Encyclopedia Madonnica 20: Updated Edition

2016-08-14 18.33.06August 16 marks the birthday of the woman the world over know as the #QueenofPop. So, thought it would be timely to recommend that if you are a huge #Madonna fan and if you were to (somehow) only buy just one book about her in your lifetime, then let it be Encyclopedia Madonnica 20 by Matthew Rettenmund.

EM20 is the 20th anniversary edition (hence the “20”) of the New York-based author/blogger’s 1995 best-seller which many fans have long regarded as the ultimate Madonna book as it lists everything and everything about the singer “from A to Z” – from all her likes and dislikes to who she was dating during when and at where. To say Matthew’s intensive research and knowledge about the woman he admired most (next to his mum, ie) is amazingly comprehensive is an understatement.

2015 STANDARD EDITION

EM20cover_standard2015The 2015 version (standard edition, pictured above) is just as outstanding, if not much more,  as it is jam-packed with new fascinating insights, insider info, exclusive interviews, lavish illustrations and mostly rare photographs of the music icon. Weighing in close to 2kg and  the size of a phone book, the tome covers her illustrious career as a singer/dancer/actress/author/film director/fashion brand and fitness gym owner, as well as of her personal life as daughter/sister/lover/wife/ex-wife and mother-of-four, over the past 30+ years.

2015 LIMITED EDITION (500 COPIES)

2016-08-14 18.38.18The 2015 version of EM20 also has a cool limited edition (500 copies only) which has a different cover – a striking Andy-Warhol like illustration by Pegasus Street Artist. Each copy is also accompanied by a special bookplate personally autographed by the author along with  a serial number. My copy, for instance pictured above, is numbered #127/500. And there are five different bookplates featuring illustrated versions of the megastar in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and ’10s.

2016 UPDATED STANDARD VERSION

2016-08-14 18.33.47Forward to 2016: If you haven’t gotten a copy of EM20 yet, this is a good time to get it as the meticulous Matthew – whom I’ve known for years and even went to see Madonna’s London’s West End play, Up For Grabs, together in 2002 – has updated the standard edition to include new sections on the critically acclaimed #RebelHeartTour and the exclusive #TearsofaClown show held in Melbourne, Australia. There are also a few revised entries to include, for example, the deaths of David Bowie and Prince. The new edition also boasts a gorgeous new cover illustration by Alejandro Mogollo (who also has a dozen other lovely illustrations of M in various stages of her career sprinkled throughout the book), as well as many great images from RHT and TOAC.

5 REASONS TO GET THE 2016 UPDATED VERSION

2016-08-09 03.24.22Even though I already have a copy of EM20, there were 5 reasons why I’m glad I decided to get the 2016 updated version:

1. The stunning new cover illustration by Adejandro Mogollo.
2. The Rebel Heart Tour update is essential as it is by far the best tour La M has ever done.
3. Tears of a Clown too as it was seriously a one-of-a-kind performance which I was blessed to be able to see it live in person.
4. Images of Tears of a Clown (example above) that are by my longtime M pal and fellow Singaporean, Richard Se. (You go, boy!)

And #5, most gratifyingly…

2016-08-09 03.25.28… there’s a pull-out quote under the TOAC entry which is me commenting on Tears of a Clown taken from my March 11 blog review of it, which I only found out about after my purchased copy arrived! (Much appreciated, Matthew!) You can read the original post at this link: https://musingsonthem49.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/tears-of-a-megastar-clown/)

La Vie En Rose

So there you have it, #EncyclopediaMadonnica20, arguably the tour de force of all Madonna books (and most of them are not worth a dime, seriously…).

EM20: Updated & Revised edition – a must-have in any M fan’s collection.

Available at Amazon US (and other Amazons worldwide): http://amzn.to/29QQStD

And oh, Blessed 58th Birthday, Madonna! Here’s to many more!

 

 

 

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Tears of a Megastar Clown

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10 Things about Madonna’s Tears Of A Clown Show at The Forum, Melbourne, Australia (10 March)

1. Only 750 fans from around the world got the chance to win a pair of tickets to attend this exclusive showcase. Thanks be to God that I was one of them!

2. Yes, 1500 of us waited 4 hours in a drizzling rain around the block of The Forum before the show started half an hour past midnight, but ultimately the amazing, one-of-its-kind, 2.5 hrs long performance by the Queen of Pop was utterly worth it…

3. Madonna on stage in total clown make-up and costume is for sure a rare sight. That a Madonna in full clown get-up presenting herself as a performance artist-cum-standup comic is even rarer.

4. Tears of a Clown has a delightful raw, casual and candid aura to it, unlike the regimentated feel of most of her world tours. The fact that it was held at the renowned Forum in Melbourne, a small but initimate venue certainly value-added to the entire experience.

5. The show set list was also a hardcore fan’s delight – rare hardly-sang-in-concert hits and gem album fillers were sang with aplomb, albeit with a few miscues requiring restarts. These ranged from X-static Process to Easy Ride, from Mer Girl to Take A Bow. It was great to be in a room filled with people who actually know the lyrics to each song!

6. The star performer was candid throughout the show and the personal stories she told of the loved ones in her life – father, late mother, first ex-husband Sean Penn and of cos Number One son Rocco, underlined the fact that there are probably more significant tears in the life of the megastar clown than what the audience was seeing…

7. A truly touching moment is when the mother-of-four dedicated Intervention to Rocco with a gorgeous pix of him on screen, and in mid-song she momentarily broke down for a second or two. This is the exact moment where you can literally hear her heart breaks…

8. But a clown needs to entertain and the woman did try her best to tell jokes as if her life depended on it. To be fair, most on this night were reasonably good. But one fell so badly that ONE kind fan upfront gave out a nervous laugh amidst the silence which only irritated her and made her threw peanuts at the fans in front. To that, we at the back applaud!

9. Some rag papers been saying she was a boozing mess on stage. No,  she wasn’t. Madonna never drinks while on tour or when she’s performing. She only – shocker alert – act like she’s drinking during the show. The venue has a bar in the premises (this is Australia!) What’s a clown to do?

10. All in all, 15 songs including one from the Rebel Heart album, the very personal and heartfelt Joan of Arc, were packed in this wonderful presentation that despite “only two full rehearsals” was a truly incredible and entertaining showcase by one of the greatest performers on this planet.

Here’s hoping Tears Of A Clown won’t be a one-off. Ok, we know she hates Vegas with a venom… (She again said so adamantly in TOAC.) How about a residency in Broadway in your beloved New York then, Madonna? *wink*

In the meantime, thank you for Tears Of A Clown. A truly cool and insightful experience for any M fan…

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Set list for Tears Of A Clown
1. Send in the Clowns
2. Drowned World/Substitute for Love
3. X-Static Process
4. Between the Bars
5. Nobody’s Perfect
6. Easy Ride
7. Intervention
8. I’m So Stupid
9. Paradise Not For Me
10. Joan of Arc
11. Don’t Tell Me
12. Mer Girl
13. Borderline* – check out my video of this performance below!
14. Take A Bow
15. Holiday

10 Things: Madonna SG Concert

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10 THINGS ABOUT THE MADONNA SG CONCERT (Feb 28, 2016)

  1. After flying around the world in the past 23 years to catch the Queen of Pop on tour in 6 cities over 3 continents, I finally got to watch her perform in my beloved homeland for the very first time.
  2. It started at 8.50pm – the earliest she had ever appeared thus far on this tour. Her usual show-time starts were between 10-11pm. So no complaints about her being late, please… (Yes, that means you, ex-boss… :p)
  3. Instead of opening with “Iconic”, the megastar went straight into the Japanese-themed “B***h I’m Madonna” after appearing on stage in the giant cage.
  4. Despite amendments requested by local authorities, the 2-hour plus show ran seamlessly like clockwork and was just as entertaining nonetheless. Most music fans are just happy to see her in real life.
  5. Some disgruntled fans claimed the Rebel Heart singer sold out for self-censoring. I rather believed she deemed it a small sacrifice so that fans in Singapore who cannot afford to fly overseas to see her, as well as other music lovers, can finally watch her live here. It’s showing maturity and sensitivity on her part. I, for one, am proud that she acted accordingly.
  6. The woman was hot – literally temperature hot and sweating like a hog, as ventilation in the National Stadium grounds was quite bad. Can’t blame her at all for embracing her (electric) fans on stage for extended periods of time.
  7. She was in great voice. (The heat must have helped, hee.) Just like in Manila, the megastar dedicated “Crazy for You” to us in Singapore (while the rest of the Asian stops had “Take A Bow”.)
  8. Again as in Manila, she reinstated the vibrant Gypsy ‘80s Medley – comprising the classics Dress You Up/Into The Groove/Everybody/Lucky Star – which was dropped in the other Asian stops and a few European gigs. It proved to be one of the most popular segments of the night for most concert-goers here.
  9. The 57-year-old, mother-of-four’s stamina and finesse clearly impressed every woman – and man – in the crowd, especially when she executed those stunning squat-jumps in high heel shoes during the exhilarating 1920s Cabaret segment. Time to hit the gym, all ye people!
  10. Attending a Madonna concert with long-time friends was super great fun. Both were seeing the pop icon live for the very first time and later confessed that they realised now that I’m not mad but totally understood just why I had flown overseas to catch this brilliant artiste on tour every time. Hearing that from them actually choked me up on the ride home…

Last but by no means least, a shout-out to Kiss92FM for their fabulous 48-hour Madonnathon over the weekend. Please consider having it again at least once or twice a year, thank you.

And here’s hoping that it won’t be the last time we will ever see the undisputed Queen of Pop on tour.

Photo Credit: Chan Hing Yee
No photos or text are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

Around the World with Madonna

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It’s just a little more than a week before Madonna, the Queen of Pop, takes to the stage in Singapore for the very first time.

For this writer, who has seen the pop icon performing in four continents over the last 20 years or so, this is why one should catch her show here. Because, no two Madonna shows are ever the same. 

Of course, my reaction the first time I saw Madonna was very different. “This woman cannot make it” was what I said after watching her 1983 music video for Lucky Star. You know, the one with her writhing all over the floor? But a couple of years later, the Material Girl got me into her groove with one dance-pop hit after another, and the occasional emotional ballad. Her enticing music videos were big draws too (controversial ones notwithstanding).

After seeing a clip of Ms Ciccone dancing with gusto on a conveyer belt in 1987’s Who’s That Girl Tour, I cherished the hope of watching her live in concert. That wish eventually came true when I managed to catch her Girlie Show tour in 1993. (It also began my lifelong quest to catch the Queen of Pop on tour in a city I had yet to visit.)

GIRLIE SHOW TOUR, Melbourne Cricket Ground (1993)
Of course, the Girlie Show tour was banned in Singapore, so I flew to Melbourne to catch Madonna doing her thing at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Madonna loves that quote from author Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. And it kind of sums up my experience.

I had asked an ex-schoolmate to help me buy a Golden Ticket (in the first 20 rows of the stadium) – but instead of taking my money, she later gifted it to me. My Australian pen-pal whom I befriended through the Madonna fan club checked on me often as I was travelling alone. Finally, a seller with a second show ticket whom I contacted at the last minute through a newspaper ad had her colleague deliver the ticket to my hotel so that I would not be late for the concert.

Watching Madonna live was an absolute thrill. She was funny and lively and the show was impressive – from costumes to choreography to new arrangements for the songs Vogue, Rain and Justify My Love. Was I glad I went Down Under to see the Queen of Pop? Of course, because it would be another eight years before the woman toured again.

DROWNED WORLD TOUR, Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, Paris (2001)
Fast forward to 2001, and I found myself at Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy (now AccorHotels Arena) in Paris, for her Drowned World tour. Happily re-married with two kids in tow and her Evita dream realised, Madonna toured to promote her 2000’s acclaimed electronica-folk Music album. We chose Paris because it is a city she loves and Bercy is a renowned indoor sports arena and concert hall.

The show, with its vibrant punk/geisha/cowgirl/spanish/ghetto themes, is one of my favourites; but my personal highlight was staking out at the megastar’s hotel with the other fans (it was my first and last time). Standing at the side entrance of the luxurious Hotel de Crillon, I met fans from around the region who would hop from one European country to another via train to catch at least four or five of her shows when she toured. After hours of waiting, we were rewarded with the Moment: She emerged to go for her sound-check at the stadium, and Her Madgesty strutted right past us and into a waiting car with darken windows. (To say that was the thrill of my Madonna-chasing life is an understatement.)

STICKY & SWEET TOUR, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas (2008)
Due to family commitments and financial constraints, I had to miss out on Madonna’s next two tours – 2004’s Re-Invention and 2006’s Confession – but I managed to catch the Sticky & Sweet tour. And where better to see such a show than at the famed MGM Grand in glitzy Las Vegas. In a wonderful coincidence, my very first pop idols, Donny & Marie Osmond, also began their still-running Vegas residency at the Flamingo. The toothsome twosome were as delightful as always. They’re the epitome of wholesome family entertainment as much as Madonna is sometimes seen as a standard bearer for raunchy risque fare.

I would like to say that I enjoyed the show, but the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was not at her best: Her voice was hoarse and costumes were a tad tacky (the ensuing divorce from British film-maker Guy Ritchie was also thick in the air at the time).

But there were energetic routines aplenty and the pumped-up remixed finale of Like A Prayer, Ray Of Light and Give It To Me really had the 30,000-strong crowd on their feet. Back at my hotel, a local guest enquired about the concert before lamenting that the singer’s tickets were “just too expensive”. At least she does not have to pay extras for flights and accommodation like I did!

MDNA TOUR, Yankee Stadium, New York City (2012)
In 2012, before the MDNA tour was announced – after Madonna’s stunning Super Bowl Half-Time Show in February – I had already planned a holiday to Orlando, Florida to celebrate my birthday at The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando and thankfully, the New York shows at Yankee Stadium fell in nicely after my Orlando trip.

Even though I have been to the Big Apple before, every time the Michigan native (yes, she is from Michigan, although she calls New York home) is there, she is usually more jovial. What was intriguing was discovering many fellow Singaporeans had also come to NYC to watch her. The only snag was the diva’s very late starting time, but she once again mesmerised her fans with an incredible set that included a baton-twirling routine complete with marching band for Express Yourself. On the second night, with Yankee Stadium being an open-top arena, the uncovered half of the 79,000-strong audience were soaked to the bone in a torrential downpour. To express her gratitude to us for staying put, Mads sang an extra song, Holiday. Yay us.

REBEL HEART TOUR, O2 Arena, Prague (2015).
I had already decided to see her in Prague at the 02 Arena, a unique circular-shaped indoor sports arena and concert hall (read: no weather worries) before her Singapore date was announced. It was a good choice as Madge adores the picturesque city and kept gushing about it being “mystical and mysterious”. Not only is the Rebel Heart Tour one of her best shows put together, this was the happiest I’ve ever seen her on tour (this was before her son Rocco, 15, turned rebel – the irony – insisting to stay with his father Guy Ritchie in London).

While I am among those who think that at 57, Madonna should probably take things a tad slower, the iconic songstress obviously thinks otherwise. and she has shown that she is not only in top form, but she can still shake a tail feather or two rather impressively. Don’t believe me? Just wait till next week.

This article was originally published in TODAY newspaper on February 19, 2016.
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Madonna takes Prague

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Megastar Madonna held court at the 02 Arena in Prague over the Nov 7-8 weekend with two spectacular shows of her Rebel Heart Tour. This was what the grand extended stage looked from the cheap seats which are practically at the roof level of the uniquely shaped stadium!

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If you can afford the expensive VIP seats – or rather, standing spots – you can have the pleasure of seeing the sultry singer up real close – and could even touch her hemline (not that you should!) – like all these people above busy with their mobile cameras, who probably queued up since daylight to grab a coveted spot along the tip of the heart-shaped stage.

Well, wherever you are seated, a Madonna concert is always guaranteed to be a visually and musically entertaining spectacle. And in Prague, a place which she simply can’t stop gushing about how much she loves “your beautiful and mystical city”, the Material Girl proved that at 57, she still has the energy and props to be at the top of her game, if not the charts.

Long may the Queen of Pop reigns!

My 1993 SEA Games “Glory” Days…

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After 22 years, the SEA Games (5-16 June) is finally back in Singapore. Don’t know why it took so long but better late than never again, say what.  Last Saturday, watching the opening ceremony full dress rehearsal at the new Singapore Sports Hub certainly brought back lovely memories of the 1993 SEA Games, the last one on home soil. Working at the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (now MediaCorp), I was fortunate enough to be assigned with the production team covering Athletics at the old iconic National Stadium.

Sea Games 93001 (800x544)Of course, being a football fan, I would rather be covering football but then again, so did dozens of other football-mad colleagues. In the end, the #1 favourite sport in Singapore was left to the station’s experienced sports crew while non-sports production people such as we from Current Affairs were assigned to “safer” coverage where simple mistakes were not easily picked on…Sea Games 93002Working with a veteran German sports producer, a super efficient assistant producer from England, and various local studio and camera crew – sincere apologies as I can’t recall any names 22 years later (I was only 5 then, ahem…) – we were stationed outside the National Stadium in a small broadcasting van (pictured above) for the duration of the two-week Games, covering everything track and field.2015-05-24 17.46.01 (800x800)JAMES THE GOLD DISCUS MAN
Now, back then, Singapore’s athletics sucked big time. especially in the ’80s after some glory days in the ’70s. So we at the National Stadium were simply going through the motions watching the likes of Malaysia and Indonesia sweeping gold after gold. Then cometh the moment, cometh the man…

Up stepped the mighty James Wong, then 24, doing his bit at the Discus. We had hope for this lad who tried so hard to get sponsorship to train and study in the United States, while the Singapore swimmers practically have “study money” given to them on a platter. With a heave and a ho, he struck Athletics Gold for Singapore, the first one in yons. A mere 20-odd supporters cheered him inside the stadium including his mum and his then girlfriend (now his wife) while, unbeknownst to James, a 10-man TV production crew was yelling themselves hoarse at his achievement in a compact van outside the stadium. There weren’t any government officials or sports council folks on hand to congratulate James immediately as most were either at the swimming arena (as swimming was Singapore’s golden goose then) or at the weightlifting venue (yes, those were the days).

Well, James Wong stole our hearts and he continued to do so for the next two decades, winning consecutive SEA Games discus golds from 1993 to 2005, including a discus-hammer double in 1997, and then again in 2009 and 2011, after a brief retirement.
Bless you, James.
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Yup, really loved my SEA Games stint, the only sports assignment in my 10-year television career, so much so that I still have the production vest (above) and in good condition it is too! (The T-shirt is packed somewhere, I’m sure of it..) Next to my specially-minted 1993 SEA Games stamps and matchboxes, it’s among my treasured items of all-time.
2015-05-30 21.17.08 (800x648)Though the 28th SEA Games opening ceremony is on Friday June 5, Singapore has already won two golds through table tennis (some events started early). Unlike 1993, we are likely to do much better this time in a wider selection of sports and most importantly with young homegrown talents. I’m not holding my breath for the Singapore Under-23s in football, but I think we will do remarkably well in shooting, sailing, and of course swimming. (Update: SG just won its first ever golds in synchronised swimming and fencing, woo-hoo!)

Do catch a SEA Games sport or two if you could from now till 16 June – some are ticketed, some are free (check papers or the official website @ www.seagames2015.com for details).  ‘Cos it will take another decade or so before it return to our shores again!

All Photos by Marguerita Tan Photography 2015. No text or images are to be used without permission from the blog author.

 

Tiananmen Tank Man – Bravest Chinese I’ve Ever Known

140529045142-jeff-widener-8-horizontal-large-galleryTank Man Photo by Jeff Widener/Associated Press as seen as cnn.com

25 years ago on June 4, 1989, the unthinkable happened in China. Tired of weeks of (peaceful) protests, the Chinese government sent in troops on the unarmed protesters at Tiananmen Square – most of whom were students – resulting in the deaths of hundreds of educated Chinese people in one fell swoop. It’s one of the saddest moments in time which I will never forget in my life and the one most memorable image that is forever eked in the attic of my mind is the iconic one of the “tank man” above.

On June 5 the next day, after majority of the protesters have been wiped out, the Chinese military continued to flaunt their might in the capital city. As a long column of tanks strolled in, a single man – dressed simply in a white shirt, black pants and carrying what appeared to be either his shopping or marketing in a white bag – suddenly walked right up to the first tank, and defiantly stopped them from moving on. Long before the days of phone videos and what have you, the world was able to see this shot thanks to at least four photographers* the likes of Jeff Widener (above) and Stuart Franklin**, from Associated Press and Magnum Photos respectively who managed to capture the defining moment of the Tiananmen Massacre by being in the right place at the right time (albeit different spots) and then getting people flying out of China to smuggle out the film out to major photo and news agencies as the authorities moved to crack down on foreign journalists.

Till this day, the identity and fate of this man has not been disclosed or found out. Word has it he was taken away immediately right after by the military, but was he executed, thrown in jail, no one is the wiser. All we know is – he’s one bloody brave man who was willing to stand up for what’s right. For the longest time I have always asked myself if I will be brave enough to do what he did if the need or similar situation – God forbid – were to arise around me. Till now, I don’t know if I can. But he did. And for that, he has my eternal respect. And I don’t even know his name…

Days after, there would be another incident that this dreadful period brings to mind. I was then into my 5th year in television as a production assistant at Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (now known as MediaCorp) and my current affairs colleagues and I were lamenting in the film crew van about the loss of an entire generation of learned young Chinese people  when one of the older cameramen loudly hushed us, vehemently declaring, “They deserved to die! They have no right to question the authorities!” We 20-somethings then were stunned to silence. It still astonished us till this day just how loyal some of the older Chinese Singaporeans still are to “motherland” China… I’m a 3rd generation Singaporean Chinese and ever since then I have prayed to God that whatever happens, may such a scenario never ever happen in Singapore…

I feel the need to blog this as it seems the current young generation of Mainland Chinese nationals have no idea of knowing of this tragic incident in their country’s history as all news, photos, reports and TV footages are understandably banned in China.

Such horror incidents need to be recorded in history. It shouldn’t have happened and definitely should never ever again – whether in China, Timbuktu or anywhere else in this world…

Reading material:
*Behind the Scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen
http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/behind-the-scenes-tank-man-of-tiananmen/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

**Stuart Franklin: How I photographed Tiananmen Square and ‘Tank Man’
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/photography-blog/2014/jun/03/stuart-franklin-tiananmen-square-tank-man