Controversies of The MDNA Tour

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Madonna was involved with a number of controversies while on The MDNA Tour

American singer Madonna was embroiled with a number of controversies during The MDNA Tour. It was her ninth concert tour, promoting her twelfth studio album, MDNA (2012). The tour has generated many newspaper headlines and news coverage for its use of fake firearms during performances, Madonna's nudity on stage, and her promotion of LGBT rights, freedom of speech and political issues.

Madonna was threatened with a lawsuit in France for using an image of French far-right politician Marine Le Pen with a swastika on her forehead during a video interlude and also in Russia for her promotion of the rights of the LGBT community by giving free pink wristbands to people attending her concert.


During the song "Nobody Knows Me" in her concert in Tel Aviv on May 31, 2012, during a morphing collage the face of French far-right politician and leader of the National Front Marine Le Pen appeared on the screen with a swastika superimposed on her forehead.[1][2][3][4][5] The party threatened to sue Madonna should this happen during her concert in France on July 14, 2012, also known as Bastille Day, the French National Day.[6] Le Pen also accused Madonna of kidnapping her adopted children from Malawi.[7] Socialist French government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has also expressed her disappointment because this gained Marine Le Pen a worldwide audience (Mrs Vallaud-Belkacem did not disagree on the message).

At the performance in Nice, France at the Stade Charles-Ehrmann, many of Le Pen's supporters had covered up The MDNA Tour announcement posters with Le Pen's campaign posters. It was even speculated that French far right was to attend the show.[8] However, Madonna removed the swastika from the video of "Nobody Knows Me" and replaced it with a question mark. A local party supporter Gael Nofri welcomed the change stating: "As far as I know, Madonna has never changed a video clip. This is proof that our arguments were valid. This is excellent news." Nevertheless, after that performance, Madonna has used the original video clip. Madonna later defended her use of the swastika image, stating she did it to raise awareness of ever growing intolerance towards religious minorities and immigrants (the National Front is against immigration.)

Madonna has been a strong supporter of U.S. President Barack Obama. She urged fans to vote for Obama and claimed that he is a "Black Muslim" which was largely seen as offensive since Obama is a Christian and has discussed about his faith in the past. Madonna clarified her statements by saying that she merely being ironic and said "Yes, I know Obama is not a Muslim — though I know that plenty of people in this country think he is. And what if he were? The point I was making is that a good man is a good man, no matter who he prays to. I don’t care what religion Obama is — nor should anyone else in America."[9] Madonna's support for President Obama has generally been met with cheers from her audience. However, when Madonna voiced her support for President Obama in the traditionally conservative state of Louisiana during her New Orleans performance, she was booed by the audience. Madonna tried to rectify the situation by saying to her audience, "I don't care who you vote for. Do not take this great privilege for granted." [10]

In her Los Angeles performance, Madonna dedicated her performance to Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out on her right to have an education. Madonna responded in the concert by saying "This made me cry. The 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot on a school bus for writing a blog ... who wrote a blog about how important education was to her. The Taliban stopped her bus and shot her ... Do you understand the sickness and absurdity of this?" Madonna went on to shout, "Support education! Support the people who support women!" Madonna showed the audience a written tattoo on her back with Malala's name on it.[11]


Madonna performing "Gang Bang" during the show's first segment, This performance received negative backlash due to the involvement of firearms

In the first section of the show, Madonna performs with fake firearms during the first three songs. She begins with "Girl Gone Wild" holding a rifle and "breaks" the glass, of a confessional box, she later performs "Revolver" with female dancers dancing with automatic rifles. During the third song, "Gang Bang" she performed in a motel setting where she is seen shooting the male dancers who infiltrate her room with blood being splattered on the backdrops.[12] In wake of the 2012 Aurora shooting, Madonna was urged to remove the use of firearms from the show. Authorities previously warned the singer about use of guns for the concert in Edinburgh, before the events in Colorado. However, the order was reinforced after the tragedy occurred. Madonna continued the show in Scotland as planned, with the use of the props. During the concert, she expressed her joy for first concert in the country, saying she could be onstage for three hours. She then joked, "Due to your laws here they might pull the plug on me so if they cut us off suddenly, write to your local MP".[13]

Although threatened, Scottish police did not interrupt the show. Activist group, Mothers Against Guns, released a statement stating Madonna "should know better". They further stated the use of the props are in bad taste, even more so after the Colorado shootings. The singer's camp responded saying, "Madonna would rather cancel her show than censor her art. Her entire career, she has fought against people telling her what she can and cannot do. She’s not about to start listening to them now".[14]

Following her concert in Denver, Colorado, many fans felt the pop star was being "insensitive" to the community with the use of firearms in the first act. Many concert-goers tweeted the act was "too dark" and "satanic", causing them to leave the show.[15] To comment on the story, Liz Rosenberg released the following statement: "It's like taking out the third act of Hamlet. Madonna does not make things pretty and tie them up with a bow".[16] After the controversy in Denver, many fans felt Madonna would not return to the city to perform.


Madonna ending the performance of "Human Nature" by flashing the crowd at KeyArena in Seattle.

While performing her song "Human Nature" in her concert in Istanbul on June 7, 2012, Madonna briefly exposed her right breast to the audience, before covering it up again.[17] The Sun notes, "Her actions may have been offensive to some members of her audience, as Turkey is a traditionally Islamic country, with a largely Muslim population" before noting that "Perhaps fans shouldn't have been surprised - as she did warn them, writing No Fear on her back.[18] Amy Odell from BuzzFeed said that criticizing the gesture based on her age sends "a very archaic message", adding that "Women who are 53 still have breasts and... sex drives!".[19] Three days later, The Sun published an article entitled, "Madonna was right to bare her boob at 53." Three readers of the publication recreated the pose, photographed it, and sent it in to the publication to show their support for Madonna "as a positive role model for older women." While some initially claimed Madonna as "clingy" and "desperate", Sarah Angotti, also 53, counters, "I felt nervous when I pulled my bra down but that’s only natural — Madonna probably did too. But then I felt empowered, it was an incredible feeling." She goes on to say about Madonna, "She looks incredible now — better than a woman half her age and better than many of the young girls in the charts now" before commenting on the criticism of Madonna exposing her breast as a parent, "If she is a good mother that’s all that matters." Tina Shaw, also 53, argues Madonna "will not change" despite a double standard between men and women, opining, "Women always seem to get the most flack when it comes to controversial situations. If it was a 53-year-old famous guy flashing his six-pack on stage, everyone would say, 'Wow, what a lad' but because it’s a woman everyone is saying, 'What an old bag'". Lastly, Sue Scadding, 53 as well, negates the controversy, pointing out that "there are topless women out on the beach every day and nobody bats an eyelid...I mean, it’s only a nipple for goodness sake".[20]

L'Olympia show[edit]

Madonna's second show in Paris at L'Olympia was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews from fans and critics, with most of the criticism centering on the fact that the concert lasted only 45 minutes, even though the tickets had been sold at the same price as for the others full stage MDNA Tour shows and fans had not been alerted of the abbreviated format of the show. Responding to the criticism, Madonna's publicist declared that her past club shows "were never more than 45 minutes", adding that the concert was "planned as a heartfelt thank you to France which she expressed at the start of the show" and also, the show cost Madonna nearly $1 million to produce and keeping the prices at $100 involved a "tremendous effort".[21] According to TMZ, the riot at Madonna concert in Paris had nothing to do with her brief performance but with around 10 "fans" in the audience who overheard yelling about Marine Le Pen.[22] However, several French news outlets reported that the backlash against Madonna's performance was started by a considerable number of fans rather than an isolated group of Marine Le Pen supporters.[23][24][25]

Freedom of speech[edit]

Madonna called for the release of Russian feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot

Madonna's Russian shows in Moscow and Saint Petersburg were met with great controversy. Asked her stance on the arrest of feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot, Madonna responded: "I'm against censorship, and my whole career I've always promoted freedom of expression and freedom of speech so I think what's happening to them is unfair. And I hope that they don't have to serve 7 years in jail; that would be a tragedy. I think art should be political, that art, historically speaking, always reflects what's going on socially. So for me it's hard to separate being an artist and being political."[26] During her Moscow show, Madonna gave a speech in support of the band, saying "...My dream, and my prayer, is that everyone in the world has the right to express their opinions and still be treated as human beings. I know there are many sides to every story, and I mean no disrespect to the Church, or the government, but I think that these three girls -- Nadezhda, Yekaterina, and Maria -- have done something courageous. I think that they have paid the price for this act. And I pray for their freedom."[27] Madonna later appeared on stage with a temporary tattoo that said "Pussy Riot" on her back in place of the usual "No Fear" slogan, and performed "Like a Virgin" donning a balaclava covering her face, the band's trademark.[28] It was considered an artistic statement against the oppression of the band's freedom of speech.[29]

The response was largely positive. Many media outlets lauded Madonna's efforts, and other artists joined her in support of the band, among them Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney and Peter Gabriel.[30] Pussy Riot themselves tweeted: "DEAR MADONNA! We love you and you just might be changing Russia's history right now. Thank you and a thousand prayers in return!"[31] Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, however, wrote an expletive-ridden Twitter post lambasting Madonna for backing the band: "With age, every ex-slut tends to lecture everybody on morality. Especially during world tours and concerts."[32] Madonna's second Russian date in Saint Petersburg was consequently met with terrorist threats, prompting the U.S. Embassy to issue a warning to those in attendance.[33] Madonna's spokesperson Liz Rosenberg responded that the concert would go on as scheduled and that Russian authorities would step up security for the date.[33]

Following threats of arrest by Russian officials if she spoke in support of gay rights and opposed the recent anti-gay law which prohibits "public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors", Madonna responded, on March 21, in a letter on her website:

I'm a freedom fighter. My show. My songs. My work. My art, is all about freedom of expression. Freedom to choose to speak to act. Always with humanity and compassion. I will come to St. Petersburg to speak up for the gay community, to support the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to anyone who is or feels oppressed. I don't run away from adversity. I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity.[34][34][35][35]

On August 18, Pussy Riot members were found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.[36] In response, Madonna wrote on her website in further support of the band: "I protest the conviction and sentencing of Pussy Riot to a penal colony for two years for a 40 second performance extolling their political opinions. Even if one disagrees with the location or how they chose to express themselves, the sentence is too harsh and in fact is inhumane. I call on all those who love freedom to condemn this unjust punishment. I urge artists around the world to speak up in protest against this travesty. They've spent enough time in jail. I call on ALL of Russia to let Pussy Riot go free."[37] Madonna also continued to back and defend Pussy Riot and preach for equality and freedom.[38]

Following her tour in Europe, Madonna returned to the United States to perform. Madonna urged her U.S. fans to appreciate their freedom of speech and claimed, "I've seen some scary things. I've seen people being locked up and put in jail for speaking their minds, for being gay, for not practicing the right religion, for not dressing the proper way. Yeah, it's scary. But what it made me realize is how lucky I am to be living here in America. It doesn't mean that this is the perfect country. We have a long way to go." [9]

LGBT rights[edit]

Madonna's performance of "Masterpiece" was normally preceded by a speech.

Before the show, Madonna released pink wristbands to audience members in support of the LGBT community.[39] In addition, hundreds brought rainbow flags to the show and waved them throughout. Madonna stopped in the middle of the show to speak on the issues at hand: "...I feel that people are becoming more and more afraid of people who are different. People are becoming more and more intolerant, but we can make a difference...we don't have to do it with violence, but love." She continued, noting Martin Luther King, Jr. as a fighter for the equal rights of African Americans, and stating, "I am here to say that the gay community and gay people here, and all around the world, have the same rights, to be treated with dignity, respect, tolerance, compassion, and love." She then asked the audience to raise their wristbands with her to show their "love and support of the gay community." She concluded, "for people quoting the Bible, and using God as a defense mechanism: Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and Moses preached this—it's in every Holy book—'love thy neighbor as thyself'. You can not use religion, or God's name, to treat other people badly. So let's go out into the world, and spread this message of love, and live our lives without fear. Amen."[40]

Though her speech was met with much praise from the media, on August 17, it was announced that anti-gay Russian campaigners would sue Madonna for $10.4 million, arguing that she was promoting "homosexual propaganda" which was against the law, and allegedly "insulted their feelings when she spoke out for gay rights" at the concert.[41] According to one of the 10 activists who filed the lawsuit, "She (Madonna) had been warned with words that she should behave in line with the law and she ignored it. So we will speak in the language of money...maybe someone does not see the link but after Madonna's concert maybe some boy becomes gay, some girl becomes lesbian, fewer children are born as a result and this big country cannot defend its borders—for me it causes moral suffering."[42] On November 12 the claims were fully rejected.[43]


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  2. ^ Madonna's Marine Le Pen Nazi Depiction Lands Singer In Hot Water, HuffPost, April 6, 2012
  3. ^ Quand Madonna lie Le Pen et Hitler, Le Journal du Dimanche, June 4, 2012
  4. ^ Alice Bosio, Comparaison Le Pen-Hitler : Madonna fait polémique, Le Figaro, June 4, 2012
  5. ^ Madonna assimile Le Pen à Hitler, «malheureux» selon Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, La Croix, June 4, 2012
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  11. ^ Bertram, Colin (October 12, 2012). "Madonna Dedicates Song to "Malala," the Pakistani Teen Shot by Taliban Gunmen". NBC Chicago. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
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