After sparking rows twice this summer in Paris, pop icon Madonna struck a conciliatory note in the South of France on Tuesday night at her MDNA Tour concert in Nice. Gone was the litigious swastika pasted on a French politician's likeness, but for once, the singer was accused of cowering in the face of controversy.
In July, the 54-year-old pop star sparred with France's far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, 44. No stranger to controversy herself, the telegenic Le Pen, who placed third in France's presidential election this year after succeeding her firebrand father Jean-Marie as party chief, pressed charges after Madonna's July 14 stadium show in Paris projected an image of the politician with a swastika emblazoned on her forehead.
Less than two weeks after that debacle, Madonna was heartily booed in central Paris by a crowd largely composed of her own fan-club members. That second, more intimate show at the legendary Olympia Theater, which was hastily announced, fell short of expectations, lasting only 49 minutes and punctuated by the singer's awkward eight-minute monologue against intolerance. Some concertgoers demanded a refund, but were unsuccessful. Videos from the venue circulated online showed a disgruntled crowd crying "Bitch!" after the house lights went up.
So tensions were high before the Material Girl's Tuesday-night show on the Riviera. National Front executives threatened new legal action should the concert, Madonna's first in France since the Olympia kerfuffle, reprise the contested slideshow likening Le Pen to a Nazi. The video, displayed behind Madonna’s backup dancers during the song “Nobody Knows Me,” debuted in Tel Aviv on May 31 at the MDNA Tour's opening concert. ("Old singers who need attention—you can understand that they go to such extremes," Le Pen said in June, warning that if the singer "does that in France, we'll be waiting for her.")
This week, French media reported that National Front faithful had papered over concert posters for Madonna's Nice show with images of their preferred ambitious blonde, Le Pen. Unlike Paris, Nice has traditionally been a bastion of far-right support in France. Le Pen garnered 23 percent of the vote in Nice in the first round of France's latest presidential election in April, compared with only 6.2 percent in the capital.
But in the end, Madonna played nice in Nice. An apparently similar slideshow did accompany the same song it has in the past. But, as French media reported en masse in the wake of the anticipated concert, the swastika that once branded Marine Le Pen's face was replaced with a question mark. Headlines in France on Wednesday said the pop singer "avoided a clash," "calmed the polemic," "gave up," or even "gave in." The French press also lingered on the MDNA Tour's efforts to fill the venue, Charles Ehrmann Stadium in Nice, including reported mass ticket giveaways to local authorities. Since the start of the swastika controversy in June, the National Front similarly emphasized the singer's purported difficulty in selling out concerts on her latest tour.
The show in Nice was the last on the European segment of the MDNA Tour, during which the singer also managed to stir controversy by flashing a boob in Istanbul and showing her bum in Rome. She courted controversy in Edinburgh on July 21 by keeping prop guns in her stage show, shortly after a shooting spree in Aurora, Colo., left 12 dead, and despite reported requests from law enforcement for her to abstain from brandishing the toy weapons. Madonna spurned Russian authorities in Moscow by wearing a balaclava in support of punk rockers Pussy Riot and in St. Petersburg by expressing love for the gay community, flouting a ban on "homosexual propaganda."
Earlier in August, rival pop monolith Elton John slammed Madonna, saying she looked like a "fucking fairground stripper." "She's such a nightmare," John told an interviewer on Australian TV. "Her career is over. Her tour has been a disaster, and it couldn't happen to a bigger cunt."