“Spend, baby, spend,” Madonna urged. “Spend like there’s no tomorrow because there may not be a tomorrow.”
Madonna was on stage on Friday night at the Faena Forum in mid Miami Beach before a crowd comprised of boldfaced names far flung from different corners of the celebrity industry complex – Ariana Grande; Paris Hilton; Sean Combs; Jeremy Scott; Tracey Emin; the comics Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and James Corden; Alex Rodriguez, Madonna’s once-rumored boyfriend; Courtney Love, Madonna’s once-rumored nemesis; and Sean Penn, Madonna’s first husband – plus, art collectors and the sort of moneyed high-rollers who are ubiquitous in Miami on a regular basis but especially during Art Basel week.
“You gotta be rich to be here or f—king a rich guy,” Rock said. “Spend some of that extra Trump tax money you got.”
They were gathered because Madonna was auctioning off tchotchkes from her past – wedding pictures with Penn; a Scott costume from a recent tour; a Bulgari diamond necklace; pieces from her personal art collection – alongside perks like a poker session with Jonah Hill and Edward Norton to collect money for her charity Raising Malawi. More tantalizing for those here was the promise of an intimate concert following the fundraiser.
That Art Basel, a “social rat f—k” of celebrity and schmoozing – to borrow a phrase from Larry Gagosian, who’s known Madonna since she dated Jean-Michel Basquiat – should climax with one big conflagration of celebrity rubber-necking, socializing and lavish spending at the city’s most ostentatious property was almost too deliciously fitting.
Madonna, a savvy marketer and dealmaker in a town overflowing with them this week, of course knew that going in and so she gathered a group Rock described as the “steal wealth generation” all in one room and provoked, baited, titillated and then coaxed millions out of them. Regular tickets went for $5,000; access to a VIP cocktail cost $150,000.
Madonna twerked with Grande, who was wearing a Scott dress, triggering a flurry of Instagrams. She flirted with her ex-husband on stage – “I’m still in love with you; in fact, I think I love you more now that we’re divorced,” she told Penn – and agreed to be handcuffed by him, clearly having fun with the allegation that he abused her during their marriage and guaranteeing herself a slew of breathless tabloid coverage the next morning. She made fun of Lapo Elkann when auctioning off a special-edition Fiat 500 – “The car has been arrested along with his owner. These are rich people problems,” she said. She poked fun at herself, admitting “Dating is hard. It’s weird to think the love of your life might not even be born yet." She got political, covering Britney Spears’ Toxic while Donald Trump’s image played in the background and later addressed the Standing Rock protest. In short, she worked the room.
When at one point during the evening, a man who described himself as “Steve from Ireland” offered to donate $10,000 in exchange for a kiss and a selfie, Madonna asked no one in particular, “Is this guy loaded?” She’s not called the Material Girl for nothing.
And then, she performed a stripped down set of rarely-heard songs from her back catalog like American Life and Beautiful Stranger that was all but assured to send the room into collective fits of ecstasy. “I believe the most controversial thing I’ve ever done is stick around for 34 years and, if I want, I’ll stick around for 34 more years,” she said using an expletive.
In the end, she raised $7.5 million for a good cause, a pediatric hospital in the birthplace of two of her children. Not bad for a single night’s work.