Madonna brought her eye-popping MDNA Tour to L.A.'s Staples Center on Wednesday night, where she dedicated a song to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani child activist shot in the head and neck on Tuesday by a masked member of the Taliban.
Dressed in a leather skirt and black beret, the music icon took a break from the evening's theatrics to tell the sold-out crowd of 18,000 that it was time "to have our serious chat."
"This made me cry," Madonna said. "The 14-year-old schoolgirl who wote a blog about going to school. The Taliban stopped her bus and shot her. Do you realize how sick that is?"
"Support education! Support women!" she shouted, to the crowd's cheers of approval.
Yousafzai, one of the most outspoken and influential advocates for girls' rights to education in the Middle East, remains unconscious in a hospital since the shooting. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said of the assassination attempt, "Let this be a lesson," and pledged that the Taliban would try again to kill her should she survive her injuries.
Later in the show, Madonna performed a striptease, during which she turned her back to the audience to reveal the name "Malala" stenciled across it.
"This song is for you, Malala," she said, then launched into "Human Nature."
At past tour stops, Madonna's back has read things like "Obama" -- which was accompanied by her controversial proclamation that the country had "a black Muslim in the White House" -- and "Pussy Riot," a reference to the punk rock group sentenced to two years in a Russian prison camp for a guerrilla performance in a Moscow cathedral.
One of the three convicted Pussy Riot members has since had her sentence suspended, but Madonna's thoughts were with the two who still sat behind bars.
"One thing I’ve realized during my travels is how lucky we Americans are," she told the L.A. audience. "We are for sure an imperfect country with an imperfect government. But I tell you -- the s--- I have seen in the Ukraine and in Russia... May I remind you that two members of Pussy Riot are still in jail. In St. Petersburg, 75 men were arrested for being gay."
But the serious talk was just a few minutes of a staggering, two-plus-hour multimedia spectacle, the likes of which the pop music world rarely sees.
Madonna, now 54, kept up impressively with her chorus of physically gifted (several literally double-jointed) dancers, ably commandeering a set heavy on new material that featured gothic monks, space samurai, a Tarantino-esque murder scene, Bollywood train surfing, an Art Deco voguing ball, a flying marching band and ... whew ... much more.
The star took some delight in taunting the L.A. crowd -- which included the likes of Jessica Alba, Heidi Klum, Neil Patrick Harris, Revenge star Emily VanCamp and Darren Criss of Glee -- by throwing around the dreaded "J" word.
"They say the people in L.A. are so jaded. That they’re not excited about anything because they’ve seen it all and have done it all. True?" Madonna asked.
She then took the liberty of answering on behalf of the rowdy crowd. "F--- no!"
And the effort was a family affair, with son Rocco Ritchie grooving with mom to "Open Your Heart" -- a sweet nod to the song's classic music video -- and her other son, David Banda Ciccone Ritchie, joining her re-mixer Martin Solveig onstage for his pre-show DJ set.
Madonna plays a second show at the Staples Center on Thursday, then brings the tour to Las Vegas on Saturday for the first of two dates at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.