Madonna’s Celebration Tour rolled into Barclays Center on Wednesday (Dec. 13) for the first of several New York City dates. Two months after opening in London’s O2 Arena on Oct. 14 (with five of her children in attendance), The Celebration Tour is going strong. Billboard Boxscore recently reported that the tour tally so far is approaching $100 million in grosses, with the trek likely to net $225 million worldwide when all is said and done.
Despite a late start, the high-energy show featured a setlist surprise as well as an on-stage appearance by her rumored boyfriend, boxing coach Josh Popper, a reality TV veteran who runs a gym in New York City called Bredwinners.
The tour is a vocally impressive showing for the reigning Queen of Pop, especially given that a health scare forced her to postpone its start by a few months. And the setlist is a dream, encompassing essential Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, deep-cut fan favorites and a few tracks she hasn’t trotted out in years. “It’s a tour which is essentially biopic in style, documentary in style,” Stuart Price – the tour’s music producer – told Billboard shortly after the Celebration Tour opened in London. The beating, bleeding heart of the show remains “Live to Tell,” which pairs the melancholy ballad with images of lives lost to HIV/AIDS (many of them being friends of Madonna’s). The most transcendent moment, however, is “Ray of Light,” which finds Madonna soaring above the crowd in an airborne window of sorts, belting out the sublime chorus while bubbling swaths of acid house roll around the crowd (which, naturally, loses its collective mind).
Madonna returns to Barclays Center on Thursday (Dec. 14) and Saturday (Dec. 16). The Celebration Tour swings back through NYC next year, hitting Madison Square Garden on Jan. 22, 23 and 29.
Check out the best moments from her first NYC date on The Celebration Tour below.
Though she was born in Michigan, NYC serves as a de facto hometown for the Queen of Pop, who moved here when she was just 19. She gave the crowd a special treat early on in the show, busting out “I Love New York” for the first time live in 15 years. It’s a song that skewed a little harder than the rest of its parent album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, and Madge leaned into the rawk even further at Barclays, ripping through the song on an electric guitar as images of CBGB and NYC’s punk past flashed around her, eventually segueing into “Burning Up” while continuing to shred.
Speaking New York’s Love Language – Insults
In keeping with the theme of her setlist surprise, Madonna honored the audience of New Yorkers by adopting their native tongue. “The relief – the relief that people here speak my language – the language of c-nt. No one is more surprised that I have made it this far than me. I didn’t think I was gonna make it this summer, but here I am,” she added.
“Thank you for your support, your love. People don’t understand – the love from a New Yorker is like making a big fat, smelly rat come up to you and put your arms around you. It’s like, I made it! Not to compare you guys to rats.”
During the tour’s “Vogue” segment — which draws upon the Harlem ball culture that inspired her 1990 classic in the first place — different famous face have been joining Madonna each night to help her judge the runway, flashing “10s” or “CHOP” depending on the performance. But instead of bringing up a NYC celeb at Barclays, Madonna got personal. She brought up Josh Popper, a champion who runs a boxing gym in NYC called Bredwinners — and who has been romantically linked to the pop star for much of 2023. Later in the show, she thanked him for helping coach her dancers for the pugilism-meets-pop choreography of “Erotica.”
“Josh, who came up here for the ‘Vogue’ ballroom moment, you saw him when we were doing ‘Erotica,’” Madonna said. “He taught all my dancers how to box – I taught him a thing or two, too,” she drily intoned. “We’ll talk about that later though.”
Having a Ball
Not much gets past the Queen of Pop. After a therapeutic, vocally impressive “Mother and Father” (with her son David Banda on guitar), Madonna began speaking to the crowd about her parents when a familiar voice caught her ear.
“Is that Kevin Prodigy? I can hear your voice. How the hell are you?”
Sure enough, Philadelphia ballroom emcee Kevin Jz Prodigy was in the audience, right near the stage, towering over the crowd. “Kevin, how did I miss you? You’re so tall. Are you standing on something? You’re a giant,” she joked. “Thank you for all your hard work and inspiration,” she told him. “Kevin is one of the many people who helped me put this show together, added their special sauce to it,” she explained.
M’s tour isn’t the only blockbuster 2023 trek Prodigy has been helping with – the artist/commentator’s voice is all over Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour, too. Who says you can’t worship at two thrones?
During the London opener, Madonna commented on the escalating Israel-Hamas war, saying, “It breaks my heart to see children suffering, teenagers suffering, elderly people suffering — all of it is heartbreaking, okay?” Two months later – with the war still raging and many kidnapped Israelis still being held hostage – Madonna again addressed the violence in the Middle East, telling the crowd to be grateful that “people aren’t blowing us up and shooting us and kidnapping us.”
“There are people on the other side of the world that don’t have that privilege,” she said, “That cannot depend upon tomorrow. Let’s take a moment to be grateful.”