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Photograph: Mert Alas & Marcus PiggottMadonna

Madonna at United Center | Concert preview

Madge makes an arena-sized bid for relevance.

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Fame will fuck a person up, but it’s pride that’s done the most damage to Madonna. Having pushed her body and career well past the point many predicted she could, Madge is now struggling with a greater nemesis than age: irrelevance.

Not that the idea of Madonna is somehow irrelevant—it’s impossible to imagine the likes of Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry existing without her. But Madonna in practice—the singer, the dancer, the human being—lately seems ancillary to the extensive enterprise of ego and expense that swirls around her. The impact of her latest, MDNA, was fleeting at best, fated to be forgotten as thoroughly as 2008’s Hard Candy, and her increasingly frequent returns to the stage seem less about expressing herself and more about desperately keeping the spotlight trained straight on Madonna.

Despite all that, the 54-year-old can still anchor a spectacle. In fact, she’s more than up to the task, as she proved with her Super Bowl halftime show. But Madonna’s achievements are no longer creative or personal so much as stubbornly proficient, just as the selection of superstar trance DJ Paul Oakenfold to open shrewdly acknowledges the EDM trend. If what you see onstage firmly reflects the price of your ticket, what you see from the performer herself is something ever more elusive in impact.

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