Music

Madonna in Rio: Behind the Scenes of the Negotiation for One of the Biggest Shows in History

Imagine the scene: One of the greatest pop artists in history is in the middle of the Palais Garnier, the imposing house of the Paris Opera. Then, with her blue eyes fixed on the camera, she says an entirely off-script phrase: “Brazil, I’m coming.”

But back then, in November 2023, there was nothing certain, not even close, for Madonna to take her Celebration Tour to Brazil. On the contrary, it was rumored that this would be an almost impossible mission due to technical reasons.

“At the time, we thought: Why don’t we ask her to record the phrase ‘Brazil, I’m coming soon’ as an extra for the commercial?” says Pedro Smith, head of Strategic Brand Relations at Itaú, the biggest bank in Latin America, whose centenary campaign stars Madonna. “She would express a reciprocal interest in making the show happen if she agreed. Well, she recorded that speech, but we still didn’t have a way to use it!”

 It was up to the bank to pull strings to make it happen. But they were running out of time.

“The day after the shoot, we watched her show in Paris and realized that the structure would be complicated to adapt to a large crowd like the one we wanted. Because of this, Guy Oseary [the singer’s manager] poured cold water on us,” Smith says.

The following week, legendary businessman Luiz Oscar Niemeyer from Bonus Track, a “key player” in the process, appeared on the scene. For those who are not familiar with the intricacies of the music business, Niemeyer is a pioneer in the international concert market in Brazil, responsible for Paul McCartney’s record attendance at Maracanã in 1993 (and for all of McCartney’s subsequent visits to Brazil) and the performance by The Rolling Stones on Copacabana Beach, among many other historic events.

So there were two players: the biggest bank in Latin America that already had a close relationship with Madonna, and an experienced producer used to dealing with the biggest names in showbiz. But destiny sometimes plays tricks.

“I had already tried to bring Madonna in 2006, without success, and I had already been talking to Live Nation, responsible for the Celebration Tour, but Madonna had that health problem last year, and the tour was postponed,” explains Niemeyer, or “LON” for those closest to him.

At the end of 2023, Madonna returned to action, recorded the commercial and sold out dates in Europe, but Niemeyer, who had gone on vacation at the beginning of the year, also had to deal with his own health. The producer suffered a severe accident, was hospitalized and was out of action. “I broke down completely,” he laughs.

In mid-February (just over two months before the show date), negotiations intensified with Niemeyer back on track. “We became very close [to Niemeyer] and exchanged lots of info, like a task force to make this show possible, because Itaú had a contract with Madonna and Bonus Track, with Live Nation,” says Smith. “It was Saturday, Sunday, sometimes 3 am, and Luiz Oscar and I were in meetings with teams from outside Brazil.”

And the teams for everything related to Madonna, of course, are quite rigorous. “We have to deliver a show complying with the level of production that it presents around the world, naturally adapted for a much larger space. Only when we had the resizing of this structure, sponsorships, television broadcasting and technical issues approved was the deal finally closed,” explains Niemeyer, stressing that leaks about the show that took over the Internet in the weeks before the official announcement did not interfere in the negotiations.

According to him, from the beginning, the idea was that the show at Princesinha do Mar would close the Celebration Tour as “a great gift for Brazilian fans.” “It was a great choice – a Saturday, we have a holiday in the middle of the week, and more people can visit the city,” says Niemeyer.

We hope Madonna enjoys it too.

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