Heavy is the head that wears the crown – and apparently fragile was the crown upon the queen of pop’s head last night at the special New York City premiere of Madonna’s Madame X concert film at the Paradise Club atop the Times Square Edition hotel.
Her Madgesty emerged from the pouring rain donning a slightly bent sparkling tiara above her blonde braids that boldly bore a profane phrase all-too-commonly heard on the streets of the Big Apple: “Fuck You.” The diminutive 63-year-old pop star also wore what’s become her signature over her four-decade career – fishnets and a bustier – in addition to white wraparound sunglasses and a gleaming plate necklace that read “Trust No Bitch.”
Filmed in Lisbon, Portugal – where Madonna has lived since 2017 in support of her son David’s football career – the film, released 30 years on from her defining documentary Truth or Dare, features footage from the singer’s 2019–20 tour that was curtailed by the outbreak of the pandemic. The tour took its name from the singer’s 14th studio album, which debuted at No 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2019; Madame X was the globetrotting secret-agent persona she adopted for the tour who fights for freedom and against injustices.
What distinguished this tour and concert film from others was its smaller scale, consisting entirely of theater venues instead of stadiums or arenas. And that intimacy may not necessarily translate to the film, Madonna told the Guardian.
“There’s a lot of moments where I talk to the audience, but we had to cut a lot of that down for time,” said the surprisingly soft-spoken singer on the red carpet. “I love people heckling me or calling out, I love talking to them about what was going on in the world, whether it’s Donald Trump or a natural disaster. I loved having that back-and-forth. We capture it to a certain point but not completely.” Adding to the cozy feeling of the show was the fact that four of her six children participated, in both taped segments and live performances.
Inspired by Lisbon’s many cultural influences, the album traversed languages and music styles, from fado to Moroccan gnawa music and the Cape Verde tradition batuque, and the show features the all-female Lisbon orchestra Orquestra Batukadeiras, among other performers from around the world. “In Lisbon I had the chance to meet and share the great artistry of all these musicians in my show, and that was a wonderful experience for me,” she said.
Portuguese photographer Ricardo Gomes met Madonna while she was recording the album in Lisbon and was tapped to record behind-the-scenes footage for Instagram and eventually direct the Madame X film.
“Covid shut us out at the end – we were going to film more shows,” he said. “The challenge was we had to find inspiration and go beyond the show to connect things and make the message even more relevant.” Even before the pandemic, the tour had been plagued with injuries, a fact that might not be apparent for viewers of the film, Gomes said. “She was very injured the whole tour, but we can’t actually see that – she looks amazing and incredible.” Another thing viewers may be surprised to learn: Madonna was a straight-A student, as Erin Cressida Wilson – the Secretary screenwriter who has been hard at work on the Madonna’s biopic, which the star is set to direct – pointed out.
A crowd of about 75 deposited their phones in locked pouches (a practice that was also enforced during the Madame X tour) before entering the dimly lit former cabaret space Paradise Club, which was transformed into a cozy theater for the night.
Guests including Drew Barrymore, Queer Eye star Antoni Porowski and Madonna’s son Rocco Ritchie downed Madame X dirty martinis and espresso martinis before the woman of the night introduced the film in inimitable Madonna fashion: “Artists are here to disturb the peace,” she said, quoting James Baldwin. Then: “Shut the fuck up and enjoy yourselves.”