NEW ORLEANS — In the mid-1980s, Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna were pop music royalty.
Jackson handily claimed his king of pop title. Prince was a prince until his popularity faded and he became known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
The queen of pop title never was widely bestowed upon Madonna, but she was the queen. Despite the many imitators who have vied for her crown throughout her 28 years of fame, she’s still queen.
As Nicki Minaj, the rap star born in the year Madonna burst into stardom, said Saturday night during her video guest appearance at Madonna’s provocative, theatrical, sexy and, yes, controversial concert at the New Orleans Arena: “There’s only one queen, and that’s Madonna.”
Madonna’s “MDNA” tour, named after her 12th album, began May 31 in Tel Aviv. Occasional flair ups of controversy have followed the worldwide trek, beginning with that first performance in Israel. Critics in the Middle Eastern nation knocked the singer for using what appears to be an AK-47 assault rifle as a prop.
Similar criticism followed in the United States, but the irrepressible Madonna hasn’t altered her multimedia “MDNA” tour mega-production. She made her entrance Saturday night in New Orleans, assault rifle in hand, dressed in a sleek, black outfit that you might call commando-dancer wear.
During a throbbing performance of “Girl Gone Wild,” Madonna shot her male dancers.
After a quick “What’s up, New Orleans?” greeting from the star, the onstage violence escalated with “Gang Bang,” another song from her 2012 album, “MDNA.”
Moving to the show’s Paradise Motel set, a pistol-wielding Madonna shot a succession of male dancers apparently playing the roles of would-be rapists breaking into her motel room.
“Bang, bang,” Madonna rapped unapologetically as the carnage continued. “Shot you dead. Shot my lover in the head.”
Exploiting her multiplatinum legacy and mocking imitators, Madonna sang a medley of her 1989 hit, “Express Yourself,” and Lady Gaga’s 2011 song, “Born This Way.”
Both the music and self-empowerment-themed lyrics in “Born This Way” closely parallel Madonna’s “Express Yourself.”
So when Madonna and her full cast — females dressed in majorette uniforms, males in marching band uniforms, banging drums — did their mashup of the latter songs, the baton-twirling Madonna made it so obvious who came first.
About a dozen songs into the concert, Madonna greeted her New Orleans crowd again, this time with a local salutation: “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” She noted the many Halloween costumes in the audience, too, before segueing to election-year politics.
“Are you registered to vote?” the longtime advocate for the Rock the Vote organization asked. “I don’t care who you vote for as long as it’s Obama.”
Even in New Orleans, likely the most liberal city in hardcore red state Louisiana, the singer’s preference for incumbent presidential candidate Barack Obama inspired a substantial, though not universal, chorus of “boos.”
Perhaps surprised by the negative reaction, Madonna pivoted to a conciliatory bipartisan endorsement of voting, period.
“Do not take this great privilege for granted,” she said.
Returning to the musical portion of the program, some songs from the “MDNA” album played better than others. “Masterpiece,” a Latin-spiced ballad, as well as a performance by clown-faced male dancers with the music video “Justify My Love” got tepid responses. And one of the singer’s classics, “Like A Virgin,” reinvented as an odd, minor-key dirge, simply didn’t work.
In a show containing many hits and some misses, Madonna and her troupe made the most of her iconic classic, “Vogue.”
The ensemble staged a Broadway musical-style production number populated by strutting, cross-dressing dancers baring lots of flesh. Costumes for the song were vintage formal, as in 1920s gangsters out for a night on the town with their burlesque performer girlfriends and boyfriends.
At the center of the party, the 54-year-old Madonna, her blonde hair swept back, dressed in pinstriped, high-wasted black pants and a new rendition of her famous bullet bra, looked elegantly beautiful.
Madonna being Madonna, she courted more controversy by gradually removing her “Vogue” costume. Ultimately, she stood at the farthest edge of the catwalk that jutted onto the arena floor, turned her back to the crowd and exposed her buttocks.
It wasn’t total exposure: fishnet pantyhose and a thong stayed in place. The singer reportedly did the same in Paris and Rome.
Well, if it wasn’t already obvious that the amazingly energetic Madonna is in great physical condition for a woman her age, her backside-exposing stunt proved it.
The singer wore much more clothing for “Like A Prayer.” True to its controversial 1989 music video, the song co-starred a gospel chorus, celestial lights and Madonna’s recreation of the quasi religious ecstasy she experiences in the video.
Past the midnight hour, Madonna bid New Orleans adieu with a mammoth song-and-dance ensemble performance of “Celebration.”
“This is your last chance to dance!” she announced.
Having already endured a two-hour workout that would send most people in their 50s to the hospital, Madonna romped through another athletic production number, demonstrating energy and enthusiasm worthy of a teenager. What a trooper, what a still-hungry artist she is.