It's a debate as old as time. Which Madonna tour falls to the bottom of the pile and which soars to the top of the pack? Unlike the albums, there's usually a pretty decent consensus on what her top tier tours are and for the most part, my opinion doesn't really divert. But I do have some opinions concerning the further down list that I know not all fans share. So here is my personal, 100% completely biased ranking of the tours. I have excluded the Madame X Tour because I have not seen the show from start to finish and you cannot judge a tour based off of written description, a small amount of photos, and shitty audio recordings. That's like reviewing a book that you've not actually read: dumb. Let's get to it!
10. The Virgin Tour
While far from a bad show, it just simply cannot compare to everything that followed it. This show is very much representative of what Madonna was at this time. She was becoming a cultural icon, but she was yet to fully establish what would go on to make her a legend. Her audience at the time remained teenagers and this show was created specifically with them in mind. It's a fairly rough around the edges show that mainly consists of simply staged performances that were elevated by Madonna's energy and commitment to her performance. That's not to say the show doesn't feature some fantastic performances in it because it does. Dress You Up, Like a Virgin, Material Girl, and even Into the Groove remain some of her most energetic performances and arguably are the most pure portrayal of who Madonna was as an artist during her zeitgeist phase. This is a show that's on the cusp of maturity but stays true to her teen idol image. It's a lot of fun, but it's all on the surface which means it doesn't hold against the detailed and intricate shows that ended up following it.
9. Who's That Girl World Tour
In many ways, this is where Madonna the live icon was born. This show was tighter, larger, and more creative in almost every way than it's predecessor, however it still feels somewhat hesitant when compared to what was still to come. This tour arrived at a time in Madonna's career where she was desperately trying to shed the teen idol image and was fighting to be taken seriously by audiences. This meant that for the first time, she completely reinvented herself. Seeing as this was the first time she'd overhauled her image, she had yet to become a master of it, so it felt more like a transitionary period than an outright new Madonna era. And that translated to the stage for this tour. The show is bigger and brighter and flashier, but it still feels fairly hollow. That she was taking risks such as commenting on the Catholic church, she wasn't yet bringing something really ballsy to the stage. It's a fun show, if a not so interesting one. Her looks are mostly up to the task, especially the iconic opening outfit and the red ensemble, and the setlist is mostly solid, but it doesn't live up to the rest of her tour catalogue.
8. Sticky & Sweet Tour
This tour is far, far from the disaster that some corners of the fanbase will have you believe, but it's still not up there with her absolute best. This show boasts some fantastic production elements, a really fun and uplifting feeling and look, and is staged very well. From a choreography standpoint, this is one of Madonna's more impressive shows as she spends the entire runtime executing some of her most complex and exhausting choreography. Where the issue comes in is the fact that the show retreads a lot of familiar ground. The stage lifts some elements from the Confessions Tour (not to mention a whole performance from that tour). The political ideas she presents are more her hammering in what she's been saying rather than saying much new. And for the first time in a long time, the arrangements of the songs don't really change all that much from their album counterparts save for a few notable exceptions. And hair is mostly pretty tragic, especially that crimp look. Oh and her costumes are pretty meh as well (football pads....got it).
7. The Girlie Show Tour
This is probably where I'll lose most of you but...confession time...I've never loved this show. I love parts of it, but as a whole product it just doesn't entertain me as much as it does others. I think that the show has some fantastic ideas, some of her best costumes, an impressive stage, and a great look. But it feels so oddly cold and distant, even when she goes in to make the show personal. This is one of her most theatrical shows, but it also feels somewhat unfocused. Over the course of the show, we're introduced to Dita who's quickly abandoned for the Studio 54 segment which is half way abandoned midway through the act to lead into a Caberet section that randomly transform into a military (?) segment which acts as the main show closer. Then we get the best performance of the night that feels connected to the cabaret section before we move into a weird closer with an admittedly cool final twist that's fun but doesn't really make all that much sense in context of the show. It's a good show with so many good ideas and iconic moments, but they're just that...moments. When put all together, the show has a weird flow that makes it hard to swallow at some points.
6. Rebel Heart Tour
Okay let me get this straight from the start: I love this show. It was my first time seeing her live and there's not a single moment in this show that doesn't entertain me. But I know in my heart of hearts that it's not better than the remaining tours in my heart of hearts and I couldn't live with myself ranking it higher than those remaining tours. But it doesn't take away from the show's strength. Really, the show is much better than it has any right to be. Coming from a beautiful mess of an album, it was expected by many that the tour would also be messy but it really isn't. It keeps a consistent tone, consistent visuals, and it makes incredible use of the space it takes up. It boasts one of her coolest stage layouts and it's setlist sees the return of some songs that fans had been asking for for so long. And even the hardest of critics of this show cannot deny that as the tour progressed, that special song segment in act three became a treasure, keeping each show interesting. But the show still holds some problems. Yes, the Spanish segment has become a cliché by this point, yes it's closing is pretty weak and a song that most of us have had enough of, but there's a lot of fun to be had here and there's so much creativity existent within it. And her personality was fun throughout this tour as well, honestly we've not seen her so happy on stage before.
5. Re-Invention World Tour
The closest she'll ever get to a greatest hits tour. This is a tour that was fairly unexpected to me when I went into viewing it for the first time. I knew there had been a stigma around it's supporting album so in my head, the tour was also lumped in with the consensus about the album (which I was unaware had found love from fans) and I was surprised by how much I found myself enjoying it. One complaint that I hold for this tour doesn't come down to the show itself, but the look of it. While I understand what she was aiming to achieve with the staging, I can't help but feel this is one of her worst stages. It feels almost too small for the show that's being put onto it which makes some of the show feel a little compact for me. But that's perfect for the more intimate moments, especially the underrated acoustic section of the show. The production numbers, despite the stage issues for me, mostly land really well and look fantastic. The opening trio is particularly fantastic. But where this show really shines is in her complete embracement of her career both past and present. For the first time, it felt like she was willing to look backwards and acknowledge what came before instead of putting a hyper focus on the present. In doing so, she dusted off some classic tracks and gave them some radical new interpretations that we still look to as something of a reference today. While this may not stand as her most iconic show, her flashiest, or even her best, it's her most genuine.
4. The MDNA Tour
There seems to be something a love-hate relationship with this tour and the fanbase. And I get it. This is perhaps one of her hardest to swallow shows. But that's exactly why I love it. This is, for my vote, her ballsiest show. She took more risks on the MDNA stage than she had on stage before or since and remarkably, most of them paid off handsomely. The opening act of this show alone eclipses the entire touring reputation of others, and it's only the start of something much larger and more beautiful than I think anyone expected from this tour considering it's parent album. The show plays almost like a film. It covers such an intense range of emotions, styles, and approaches that it almost feels like multiple shows in one, but it does this without feeling a mess or inconsistent. There's a loose thematic storyline that carries through the show, a journey from darkness to light. Along the way, Madonna seems to be venting out everything she's kept buried for so long before. Though Re-Invention found her at her most genuine on stage, I think MDNA found her at her most vulnerable. She chose to touch on things that obviously meant a lot to her and she was more unapologetically honest and brutally to the point than we'd seen before or since. There are some missteps along the way such as the messy rendition of Hung Up, but these moments are so small that they don't come close to eclipsing this amazing show.
3. Drowned World Tour
I'll admit it: for a long, long, long time I hated everything about it. I hated the setlist, I hated the costumes, I hated the stage, I hated the concepts. But when I finally reached the point in my life that I understood it, everything changed. My first experiences with this tour were so far removed from what inspired it. I wasn't even a year old when she was touring with it, and when I saw it the first time, I had no idea what journey she'd be on that led her to it. But a few years ago, around when I was sixteen, I had been a fan for almost 10 years and realized I'd never taken the time to have a look at her life as it was traced through her albums. I'd always loved Ray of Light and Music, but never got where they were coming from. When I figured it out and finally heard the music (I'd listened to those two albums many times sure, but it was the first time I heard them), my eyes were forced open and I ran to the tour to rediscover it. And that's where the beauty and the grace of it became clear to me. This is less a pop concert, more an art installation, a piece of theatre, and an adaptation of the swelling emotion that was inside of her all rolled into one experience. It's perhaps her only show where every moment feels important, every step feels like it carries intense weight. But that also leads to the one problem I have with this tour: it created a divide, a wall almost, between her and the audience. To me, she never felt more distant and removed from the audience than she did in this show. She seemed colder, icier, and almost unlike herself throughout this show which is possibly why I disliked it so much at the start. That observation hasn't really changed, however my overall perception of the show (obviously) has.
2. Blond Ambition World Tour
Perhaps no other concert tour in pop music has had such an influence, such an impact, and such a lasting footprint of the genre and the industry as a whole. In 2019, this tour isn't even looked upon as a tour, it's looked upon as something of a legend, a myth. It's almost unbelievable that this show exists, but it does. And this is where Madonna's career as the Queen of Touring began. Even today, this show feels game changing. The costumes were strange but you couldn't look away. The choreography was scandalous but felt incredibly purposeful. Her attitude was brattier than ever but you couldn't help but keep coming back for more. It all combined together to make a show that was unlike anything else seen to that point or arguably since. The reason this iconic masterpiece doesn't take number one? Well aside from that whole bias thing I mention in the title and intro to this post, this show has one issue that doesn't always get acknowledged: the Dick Tracy and Art Deco segments aren't up to the brilliance of the rest of the show. Entertaining? Yes. But not to the standard and majesty as the Metropolis, Religious, and Encore sections. Once the show hits Sooner or Later, it loses some of its restless creative energy that it only starts to pick up again when Into the Groove rolls around. Now I now that's a controversial statement and that a lot of people adore those sections of the show, but to me they keep it from being number one. But I do agree with this touring being Madonna's crown jewel and it more than deserves it's reputation. And the first two acts and encore are literally perfect to the point that I can't pinpoint a single flaw with them. And honestly the fact this takes number two shows just how amazing a Madonna show almost always is.
1. Confessions Tour
And here ladies and gentlemen is where my bias completely takes over. This entire era was my introduction to Madonna. I was four when the album came out and by chance, my Dad fell asleep with it playing on his stereo so I listened to it three times in a row before he woke up. And that's all it took. At four, she hooked me in. Flash forward two years and the tour DVD comes out, I buy it, and what do you know, I'm hooked all over again. I played that DVD so much that it had to be bought again because I wore it out. And here, 11 years after I first saw it, I still consider this the greatest live achievement of Madonna's impressive stage career. The costumes are for my vote the most intricate and beautiful that she's ever worn. The setlist highlights all of the peaks of Confessions and throws in the vital earlier songs that best accompanied them. The stage is intoxicatingly sleek and polished. The choreography is sprawling, innovative, and style bending. Her stage presence was commanding but warm, serious but human. The show built on top of itself, each song establishing a new layer until we get to Hung Up when it all exploded into a giant party of momentum, lights, sound, and energy. She packed so much into this show and along the way managed to serve massive production as well as intensely intimate moments. It's just...perfect. Except I Love New York but the staging's enough to not make me skip it.
Well there we have it! I know many may disagree with a lot of my statements, but hopefully no one's too mad and we can have a good conversation! I'd love to hear your own thoughts as well!