Madonna’s Rio concert: Here are 5 ways it’s going to change the music industry

Madonna has changed the world view that women should act their age.

 It’s now not inconceivable for senior female artists to go on a world tour and command an audience of 1.6 million in one night to cap it all.

“Give me a record. I’ll break it.” That’s a line from Madonna’s 2008 single Give It To Me. She has actually been breaking music industry records since her big breakthrough in 1983. And she’s not about to stop even after more than 40 years in the business.

In fact, the Material Girl’s latest record-breaking achievement, uh, materialized just a few days ago. It happened on  Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where she attracted a live audience of over 1.6 million to watch the final show of her The Celebration Tourgreatest hits trek. That’s a new record for the biggest standalone concert (that’s not part of a festival or a public occasion like New Year’s Eve) by any artist—male or female, solo or group—in history.

The superstar’s contributions to the sexual revolution have made the world truer, freer, and more liberated. The difference this time is she is pointedly raging against the ageist machine.

Some naysayers were quick to downplay the milestone, noting that it’s just one show, with free entrance at that. They’re veritably saying Madonna can only attract that big a crowd if they didn’t have to pay anything. 

Here’s why that’s grossly uninformed: The 80-show tour (across Europe, North America, and Mexico) actually had total ticket sales of over 1.1 million for a gross in excess of $225 million. More than half of those tickets were snapped up on the very first day of sales, which put The Celebration Tour in the Top 15 of the fastest-selling tours in history. Another record: with Celebration Madonna became the female artist with the most tours (6) grossing over $100 million each.

Rio’s 1.6 million crowd: “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” Madonna said in 2000, when she was 42.

And here’s why the dismissive attitude is hopelessly myopic: that one show was projected by the city government of Rio to pump around $57 million into the local economy, considering hotel accommodation, boat rentals, transport, restaurants, merchandise sales, and other services. The windfall, according to this report, is “twice as much as what Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour generated” in the city from three shows in November 2023.

“The numbers portray the importance of this show for the entire tourism production chain with impacts on our state’s economy, in addition to the exposure of Rio de Janeiro’s image throughout the world, which is incalculable,” Rio governor Cláudio Castro said ahead of Madonna’s May 4 concert.

Is The Celebration Tour important beyond Brazil? The short answer is yes; the long answer is it has a huge cultural impact beyond music. Here are five reasons it’s as revolutionary as you dare think it is.

1. The conventional idea of a greatest hits concert

Photos from @thecelebrationtour on Instagram

In a career chock full of reinventions, Madonna achieves the very latest with The Celebration Tour which breaks the mold of the greatest hits show. She has fashioned it from a simple collection of chart toppers into a musical soundtrack for an insightful, intricately laid out narrative telling of one’s career.

Like she is wont to do in her concerts, Madonna breaks the story into chapters or themes. In Celebration, the breakdown is based on her eras. In her case, the eras aren’t just defined by her albums but by phases in her colorful journey, each encompassing several albums and bound by an overarching theme. This has been her MO since her groundbreaking Blond Ambition Tour in 1990 and Celebration elevates it further by being what can be considered the world’s first autobiographical concert.

Most notable of all reinventions here, the repertoire isn’t necessarily all hits all the time. In fact, some of her biggest, most iconic tracks such as Material Girl, Papa Don’t Preach, and Frozen are left as either interludes or audio snippets. On the other hand, album cuts such as Mother and Father and The Beast Within, which weren’t even released as singles, made the setlist in the service of thematic cohesion or compelling narrative. Storytelling over greatest hits in a greatest hits show: truly groundbreaking. 

2. The sell-by date for celebrity endorsers

It’s a widely known and accepted fact that advertising and marketing is largely no country for old stars. This is especially true for the music industry that’s eternally obsessed with youth and where disdain for artists of advanced ages is very, pardon the pun, vocal. Especially for female artists.

 Madonna, who achieved superstardom at age 25, has been fighting this ageism for most of her career. (Ironically, she was among the artists who, together with MTV, gave rise to and empowered very young music audiences in the mid-1980s.) So it’s not just notable but downright astonishing that she got one of the biggest and most important endorsement deals of her career at age 65. While Itau, one of Brazil’s biggest banks, does not market to Zoomers, it’s a testament to Madonna’s enduring popularity and  power as a brand that the bank made such a huge investment on her and her concert. Aside from having a three-minute TV ad starring the superstar, Itau was also the major presenter of the free show in Rio.

With all the publicity, coverage and buzz the event created in the last few months, especially in the days leading up to the show and up until now, not to mention the actual economic activity it spurred, it’s safe to assume the investment will have a handsome ROI, if it hasn’t had some already. This should encourage other brands to engage with more senior stars and give younger ones like Taylor Swift something to look forward to a few decades down the road. 

3. The borderline age for artists to go to pasture

“I’ll rest when I’m dead.” That was Madonna in 2000, age 42, and she has remained true to her words. Well, almost entirely true. She was forced to rest for two months last year following a severe bacterial infection that sent her to the ICU for five days in June where she had to be induced into a coma to save her life.

That pushed back the start of The Celebration Tour from July to October. Not that anybody could tell from her performances throughout the six-month tour. She may have spoken heavily about the experience in each show but had absolutely nothing to show for it in her appearance and moves onstage. As though going on a massive global 81-date concert tour wasn’t daunting enough for any solo artist already five years into her official senior era, Madonna did it just months after almost passing on.

Die Another Day? Last year she made good on the that 2022 hit song she wrote for the Bond film of the same name and broke a few more music industry records. Only time will tell—some 20 years, to be exact—if someone like Beyonce can again turn one of the world’s most famous beaches into a big, long dancefloor for a night. But regardless, the point is it’s now not inconceivable for senior female artists to do it, all thanks to Madonna. 

4. The mold of the live concert as all-live music

Madonna plays an electric guitar in one number and an acoustic guitar in another. Those are practically the only live instrumentation in the almost two-and-a-half-hour show. The rest of the backing tracks are studio recordings including remixes. It’s not about shortchanging fans by ditching a live band; it’s about creating a concert experience that captures as much of the recorded sound that fans fell in love with in the first place and continue to hold dearly.

It’s what big dance music festivals exclusively trade in, so it makes perfect sense for one of the pioneering greats in the genre to finally embrace it and put her own stamp on it. With ecstatic reception from Celebration crowds everywhere, including several music superstars themselves like Katy Perry and Brazilian Anitta, it’s highly likely other pop artists will dance the same way with their own shows moving forward. 

5. The world view that women should act their age

The Celebration Tour has all the trademarks of a Madonna show including the most risqué—profanity, nudity, and simulation of sexual acts. In fact, Madonna has taken things further by engaging, for the first time, in a same-sex liplock with one of her dancers, as one of the dramatic highlights of a sexually charged medley.

That none of it is as shocking or even just eyebrow-raising as any act in her previous shows, except to eternal Madonna haters and hopeless conservatives, is partly a result of the superstar’s contributions to the sexual revolution that have made the world truer, freer, and more liberated.

The difference this time is she is pointedly raging against the ageist machine that still won’t allow women of a certain age to remain adventurous and continue being sexual, if not sexually active. If Madonna can’t do it, who else can? If she won’t do it, what hope does the world have? Thank God she can and actually does. That alone is cause for celebration.

The new lifestyle.