The world tour was officially confirmed on May 8, 2008, by Guy Oseary and Arthur Fogel (Live Nation’s Global Touring CEO). Billboard confirmed that the tour was to begin on August 23, 2008 in Cardiff, Wales, with performances throughout the rest of the year. It was titled «Sticky & Sweet Tour» and planned to visit three continents on 50–60 dates.
The tour was produced globally by Live Nation and promoted Madonna’s studio album «Hard Candy» (2008). Billboard also confirmed performances in Europe until the end of September, arenas and stadiums in sixteen markets of North America in October and November, followed by stadiums of Mexico and South America in late November and early December. The tour was described as a «rock driven dancetastic journey».
The show featured four acts: Pimp, a homage to 1920s deco and modern-day gangsta pimp, Old School, portraying early ’80s downtown New York City dance roots with dance culture vibe of that time, including the birth of rap – Gypsy, consisting of Romanian folk music and dance, and lastly Rave, consisting of eastern influences.
On January 30, 2009, it was announced that Madonna had decided to resume the tour in the summer of 2009, with around twenty-five more shows in Europe. The second leg of the tour was to start from London at The O² on July 4, wrapping up two months later in Tel Aviv, Israel. The rest of the dates included stadiums and parks in European markets Madonna had either never played or did not play in several years, according to Fogel. He said : It absolutely has not happened in the four tours I’ve been involved with, [...] There has been talk [of extending] during each one, but it has never come to be. But with this one, she loves the show, she’s had a great time and she’s excited about playing new markets. [...] We went to quite a few markets she has never played or hasn’t been to in 15-plus years. This [extension] is really a continuation of that in the sense of playing new and different markets.
The show was divided into four sections: Pimp, Retro, Gypsy and Rave. It began with «The Sweet Machine», a 3D animation video displaying candy being manufactured and used as a Pinball. As the video ended, «Candy Shop» began with Madonna appearing on a M-shaped throne in the Givenchy-designed dress, sitting with her legs spread apart and holding a staff in her hands. She was accompanied by her dancers in bondage themed costumes. «Beat Goes On» featured Madonna and her dancers on a 1935 Auburn Speedster while Pharrell Williams and Kanye West appeared on the backdrops. Madonna then played the electric guitar for «Human Nature»; the performance featured a video of Britney Spears trapped in an elevator, who sang along with some of the verses in the song. A modernized «Vogue», featuring the hook of «4 Minutes», was the final song for this section. It led to a video interlude for «Die Another Day», featuring Madonna as a boxer on screen, while her dancers performed a faux boxing match.
The next section, inspired by the style and culture of early 1980s New York, began with Madonna skipping on stage for «Into The Groove». This performance was a mash-up with «Toop Toop» by Cassius and featured the artwork of friend Keith Haring. She then performed a double Dutch dance interlude which led to «Heartbeat». During that song, Madonna’s dance movements were controlled by her back-up dancers as if they were puppeteers. She performed «Borderline» in a rock version, on electric guitar. «She’s Not Me» followed, where Madonna made fun of her various incarnations and styles, from the music videos of «Open Your Heart», «Material Girl», «Vogue» and «Like A Virgin». The section ended with «Music» which contained elements of «Put Your Hands Up 4 Detroit» and excerpts from «Last Night A DJ Saved My Life». A short video was played featuring a tagged subway train. The doors of the train then closed to take in Madonna and her dancers.
The «Rain» video interlude was played on the video screens; it featured an animated pixie finding shade under a petal during a rainstorm. This version contained musical elements from «Here Comes the Rain Again» by Eurythmics.
In the next section, the song «Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You» featured Madonna atop a piano, cloaked in a black shroud. She was surrounded by a circular video screen which showed imagery of waves splashing and rainfall. Madonna then performed «Spanish Lesson», featuring a flamenco-influenced dance solo by Alexander Kolpakov. She played the guitar once again for «Miles Away».
«La Isla Bonita» featured the Ukrainian-gypsy group, Kolpakov Trio, incorporating the gypsy wedding song, «Lela Pala Tute». At the end of the song, Madonna marched ahead with a band of violin players to the front of the stage and then sat aside with her dancers for a solo performance from Kolpakov Trio, who performed the traditional song «Doli Doli». She returned to the stage for «You Must Love Me», the Academy Award winning song from, «Evita».
The act ended with «Get Stupid», a video interlude portraying global warming, famine and other global issues, while juxtaposing John McCain with Hitler and Barack Obama with Gandhi.
In the final act, Madonna appeared on stage for a duet of the song «4 Minutes» with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, both of them appearing on screens. A remix of «Like A Prayer» followed, featuring elements from «Feels Like Home» and video screens depicting messages from the Bible, Qur’an, Torah and Talmud. The electric guitar was played by Madonna for the performance of «Ray Of Light». She then sought audience participation, asking them to request for «an oldie but goodie». Madonna sang the first verse and chorus of the requested song, before moving onto a rock version of «Hung Up». After a brief video featuring a modern take on classic arcade games was played, Madonna returned on stage for the finale performance, «Give It 2 Me», ending the song with a sing-a-long of the chorus. The show ended with the words «Game Over» appearing on the video screens.
After the 2009 extension of the tour was announced, some changes were made to the setlist. «Candy Shop» had a new video backdrop by artist Marilyn Minter, featuring imagery of a giant tongue licking and spitting out neon-colored icing. Madonna also wore new opening outfit designed by Ricardo Tisci.
«Heartbeat» was replaced by «Holiday» and incorporated elements of her then latest single «Celebration», and her first single «Everybody». It also included a medley of three Michael Jackson songs, as an homage to the recently deceased singer. The performance featured Madonna’s dancer Kento, who danced in similar clothing and dancing style as Jackson.
Madonna’s 1985 single «Dress You Up» replaced the rock version of «Borderline». It featured elements of rock songs like «My Sharona» by The Knack and «God Save The Queen» by Sex Pistols.
«Hung Up» was removed and replaced by an up-beat version of «Frozen», which was set between «Like A Prayer» and «Ray Of Light». The video backdrop for «Frozen» used video outtakes from the song’s music video, directed by Chris Cunningham.
«Ray Of Light» was also slightly edited with the lyrics from Michael Jackson’s song «Man In The Mirror», «If you wanna make the world a better place... Take a look at yourself, and then make a change» appearing on the screens before the beginning of the song.