer force of her personality, Madonna has made questions about her "talent" irrelevant."[37]

Richard Harrington from The Washington Post noted that the show is "nothing less than a roadshow version of the videos that have made her one of the world's biggest stars". He also stated that Madonna's "rough voice" was "not enough that anyone would notice. After all, Madonna has always compensated for her so-so voice with relentless dance energy and scandalous imagery, both of which were frequently on display last night". However, Harrington also noted that her "raunchy and randy behavior sidetracked the evening a number of times".[38] Variety magazine's Allan Metz commented negatively, saying "Her vocals sounded so much like the studio version one wondered how much was live and how much was Memorex".[39] Edna Gundersen of USA Today noted that "this extravagant collection of videos-come-to-life is more whimsical than raunchy, with playful props, costumes and attitudes serving as shock absorbers" and also criticized Madonna's lip synching, saying "It's mime, an alarming move in the hands of trend-setting Madonna, considering the growing use of recorded tracks in concert."[40] Jon Pareles from The New York Times wrote that "the real surprise is how much of the music, from rhythm tracks to lead vocals, is canned - at a rough guess, more than half. Madonna has become so perfectionistic, and so athletic in her dancing, that she would clearly rather lip-sync than risk a wrong note". "She has been working on her voice, developing a throaty depth that's appropriate for ballads like "Live To Tell." But applied to light pop like "Holiday," it sounds like a bad Barbra Streisand imitation, pointlessly overwrought".[41]

Commercial reception[edit]

Before the opening of the tour, 36 concerts were sold out.[42] In North America, 482,832 tickets was sold in the first two hours, during the pre-sale, grossing US$14,237,000.[43] The tour, also, broke the record at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena with $456,720, becoming the musical event with the highest grossing of all time.[44] The proceeds of the last American date in New Jersey, was donated to the Nonprofit organization amfAR and dedicated to her friend Keith Haring who died of AIDS, grossing over US$300,000.[45] The show at Gothenburg was watched by 55,000 people.[42] In Madrid, the concert was watched by 50,000.[46] In total, the show grossed over US$60 million dollars.[47] The tour received the Most Creative Stage Production award and was nomined to Major Tour of the Year, but lost to Paul McCartney.[48] The tour was named the Greatest Concert of the 1990s by Rolling Stone.[49]

Legacy[edit]

Jean-Paul Gaultier-designed corsets and conical bras Madonna used on the tour were deemed iconic.

According to Lucy O'Brien on the Q magazine in 2002, "Madonna raised the ante for live pop performance - and became the world's best-known naked female body".[50] She additionally commented on the biography Madonna: Like an Icon that seeing the tour, with its cathedral nave and a penitent Madonna, "stopped her heart".[51] According the the book The Virgin encyclopedia of nineties music, "the extravagant costumes and choreography of the Blond Ambition world tour were the apotheosis of Madonna's uninhibited mélange of sexuality, song, dance and religiosity.[52] Sylvia Patterson, in an article for Q magazine regarding the ten biggest tours of all time, noted that "In spring 1990, Madonna was not only the most regonisable woman on Earth, but the most gloriously dynamic pop force on the planet. [...] Blond Ambition, her third major tour, was acknowledged as the first-ever global pop tour to use Broadway theatre production values with sets and a narrative "arc", where the literal rubing of raunchy sexuality up against traditional Catholic imagery would, thrilled Madonna, "break every rule"." She added that Madonna was at her peak criatively, musically, phisically, provocatively and politically.[53]

The sexual mixed with catholic imagery of the show drew controversy. Many people condemned it for being too raunchy and inappropriate for children.[53] During its Italy stop, the Pope John Paul II called for boycott, asking general public and the Christian community not to attend the concert.[54] The Vatican's newspaper L'Osservatore Romano called the show "blasphemous" and a "complete disgrace".[53] A private association of Catholics calling themselves Famiglia Domani boycotted the tour for its eroticism.[55] She held a press conference defending herself and said, "I am Italian American and proud of it... The tour in no way hurts anybody's sentiments. It's for open minds and gets them to see sexuality in a different way. Their own and others".[56] In an interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna said that the Pope's reaction hurt, "because I'm Italian, you know" she also declared that the Church "completely frowns on sex" and that it accepts "only for procreation and not for enjoyment".[57] Time commented that "encapsulated everything Madonna stood for in the 90s — which happened to be against the ideals of the Catholic Church. The Pope asked Christians not to attend the show and was responsible for the cancellation of one appearance in Rome. In the end, that didn’t really matter".[58]

In Canada, the concert's explicit overtone caused problems. Toronto's police were alerted that the show might possibly contain lewd and obscene content (particularly a masturbation scene) and threatened charges unless parts of the show were changed. However, according to Rolling Stone, no charges were made after the tour manager gave the police an ultimatum: "Cancel the show, and you'll have to tell 30,000 people why."[59][60] "Plainclothes officers went down and had a look at the show after receiving some complaints", Det. Sgt. Richard Dewhirst of the Metropolitan Toronto Police said. "They found no cause to issue her a warning". However, the singer's record company claimed police tried to serve Madonna with an order to alter her show, but were prevented by her managers from meeting with the singer. Madonna also issued a statement saying she is willing to be arrested to protect her freedom to "express myself as an artist".[61] During the Re-Invention World Tour stop in Toronto in 2004, she remembered the incident: "The last time we were here, the police almost arrested us. I'm a good girl".[62]

Jean-Paul Gaultier designed corsets and bras for the tour, and became a cultural milestone. They were created during the AIDS crisis, the culture wars and the heyday of postfeminist theory, and Madonna's male dancers wearing Gaultier bras with large, conical breasts on the tour were seen as a "radical pop illustration".[63] According to Billboard, the corsets "redefined the female silhouette and moved many designers to add some edge to their undergarments".[64] Patterson also added that Gaultier had found "creative immortality" through designing for the tour.[53] In 2001, one of the cone bras worn by Madonna during the tour was sold by 21-hundred dollars during an auction. It became the top-selling bra of all time, until a bra worn by the singer during her 1993 The Girlie Show World Tour outsold it.[65] In 2012, the corset was recreated for Madonna's MDNA Tour in a cage-like leather style.[66] This version was also available for display on the Brooklyn Museum in 2014, along with the corsets for the tour and other creations by the stylist.[67]

Broadcasts and recordings[edit]

The final performance of the show "Keep It Together" with intricate choreography with chairs.

The last concert in Nice, France, was recorded and broadcast on HBO. The transmission held a record for HBO for the highest rating ever for an original program, 4.5 million.[9] The special was considered too racy for television, and Madonna had a message during the broadcast: "You know that I have to say to America: Get a fucking sense of humor, okay?", while pointing directly to the viewer and saying "lighten up!".[9] Soon after, the record was released exclusively on Laserdisc, entitled Live! - Blond Ambition World Tour 90. The release won a Grammy Award in 1992 for Best Long Form Music Video.[68] One of the Yokohama, Japan dates was also taped and released on VHS and Laserdisc in the Japanese market as Blond Ambition - Japan Tour 90.[26] In addition to these shows, the concert in Barcelona, Spain, was broadcast live by TVE.[46]

In 1991, a documentary film, Truth or Dare was released. It was directed by Alek Keshishian.[9] Madonna first would be dressed as "Breathless Mahoney" from the film Dick Tracy; however, she thought that the role could not interest her fans.[9] To delight her fans, she decided to be "dressed" as herself in the documentary.[9] Later in a interview with Q she commented, "What's the point of making a documentary if you're not going to show those sides? [...] Even in a movie, how can you be sympathetic towards a fictional character if you don't see their warts?"[69] The film was released in theaters on May 10, 1991 and grossed US$ 15 million.[70] It was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Actress for Madonna as herself.[71][72] The video release of the documentary titled Madonna: Truth or Dare was released by LIVE Entertainment in North America on October 9, 1991.[73][74] Outside of North America it was released as In Bed with Madonna.[75]

Opening acts[edit]

Setlist[edit]

  1. "Express Yourself" (contains excerpts from "Everybody")
  2. "Open Your Heart"
  3. "Causing a Commotion"
  4. "Where's The Party"
  5. "Like a Virgin"
  6. "Like a Prayer" (contains excerpts from "Act of Contrition")
  7. Medley:
    1. "Live to Tell"
    2. "Oh Father"
  8. "Papa Don't Preach"
  9. "Sooner or Later"
  10. "Hanky Panky"
  11. "Now I'm Following You"
  12. "Material Girl"
  13. "Cherish"
  14. "Into the Groove" (contains elements of "Ain't Nobody Better")
  15. "Vogue"
  16. "Holiday" (contains elements of "Do the Bus Stop")
  17. "Keep It Together" (contains excerpts from "Family Affair")

Tour dates[edit]

Date City Country Venue
Asia
April 13, 1990 Chiba City Japan Chiba Marine Stadium
April 14, 1990
April 15, 1990
April 20, 1990 Hyōgo Hankyu Nishinomiya Stadium
April 21, 1990
April 22, 1990
April 25, 1990 Yokohama Yokohama Stadium
April 26, 1990
April 27, 1990
North America
May 4, 1990 Houston United States The Summit
May 5, 1990
May 7, 1990 Dallas Reunion Arena
May 8, 1990
May 11, 1990 Los Angeles Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena
May 12, 1990
May 13, 1990
May 15, 1990
May 16, 1990
May 18, 1990 Oakland Oakland Coliseum Arena
May 19, 1990
May 20, 1990
May 23, 1990 Rosemont Rosemont Horizon
May 24, 1990
May 27, 1990 Toronto Canada SkyDome
May 28, 1990
May 29, 1990
May 31, 1990 Auburn Hills United States The Palace of Auburn Hills
June 1, 1990
June 4, 1990 Worcester The Centrum
June 5, 1990
June 8, 1990 Landover Capital Centre
June 9, 1990
June 11, 1990 Uniondale Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
June 12, 1990
June 13, 1990
June 16, 1990 Philadelphia Philadelphia Spectrum
June 17, 1990
June 20, 1990 East Rutherford Brendan Byrne Arena
June 21, 1990
June 24, 1990
June 25, 1990
Europe
June 30, 1990 Gothenburg Sweden Eriksberg Shipyard Docks
July 3, 1990 Paris France Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy
July 4, 1990
July 6, 1990
July 10, 1990 Rome Italy Stadio Flaminio
July 13, 1990 Turin Stadio Delle Alpi
July 15, 1990 Munich Germany Olympia-Reitstadion Riem
July 17, 1990 Dortmund Westfalenhalle
July 20, 1990 London England Wembley Stadium
July 21, 1990
July 22, 1990
July 24, 1990 Rotterdam Netherlands Feyenoord Stadium
July 27, 1990 Madrid Spain Vicente Calderón Stadium
July 29, 1990 Vigo Estadio Municipal Balaídos
August 1, 1990 Barcelona Olympic Stadium
August 5, 1990 Nice France Stade de l'Ouest

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Taraborrelli 2002, p. 172
  2. ^ Bignell 2007, p. 123
  3. ^ Metz & Benson 1999, p. 131
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  30. ^ Clerk 2002, p. 84
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  43. ^ http://business.highbeam.com/53/article-1G1-8903793/400000-madonna-tickets-sold-first-two-hours
  44. ^ http://business.highbeam.com/53/article-1G1-10607298/wrestlemania-vii-grosses-720235
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  52. ^ 2000
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  56. ^ Madonna: Truth or Dare (1990)
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  59. ^ Cite error: The named reference showstealer was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
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