“I’m going to tell you an interesting correlation between Britney Spears and . . . Donald Trump,” said Madonna in Miami last night. “I’ve had intimacy with both.” (The crowd inhaled sharply.) “You saw the kiss with Britney—historic moment. What you don’t know is that I’ve slept in Donald’s bed. But he wasn’t in that bed. He wasn’t anywhere near that bed. I was just doing a photo shoot in Palm Beach. For a Versace campaign. In his house. And let me tell you, the sheets were not 100 percent Egyptian cotton.”
The Material Girl was as insurrectionary and unpredictable as ever, but damn, was it surreal to see her in such an intimate setting. Madonna was in town for a one-off night of music, “mischief,” and auctioneering, all to benefit her foundation,Raising Malawi, which supports orphans and children in the African country where her adopted son David was born. It was likely Art Basel Miami’s hottest (and most expensive) ticket—an over-the-top evening to remember, rendered with support from Bulgari.
Let’s go through this chronologically, because there’s a lot to cover. The night started at 9:00 p.m. with cocktails in the Faena Forum, the new OMA-designed building that is part of the Argentine hospitality company’s growing Miami Beach complex. Its sunken gallery space was flanked by the possibly personal, or associated, art that Madge would soon be selling off (alongside the night’s official auctioneer, Paddle8’s Alexander Gilkes). There were: Tracey Emin’s artwork and photographs by Mert and Marcus and an angular Ai Weiwei sculpture. At 9:55 p.m. sharp, an announcement signaled the beginning of dinner.
Guests entered a room that’d been treated to look like a carnival—Madonna’s version, ostensibly, of clowning around. The meal had a circus-y theme, too, with sushi, popcorn, and French fries. James Corden, the night’s MC, quickly took the stage. “The closest thing to a cultural event in Miami is when Pitbull does a promotional concert for Sprite,” he said, roasting the Magic City to polite laughs. He introduced Dr. Eric Borgstein, a surgeon in Malawi who works with Madonna, and who’d flown in for the fundraiser. Borgstein noted that while the evening was all in good fun, it was important to remember that the average Malawian lives on less than $2 a day.
Next up to the podium was David, Madonna’s son. “Hi,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I realize now that I was one of the lucky ones. My mother found medicine for me, and that medicine saved me.” When he was adopted, David was under the care of an 8-year-old girl at an orphanage—his biological mother died during childbirth.
David then introduced M herself. There were audible gasps in the audience—there she was, in full court-jester regalia, commanding and confident as always. “In case any of you don’t know about me, I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself. I’m from Detroit. I travel a lot. I like music.” The room went wild.
The night’s most entertaining segment came during the auction. Gilkes and Madonna make for quite a team: he the charming Brit; she the abrasive icon. The crowd’s VIPs all got involved. Over a Jeremy Scott–designed dress—modeled onstage by Ariana Grande—Madge sweet-talked with Sean Penn to drive up the bidding. “I’ll marry you again. Please.” Grande herself then bid $150,000. Penn ended up winning, but suggested, “Ariana, come over and wear it any time.” Karolina Kurkova sported a Bulgari serpent necklace that went for $180,000—she kissed Madonna goodbye, and, afterward, admitted that she “didn’t think [she’d] kiss a girl” that night. Regarding a Jacob & Co. watch, Madge said: “Brett Ratner, are you here? Fucking buy this watch.” David Blaine ate glass. Leonardo DiCaprio watched on, pensively. Chris Rock brought the big laughs. Dave Chappelle said: “We’re giving you a goddamn chance to ball for humanity.” And that’s only a fraction of the shenanigans.
When all was said and done, Madonna finally took the stage around 1:00 a.m. for an hour-long performance. She performed a cover of Britney Spears’s “Toxic,” along with her own megahits, like “Don’t Tell Me,” “Express Yourself,” and more. She thanked everyone—and even auctioned off the chair she was sitting on, for $10,000, and a selfie, to a man from New Zealand.
And though it was entirely wild and indulgent and almost hard to believe, the night exceeded expectations. More than $7 million was raised for Raising Malawi. To echo Chappelle, Miami turned up to ball for mankind, and Mo proved, once again, she’s still the queen. “The most controversial thing I’ve done,” she concluded, “is stick around for 34 fucking years. And I’ll be here for another 34 fucking more!”