Madonna Wows London Crowd as 'Celebration' Tour Kicks Off

Try not to sob through her emotional tribute to AIDS victims

Sarah Bricker Hunt

Sorry, haters — looks like the world's best-selling female artist has still got what it takes.

Michigan's own Madonna graced the stage in London on Saturday for the highly anticipated premiere of her "Celebration" tour, a moment long-awaited by her fans. The world tour had faced a significant delay due to a health scare the Detroit-born pop queen experienced over the summer.

In her opening night performance at the O2 Arena, Madonna, who recently turned 65, delivered a show that reviewers like CNN writer Don Heching are saying was unexpectedly more reflective and somber than her usual celebratory extravaganzas. Throughout the evening, the pop legend and queer icon paid tribute to late icons such as Prince, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson and Sinead O'Connor, who died in July.

Addressing her health struggles candidly during the show, Heching writes that Madonna confessed that it had been "a crazy year" for her. She revealed, "I didn't think I was going to make it, neither did my doctors. That's why I woke up with all of my children sitting around me." The pop icon landed in the hospital with a severe bacterial infection in June, which forced her to cancel the initial North American leg of the tour. She expressed her gratitude to her children, emphasizing how they were her motivation to pull through this challenging time.

The show included several moments that are classic '80s and '90s Madonna, including a moment UK queer outlet Attitude writer Joseph Ryan-Hicks describes: "In true punk fashion, she takes a gulp of water and launches it into the crowd. Not many people can say they’ve been spat on by Madonna. A blessed experience, we’re sure." Ryan-Hicks noted that supporting artist Bob the Drag Queen of "RuPaul's Drag Race" fame and backing dancers took the stage adorned in various looks from decades-past that Madonna has made famous — "a reminder that Madonna is as much a visual artist as she is a musician," Ryan-Hicks writes.

In a poignant moment during the show, Madonna paid homage to the victims of the AIDS epidemic, displaying their images on the arena's massive screens. At the same time, she sang verses from her emotional ballad, "In This Life." Her friend, the iconic queer artist Keith Haring, was also remembered as the performance transitioned to her 1986 hit, "Live to Tell."

The "Celebration" tour also included several joyous interludes according to Variety, including a heartwarming moment when Madonna's daughter, Mercy James, showcased her musical talent by flawlessly playing the opening notes of "Bad Girl" on the piano. Her other daughters, Lourdes Leon, Stella and Estere, joined in the fun during the performance of Madonna's timeless 1990 hit, "Vogue."

Notably, Madonna's dancers wore masks and costumes symbolizing her career-defining moments, from chart-topping hits to more obscure tracks like "Bedtime Stories" from 1994. 

While Rolling Stone and other outlets have made note of the fact that Madonna is not touring with a band — the show is essentially a Madonna karaoke performance over backing tracks — reviews have been overwhelmingly positive about the tour opener. The show, many have noted, is a surprisingly introspective and pared-down experience led by a more subdued, engaged Madonna, who reflected on her unparalleled career, personal journey and the impact of those who had touched her along the way. 

As Ryan-Hicks writes, "'Celebration' is as much about Madonna’s unwavering credentials as a live performer as it is her legacy on the generations of young stars that followed her. Her impact on popular culture is scattered throughout, with the inclusion of adoring soundbites from the likes of Britney Spears and Ariana Grande. With that said, the show is a reminder that there is — and only will be — one Madonna. 'Celebration' further cements M’s legacy as the undisputed Queen of Pop."

The Celebration Tour will hit Detroit Jan. 15 at Little Caesar's Arena. Tickets available through Ticketmaster at