Re-Evolution: 30 Years Of Madonna In Concert

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Presale tickets for Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour went on sale today (well, for Citi card holders, anyway). Madge is 30-years-deep into the touring game, and has it on lock: From the Virgin Tour and the Girlie Show, to Sticky & Sweet and MDNA—which earned a combined $760 million in ticket sales—she’s transformed the concept of a rock concert from a mere live show into true performance art.

Before we all empty our nest egg to get Rebel Heart tickets, let’s take a look at Madonna’s impressive track record as the queen of concerts

The Virgin Tour, 1985


Madonna’s inaugural outing was a modest affair, criss-crossing North America with 40 shows and limited staging/effects.


Gross: $5 million

Who’s That Girl World Tour, 1987


Madonna came back more polished for her first world tour, playing to 2.5 million fans in 39 shows across Asia, North America and Europe. She collaborated with designer Marlene Stewart on the show’s outfits, which brought scenes from her videos to life (and required seven costume changes).


It was the first time Madonna reworked older hits into new arrangements, a trait her concerts have become famous for.

Gross: $25 million

Blond Ambition Tour, 1990


By now officially an icon, Madonna embarked on a 57-date trek around the globe that inspired the greatest concert documentary of all time, 1991’s Truth or Dare. She turned to Jean-Paul Gaultier to design the concert’s costumes, including fitted men’s suits and that infamous cone bra.

blond ambition

But the tour was met with outrage from religious groups, who objected to its eroticism, Catholic iconography and Madonna’s masturbatory take on “Like a Virgin.” The Pope himself asked Christians to boycott the show.


Nevertheless, Rolling Stone declare Blond Ambition an “elaborately choreographed, sexually provocative extravaganza” and “the best tour of the 1990s.” In the U.S. alone, 482,832 tickets were sold in the first two hours of pre-sale.

Gross: $63 million

The Girlie Show, 1993


Despite declaring she’d never go on tour again after Blond Ambition, Madonna took this “mixture of a rock concert, a fashion show, a carnival performance, a cabaret act and a burlesque show” around the globe, visiting Australia, Israel and South America for the first time.


Girlie Show was launched to support 1992’s Erotica, and was envisioned as a “sex circus” of sorts, with brother Christopher Ciccone directing and Dolce & Gabbana designing costumes. The risqué concert caused problems in various venues: Dancer Carrie Ann Inaba, who went topless in the show, had to sport a halter top in some cities.

Puerto Ricans were outraged when Madge rubbed their flag between her legs. And in Israel, Orthodox Jews demanded the show be canceled. (It wasn’t)

Gross: $70 million

Drowned World Tour, 2001


Drowned World was supposed to start in 1999, but was delayed for two years as Madge gave birth to Rocco, married Guy Ritchie, worked on Music, and filmed The Next Best Thing. (Is that all?) Jean-Paul Gaultier returned to create the costumes for the tour, including plaid kilts, geisha robes and a cowgirl look.


The tour also marked Madonna’s public debut as a burgeoning guitar player.


The September 11 attacks happened during the tour, inspiring Madonna to wear an American flag shirt, and tone down some violent elements of the show. When she played New York, Madonna dedicated “Secret” to the city’s inhabitants.

Gross: $75 million

Re-Invention World Tour, 2004


Madge came back dancing — and kicking and stretching and kicking— with Re-Invention, dusting off the old, beloved hits in a high-concept, multi-part visual extravaganza. Much of the show’s imagery was inspired by X-STaTIC Pro=CeSS, an art installation Madonna collaborated on with Steven Klein.


The show was a critical and commercial request, but concertgoers weren’t thrilled with Madonna’s request that the air-conditioning be turned off while she performed because it dried out her voice. But, hey, she’s Madonna.

Gross: $125 million

Confessions Tour, 2007

confessions dance

At the time, Confessions was the highest grossing concert ever for a female artist, reaching 1.2 million fans throughout Europe, Asia and North America.


The show did not go to Australia, leading Madonna to issue an apology:

Please forgive me. I really did hope and expect to come to Australia during the Confessions Tour and asked my managers to try to include some shows there. [but] the logistics just didn’t work…  I have to get my kids back into school in England and they are, as you can understand, my most important priority. The important thing to remember is that I’m not retiring anytime soon and I am gonna get to Australia as soon as I can.”


But it was her performance of “Live to Tell,” sung while hanging on a giant mirrored cross wearing a crown of thorns, that set off religious groups. When the concert came to Rome, Catholic leaders condemned it as an insult to the Church. Madonna responded that her intent was to draw attention to the millions of children dying of hunger in Africa.

Gross: $195 million

Sticky & Sweet Tour, 2008-09


Madonna broke her own record — and a number of others — with this 85-date behemoth, which was extended through 2009, and reached a total 3.5 million fans in 32 countries.


Gross: $408 million

The MDNA Tour, 2012


If there was any doubt, Madge’s last tour proved she is the undisputed Queen of Pop — and everything else —when it became the second highest grossing tour ever by a female artist. Behind, of course, Madonna’s own Sticky & Sweet.


Gross: $305 million

Lifetime stats: 30 years, $1.3 billion in ticket sales, 511 shows, more than 10 million fans. Get into the groove, kids.

Les Fabian Brathwaite is a gay gone wild.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat