x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

From Dear Jessie to Like a Prayer, the Madonna songs that inspire us

We know the alleged set list for Madonna's MDNA tour is floating around online, but we refuse to ruin her concert by taking a peek - no matter how much we want to. Instead, we created our own wish list of songs we hope she plays in Abu Dhabi next week.

Madonna performs on her Confessions tour at London's Wembley Arena in 2006. Sang Tan / AP Photo
Madonna performs on her Confessions tour at London's Wembley Arena in 2006. Sang Tan / AP Photo

We know the alleged set list for Madonna's MDNA tour is floating around online, but we refuse to ruin her concert on June 3 and 4 at the du Arena on Yas Island by taking a peek - no matter how much we want to. Instead, we created our own wish list of six songs (and a collection) we hope she plays in Abu Dhabi next week.

Dear Jessie, Like a Prayer, 1989

I grew up in a very small town on the edge of a desert in the middle of Africa and, oh my goodness, did Madonna fever ever hit us hard. Anything from another country, from abroad or that had the faintest whiff of cool about it we labelled "Madonna". We had "Madonna sandals", slim neon rubber "Madonna bracelets" and even "Madonna socks", which were made of a terrible cheap nylon in Dayglo. The best way to wear them was to don three pairs and roll them down one at time. You can imagine how pleasant that was in the heat and dust. Official Madonna merchandise was nigh on impossible to come by, except for my neighbour and one of my closest childhood friends, Jo-Gail Rodie. Jo-Gail's mother regularly travelled to South Africa, bringing back posters and eye-wateringly cool clothes. However, it was when she returned with a CD player that our lives changed for good. My favourite Madonna song reminds me of lying on Jo-Gail's living room floor in a small, hot, dusty town, dreaming of "pink elephants and lemonade".

* Felicity Campbell, Arts&Life online editor

Cherish, Like a Prayer, 1989

This song is a reminder of my Abu Dhabi childhood; a time where our former apartment on the corner of Airport Road and 15th Street was viewed as a long journey for family and friends residing in the Tourist Club. Musically, Madonna never sounded so sweet and charming. While she went on to explore edgier territory, for me Cherish is her ultimate pop-song. It is upbeat and tender and hits that sweet spot that only great pop songs can. She only performed Cherish during her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour: here's hoping it's resurrected for Abu Dhabi.

* Saeed Saeed, Arts&Life reporter

Like A Prayer, Like a Prayer, 1989

When I was in high school, my friend Suzanne's mum and her friends made up some choreography to this song, which we sneakily watched on video then copied, with much hilarity. The year we finished school, sadly, Suzanne's mum died of cancer. We've often performed the "dance" when we have met up over the years, in memory. The day I bought my ticket for Madonna's show in Abu Dhabi I was thinking of Suzanne and her mum, so I emailed to tell her. She wrote back to say that day was her mum's birthday.

* Sarah Ferguson, Arts&Life page editor

What it Feels Like For a Girl, Music, 2001

I found so many Madonna songs inspiring when I was trying to find my way in the world, but this one struck a chord at a time when I needed a little backbone. It was on her eighth album, Music, released in 2001. Although I loved the spoken-word intro, what really inspired me was this little question: "When you open up your mouth to speak/Could you be a little weak?" It might sound silly, but those words have been a reminder ever since not to diminish myself out of fear of what other people will think.

* Ann Marie McQueen, Arts&Life editor

True Blue, True Blue, 1986

This was a song dedicated to her husband at the time, the actor Sean Penn (I believe the whole album was actually dedicated to him) and it was an expression of her genuine love for him, so it showed a different side of Madonna. I read that "true blue" was an expression of Penn's, too.

* Maey El Shoush, Arts&Life reporter

Express Yourself, Like a Prayer, 1989

Long before Lady Gaga's Born This Way, Madonna established herself as the Queen with the female empowerment anthem of my era: "You deserve the best in life so if the time isn't right then move on, second best is never enough, you'll do much better baby on your own." It wasn't just the words: it was that on her Blond Ambition tour, she sang them wearing a masculine Jean Paul Gaultier suit, cut to reveal a feminine conical corset, with a team of male back-up dancers at her feet. It was a revelation, at least on a pop stage: women can be strong and sexy and on their own terms? On her Reinvention tour in 2004, she performed it in military uniform, giving her dancing boys their marching orders. Who knows what she'll do next with it, but she's stayed true to those words: second best is never enough, because if you declare yourself Queen, you'll always come first.

* Mo Gannon, features editor

Anything from The Immaculate Collection, 1990

It was early 1991, I was 10 years old, and all I knew were songs from school choir, silly nursery rhymes and the tunes I happened to be butchering as I worked my way through my grade three piano book. But one afternoon, in the gardens of our apartment compound in Limassol, Cyprus, I made a friend. She was a year older than me, sophisticated, and she had Madonna's compilation in her Walkman. We spent months creating a dance to go with every one of the songs on that album. We lined the pavements with chalk to signify the lines we'd jump across in the song Borderline. We mimicked turning a key in a lock for Open Your Heart, borrowed suitcases from home so we could swing them around for Holiday and pretended to be Spanish señoritas every time we listened to La Isla Bonita. If Madonna could just play the 17 songs from her The Immaculate Collection album, both the woman that I am and the 10-year-old girl that I was would be sporting ridiculous grins throughout the concert, not to mention wiping away a few tears of nostalgia.

* Hala Khalaf, Arts&Life deputy editor