As watchful a superstar as pop has ever known, Madonna paused not long into her concert at the Forum to appraise the recent renovation of the venerable Inglewood arena, which has housed so many of her performances over the decades that “I feel like this is one of my homes,” she said.
“I see the ceiling is getting lower and lower,” she went on. “Or is that my ego getting bigger and bigger?”
Surely, one needn’t eliminate the possibility of the other.
Part of her world tour behind this year’s “Rebel Heart” album, Tuesday’s show spared no opportunity to remind the capacity crowd of the singer’s incalculable influence on modern music. (The evening’s second song was the 2015 single “Bitch I’m Madonna.”)
Madonna flexes her guitar skills at the Forum.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Under red lights, Madonna performs during at the Forum her “Rebel Heart Tour.”(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Madonna performs during her “Rebel Heart Tour” at the Forum.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Madonna jams at the Forum in Inglewood during her “Rebel Heart Tour.”(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Colorfully clad dancers join Madonna during a performance at the Forum.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Madonna strikes a pose during her “Rebel Heart Tour.”(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Featuring colorfully garbed backup dancers in formation, Madonna performs at the Forum.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Backup dancers carry the “Material Girl” around the stage at the Forum.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Backup dancers bring out the fans as Madonna performs.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Madonna whips her hair during her Forum concert.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Backup dancers carry an upside-down Madonna around the stage at the Forum.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Madonna moves with her backup dancers at the Forum.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Madonna performs onstage in a samurai-themed production.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
During her “Rebel Heart Tour,” Madonna is backed up by dancers dressed as samurai warriors.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
During her “Rebel Heart Tour,” Madonna is surrounded onstage by dancers dressed in gilded attire.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A caged Madonna performs during her “Rebel Heart Tour.”(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Madonna appears solo onstage at the Forum with only a guitar and a huge background screen.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A pair of lips onscreen provides a background as Madonna performs onstage with dancers.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Colorful images populate the screen onstage as Madonna performs.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Madonna is surrounded by dancers and giant silhouettes onstage during the iconic singer’s “Rebel Heart Tour” at the Forum.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
But if her legacy is secure, Madonna at 57 no longer holds down pop’s center. Taylor Swift sells more records and concert tickets. Beyoncé is a more coveted interview. Katy Perry, who turned up onstage at the Forum on Tuesday night to pay her respects with a slyly backhanded compliment, has more followers on social media.
So, as much as she was celebrating her own importance, Madonna seemed to be looking for ways to demonstrate that she still mattered. What was remarkable was that she succeeded by taking advantage of her experience, not by running from it.
The show’s most immediate thrills came in an old form: the mingling of religious and sexual iconography that has been Madonna’s specialty since the late 1980s. Here, though, she went further than ever – and almost certainly further than her young successors are willing to -- singing her song “Holy Water” as several women dressed in nuns’ wimples pole-danced on a number of metal crosses.
There were other provocations, including the sight of a proudly topless backup dancer in “Candy Shop,” Madonna’s own writhing with various muscled men in the new album’s “Body Shop” and her typically blithe appropriation of musical and cultural traditions from Japan, Spain and elsewhere.
For a veteran entertainer with dozens of beloved hits, her decision to spend a good half of her 2½-hour set on material from “Rebel Heart” felt like a challenge as well. Ditto her radical reworkings of the old songs: “Dress You Up” rode a fluttering flamenco groove; “Music” started out as a sultry supper-club ballad; “Material Girl” had staticky dubstep squelches. She was insisting on evolution, refusing to be boxed in by any earlier version of herself.
Madonna strikes a pose with those red lips and lined eyes in 1992.()
Madonna hits a musical note in a polka-dotted number and a high ponytail that goes on for days.(Frank Micelotta / HBO)
Madonna with Sean Penn during the introduction to an Amnesty International benefit in 1986.(Marsha Traeger / Los Angeles Times )
Madonna wears a Jean Paul Gaultier corset during a “Blond Ambition " stop at the L.A. Sports Arena.(Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times )
A brunette Madonna in a scene from the 1989 film “Bloodhounds of Broadway.”(Columbia Pictures )
Madonna grips her assets mid-performance in 1992.()
Photographers flock around Madonna in Cannes, France, in 1992.()
Madonna looks ahead with those come-hither eyes in 1992.(Slung Fat Tjia)
Madonna lands the September 1985 issue of “Playboy.”(Playboy)
Madonna with Willem Dafoe in the film “Body of Evidence” in 1993.()
Madonna and her cigarette in 1990.(Patrick Demarchelier)
Yet Tuesday’s concert also showcased how charmingly relaxed Madonna can be onstage – how all those years of performing have given her a confidence that’s a real pleasure to behold.
During “Like a Virgin,” she practically skipped down a long runway that jutted out onto the venue’s floor, her body language as free as it was all night. “True Blue” had a cozy campfire-sing-along vibe, as did “Like a Prayer,” which she claimed she threw into the show without rehearsal.
She even offered a bit of stand-up comedy after “Material Girl,” asking a fan in the front row if he knew about the “three rings of marriage”: “the engagement ring, the wedding ring and the suffering.”
“I haven’t been successful at that marriage thing yet,” she added, and that was the lead-in to her appealingly daffy rendition of the French standard “La Vie en Rose,” for which she accompanied herself on ukulele. (Ask yourself how many other entertainers in Madonna’s class will have that sentence written about them this year.)
After “La Vie en Rose,” she brought Perry out for a duet – and a bit of light spanking -- in “Unapologetic Bitch.”
“I love you, Mom!” Perry crowed when the song was over, and it wasn’t hard to imagine her holding a sign reading “young and current!” over her head.
But here’s the thing about youth and currency: They always wither. And that no longer seems to frighten Madonna.