Madonna's been causing controversy for nearly 30 years now, since she turned her midriff into a ubiquitous visual prop and sang about being "Like a Virgin."
So why would anyone expect anything different now?
The Bay City-born, Pontiac- and Rochester-raised star has shown a continuing knack for stirring things up throughout her current MDNA Tour, which began May 31 in Tel Aviv and comes home this week to Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. She may be in her mid-50s (54) and enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and her best-selling days as a recording artist may be behind her (this year's "MDNA," released in March, suffered the biggest sales drop in history, more than 86 percent, from its first to second week), but Madonna has kept tongues wagging from one incident to another, including political arguments, provocative symbolism and petty but entertaining feuds with fellow pop stars.
"Music should be about ideas," the Rochester Adams High School grad explained during the summer. "Ideas inspire music, right? So in a show I always like to tell a story." And in a "manifesto" about the MDNA production she issued before the tour hit North America, Madonna defended her show as "The journey of a soul from darkness to light...There is an innate and pure love inside us all and we have to find a way to tap into it. And we can't do it by being victims or placing the blame or pointing the finger at others."
Whether you buy into that or not, there's no question the fans are buying tickets. So far the MDNA tour has played to nearly 1.35 million fans and grossed more than $172.5 million -- and is on track to be one of the Top 10 concert tours of all time. (Her 2008-2009 Sticky & Sweet Tour ranks third with a gross of $408 million, the most ever by a solo artist.) But MDNA will be remembered for the news it made along the way as well as for its impressive numbers, so here's a quick review of Madonna's mayhem on the road...
THE GUN ISSUE
Madonna's use of gun imagery during the song "Gang Bang," in which she "shoots" a criminal while blood splatters a rear-screen stage, drew some heat at a couple of tour stops.
Prior to the tour, Madonna explained that the segment was intended as "symbols of wanting to appear strong and wanting to find a way to stop feelings that I find hurtful or damaging." But authorities and activists in Edinburgh, Scotland, asked her to tone down that portion of the show there on July 21 out of respect to a 1996 mass murder in Dunblane, where 17 were killed, and to the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre the day before, where 12 were fatally shot during a showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." "Madonna and her dancers using replica guns was always in bad taste but given what happened in Colorado it is even worse," said a spokesman for Mothers Against Guns.
She went on with the show as planned, however, with one of the tour staff members telling the Huffington Post that "Madonna would rather cancel her show than censor her art. Her entire career, she has fought against people telling her what she can and cannot do. She's not about to start listening to them now."
In Denver itself on Oct. 18 she was also criticized for not altering the show and being insensitive at ground zero of the tragedy. Her publicist subsequently said that to take the shooting segment out of the show would be "like taking out the third act of Hamlet. Madonna does not make things pretty and tie them up with a bow."
THE SWASTIKA ISSUE
In the video accompanying the song "Nobody Knows Me," Madonna employs a swastika in conjunction with images of world leaders such as Pope Benedict XVI deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She explained to Brazilian TV that "All images in the video were chosen purposefully...That film that was created is about the intolerance that we human beings have for one another and how much we judge people before knowing them. There seems to be a growing intolerance around the world...I'm calling attention to that intolerance and asking people to pay attention, to wake up to see how we are just creating more chaos in the world."
In France, however, superimposing the swastika on the forehead of Marine Le Pen, leader of the right wing French National Front, at her July 14 show in Paris created a firestorm and threats of legal action. FNF vice-president Florian Philippot declared that "We can't accept this!," calling it a "very serious insult." Members of the party took to covering Madonna's concert advertisements with Le Pen posters.
At a subsequent club show in Paris, Madonna said that "The enemy is not out there, there is no such thing as an external enemy. The enemy is within...I know that I made a certain Marine Le Pen very angry with me. And it's not my intention to make enemies."
For her Aug. 21 in Nice, France, however, Madonna changed the image from a swastika to a question mark, which an FNF party official called "excellent news. As far as I know, Madonna has never changed a video clip. This is proof our arguments were valid."
THE PARIS ISSUE
Fans who scored tickets for a July 26 performance at the Olympia in Paris were thrilled to be at a rare Madonna club show -- but their tune changed when she performed for just 45 minutes. Feeling cheated, they booed, chanted and threw bottles at the stage after Madonna left. A rash of angry tweets followed.
Madonna posted a message on her web site saying that, "Playing the Olympia was a magical moment for me and it was real treat to do this special show for my fans and be so close to them. Unfortunately at the end of the show -- after I left the stage -- a few thugs who were not my fans rushed the stage and started throwing plastic bottles pretending to be angry fans. The press reports have focused on this and not the joyous aspect of the evening. But nothing can take away or ruin this very special evening for me and my fans. When I looked out in the audience, everyone I saw had a smile on their face. I look forward to having this wonderful experience again."
THE LADY GAGA ISSUE
During interviews promoting the "MDNA" album, Madonna wasn't about to honor suggestions that her place as a leader of pop provocation had been taken by Lady Gaga. In one interview she singled out the similarities between her own 1989 hit "Express Yourself" and Gaga's 2011 release "Born This Way."
"When I heard ('Born This Way') on the radio, I said, 'That sounds very familiar.' It felt reductive," Madonna explains. "She's a very talented artist. I certainly think she references me a lot in her work. And sometimes I think it's amusing and flattering and well done."
In Atlantic City, meanwhile, Madonna took what appeared to be another swipe, dedicating "Masterpiece" to "to Lady Gaga, 'Cause you wanna know something? I love her. I love her. I do love her. Imitation is the highest form of flattery..." Madonna also predicted that , "One day, very soon, we're gonna be on stage together. Just you wait."
THE ELTON ISSUE
After the initial Lady Gaga comments, Madonna found herself the target of Elton John's ire.
Defending his friend -- who's also the godmother to his son, Zachary -- John launched a profanity-laced anti-Madonna diatribe on Australian TV. "Why is she such a nightmare?" he asked. "Sorry, her career is over. Her tour has been a disaster and it couldn't happen to a bigger (expletive). If Madonna had any common sense she would have made a record like 'Ray Of Light' and stayed away from the dance stuff and just been a great pop singer and make great pop records, which she does brilliantly. But no, she had to go and prove...she looks like a (expletive) fairground stripper."
John and Madonna apparently buried he hatched in France, when both were dining, separately, at Petit Maison. Perez Hilton reported that John approached Madonna's table as he was leaving, and they hugged goodbye after a friendly conversation.
At her show in Nice, Madonna dedicated the song "Masterpiece" to John, telling the crowd that, "I know he's a big fan of it...and I know he's a big fan of mine. And you know what? I forgive him. You gotta start somewhere."
THE ***** RIOT ISSUE
Madonna joined artists such as Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel and others in voicing support for ***** Riot, the all-female Russian punk band that was imprisoned on hooliganism charges after playing a protest song against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a church during February.
Prior to her Aug. 7 concert in Moscow, however, Madonna was warned against saying anything. Russia's deputy premier, Dmitry Rogozin, wrote that "every former w. wants to give lectures on morality when she grows old. Especially during foreign tours. Either take off your cross or put on your knickers." "w." was thought to stand for "whore."
Members of Russia's religious community, meanwhile, used the opportunity to file their own protests against the singer. A Union of Orthodox Banner-Bearers spokesman told Interfax that, "It is not in our power to ban her, but we call on the authorities -- who position themselves as Orthodox believers -- to do so. This little singer is openly mocking our laws, our traditions and our culture." A member of the Orthodox Experts Association added that, "We will drop by to say 'no' to blasphemy... and to explain our position to those who plan to attend her concert...A woman calling herself Madonna intends to desecrate the cross. We will not stand for that."
The threats reached such a fever pitch that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg publicly warned about "a threat of physical violence against spectators and performers," noting they had also alerted Russian authorities of their fears.
Madonna wore yellow, signifying support for **** Riot, to rehearsals for the shows, and in Moscow she put on a black skip mask and wrote the group's name on her back.
THE GAY ISSUE
Madonna has been a longtime supporter of gay rights and was quick to lash out against a controversial law in St. Petersburg, Russia, that bans "the promotion of gay lifestyles" and the "propagation of homosexuality" -- including an annual gay pride parade in the city. Officials threatened arrest if she addressed the issue at her Aug. 9 concert in St. Petersburg, as well as a $10.4 million lawsuit from a consortium of anti-gay activists.
The Professional Union of the Citizens of Russia, which invited a priest to sprinkle with holy water the city's Palace Square when Madonna performed there in 2009, issued a statement saying that: "Residents of Russia's cultural capital are against the propagation of pederasty and other sexual perversion, the propagation of violence and vice, which, under disguise of Western culture, Louise Ciccone, known as Madonna, tries to deliver to our compatriots."
Madonna nevertheless distributed pink wristbands to fans as they were entering the show and spoke from the stage about "respect, tolerance and love." She and her dancers also waved LGBT flags during the performance. But to show that not all good deeds are appreciated, some members of St. Petersburg's gay community actually picketed the show, accusing Madonna of capitalizing on their problems for publicity purposes.
THE BRANDO ISSUE
The executors of the late actor Marlon Brando's estate filed suit against Madonna in U.S. District Court for allegedly violating trademark laws by using an image of his performance in "The Godfather" during her performance of "Vogue" -- a song that mentions him. Brando Enterprises is seeking damages worth $300,000.
However, it's not that cut and dried. While Brando Enterprises controls the actor's images, much of his intellectual property is owned by a company called DMG Worldwide, which received $3,750 when she used it in her Super Bowl XLVI halftime performance and $5,000 for live shows. Brando Enterprises, however, felt it should receive $20,000 per use.
CMG has also taken Brando Enterprises to court for breach of contract.
THE OBAMA ISSUE
Madonna first voiced support for President Obama during the tour at a Sept. 23 stop in Washington, D.C. -- but even that didn't go as planned.
After tellng the crowd that "Y'all better vote for (expletive) Obama, OK?" she declared that "For better or for worse, we have a black Muslim in the White House, OK? That's some amazing (expletive). That means there is hope in this country." The problem, of course, is that Obama is not Muslim -- which has been a hot-button issue since the 2008 presidential campaign -- and Madonna subsequently clarified she was being "ironic."
"I know Obama is not a Muslim - though I know that plenty of people in this country think he is," she said in a statement. "And what if he were? The point I was making is that a good man is a good man, no matter who he prays to. I don't care what religion Obama is -- nor should anyone else in America."
Madonna was cheered when she took of her shirt at Yankee Stadium in New York to reveal "Obama" written on her bare back, but she was booed by some fans on Oct. 27 in New Orleans when she told the crowd, "I don't care who you vote for, as long as you vote for Obama," latter saying, "Seriously, I don't care who you vote for... Do not take this privilege for granted. Go vote."
Madonna and Paul Oakenfold perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $173, $93 and $48. Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
After generating plenty of controversy overseas with her MDNA Tour, Madonna released the following "manifesto" before bringing her show back to North America:
Is a journey
The journey of a soul from darkness to light
It is part cinematic musical theatre.
Part spectacle and sometimes intimate Performance art.
But above all its a journey
From darkness to light
From anger to love
from chaos to order.
It's true there is a lot of violence in the beginning of the show and sometimes the use of fake guns - but they are used as metaphors.
I do not condone violence or the use of guns.
Rather they are symbols of wanting to appear strong and wanting to find a way to stop feelings that I find hurtful or damaging. In my case its wanting to stop the lies and hypocrisy of the church, the intolerance of many narrow minded cultures and societies I have experienced throughout my life and in some cases the pain I have felt from having my heart broken.
Ultimately as we follow through the journey of my story, the audience can see quite clearly what I see - That the enemy is within and the only way to survive Disappointment Disapproval Judgment Heartbreak Jealousy Envy And Hatred Is with Love - not with revenge - not with guns and not with violence.
In spite of all the chaos and darkness and intolerance we seem to be encountering more and more in the world, We cannot allow our anger or bitterness to swallow us up.
We come to understand that
There is an innate and pure love inside us all and we have to find a way to tap into it.
And we can't do it by being victims or placing the blame or pointing the finger at others.
But by recognizing that the enemy is within And when we come to terms with it And accept it And struggle to change ourselves, Then we can change the world without hurting anyone and we can inspire others to do the same.
When you watch a film there are usually good guys and bad guys to help illustrate this point, Sometimes I play both.
I enjoy acting out this journey.
For none of us are perfect and we all have our own journey of growth to go on.
I know people can relate to it.
It's very important to me as an artist that my show not be taken out of context.
It must be watched with an open heart from beginning to end. I am sure if it is viewed this way, the viewer will walk away feeling inspired, Invigorated and will want to make the world a better place.
And this of course was always my intention.
Send your thoughts and comments to