It was all a series of coincidence. I rarely check social media while traveling, but I happened to log into Twitter while on road in October to find people talking about the concert. The concert trip happened to be organized by someone I know. Someone happened to cancel reservations. Before I left for my November trip I’d already pocketed the much-coveted pass to Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour in Bangkok on February, albeit with much concern.
Since my first visit as a teen, followed subsequently as adult, Bangkok and I never agreed with one another. Each visit ended up with a hospital episode. I’ve since shied away from business meetings, even holidays to Krabi or Chiangmai, because it involved passing through Bangkok.
But it was Madonna. The first female artist whose album I bought as a little girl, whose earlier songs I knew by heart before I had boys in my heart. The ultimate performer, the trailblazer for the likes of Aguilera, Beyonce and Gaga. The idol that went by one name before artists did it en masse. The one and only Madonna.
So, with quite trepidation, and a bagful of medications, I flew the redeye after the Chinese New Year. It happened to be Mardi Gras, the crazy Tuesday before Lent, so I figured if I could survive Mardi Gras in the Year of Fire Monkey, I’d survive Bangkok long enough for Madonna.
I survived Bangkok. Yet I almost didn’t survive Madonna.
My concert pass was for the 2nd day. As it was technically Ash Wednesday, I wore black lace, a heart-shaped ring in red leopard print, and a cross necklace. I knew I wouldn’t win any best dressed award, for typical Madonna fans are daring clotheshorses like the idol herself, but the visual attacks as we arrived at IMPACT Stadium warranted a mild stroke or two. Madonna diehards juxtaposed with Thailand ladyboys, a legend on their own, was explosive.
Racy lace was de rigueur, full-sized devil horns were proudly strutted around, fishnets and bold lips rivaled RuPaul circa 1990s, neon-colored wigs bounced about and, as I walked to my seat, the iconic cone-shaped bustier flew past by. Long lines were formed in front of photo-op backdrops, where soon we forgot to pose ourselves, too busy snapping pictures of the ladyboys– posing in all their flamboyant glory.
And it all still went pale in comparison to what Madonna had in store inside.
The stage itself was a giant crucifix, similar to the choker I wore. The first prop we saw was a row of cross-shaped sticks, used by dancers as anything from swinging batons to leaning poles. Just as I lost track of crosses appearing left and right, pole dancers, I mean aerialists, started scaling up and slithering down poles wearing what could only be described as a slutty version of nuns’ habit, taking breaks in between to receive obligatory spanks from the Lady Madonna. A scene akin to Mass procession took place next, floor-length canonical robe included, and just before audience could blink twice, the piece de resistance unfurled before them; The Last Supper.
A full-frontal, unapologetic assault on every major Catholic symbol, on the first half hour of the concert alone. Did I mention that it was also the start of the sacred Lent? That Madonna criticizes the Catholic Church is no news, for she’s done that long before priests’ child-abuse cases and Dan Brown novels made it trendy to do so, but that she’s still openly rebelling against the Church thirty years down the line took me a bit by surprise. I’d watched some of her concert videos, yet what she’s doing in Rebel Heart Tour takes the word “rebel” to a whole new level that should include a sympathy hug for Vatican. Singapore authority announced that her February 28th concert would be ‘curated’; a progress considering she was banned there altogether in 1993. Bishops in Singapore and Philippines have both openly condemned her concerts and called for their flocks to stay away. I’m so grateful I caught Madonna in the more permissive Bangkok.
As for the rest of the 2-hour show, Madonna showed why she earned Billboard’s title of the top touring female artist of all time and Guinness World Record of the best-selling female recording artist of all time. The elevated, LED-equipped stage was an act on its own. The costumes were sensational without being reduced to wacky. No need for an army of dancers for the handful she brought was first-class, Cirque-du-Soleil-level of troupe.
The 57-year-old artist herself performed complicated choreographies throughout with dancers half her age, proving that lifelong discipline of exercise and diet does pay off in the form of long breath, strong core, steady arms, and agile legs that swayed, squatted, and swiveled constantly in 9-cm heels. Forget that stage slip last year, Madonna remains fitter than most 37-year-olds in the industry. Even if this would be her last world tour, and God forbid she should learn we’re discussing her possible retirement, she’d go with a bang.
And for that world-class badass performance, for all the songs that marked my growing pains, for the constant reinventions that most artists can only dream about, and for the rebellious pang that lingers even after all is said and done, I’m forever your bitch, Madonna. In Madge we forever trust.