As the sun set on Pride weekend, marking the end of the celebration of 50 years since the Stonewall Riots ignited our movement, Madonna asked the audience a question she’s been asking since 1990: “What are you looking at?”
Yes, the Queen of Pop began her headlining set with what might be her biggest hit, “Vogue,” accompanied by a swarm of dancers all outfitted as Madame X in matching blonde wigs and trench coats. One sat at a typewriter, the sound of the keys filling in for the iconic snaps of the songs intro, flawlessly fusing her most iconic hit with her new era — in the music video for “God Control,” released last week, Madonna writes her manifesto at the very same typewriter. That marriage of her classic songs and her new material was on display throughout her entire four-song set, which also included “American Life,” “God Control,” and the anthemic “I Rise.”
The staging was beautifully choreographed and Madonna was in top form. Each song was perfectly interpreted for this exact performance. It felt special, like we were seeing a unique show that would only exist this one night. Despite the thousands of people in the crowd, it felt intimate. Between songs, Madonna spoke to the crowd, highlighting the history of Pier 97, which was once an infamous gay cruising spot. “God knows it has a lot of history.”
Wearing custom Versace — Donatella was in attendance, Madame X told us as one of her leather daddy dancers changed her shoes onstage — the Material Girl was effusive about her love for the LGBTQ+ community, reflecting on the significance of World Pride and the anniversary of Stonewall. “Fifty years people. Fifty years of revolution, 50 years of freedom fighting, 50 years of putting up with discrimination, hatred and indifference, 50 years of blood, sweat and tears, 50 years of not bowing down to fear. That’s what I’m talking about.”
“We have been on this journey together, and I am so proud and honored to share this historical evening with you,” she said. “You really don’t know. Since I came to New York as a wee little girl, I have always been embraced by queer nation. I always felt like an outsider but you made me feel like an insider. You must know how much I love and appreciate everyone here tonight. All members of the LGBTQ community. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
I had never seen Madonna live, and I’ll admit I was nervous. How could any one performer live up to the legend I’d seen in music videos my entire life? But that’s the thing about Madonna: she is that legend, and the experience was better than I ever could have anticipated.
The only disappointing part of the evening was the crowd. Madonna’s performance was so powerful and celebratory, but the energy from the audience was...well, chaotic is putting it nicely. Massive pride events like the Pride Island have steep ticket prices, which means they’re filled with the most privileged in our community, and unfortunately that air of entitlement means that anyone who isn’t a white cis muscle gay walking around shirtless can be made to feel extremely unwelcome — one friend I ran into told me how a group of white muscle gays had shoved him and called him ugly — during Pride! In our Lyft back to the W Hotel, my friend and I commiserated over how sad it was that the message of unity Madonna imparted during her set wasn’t reflected by those privileged enough to share the experience.
But what an experience it was. After speaking with Madonna ahead of Pride and hearing the emotion in her voice when she spoke about her decades of queer activism, I was struck more than ever by the surety that Madonna isn’t an ally. She’s one of us, and there’s no one I would rather have celebrated Pride with. To quote a friend, “Madame X is a faggot.”