Monday, August 27, 2012

Madonna, Live Nation and the Olympia fiasco

by Emmanuel Legrand

Madonna live at the Olympia in Paris was supposed to be the hottest gig of the summer. And it turned out to be a PR disaster.

Think of it: One of the world's biggest stars was going to perform at an “intimate” concert venue of 2,000 seaters rather than the stadiums she usually fills (or tries to). The Olympia, home to such artists as Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and one of the most iconic concert venues in the world would be Marge's for a night. And what a night it promised for Madonna's fans. That's what you'd call a hot ticket. Fans lined-up to get the best seats, some of them sleeping overnight to be closer to their star, and paid from €80 to 270 for the privilege.

On July 26, after keeping the crowd waiting for a few long hours, Madonna eventually took the stage at about 11pm, and before midnight, everything was wrapped, the artist had left the building, not even saying bonsoir to the audience, after an eight-song “concert” lasting less than 50 minutes, and streamed live on YouTube.

As roadies were starting to pack, a subdued audience stayed, asking for encore, and when nothing happened, they started shouting and yelling and asking for a refund. Check this video on YouTube, kindly titled 'Suicide of Madonna', in which you can clearly see the roadies emptying the stage while the crowd yells “Remboursez” (refund). Eventually, the public was asked to leave the building.

That could have been the end of it. But in this time and age, the outrage to fans quickly made the rounds and the blogosphere went on fire. Greed and disrespect were among the words that were used by fans to qualify the attitude of the artists.

Meanwhile, Madonna, not at her best, declared that the boos were the expression of a few “thugs”. The explanation that the screams were started by followers of right-wing politician Marine Le Pen, whom Madonna criticised during her French concerts, does not really hold. Once again, check this video, and you won't see that many thugs, but mostly a good pack of disgruntled fans who make a lot of noise because they are simply not happy with the way they are treated.

A spokeswoman for Madonna explained that the Olympia show cost close to a million dollars to produce and despite that she tried to keep the costs at a low level. So what? If that's a reason to only play 45 minutes, then these are 45 very expensive minutes...

Some concert-goers pushed their luck a bit further and claimed that since it was advertised as a concert, not as a showcase to be streamed on YouTube, they were entitled for a refund. But adding insult to injury, the producer of the concert, Live Nation, replied in a letter to a concert-goer asking for a refund (authenticated by press agency AFP and disclosed last week), that the claims were “unfounded”.

Live Nation said that the show was “of an exceptional nature due to the intimacy of the venue” and that if it did not carry the same characteristics as other tour dates, it offered an intimate show, where fans could be close to the artists. With high-quality stage, light and sound props, the event required “unprecedented heavy logistics” and the use of important manpower. Live Nation even insisted that there were real musicians and dancers at the gig! Based on these facts, Live Nation discarded the claim for refund, and said that no contractual fault could be pinned on the company.

But the damage is done. The reputation of Madonna has been tarnished and Live Nation does not come as a consumer-friendly company. It will be very interesting to see how Madonna's next tour in France will fare.

Madonna is not the first superstar to play “intimate” gigs at the Olympia. The Rolling Stones did it, so did David Bowie, or Sting. But these were “real” concerts, lasting close to two hours, and enhanced the status of these artists.

Madonna's last song at the Olympia was a rendition of Serge Gainsbourg's 'Je T'Aime, Moi Non Plus'. For many fans that night, it's the 'Moi Non Plus' that they will remember.

[Typed while listening to a bootleg concert of David Bowie 'Live at the Olympia – 2002' (also available as an official DVD)]