This weekend, Madonna took over Climate Pledge Arena for two nights on her Celebration tour, a career-spanning concert and drag spectacular. Using the occasion to pay tribute to one of my favorite eras of Madge, I made my way toward the Seattle Center in a hot pink leotard and a purple sequin belt (à la “Hung Up”). Two cat calls and one overpriced Uber ride later, I made it to the land of lace gloves, tulle hair bows, bedazzled bomber jackets, and people who understood my outfit. 

It has been nearly a decade since Madonna toured in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s been even longer since she last visited Seattle on her MDNA tour in 2012. Unlike the other tours, Celebration mostly aimed to pay homage to the icon's 45-year-long career. However, over the course of the 134-minute affair, she also lionized those who inspired and propelled her success along the way. All told, the show was a love letter to her dearly departed friends, family, fellow artists, bands, dancers, fans, haters, and, perhaps most importantly, the queer community.

Like most people born more than a decade into her career, I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t aware of Madonna. I was two years old when Ray of Light was released, and to this day the album’s ethereal trip-hop production ignites early memories of going to work with my mom at her hair salon. I would scribble with highlighters in the back office, sort the OPI nail polishes by color, and inhale the various shampoo scents. Forgive me for the potentially niche reference, but the album simply sounds the way that Aveda’s “brilliant” shampoo smells.

I didn’t grow up with many TV restrictions, so my sisters and I spent many hours each day watching music videos on MTV and VH1. As a toddler, I worshiped Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Madonna. I strutted around my bedroom in a bikini top, caking on lip gloss and doing my best Wade Robson-inspired dance moves in the mirror to “Me Against the Music,” “Beautiful Stranger,” and “Music.” I’ve always been a serial fangirl, but somehow Madonna posters have never graced my bedroom walls in the same way that posters of my other worshiped idols have. Rather than the potent, short-lived obsessions that have punctuated my life, Madonna’s impact has been steadily and quietly rising. Year after year, I’ve enjoyed finding new pockets of magic in her discography. 

As I took my seat at Climate Pledge, the voice of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 winner Bob the Drag Queen echoed through the arena. “Who are you all looking for?” she asked. Then, a very tall Marie Antoinette-style wig, much like the one Madonna sported at the 1990 MTV Awards, was spotted bobbing from the back of the stadium up to the stage. “I am looking for someone to take home tonight,” Bob said, talking to the audience. “Could it be you?” 

 "Rule No. 1, you must be sexy. Rule No. 2, you must be on the list." - Bob the Drag Queen AV

Bob then ascended to the stage, introducing The Queen of Pop by asking the crowd, “When did you first fall in love with her?” Then she listed a string of career highlights: Her controversial masturbation sequence on the Blonde Ambition tour, smooching Britney Spears at the VMAs, and her 2012 Super Bowl halftime performance. “She taught us how to party and she taught us how to fuck,” Bob exclaimed. “This is not just a show, it’s not just a concert, it’s not just a party–it’s a celebration!”

And it very much was and has been, but not without controversy. Last month, two fans in New York City filed a lawsuit stating that Madonna’s late start time (approximately two hours later than the time printed on the ticket) caused them to be “left stranded in the middle of the night” and “confronted with limited public transportation.” Dramatic much? It only took me a simple web search to see that she consistently takes the stage three hours after the door time. That sort of tardiness is not unusual for large arena concerts. It takes time to get 18,000+ fans through security, through the merch lines, and to their seats.

Moreover, throughout this tour videos have circulated online of her “bad behavior,” such as when she threw water on fans in the crowd. What those videos don’t show is how happy those fans were to be splashed with something that touched their idol’s mouth—a holy water of sorts. I can’t help but feel that this is another made-up narrative—we want to believe that Madonna is a selfish, rude, and inconsiderate diva. What I saw on Saturday night was quite the opposite. 

At 10 pm on the dot, The Queen of Reinvention emerged on a giant Lazy Susan singing Ray of Light’s “Nothing Really Matters.” While it’s not one of her most well-known songs, the lyrics speak to the tour's emphasis on reflection. “Looking at my life / It's very clear to me / I lived so selfishly,” she sang. “Nothing really matters / love is all we need. / Everything I give to you all comes back to me.” These lines acted as somewhat of a mantra for the tour, which had many mentions of gratitude, karma, reflection, and the overall absurdity of life.

I was immediately struck by her voice. Commenters have long called into question her vocal talents—Elton John famously accused her of lip-syncing back in 2004. Regardless, she’s at the level of fame where she could easily lip-sync and no one would give a damn—bitch, she’s Madonna! However, she did sing, and she sang well. After throwing on a large cowboy hat, she sang an acoustic solo rendition of “Express Yourself,” as if to remind people, I sing. I play the guitar. I am a musician.

She performed “Live to Tell” while surrounded by images of artists whose lives were taken during the AIDS epidemic: Keith Haring, Herb Ritts, Christopher Flynn, Howard Brookner, and Martin Burgoyne, among many others. Later, in a heartfelt speech, Madonna mentioned that it was the anniversary of Haring's death. “I was with him the day he died—I held his hand.” She thanked him, along with other lost friends, stating:

Honestly, I feel so lucky and I think to myself often—why me? Why did I get to stay alive? How come I got chosen to survive? I have no idea, but I am so grateful and I am so happy to be on this earth doing what I do. Loving what I do. I get to do what I love. I get paid for it. That’s some shit!

Madonna paid tribute to artists that lost their lives during the AIDS epidemic.

She also offered a brief tribute to Prince. The stage glowed with purple as Madonna’s touring guitarist shredded one of Prince’s signature love symbol guitars.

The only real low point of the night came during the homage to Michael Jackson. I’ll admit, as a believer of survivors, I often feel uncomfortable when I feel pushed to honor that man. However, that wasn't even my issue with it. The tribute took place while Madonna was offstage for a costume change. “Billie Jean” and “Like a Virgin” played back and forth as two pre-recorded silhouettes had a dance-off. The performance had the cheesiness of an iPod commercial. I was disappointed that “Like a Virgin” was only included in the setlist as a pre-recorded clip, but perhaps she’s grown tired of singing that song—and I really can’t blame her for that. 

Considering that special guests on this tour have included Donatella Versace, FKA Twigs, Julia Fox, Arca, and, my personal favorite, Santa Claus, I was anxious to see who would arrive during the buzzworthy “Vogue” sequence. Perhaps things were all just a bit too chaotic because I didn’t realize until after the fact that RuPaul’s Drag Race queen Miz Cracker took that special guest seat. Madonna’s own daughter, 11-year-old Estre, was also a standout of the night as she vogued in front of her mom. (Needless to say, she received 10s across the board). The family affair continued with Madonna’s 18-year-old daughter and pianist Mercy, who joined her mother on stage to perform “Bad Girl.”

Throughout the 27-song-long setlist, Madonna covered so much ground. Of course, I would’ve loved hearing more of my favorite songs, such as “Rain” and “Sorry.” However, I was pleasantly surprised to hear cuts like “Bedtime Story” (written by Björk) and “Take a Bow.” She performed a rock rendition of “Burning Up” with images of CBGB plastered behind her. She floated around the arena in a flying box, providing every fan in the audience with a great photo opportunity. And, while she couldn’t perform all of her hits in full (she simply has too many), there were intros, outros, a cappellas, and odes to every reinvention of her prolific career. It was clear that this show was a huge undertaking with attention given to every aspect. Plus, she looked genuinely happy to be there. I caught glimpses of genuine smiles, tears, and affection toward her coterie.

I was particularly in awe of her stamina throughout the evening. Having battled a bacterial infection that put her in an induced coma less than a year ago, it was remarkable to see her in action. The arena’s heat was also cranked up to about 75 (a bartender told me that it was a special request from Madge herself), but she seemingly never broke a sweat. One second, she was dancing around to “Get Into the Groove” while sporting a knee brace, and the next she was nearly doing the splits while suspended in a cage. This performance felt particularly powerful after people on social media mocked her last month for using a support rail while dancing. Once again, the bar we set for female performers is somewhere up in outer space. “To age is a sin,” she proclaimed in 2016. “The most controversial thing I've done is stick around,” she said. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: LEAVE MADONNA ALONE.