It's difficult to think of a time when Madonna, who brings her tour to the area this week, was not controversial.

But even those that strongly disagree with Madonna's views about politics, religion or sexuality, must admit that she never gives half efforts in her music or her performances. Take this latest tour. While many artists who started about the same time she did have become dull parodies of themselves, Madonna brings a big-budget, high-powered, multimedia production to town and really works it. Her latest concerts open with an act of contrition and close with a robed choir paving the road to a celebration.

"Sometimes the best disappoint. It's rare, but it happens," wrote Noah Love, of the National Post, in a review of a recent Madonna concert. "Sometimes, though, the best are the best, and they show you exactly why they're the best."

Where: Verizon Center, 601 F St. NW
When: 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday
Info: $48 to $358; 202-397-SEAT (7328);

As many have noted, sometimes an artist is such a lightening rod, it's difficult to separate the personality from the music. That clearly is true for Madonna. Only six years, maybe five years, after leaving Michigan for New York, she went from ballet student to drummer to a star.

Once her second album, "Holiday," was released in 1983, there was no turning back from Madonna, who seemed to delight in steering her own way in music, film and especially public opinion.

"A lot of people are just really confused by me," she said in a past interview with the Times of London. "They don't know what to think of me, so they try to compartmentalize me or diminish me. Maybe they just feel unsafe. But any time you have an overtly emotional or irrational, negative reaction to something, you're fearing something that it's bringing up in you."

Not that Madonna doesn't presumably have her own fears. Much has been made about her recent negative remarks about Lady Gaga, who she seems to think copies her style and music.

"I'm going to dedicate this next song ... to Lady Gaga," said Madonna at a recent show in Atlantic City, N.J., according to Kia Makarechi, of the Huffington Post. "You wanna know something? I love her. I love her. I do love her. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. But one day, very soon, we're going to be on stage together. Just you wait. You think I'm kidding? I love Lady Gaga."

While many think this is just a case of Madonna protesting too much, the wise might just get ready for a surprise.