Opinion | Madonna’s Celebration Tour Proves She Won’t Quit

All of her past selves showed up, in role and in costume, to help celebrate the many ways she has evolved and the many ways she and her collaborators have explored and expressed gender throughout the years. It was a beautifully inclusive, encouraging spectacle. If history is a guide, the social and artistic ramifications of her performance will extend well beyond the numbers and long after her tour.

Madonna’s 1985 Virgin Tour, her debut, included only 40 shows in North America and grossed about $5 million. But its impact on young lives is immeasurable. The young women and girls in her audience were on the cusp of unleashing their sexual selves and embracing their independence, which is what made them so terrifying to a broader society intent upon keeping them polite, passive and manageable.

Madonna’s message to her young audience was embrace your power, dream big, and dare to be your own damned self! That message would resonate through a generation and across the globe, as aspiring Madonnas grew up to be politicians, lawyers, doctors, teachers, members of the armed forces, Third Wave feminists, Riot Grrrls and pop stars themselves.

Madonna was, in fact, the lead author of the female pop star playbook, and she continues to write the unexplored and perilous back end of it while artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish adapt the front end and more established stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift refine what’s possible in the middle. Madonna’s continuous career represents a universe of possibility for their own, despite the entertainment industry’s willingness to jettison midcareer women in favor of artists with younger faces and bodies.

But for women not named Madonna (or Beyoncé or Taylor Swift), growing older and maturing in public is much more fraught. Older men are considered wise, but older women are often ignored or discounted. Thanks to the intervention of the pharmaceutical industry, men are encouraged to have an active sex life into their 80s. The idea of older women having sex remains, for many, repellent.

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