November 13, 2011
Dancing with Madonna at Smirnoff’s Nightlife Exchange Project in NYC
Last night a DJ (and Madonna) saved my life.
Yesterday night was the grand finale of Smirnoff’s Nightlife Exchange Project, a competition to find the next dancer on Madonna‘s upcoming world tour. After whittling down to 12 finalists, the remaining dancers came to NYC’s Roseland Ballroom last night to duke (and/or dance) it out in front of Madonna and her team, who would then select the ultimate winner. And I got the great pleasure to come and see (err, and live tweet, as many of you might have noticed last night.)
To be fair, the night didn’t start out so amazing. After dashing down to Roseland about ten minutes prior to 9 PM–the supposed “doors open” time–I was met with two massive lines going down the block, one for general admission and one for VIP. Naturally, being literally the most famous blogger in the world, I had VIP tickets (actually I won them, but don’t tell anyone), so I took to the back of that line.
So we waited. And waited. And waited. An hour and a half later, I was…still waiting. Luckily, it was fun to people watch: As anticipated (and the reason I love going to every Madonna-related event), attendees were dressed to the nines in their Confessions Tour and vintage Blond Ambition World Tour gear, equipped with posters and photographs and tour books. It didn’t matter that Madonna would just be sitting there–her presence alone required the utmost reverence. And by that, I mean drag queens. Always drag queens.
Finally, the doors opened and we trudged in. Slowly. So slowly. When we were all sandwiched into the packed lobby, we learned there was just small table for VIP check-in (the same for general admission), manned by two or three nervous workers armed with iPads. “I, um, I don’t see you on the list…” one would say nervously, as we would all huff and roll our eyes. It was past 11 PM at that point, and we were all still trying to get into the actual venue. I don’t know who organized the event, but operating without a ticket system was an unbelievably stupid decision.
It finally came time for me to check-in, and my name was…not on the list. Of course. Mercifully, my friend Martin was on the list–not that it mattered much. “Um, we ran out of VIP bracelets, so you can just…um, go in.” No verification needed. We suddenly realized everyone was just confused and walking into the venue, no list whatsoever. Later on, we learned that the crew accidentally gave all their passes to general admission attendees anyway. Oh.
After we finally sorted out all the check-in fuckery, we walked into the venue, which was incredibly cool–half rave, half overly eager Madonna fans waiting hungrily. Attendees twirled on the dance floor set up in the center. Smirnoff drinks were flowing from every bar in the venue. Overhead, big bright screens flashed to promote the Nightlife Exchange Project, along with constant live shots of the crowd. Did I mention this was taped? It was taped. For what, I’m not sure (Hard Candy says Jonas Akerlund is involved!), but there were professional video cameras everywhere within the venue.
Next to the main stage was a posh little side stage, complete with a few white couches and some nice pink/purple mood lighting. Naturally, we made a beeline toward the area. She had to be sitting here.
As the beats got louder and the bass got big-gah, we all started to dance a lil’ more. Deep House music and funky R&B beats played, including Vanity 6‘s “Nasty Girl,” which caused me to flail like no one’s business. It was fun! And then, the side stage started to fill up. No one we recognized at first, until the unmistakeable Liz Rosenberg (Madge’s longtime publicist) hit the stage–surprisingly sans silly cat ears or a zany headpiece. She was in good spirits, smiling and greeting what looked like assorted friends and family on-stage.
Then for whatever reason, everyone began mumbling and pointed over at the balcony on our far left. Sure enough, there was Brahim, Madonna’s sexy beau–yet still no sign of Madonna. Unless–yes! There was a blonde head peeking out on Brahim’s left side: It was Madonna, sitting pretty and poised. Every now and then, she’d turn just enough–it was unmistakeable. That was Madonna up there. But before anyone could panic, the host walked out onto the stage to begin the show.
Once he walked offstage, we watched a flashy video introduction featuring each of the 12 contestants still remaining in the competition. But when we looked back up at the balcony, Madonna was gone. Back over at the couches on our right. Not there either. Where was she?
Following the video, the 12 finalists made their way onstage. And then, in what was undoubtedly the most epic entrance I’ve seen all year, the crowd began flailing screaming at the top of their lungs as Madonna slowly rose from the stage, hands on hip, outfitted in a cropped white top, a black leotard and fuck-me thigh high lace-up boots. It might as well been the opening of a tour. She was larger than life. She looked gorgeous. It was everything. All I kept shouting was “OH MY FUCKING GOD! OH MY FUCKING GOD!” Was she performing? It seemed so. But no: She immediately strutted her way across the bridge dividing the main stage and the couch area, taking a seat at a newly placed white chair after a brief smirk to the crowd and a hug with choreographers Shay Norman and Rich & Tone.
THAT is how to make a fucking entrance.
At that point, the dancers took turns coming out individually to perform their minute sets. But it wasn’t just the main stage ahead–they appeared from all over, from behind, near the couch area, perched high above. There was action happening at every corner of the venue. It was so incredibly amazing (and/or overstimulating) to watch these talented performers, and then look back and see Madonna just as gleefully wowed. She sat mesmerized, smiling, nodding and pointing dancers out to her team.
As for the competition? I really couldn’t tell you who was who. Let’s face it–the dancing was incredible, but I couldn’t stop watching Madonna’s reactions. Oh, and also onstage? Lourdes, Madonna’s daughter, watching with equal intensity with her friends.
When the performers finally finished, Madonna and her team were tasked with selecting the Final 4. And after a few minutes of deliberation, Madonna was handed the mic. “Okay…” she started, and the crowd died. As she thanked all the dancers for their time and praised them all, she selected her Top 4 contestants. The result led to a final dance-off, as the crew took turns free styling with their hardest moves to impress the Queen. Everyone in Team Madonna watched even more intently–studying their faces, their moves, their energy.
A little later, it was time to select the winner. Madonna stood and began to walk to the stage as the crowd died once again. As she walked, her jacket flowing behind like a long cape. Could she look any more regal?
Onstage, Madonna cracked jokes with the dancers. “Do you do drugs? Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” she grilled each of them. “I don’t really like contests, but…” she said. And then she announced the winner: Charles “Lil Buck” Riley from Memphis, TN. The crowd loudly cheered in celebration as the dancer triumphantly paraded around a winning pair of Golden shoes encased in a glass box presented to him (they looked pretty sick), as well as making a small speech of gratitude to all. The host came onstage and thanked everyone for attending, and the show drew to a close. At least, officially.
That’s when the fun really began.
After Madonna returned to the couches, producer Martin Solveig took to the DJ booth and immediately launched into a life-slaying remix of Madonna’s “Music.”
There, the living legend began to walk between the couches and talk to friends and family. It was the most bizarre experience–as though they were briefly living in a small fishbowl as everyone in Madonna’s inner circle began interacting with one another: Liz lounging on the couch and smiling. Guy Oseary walking around. Over on the side, Lourdes and her friends were busy FIST PUMPING to “Music.” And we all just stared in awe from the audience.
At one point, the finalists came out to the couches and began dancing around Madonna. She laughed as they danced around her, finally standing up and joining in. The crowd–smaller now as some had headed for the doors–cheered her on as she shook her butt to N.E.R.D.‘s “Hot and Fun,” Adele‘s “Rolling In The Deep,” Justin Timberlake‘s “Like I Love You” and David Guetta‘s “I Just Wanna F (feat. Dev and Timbaland)” along with some other dance-y world club tracks. No new songs sadly, but still amazing to see.
Finally at around 1 AM, Madonna got up and began walking across the bridge. She was going back to the main stage. See–I wouldn’t have cared if I knocked someone over. I wouldn’t have cared if I punched anyone in the face. I wouldn’t have cared if I fell and had to crawl. All I remember is that I was a man on a mission–I were getting to the front of that stage.
But she just kept walking (oh), eventually heading up to the DJ booth to join Solveig as Benny Benassi‘s “Satisfaction” began to loudly throb into the speakers. Madonna began to jump and dance while looking down at the crowd, as if to command: “Dance, you sons of bitches!” and so we did. And so began the massive dance party for Madge, as we all tore it up 25 feet below the icon, who was again reunited with her boyfriend, Brahim.
And then literally nothing else mattered: Could it be? Yes. “Hung Up” started to play. At that point, I clutched my chest. I just couldn’t! Not at all. One of my favorite Madonna songs of all time, happening here and now. And that was truly the night’s greatest highlight: Dancing my heart away and scream-singing the song, Madonna doing the same a mere few feet above, Lourdes and her friends jumping up and down on the opposite stage. Even now, I’m getting choked up thinking about it.
But wait–there’s more: During the breakdown of “Hung Up,” Solveig took to the mic and began a chant: “L-U-V, Madonna!” hyping the crowd with the cheerleader-approved chant from Madge’s rumored lead single (the demo of which leaked last week.) And then Madonna grabbed the mic: “Y-O-U, you wanna?” And while they didn’t play “Give Me All Your Love” (it may still be getting mastered along with the album), it was still completely surreal/incredible to hear them both acknowledging the song.
Once the song ended, Solveig’s set mashed into M.I.A‘s “Paper Planes,” and later his own “Hello (feat. Dragonette).” looking back, I realized a pattern: Benassi, Madonna, M.I.A, Solveig. All names attached to this upcoming project. Interesting…
After bopping around for a few more minutes, Madonna finally took off back onto the stage. Again, I freaked like a proper stan: PERFORMING?! YES?! YES?! But no. Exiting. She quickly paraded offstage with her crew, and that was the official end of the night.
Although she didn’t sing a note, and there wasn’t even a lick of new music (not to my knowledge anyway–you never know if Solveig sneaked in an upcoming instrumental beat or two!),last night was still every bit as epic as seeing her live on tour.
As my friend Martin and I left, we circled around the venue to look for a taxi. What we didn’t anticipate was the small crowd gathered at a door. Wait–this was Roseland Ballroom. She was leaving! It was truly destiny. And only seconds after we arrived, the doors flung open and the Quern made her grand exit in front of a small group of fans with posters and photos in hand. No time for that, though! She piled straight into a black car and took off. Not much to see above, but still a special moment to catch in the flesh!
And so that was the Madonna dance-off, an event which began as an irritating, mismanaged zoo and ended in an epic private dance party so intimate it might as well have been called a Ciccone Bar Mitzvah. (L’chaim Lola!)
And yes, I did cry in the taxi ride home. It was just that fucking perfect.
Be sure to check out Hard Candy Music’s coverage of the night as well–they’ve gathered up some excellent videos, including Madonna’s legendary introduction to the stage as seen above!
Thank you to Matt, Camille and Martin M. for joining me in one of the most amazing experiences of my life!