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Drowned World Tour Concept



The Drowned World-show was announced as one of the most extravagant shows of all time. Jamie King worked on the concept, of course in a close collaboration with Madonna. They got their inspiration from British philosophist J.G. Billard and his apocalyptic work 'The Drowned World' (1962), but more about that later. TourposterAfter a strong selection procedure, in which Madonna had the final word only in the last fase, ten dancers were left. Most of them had a Asian or Latin look. The guitarist of Zoot Woman (an American group, that makes music that strongly refers to New Romance and New Wave of the eighties), Monte Pittman, temporarily left his band to play with Madonna, who also learned to play the guitar. A master is Eastern fighting sports and two yoga-instructors are also asked to cooperate on the choreography. Arianne Philips will style the show and design some outfits, as well as twin brothers Dean and Dan Caten of D-Squared and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Each would work on a certain part of the show. Jean-Paul Gaultier attracts less media attention with his ensembles than with the pointy bra designed for the Blond Ambition Tour. Dean Caten recalls that Madonna was very strict about her clothes. They had made one outfit one size too big and Madonna noticed immediately and asked to make it in the original size. The perfectionism of Madonna can also be seen in the direction of the show. She knows perfectly what to do at which moment of the show. According to Rob Seduski, the wardrobe manager of the tour, there are four copies of each outfit and one is always ready in case of an emergency. Madonna's clothing on the Drowned World Tour is less colorful and less revealing. Madonna also uses the 'dress-on-dress'-principle again: underneath her Geisha-outfit for Frozen are her clothes for Sky Fits Heaven. Underneath her Don't Tell Me-suit is her shirt for Human Nature. That way she never has to stay backstage too long to change outfits. In comparison with her other shows, she dances a lot less; her solo's with the guitar make her much more accessible than calculated danssteps. Madonna expresses herself much more individually with her guitar than to dance with her dancers on stage. Two and a half months of rehearsing in America have preceeded the tour. Behind closed doors. Every day again and again. The rehearsals started in the Sony Studios Lot in Culver City (US) and moved to the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California in may. Fans who found out where the rehearsals were held, tried to discover the setlist by listening to the rehearsals from the building next to it. On the Internet their discoveries circulated fast. Crazy For You would be a part of the show. Someone had heard Candy Perfume Girl. The last one was right, Crazy For You wasn't included. Would Madonna do the same songs as at the showcase of the Music album in the Brixton Academy? Of course she did Holiday and Music there. But would Runaway Lover and Impressive Instant make the selection? The singles Don't Tell Me and What It Feels Like For A Girl couldn't possibly be excluded.

Speculations in the press concentrated on the unique concerts in Londons Brixton Academy on November 30th, 2000. The showcase seemed like a big rehearsal for the Drowned World Tour (the name was't even known at that time, and a world tour wasn't confirmed yet). Brixton welcomed an audience of 800 lucky ones, a combination of little and well-known celebrities, journalists, people from record companies and winners of Madonna-contests on national and international radio stations. Dolce & Gabbana did the design of the whole show. The gig was announced only a short while before the actual date, which caused an incredible hype and Madonnamania. The fact that most journalists and celebrities made every effort possibly to attend the show, is a clear compliment for Madonna. Those who once dissed her, wanted now to be standing front row at this extraordinary concert. The British press clearly followed suit: "Madona Rules", "Still Mad About The Material Girl". No matter which songs Madonna would choose to sing and how, everybody would have some favorites that wouldn't be included.

Since the tour was called 'Drowned World', nobody was surprised that this number would open the show. TourbookMadonna's hair is straight blond and is every evening styled by Luigi Merunu and Rita Marmor. The stage is almost round and contains five loose components. These components are lying on the main stage and are taken by musicians who now and then move to the front, depending on which instrument is more prominent in a song. Madonna's stage is the world, the components of the musicians (directed by Jacques LeCont from British band Les Rhythmes Digitales) and the dancers are the continents. These continents sometimes grow towards each other, and subsequently slide away from each other again (symbolism for the history of the world). Before even any note is played, the audience sees a ball-shaped construction of television screens. From the podium smoke is blown over the whole stage. When the music starts, the dominant color on the screens is grey-blue (like the oceans). A dancer shaves his head bold and another sips from his coco before spitting it out. The construction of screens rises up ('the world opens up') and out of the fog Madonna appears and slides slowly forwards, with images of water on the screens in the background. Like in the 'Birth of Venus' by Botticelli, Madonna is standing on a shell. The goddess of love rises from the sea. The tour book also includes this message; it tells the old wisdom that one must be open for new things and experiences. One can't hold on to old and lost loves, cause they drown and take you down with them. Let them go and you will rise. You will rise from waters and drift ashore like the Venus on a shell. You will reach the mainland like a reborn goddess of love, away from the Drowned World of Atlantis, the lost glory. And that's exactly where Madonna was when Ray Of Light was released. Madonna had seen the light and made that very clear by opening with Drowned World / Substitute For Love. Fame and the call for attention. Endless criticism had almost drowned her. She chose that fame and saw it as a substitute for 'Real Love' and happiness, and it gave her satisfaction. Until Lourdes came. Lourdes became her new religion, apart from eastern and jewish religions and wisdoms, through which she could get ashore again. The tour book cites: "The individual who no longer has a rigid mind, has found freedom. Life can be so easy. Refuse to let go and you are a person drowning: the more you struggle, the faster you sink". This is a quote by Japannese G. Oshawa (1893-1967), father of the macrobiotic Zen-philosophy. The goal of this philosophy is to "feed according to the laws of the Universe, and subsequently to come to an attitude full of happiness, peace and health". The macrobiotic is based on the philosophy of the Chinese Taoists, with the complementary ying-yang concept in the center.


The concept of the tour is becoming clear. J.G. Ballard's book 'The Drowned World' was clearly a source of inspiration for the first part of the show. This philosopfic work was the first title out of four; each handling one of the four elements of nature. The main character makes a journey through hell to eventually reach the Truth. Same story line as Drowned World / Substitute For Love and the idea behind Dante's 'Divine Comedy'. Each time the main character has to go through pain, insecurity and despair to eventually reach Divine Happiness. In Ballard's work was it the Truth, in Dante's it was the Heavenly Love and in Madonna's it was Lourdes and family happiness.

The dominant element in the first part of the show was clearly Water. But what about the other three elements? Will they also be showcased? Why does Madonna use works from the literary 'high brow' to make her message clear to the people? She gets her inspiration from a cult book that was based itself on one of the highlights of world's literature. These works have reached their status because they're based on something universal. Each person has to make a journey like that in his life. Madonna got her ambition from the early death of her mother and this ambition resulted in an incredible obsession and hunger for fame and attention. This obsession replaced the Truth, that she now finally has found and expressed in the lyrics of Ray Of Light. Many people look for a companion on their journey through life and hope to find one in someone that thinks alike, in their idol, Madonna. Considering this, it's not surprising Madonna has such a devoted fan base.

At the beginning of the second part Madonna is not on stage but again the viewer comes eyes short. The big screen shows a specially recorded video clip, in which Madonna repeats her Geisha-look that she used in the video for Nothing Really Matters, this time for Paradise (Not For Me). In the clip the element Air is central. This is suggested by a white-blue background. There's wind blowing in Madonna's face and she blows air out of her mouth herself, a power that is often associated with goddesses in eastern fairy tales. She also seems to be walking on air. Her feet don't touch the ground. In the video for Nothing Really Matters the characters carried a transparent bag of water. This video is an ode to the dancing movements of choreographer Martha Graham, who was Madonna's dancing teacher when she had just arrived in New York. While the video is playing, four dancers are hanging upside down at the ceiling, tied up by their feet. They're wrapped up in a cocoon and when the music starts they throwFrozen off their skin (in this case a white net), get downon stage and sit down in a yago position, facing the video screen. A desolate and sinister landscape appears with bare trees and a blood-red glow at the horizon. This landscape seems inspired by the East, but reminds us as well of minimalistic, but ominous scenery of Shakespeare movies by Orson Welles and the prominent color schemes from Pete Greenaway's movies. Then with the first note of Frozen, a black-haired Madonna appears on stage, wearing a kimono with 17 meter-long sleeves. These sleeves with handpainted cherry blossoms are held up at the ends by dancers who make them wave and by that suggest an air movement. The look is inspired by the character of Hatsumomo from the book 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. The Geisha proves to be a strong woman. Traditionally she owns and gains power through sex, something Madonna certainly isn't unfamiliar with. But the power of the woman in this part of the show will be a different kind. Frozen ends with an eastern instrumental teaser of Open Your Heart. The message from 1998's Frozen ("You're frozen, when your heart is not open/Give yourself to me, you hold the key") is in fact the same of the one of 1987's Open Your Heart ("Open your heart with the key/ I'll give you love if you turn the key").
The next song appears to be Nobody's Perfect. Here Madonna plays a strange game with her samourai master who hits and anoints her at the same time. She asks for forgiveness for the fact that she's not perfect. She sings the song with the same vocoders as on the album. At the end of the song Madonna is symbolically decapitated by her master, who cuts off a hairpiece with his sword. Moments later Madonna is wearing her fighting outfit and sings Mer Girl, sitting on top of the treelike scenery, while an air current around her grows stronger. The lyrics are lugubrious and talk about the body of her dead mother. Mer Girl seems to be a little more uptempo than the album version. Mer Girl encloses what many consider the highlight of the show: Sky Fits Heaven. Here the lyrics are very positive and peaceful. This contrasts with the eastern fighting sequence that follows, clearly inspired by the successful movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee (2000). This Taiwanese movie became a worldiwde success thanks to spectacular fighting scenes in which the actors literally flew through the air, like already happened in 1999's The Matrix and the Mortal Kombat-movies. Madonna does the same; she's attached to cords that are torn by dancers who are standing in the dark corners of the stage. Madonna conquers her competitors and at the end of this visually stunning performance she shoots her master with a gun, a rather western way to end a conflict. Liz Rosenberg replied to the critics: "Madonna hasn't explained what her intentions are in the show. The man she shoots, was abusive to her earlier on. That's a thread that runs through the show about women and power. It's operatic. I don't think she's advocating violence as a solution to domestic abuse, but when Madonna has a message, she's not afraid of the consequences of those who might not agree".
Next, the audience witnesses a very violent Manga movie on the video screens. What It Feels Like For A Girl (Perfect Blue)These images show Madonna's inner world. The dance version of What It Feels Like For A Girl is the perfect soundtrack for this cartoon. The main character is raped by a monster and everything turns out to be a dream in the mind of a porn-actress between two takes, that seem to be scarely close to the reality. The role of the actress, named Mima, was taken from the movie Perfect Blue, made by Manga Entertainment. The movie is about a pop idol Mima, whose career is slowing down. She meets her reflection and through the Internet she's followed by a stalker. Eventually Mima ends up in a world full of paranoia. The movie shows the cycle of a pop icon, talks about fame and the psychologic siginificance of it. The second segment, with themes as the Far East and the element Air, ends here. In the first part we saw outfits by Arianne Philips, Madonna herself and influences of Jean-Paul Gaultier, in which both women and men wear skirts, which visualises the by Madonna promoted equality of the sexes. In the second part there were eastern designs, in black and red, of Arianne Philips, also in cooperation with Gaultier. Arianne Philips works with Madonna for four years already and helped her create the look of the Ray Of Light album. This time she helped Madonna to pay salute to Madonna's early looks.

In the third part the concept of the Music album was worked out. There are bales of straw on stage and MadonnaI Deserve It (in cowgirl-outfit, a concept by D Squared) is edated on top with her guitar to bring an acoustic version of I Deserve It, a song dedicated to het husband Guy Ritchie. One big spotlight concentrates on Madonna and this way she's close to the audience, insofar one can speak of intimacy at such a big show. Madonna is wearing a rodeo-shirt, a mudsplattered jeans and suède boots with Swarowski-cristals. Also the single Don't Tell Me is on the setlist and this song turns into a catchy line dance with boys and girls that seems to come directly from the country ranch. The disco/western party continues into Human Nature. Again, the message of this song is very similar to Don't Tell Me. In 1994 Madonna warned the critics not to make her shut up. Human Nature is partly performed on top of a mechanical bull; the choreography with the cords clearly refers to the video of the song. Madonna points out that the backlash that journalists gave her, hasn't hurt her. The success of the Drowned World Tour points this out once again. She's wearing a shirt with the American 'Stras and stripes'. In this part of the show Madonna is close to nature and earth. The wild west party turned comical: Madonna and her dancers bring a sketch and tries a Texan accent for the country song Oh Dear Daddy, originally an Italian folk song. In this version with English lyrics Madonna sings with a naive but ironic voice (referring to Like A Virgin, Material Girl and Santa Baby) about how her father abuses her, how he gets shot and how she organises a barbecue afterwards. Between the dust, the bales of straw and the dirt, Madonna plays Secret on her acoustic guitar. The video screen shows pieces of the 1994 video as well as images of people being baptized in the river, which is common with Baptists and similar religious groups in the south of the United States. This seven year old song perfectly fits in with the spirit of the Music album. The last song in this part is Gone, which is when everybody turns on their lighters. The spotlights are dimmed and Madonna sings about how she'll never give up her postive attitude and that she'll believe in hersel funtil the day she's gone.

In the Lo Que Siente La Mujerbeginning of the fourth part of the show a bunch of candlesticks rises up at each corner of the stage. An instrumental version of Don't Cry For Me Argentina comes from the speakers and the dancers show the audience some stylish Latin dancesteps. Madonna rises as a Spanish senorita out of a big silver box die folds open and gives her the opportunity to dance on a turning art deco-chair. With her blond hair is tied in a knot she sings Lo Que Siente La Mujer, the Spanish version of What It Feels Like For A Girl. She's wearing a black dress which is open in the back (with typical Gaultier strings) on top of a black trousers. Madonna dances only with female dancers, with those who know 'what it feels like for a girl'. For La Isla Bonita she gets her guitar (a classic nylon) and bathing in a red fireglow this performance gets into a heavy flamenco happening. While the third part was about the element Earth, one sees now that the element Fire is central in this part. Her southern temperament has also been a constant in her career, and she never hide her love for Latino's. During La Isla Bonita the same atmosphere is created as the street images in the 1987 video. At the end of each part Madonna gets purified out of the battle. Her journey with, or maybe against, the elements of nature always ends in catharsis. She's searching for that one ray of light that can save her from drowning. She fights her masters to get away from her patriarchal environment. She goes all the way in her search for love and has to defy the criticism of the others. She has to fight for her right as a woman to have fun and to use her feminity and cultivate without being seen as a whore.


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