It’s been 27 years since Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour and there probably isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think about it.
It will, without a doubt, come up in conversation with my friends when we meet up, earning it’s own catchphrase “..and back to Blond Ambition”. So why did it have such a huge impact? Why does it still look and feel fresh today? Let me take this conical bra off and I’ll tell you.
The timing – as with everything Madonna does – was perfect. Her 1989 Like A Prayer album was a critically acclaimed success with the title track hitting the number one spot both Stateside and in the UK. It wasn’t just the music grabbing headlines this time, the video had Madonna on the front page of most newspapers around the world… And then, of course, there was the Pepsi incident. During the rest of the year Madonna released Express Yourself, Cherish, Oh Father and Dear Jessie. Her private life *coughs into Hanky…Panky* was constantly in the newspapers and she was about to appear in the movie Dick Tracy. She had moved from Pop Princess to Icon and she was only warming up.
Although her contemporaries had been selling out stadiums with big budget concerts there hadn’t been anything as theatrical. The concert was split into five different sections with sets designed to bring them to life – Metropolis, Religious, Dick Tracy, Art Deco and Encore. It was, as said while speaking out against the Vatican, a theatrical presentation of her music. The sets rose from the ground, swooped in from the sides and came down from the ceiling, adding to the excitement of the show. Madonna had set the bar…and was about to straddle it.
Not to be outshone by what was happening around her on stage, Madonna ensured all eyes remained on her throughout the show and she did this by enlisting the help of Jean-Paul Gaultier to design her costumes. Her conical bras and bustiers gave Madonna what I consider to be her most iconic look, with even Madonna paying homage to them in her work since then. Each section of the show got it’s own version of “the look” and I think it’s that which established such a strong image for the show.
Now we get down to what it’s all about…no not the merchandise…the music. At this point in her career Madonna had been scoring top 10 hits for seven years across the world and she delivered a set list that reminded everyone of exactly that. Each song had it’s own dance routine or performance (all of which I know…ALL OF IT!) using different styles of dance including “Voguing” from her hit single of that year.
Despite all this happening on the stage it still felt like a concert and despite the precession of the choreography it had a certain rawness to it, it feels playful and spontaneous. Often nowadays concerts can feel rigid with the talent (including Madonna) being lost among the huge sets, troops of dancers and massive screens.
To solidify it’s place in pop culture the show was surrounded by controversy. From simulated masturbation to foul mouthed outbursts on live radio (still got my original tape). The biggest controversy of the tour was when Madonna went head to head with the Vatican, holding a press conference at Rome’s Ciampino Airport to bite back at the church (a great watch on Youtube). I mean, can you imagine Beyonce or Kylie Minogue going at it with the Pope? That year Madonna stuck it to the establishment – and she was, even back then, an Unapologetic Bitch.
It spawned not one, but two movies. Legendary rock documentary Truth or Dare – also known as In Bed With Madonna – and the recent film following the lives of her dancers, Strike a Pose. But, despite the show being recorded in Japan for a LaserDisc release in Japan, HBO in Nice for America, and Sky in Barcelona for the rest of the world, it has never had an official release. And I haven’t even mentioned the recording Madonna made in Bercy for the Truth or Dare footage…
For me, and countless others, The Blond Ambition Tour is symbolic of the 90s. The image of Madonna on this tour is often used to capture the spirit of the decade…despite it taking place at the very beginning of the 90s. She changed the way artists present their music in stadiums and arenas. In my opinion The Blond Ambition Tour remains not only Madonna’s best tour but dare I say anyone’s…
Oh by the way, I never actually went to The Blond Ambition Tour…I was too young and my parents wouldn’t take me. I have to live with that every day but revenge is sweet… Shady Pines Ma, Shady Pines.
Words Scott Anderson