No, it had to be Madonna. It had to be the best-selling female artist of all time. Love her, hate her, shrug your shoulders at her, obsess fanatically over her: the 53-year-old US star has made cultural and artistic history with her chameleon-like image and musical styles. This, along with her knack for enlisting the right co-artists at exactly the right time, and her ability to both flout social codes of acceptability and outrage religious leaders and authoritarians the world over – often during her live tours.
Right now, however, all anyone wants to know about her estimated 50,000-strong two shows is how event organiser Flash is going to keep us all cool, outside, in Abu Dhabi, in June. So here we bring you the inside track on the Madonna shows, direct from the horse’s mouth: aka Lee Charteris, the man who runs Flash Entertainment operations...
So, those ‘H’ words: ‘heat’, ‘humid’, ‘hot’. The weather forecast at time of going to press was a high of 44°C on Sunday June 3. ‘How’ are you going to stop us all going ‘hysterical’?
‘We’re bringing in a whole series of fans, water and cooling stations. The du Arena [formerly Yas Arena] is not far from the water, so there’s always a fair amount of breeze up there. Misting stations and cooling domes will be in place around the arena, there will be a two-for-one deal on bottles of water (Dhs10 for two), and ice lollies and other cool items will be available at the food stands. Our message is: drink lots of water, dress accordingly and, if you’re coming in a group, make sure you look after each other.’
And what about Madge herself? Fit she may be, but coping with 85 percent humidity while dancing around in five-inch heels would be tricky for a woman half her age...
‘There will be special air-conditioning units and large fans on stage blowing at the star and her performers throughout the show.’
Didn’t anyone think that putting on an outdoor concert in the UAE June might not be a good idea?
‘When Madonna announced her world tour, we had the opportunity to book her in June. It was either these dates [or no dates]. So we made the decision to take them. Why would you not want to bring an artist of this stature to the UAE?’
Hear, hear. So that’s temperature tackled; next we want to know what’s going on with all those cranes we saw at the arena when we sailed past last weekend?
‘We’re installing new grass areas and tarmac roadways. We decided to upgrade the venue’s infrastructure prior to the arrival of the Madonna technicians. Even before the start of the build-up to the concert, there are already about 200 people working on the site.’
How much of the show is micro-managing Madonna organising?
‘She’s bringing everything, including the kitchen sink. For most concerts the promoter invariably provides the infrastructure (the toilets, the fences, the bars, the barriers – all the bits that make up the workings of the show) and the artist will bring their own musical instruments. Madonna is bringing three 747s full of equipment in the next three days. There will be hundreds of people working at the airport prior to and after the event loading all this stuff on and off planes. That in itself is a gargantuan effort.’
Goodness. Does she carry a lot of spares?
‘There are allowances for breakages, of course. But when Madonna is out on tour, with all her bells and whistles, the message is that every element of her show is the same in every territory. The show that people see in Abu Dhabi will be identical to the show they would see in New York, London or wherever.’
She’s not been told to tone down her lyrics, dancing or outfits for Abu Dhabi audiences, then?
‘We don’t talk to artists about these things; we don’t impose on artists what they can and can’t do. That’s the art of the performer.’
So what does Madonna herself have to tell us about her show?
It’s a little under two hours long, and the choreography is entirely new,’ the star said recently. ‘I’ve been training to slack-line [a type of balance on a nylon rope] for the tour. There’s a lot of violence. I work out some aggression during the first part of the show, before it gets to the happy part.’ One word: immense.