Over the past few weeks, State has been gathering the votes of our team as to their favourite albums of the year so far. Ahead of the full rundown, we’ll be running a selection of features on some of the artists who have made the list – starting with the queen of pop.
Apparently we’re all bored. Apparently we’re ‘over it’. When Madonna flopped out her freeze-dried strawberry nipple to wave ‘hello’ to the crowds in Istanbul recently, the world supposedly shrugged its shoulders or recoiled in horror. Twitter feeds turned into a giant bellowing Daily Mail sidebar of shame either scolding, tutting and admonishing a woman in her FIFTIES for having a nice set of tits or trilling on about how it was nothing new from the creator of the Vanilla Ice romping Sex book and then they collectively went back to reading 50 Shades of Grey on their Kindles. Sorry secret crap-porno loving saddos but Madonna doesn’t need your pity, embarrassment or shame… and that seems to be the problem.
There’s been an awful lot of Madonna hate recently. In this warm n’ fuzzy generation she stands alone as a cold, unknowable entity and that is something that people are finding more difficult to comprehend, in a world where Rihanna tweets as much as she sings, Katy Perry lives in a candyfloss castle with unicorns and Gaga is the Cronenberg Claire Rayner.
Unlike the new breed of mewling, needy popstars of today who thrive on affection, who beg to be adored, showering their grimly obsessive fans with kisses and Barneyesque advice, who then in turn clog every social media source with their inane, drooling, blubbering affections in one hollow, depressing marketing campaign, Madonna is a star in old fashioned terms. Madonna is the ice-cold Marie Antoinette of music, shutting her ears to the pleading crowds, not a crumb of faux-affection to pass her lips. She rolls her eyes and sneers when faced with the prospect of another bloody bunch of hydrangeas. She admonishes the crowds who shout their love when she’s trying to speak. Madonna refuses to conform to who we think she should be and the music we think she should create. She makes it hard for you, which is the duty for all truly great artists, to keep questioning, to keep caring.
No-one would ever expect Neil Young to bow down to his devotes or John Lydon to smile coyly for the camera, so why are the rules different for popstars? From the beginning of her career, unlike Katy Perry, Madonna did not cynically market herself to children. She danced her way through the gay scene of NYC and onto the world stage and we fell in love with her because she was uncompromising, because she was a bit rude to Terry Wogan, because she sang songs with words in them we didn’t understand but we knew our Mam’s hated, because she ridiculed Kevin Costner, because she fiddled with herself on a bed onstage. Madonna entered our lives as a vivacious gapped toothed tornado of fierceness that made every other pop female (and male) seem like drippy old goons.
When she cackled manically on ‘Angel’ it was a clarion call to sulky madams everywhere to be just that, to cause trouble, to kick up a fuss, to be noticed. She breathed life into the pop world and made the prospect of being not just a girl but a fully blown WOMAN (a ‘girl’ could not sing ‘Express Yourself’) seem something triumphant, a force to be reckoned with. The more mature she became, the more considered her approach to music, forcing pop into angular shapes, directing the mainstream into territories unknown, making pop music grow up along with us.
Alas it’s been a tough slog being the singular Pop Beatles. In a bizarre streak of misogyny people now seem angry with her for excelling, for getting there first and creating some of the most earth shuddering game-changing pop-moments from the sexy Jesus kissing, crucifix burning ‘Like A Prayer’ to the wonky K-hole passion of ‘Ray of Light’, it now appears tedious to have to acknowledge how Madonna did it before (and better). She has become a victim of her own shape-shifting success, as seen this year with the lacklustre reviews of her latest album.
In a post-Gaga world if Madonna repeats a trick it’s now deemed stale, if she attempts to inject young blood into projects it’s ‘pathetic’ and a sinister attempt to appear ‘relevant’. What seems to be wanted from our older popstars today is to disappear into a haze of nostalgia that is comfortable for everyone or to cease to exist, to grow old gracefully, hidden from view. Her body has now become the final stick to beat her with, as media commenters cluck at her youthful appearance and revile her hard-earned muscles just wishing she’d throw in the towel (as all women of a certain age obviously should) to save their embarrassment and let them gorge themselves on nubile young flesh.
The woman who introduced the world to the cone bra does not slope off into irrelevance. The woman who slapped a Chihuahua dressed as a gimp on the bum does not dissolve into a humourless, banal heap. She is Madonna and will continue to do Madonna-like things until she dances merrily off this mortal coil. If that’s too much for you avert your eyes and plug your ears because the Queen of Pop has nothing to apologise for, not her body, not her musical choices, not even her continuous misguided foray into the film world. In the words of the woman herself: absolutely no regrets.