Intimate Madonna Show at Paris’s Olympia Hall Turns Ugly
Tracy McNicoll on the catcalls, lengthy rant, hasty exit—and angry blowback at the diva’s concert Thursday.
Madonna is in trouble in France, again. But this time, the pop diva has fallen out with her hardcore fans.
The smartphone-video evidence by apparently disgruntled concertgoers is eloquent. (Uploaded to YouTube, one is titled “Suicide of Madonna.”) “Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!” “Re-fund! Re-fund!” “Shame on you!” The catcalls, evidently filmed inside the legendary Olympia music hall after the house lights went up on Thursday night, aren’t from just any old protesters. The intimate show was primarily reserved for a lucky contingent of Madonna’s biggest fans. One unhappy attendee is even heard to shout, “Vive Lady Gaga!” Sacrilege. And French critics on Friday morning weren’t taking pity. One review was published under the headline “Madonna: An Evening in Hell.” So where did it all go wrong?
Recall that less than two weeks ago, the pop icon angered France’s far-right National Front when her MDNA Tour stage show likened party leader Marine Le Pen to a Nazi. On a jumbo screen behind acrobatic dancers and in front of 70,000 fans at Paris’s Stade de France, the fiery politician was depicted with a swastika emblazoned on her forehead, moments before an identically branded photo of Hitler. Five days later, Le Pen, 43, made good on a threat to press charges, filing a legal complaint against “Madame Madonna Ciccone and any others” responsible for the projection of the image.
At the time, Madonna, two months into her global MDNA Tour, wasn’t scheduled to perform again in France until Aug. 21, at a stadium concert on the Riviera, in Nice. But shortly after the Stade de France show—which, as far-right critics were quick to taunt, was not a sellout—the singer announced a surprise, far more intimate performance in the French capital on a week’s notice. The new show at the Olympia, a prestigious venue on a leafy boulevard in central Paris renowned for historic shows by iconic greats like Edith Piaf, seemed a treat for Madonna’s biggest fans, with a reported 2,000 of the 2,700 tickets reserved for fan-club members.
Despite high ticket prices ranging from 89.50 euros to 276.50 euros ($110-$340), the show was a quick sellout. And Madonna’s faithful wouldn’t be denied the rituals of superfandom: TV news crews trolled a sidewalk rainbow of tents set up by about 30 devotees on the Boulevard des Capucines, under Madonna’s name in capitals on the Olympia’s famous red-neon frontispiece. Some had set up camp from Wednesday at noon, more than 30 hours before curtain, in sweltering heat.
In the event, after a long delay in a sticky hall, it was all over in 49 minutes. The Material Girl sang about eight songs simulcast on YouTube, old standards like “Vogue” and “Open Your Heart,” and newer material from her latest record, punctuated after only two tunes by an 8-minute monologue against intolerance. Wearing a beret, she spoke of her affinity for France (“Because I think of myself as a revolutionary!”) and applauded world-famous French and foreign-born artists—Hemingway, Picasso—who plied their trade in France. She spoke about France welcoming African-American performers in the last century when intolerance in the United States drove them abroad. And she warned of intolerance sparked by economic fears today, clearly following up on the Marine Le Pen controversy.
“We are entering some very scary times in the world, yeah? Economic markets are collapsing; people have nothing to eat in Greece. People all over the world are suffering and people are afraid, and what happens when people are afraid?” she asked, before repeating the question in a schoolteacher’s tone. “They become intolerant,” the singer answered herself. “I know I have made a certain Marine Le Pen very angry with me,” Madonna said, to applause. “And it is not my intention to make enemies. It’s my intention to promote tolerance, OK?”
Wrapping up the long disquisition, before singing “a song about love,” Madonna proclaimed, “The next time you want to point the finger at somebody and blame them for your problem in your life, take that finger and point it back at you.”
One purported fan blogged a review calling the interlude “an interminable and sanctimonious speech.” “To listen to her monologue, you’d think we were at a speech by Miss France running for president,” Julien Chadeyron added. “We’re not here to hear you talk, honey. If you wouldn’t mind singing, that would suit us fine!”
As rapt as fans appeared while the star sang and spoke, cheering or singing along, the crowd turned sour quickly after she had stepped off the stage for good, without warning, and never returned. “We’ve seen the pre-show! Now we want to see the show!” one concertgoer cried out, after the house lights went up. Roadies busied at clearing the stage as fans threw empty plastic water bottles in their general direction. Madonna’s last hurrah before her abrupt exit—a Serge Gainsbourg reprise one music magazine on Friday called “pathetic”—was the smoldering classic “Je t’aime, moi non plus.” French fans on Friday can relate.