The Blond Ambition World Tour was the third concert tour by American singer-songwriter Madonna. The tour was launched in support of her fourth studio album, Like a Prayer, and the soundtrack, I'm Breathless. The tour reached North America, Europe and Asia. It was a highly controversial tour, mainly for its juxtaposition of Catholic iconography and sexuality. Rolling Stone called it an "elaborately choreographed, sexually provocative extravaganza" and proclaimed it "the best tour of 1990." In 1991, a documentary film, Truth or Dare (In Bed with Madonna outside North America), was released chronicling the tour. The tour received the "Most Creative Stage Production" at the Pollstar Concert Industry Awards. The tour was named the Greatest Concert of the 1990s by Rolling Stone. In 2015, the BBC credited the tour with "invent[ing] the modern, multi-media pop spectacle".
The tour grossed over $60 million. In North America only, 482,832 tickets were sold in the first two hours, during the pre-sale, grossing $14,237,000. The tour also broke the record at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena with takings of $456,720, becoming the highest-grossing musical event of all time.
The tour was met with strong reaction from religious groups for her performance of "Like a Virgin", during which two male dancers caressed her body before she simulated masturbation. The Church of England and the Catholic Church criticised her performance and the Pope asked the general public and the Christian community not to attend the concert. A private association of Catholics calling themselves Famiglia Domani also boycotted the tour for its eroticism. In response, Madonna said, "The tour in no way hurts anybody's sentiments. It's for open minds and gets them to see sexuality in a different way. Their own and others'."
The concert was filmed several times, including dates in the United States, France, Japan and Spain. An HBO TV special, titled Madonna – Live! Blond Ambition World Tour 90, was filmed in Nice, France and was later released commercially as Blond Ambition World Tour Live by Pioneer Artists, exclusively on the Laserdisc format. The title went on to win a Grammy Award in 1992 for Best Long Form Music Video. Another title, Blond Ambition Japan Tour 90, was released exclusively in Japan by Warner-Pioneer.
Originally to be called the "Like a Prayer World Tour", Sire Records announced the Blond Ambition World Tour in November 1989, following the success of Madonna's fourth studio album, Like a Prayer, and Madonna's performance of "Express Yourself" at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards – considered as a tour preview. Initially, the tour was only to reach Japan and North America, as Madonna was considering roles in several films. By the end of 1989 plans were announced to bring the tour to Europe as well because of popularity and fan demand. In December 1989, when preparations for the tour began, Madonna herself announced during a pre-recorded interview on German TV channel ZDF, that she would tour Germany during 1990. In April 1990, additional dates in Europe were added. Stage preparations and dress rehearsals took place at the Disney Studios, Burbank, California, before the tour kicked off in Japan. Patrick Leonard declined to repeat his musical director role from The Virgin Tour: "She showed me the stage design, and the band was, like, down in the pit. So I said, Forget it."
The tour incorporated as central themes, sexuality and Catholicism, a combination which engendered controversy. Catholic associations called for a boycott of the show in Rome, and one of three scheduled Italian dates was eventually canceled. The show has achieved cult status, with elements such as the bullet bra and false ponytail hairpiece becoming cultural icons in their own right.
Madonna likened the concert to "musical theater" and choreographer Vincent Paterson stated she wanted to "break every rule we can... She wanted to make statements about sexuality, cross-sexuality, the church... But the biggest thing we tried to do was change the shape of concerts. Instead of just presenting songs, we wanted to combine fashion, Broadway, and performance art."
The show's explicit overtone caused problems. In Toronto, police were alerted that the show might possibly contain lewd and obscene content (particularly a masturbation scene) and threatened charges unless parts of the show were changed. The show went on unaltered, however, and no charges were made after the tour manager gave the police an ultimatum: "Cancel the show, and you'll have to tell 30,000 people why."
French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier designed the costumes for the tour, including the now-infamous cone brassiere. Additional costume pieces were designed by Marlene Stewart, who had previously worked with Madonna on the 1987 Who's That Girl World Tour.
Director Alek Keshishian captured more than 250 hours of film of Madonna and her troupe during the tour. This footage was edited and released to movie theaters as Truth or Dare (aka In Bed with Madonna).
Due to ongoing throat problems, six shows had to be canceled, bringing the tour down from 63 shows to 57; altogether, 125,000 tickets had to be refunded. The proceeds of the last American date in New Jersey, was donated to the Nonprofit organization amfAR and dedicated to her friend Keith Haring who died of AIDS, grossing over $300,000.
The show was separated into five different sections: Metropolis, Religious, Dick Tracy, Art Deco and Encore. It began with the Metropolis segment, which was inspired by the Fritz Lang silent film. It begins with "Express Yourself", which includes an introduction from her 1982 song "Everybody". The stage was inspired by the "Express Yourself" music video and set in a large industrial machine-room with shirtless male dancers. Madonna enters the stage at the top of a long staircase, dressed in a pinstripe suit, with cone-bra and garters from her bustier visible. In this segment, Madonna also performs "Open Your Heart" where she uses a chair as a prop and dances in a dance similar to the one in the music video along with a male dancer, and has a mock-fight with her back-up dancers in "Causing a Commotion" (dressed in colorful bicycling gear). The final performance on this segment is "Where's the Party"; Madonna leaves the stage early for a costume change, while three male dancers continue dancing until the song ends.
The second segment was passionate and religious-themed, beginning with a Middle-Eastern version of "Like a Virgin" sung on a red silk bed with two hermaphrodite dancers behind her on each side of the bed. Madonna is dressed in a gold corset and concludes the song by simulating masturbation. The set is then transformed into a church; Madonna wears a black robe and a large crucifix over her gold corset and starts performing "Like a Prayer", with her back-up singers and dancers dressed as nuns and priests. A medley of "Live to Tell" and "Oh Father" and a performance of "Papa Don't Preach" end this section.
The third segment was a cabaret inspired by the 1990 motion picture Dick Tracy, in which Madonna starred as "Breathless Mahoney". During this segment, Madonna was wearing a green and white striped showgirl outfit. It included performances of "Sooner or Later", sung atop a grand piano, "Hanky Panky" and "Now I'm Following You", in which she danced and lip-synched with the dancer Salim Gauwloos, who was dressed like Dick Tracy.
The fourth segment was inspired by 1930s Hollywood films using the work of artist Tamara de Lempicka and an Art Deco set design. Madonna performs "Material Girl" in a mocking dumb blonde voice, wearing hair rollers and bathrobe, which she later removes and reveals a pink dress with pink fur. "Cherish" is performed with three male dancers dressed as mer-men whilst Madonna simulates playing the harp. Madonna ends the section with "Into The Groove" (with a sample from the 1989 Inner City song "Ain't Nobody Better") and a minimal version of "Vogue" performing choreography from its music video, dressed in a black sports bra and lycra shorts.
The fifth and final segment includes the two encores to the show; "Holiday", with Madonna in 1970s polka-dots and ruffles singing a sample from "Do the Bus Stop" and "Keep It Together" inspired by the work of Bob Fosse with Madonna dressed in bowler hat and performing chair-juggling. The "Keep It Together" routine was also inspired by the film A Clockwork Orange and found Madonna speaking with a cockney accent. The show finale has Madonna singing "Keep it together, Keep people together, forever and ever" over and over, finishing with her removing her hat and the spotlight zooming on to it.
The Japan and North American shows featured Madonna in her trademark blonde ponytail hair extensions. However, because the hairpiece kept getting caught in her headset microphone and was pulling her real hair out by the root, she switched to short blonde curls for the European leg of the tour.
After the tour, Madonna and her entire Blond Ambition tour stage troupe recreated a neoclassic-themed performance of Vogue at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards.
The official tourbook and promotional posters for the tour used photography from the 1989 music video "Express Yourself" and Vogue.
Two shows were released commercially; the August 5 show in Nice, France, was taped and aired on HBO in the United States becoming the most-watched entertainment special in HBO's 18-year history, the program had a 21.5 rating, reaching an audience of more than 4.3 million households. Time Warner's HBO paid $1 million for the rights to broadcast the final concert in Nice. The show was released worldwide with the title Blond Ambition World Tour Live on LaserDisc, as part of a sponsorship deal with Pioneer Electronics. One of the Yokohama, Japan dates was also taped and released on VHS and LaserDisc in the Japanese market as Blond Ambition Japan Tour 90. In addition to these shows, the August 1 show in Barcelona, Spain was taped and aired on television in Europe, Australia and Canada by SACIS-RAI.
In the UK, BBC Radio 1 broadcast the full show, live from Wembley Stadium in London on Saturday 21 July which led to controversy over the amount of swear words Madonna uttered live on air and the BBC had to issue an apology. Highlights of the show were later aired after the 1992 interview with Madonna and Simon Bates. The second show in Dallas was recorded for radio broadcast in the USA with the in-between song chatter removed. 'Express Yourself' and 'Open Your Heart' are recorded from the first Dallas show, whereas the remainder of the recording is from the second Dallas show. Radio NRG broadcast highlights from the first European show in Sweden on June 30.
The Blond Ambition World Tour has been regarded as an iconic musical performance by many critics and media, such as the Rolling Stone magazine which acclaimed its elaborated choreography and sexual provocativeness, calling it the best tour of 1990 and later the best tour of the 1990s.
Within the show, Madonna continued to influence the fashion world in her most shocking and expensive way. She popularized the idea of wearing underwear as outerwear and has since been associated with the pink satin conical bra designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. She also wore a long blonde ponytail hairpiece for the Japanese and North American legs of the tour. The ponytail was based on a Tressy Tessy doll Madonna had played with as a child, and she decided to use it as she felt it added a feminine playfulness and contrast to the hard fashions she was wearing. After the US leg of the tour ended, Madonna stopped wearing the ponytail on stage as it was reportedly causing her hair to break off.
Several of the dancers who performed on the tour are profiled in the 2016 documentary film Strike a Pose.
She's Breathless is a promotional music video compilation by singer Madonna. It was released by WEA Records UK in 1990 to promote the Blond Ambition Tour and was only available to UK record stores and the music industry.
Includes 18 music videos:
- "Like a Virgin"
- "Material Girl"
- "Into the Groove"
- "Dress You Up"
- "Live to Tell"
- "Papa Don't Preach"
- "True Blue"
- "Open Your Heart"
- "La Isla Bonita"
- "Who's That Girl"
- "Causing a Commotion"
- "Like a Prayer"
- "Express Yourself"
- "Dear Jessie"