Madonna’s Controversial MDNA Tour: Has She Gone Too Far?

From toting fake guns to exposing herself onstage, pop icon's MDNA Tour has run into criticism at every turn.

Madonna can’t catch a break. Pop music’s queen again finds herself in a flood of bad press after fans at an intimate show at Paris’ l’Olympia club booed and chanted “refund!” when the music icon’s performance ended after just 45 minutes. While this latest fiasco seems to be rooted in misunderstanding — “She has done a handful of club dates in the past and they were never more than 45 minutes,” according to her rep — Madonna has run straight into controversy at every turn on her MDNA Tour.

Controversy is, of course, Madonna’s longtime plaything, except this time around it isn’t doing much to help her cause. She’s always welcomed the odd bit of trouble as a means to inspire thought-provoking conversations about real issues. But this latest string of incidents has fallen on deaf ears, leaving even die-hard fans wondering if she’s now simply going too far for the sake of going too far. Not even two months into the most extensive tour of her career, the headlines have been piling up, and despite the tour’s financial success (it’s on track to be one of the highest-grossing ever), they’ve rarely been kind.

Before the tour even kicked off, Madonna managed to stir negative feelings among Lady Gaga’s notoriously devout fanbase when rehearsal footage surfaced of her singing a mash-up of “Express Yourself” with Gaga’s “Born This Way,” a song that has been criticized for having the same chord progression, melodic structure and thematic elements as “Express.” But that’s not all. Madonna finishes the medley with a refrain from her Hard Candy track “She’s Not Me,” a song about a lesser imitator making a play for what she has.

Gaga issued a measured response to Madonna during a June concert in New Zealand, but that hasn’t stopped M from digging in her heels. Earlier this week, in a Brazilian TV interview, Madonna said, “I’m a really big fan of [Born This Way]. I’m glad that I helped Gaga write it.”

The tour launched on May 31 in Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ramat Gan Stadium in front of a sold-out crowd. Right from the kick-off, the show riled some critics, who decried Madonna’s brandishing of (fake) firearms onstage in the war-torn country — all while making a plea for world peace. “You can’t be a fan of mine and not want peace in the world,” she said during the two-hour concert. “If we can all rise above our egos and our titles and the names of our countries and our religions, and treat everyone around us with dignity and respect, then we are on the road to peace. If there is peace here in the Middle East, there can be peace in the whole world.”

The use of violent imagery in the show brought the pop diva even more bad press last week. Madonna ignored warnings from local police in Edinburgh, Scotland, to not use the dummy weapons in her show because of the country’s strict gun laws, which were put in place following the 1996 Dunblane school massacre that left 16 schoolchildren and one adult dead. She was not charged with violating Scotland’s laws, however, the concert came just a day days after the shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater that left 12 dead and another 59 injured, making her refusal to alter her show seem not only defiant of a foreign country’s laws but also insensitive to the national conversation in her native United States.

Guns aren’t the only thing Madonna’s been showing off on her MDNA Tour: She’s been baring her body as well. M caused a stir in mid-June when she flashed her breast at the audience during a sold-out show at Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul, Turkey. A few days later, she revealed her bare backside at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

Since then, revealing her body has practically become a recurring theme for the tour. What started as an in-the-moment surprise meant to titillate has since turned into a nearly every-show occurrence — all of which would be fine if there were a point to it.

Madonna has gotten a lot of flak throughout her career for being a provocateur, but her past behavior was always meant to advance an idea. Her aim was to get people talking about the things she felt were important, including LGBT rights, women’s sexuality, religion and female empowerment. The point of the many controversies that have come out of her MDNA Tour seems to have more to do with keeping Madonna’s name in the headlines than provoking thoughtful conversation. And people are on to her, calling her, among many other things, “desperate for attention.”

Even the one controversy that fits most firmly in the Madonna canon — her feud with French right-wing National Front party leader Marine Le Pen — has been taken so far to the extreme that it is swallowing her message. Throughout the tour, Madonna has shown a video interlude, set to her song “Nobody Knows Me,” that features Le Pen with a swastika superimposed on her forehead.

On each of Madonna’s last few tours, she has included a video montage similar to the one in which Le Pen appears. The difference is, she’s never gone so far as to stamp a Nazi insignia on another politician’s forehead. Le Pen is a perfect foe for Madonna — she is staunchly right-wing and opposes immigration and LGBT rights — and her are politics more than worth debating. But Madonna does nothing to advance the argument against Le Pen with hyperbole equating her to Adolf Hitler.

She also does nothing to combat ageism in the media and catty calls that she is less relevant than her younger peers by showing off her 53-year-old (still unbelievably fit) physique. She also fails to open a dialogue about gun control by waving a pistol during her MDNA revenge fantasy song “Gang Bang” and does nothing to help uncover the line between artistic inspiration and plagiarism with her attacks on Lady Gaga. Plus, Gaga has been vocal fan and natural ally who until earlier this summer did nothing but praise Madonna as the enormously influential artist she is.

Ultimately, Madonna is simply trying to shock us the way she always has. The only difference between then and now is that it used to feel like she had something substantial to say.