Review: 'Madame X' is the Music Event of the Season

by JC Alvarez

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 8, 2021

'Madame X'
'Madame X'  (Source:Paramount+)

The music event of the season has finally arrived courtesy of Madonna: "Madame X" premieres on the subscriber service Paramount+.

Captured over the course of her "Madame X" Tour, and filmed when the theatrical show arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, the documentary film is cobbled from various bits of video pieces and additionally-produced montages to present on stage the story of the Queen of Pop's latest evolution. Critically regarded as one of her most diverse musical works, when the album "Madame X" was released it debuted at #1 on the Billboard, but didn't necessarily meet the anticipated demands of her fanbase who prefer their icon dangerous on the dance floor.

"Madame X" is Madonna's exploration of world music, and especially the musical stylings of Fado, Batuka, and influences from her time spent in Lisbon and her communion with the Portuguese. It allowed Madonna (who admitted she was very lonely during that time) to reflect and become extremely immersed in a musical influence that she hadn't really investigated before. When it came time for Madonna to take her act on the road, she didn't feel like the new album would be served in an arena setting — she needed to reinvent the way she presented the new songs. The result was a more intimate show performed in opera houses and theaters around the world.

Her live concert documentary for Paramount+ begins with the mission statement: "Artists are here to disturb the Peace..." It's a quote from poet and playwright James Baldwin. The first song of the setlist is the artist's most recent dance hit, "God Control," which is Madonna's proclamation on the state of a world sick with violence and gun-related deaths, and little direction on how to solve those issues. Adorned in a tattered garment similar to that worn by a soldier of the American Revolution, she poses the ask: "This is your wake up call!" The fast-paced disco track gets the heart pumping!

The first act of the production skates between songs from "Madame X" and her greatest hits, including "Human Nature" and "Vogue," with an a cappella version of "Express Yourself," featuring three of her children. Utilizing projections effectively on a revolving and rotating set with sliding doors and gatefolds, Madonna is able to evoke various shifting vistas. Unfortunately, the documentary editing is a bit erratic, so at times what results is a collage of images set against the live music. It's difficult to focus on one thing, and Madonna herself becomes as elusive as her alter ego, Madame X.

"Vogue" features many of her male dancers disguised as decoy Madame Xs in a walk-about the stage, and leads into one of the more entertaining banters Madonna has ever had with her audience as she auctions off a polaroid of herself to raise money for charity before springing into "American Life." Her connection with her fandom is on full display throughout the show — one of the luxuries of having filmed in such a tight space as a theater.

For the start of the second half of the concert, Madonna focuses on her love for Fado music. The musical style was something that she found very inspiring, especially given the practice of artists and families gathering in their living rooms to participate in the collective experience of creating music or art on a canvas — something that isn't really done in the States. The stage morphs into a Portuguese-looking outdoor plaza. This gives her the opportunity to rouse the audience with a lively interpretation of "Killers Who Are Partying" after introducing Fado performer Gasper Varela.

Here's where the artist appear most at ease and in control of the performance. The setting becomes much more traditional, and settles in for a setlist that includes "Crazy," the fan favorite "La Isla Bonita," and moves into a playful execution of her most recent hit, "Medellín," a duet with Columbian vocalist Maluma, who appears courtesy of prerecorded video imagery. Madonna and her dancers dance gleefully, and the energy is joyful and romantic; the artist herself comes out into the audience, with her entourage ending in a rousing conga line.

Among the best parts of the show is Madonna's performance of "Frozen," which plays as elegantly in the doc as it was to see live, and features a significantly surprising guest star that takes the lyrics of the song to a whole new level. Her performance of "Future" is also subtle and interesting. Madonna plays the piano, while vocalizing the auto-tuned track, with two dancers running in tandem around her. She looks glamorous and engaging as she brings her show to its closing acts with a rousing rendition of "Like A Prayer," leading into her newest anthem, "I Rise."

For the diehard, the second act of "Madame X" will feel the most natural and entertaining. The cameras capture the show from the various perspectives of the audience, and put the viewer in the theater. The show takes on an autobiographical nature, told through her songs and experience, and are soaked in her rebellious desire to disrupt the order of things and inspire freedom of thought and expression. Artists are meant to disturb the Peace... here is the proof!

"Madame X" premieres on Paramount+ on October 8.

Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".