I always find myself in the odd predicament of defending the twists and turns that Madonna, the undisputed Queen of Pop, makes along the path of her career. It's amazing that 3 decades later this entertainer is still polarizing her audience, pushing boundaries and is able to stir up controversy in an almost decisively contrived manner...but many of us are still eating it all up. Did we expect that as she approached middle-age Madonna was going to start toning things down? And that as a swarm of wanna-bees appeared on the scene, she would get the message that the time had time to hang up the Gaultier cone-bra and dress herself more appropriately? I think not.
In fact as Madonna has coasted into her 50's she seems to have turned up the volume and is defying the public with the notion of what an aging rockstar is supposed to be.
|Madonna...still a girl gone wild!|
If W.E. had been written and directed by someone else say Martin Scorsese the reception to the film could well have been very different. Scorsese recently directed a big-budget 3D fantasy film that got nominated for Academy Awards. In the same year that Madonna directed the movie W.E., released a new album, played the half-time show at the Super Bowl, and readied a multi-city world tour. Scorsese's Hugo won 5 Academy Awards. Madonna's W.E. only won a single Golden Globe for Original Song...incurring the wrath of Sir Elton John in the process.
It's sad, yet interesting that even basking in that singular win which was snatched to a degree – no one thought to celebrate the measure of an artist who stepped outside of her comfort zone and fearlessly pushed beyond her own threshold and suggest to the rest of us: Why aren't any of you doing as much in your day as I am? I often ask myself...What would Madonna do?
One thing that I do know...perhaps I wouldn't bare my heart on my sleeve as opening as she does. MDNA her 12th studio album, is not unlike her film W.E. – the similarities are quite clear. Both are visceral in their depictions of love and its potential for betrayal. There's an unmistakable anger in each work of art, and violence is evident in both. How one informed the other is something only Madonna herself can know, but the apparent exorcism of recent misgivings in her own life are as deep and permanent as any tattoo.
Although MDNA begins with Madonna begging on the alter for forgiveness, the verse gets immediately drowned out by the electro-sonics of the lead track "Girl Gone Wild". Should we assume that this is Madonna's proclamation that she cannot be contained, at any cost. It swiftly becomes clear that her rampage has only begun and she has a score to settle. "Gang Bang" has the singer pistol-whipping an assailant, someone who has done her wrong, but the song can easily be interpreted as an ironic attack on the Queen of Pop's own ego. Certainly her recent divorce to ex-husband Guy Ritchie could easily have stained her expectations of ever falling in love. "I'm Addicted" reveals her unhealthy dependency on a man that gets under her skin like a drug.
Madonna's MDNA goes on like that for a while – it's one of her angriest works to date; a roller coaster grinding on tracks that might well be perpetual chainsaws with no measure for precaution or consequence. It's not a mistake that it's also a pure contemporary dance album from an artist that emerged from the grudge of club life. If MDNA sounds dirty at times...it should. It's Madonna reclaiming the street credibility that Lady Gaga has been wearing since her debut like a faux fur coat. MDNA screams "Fuck you!" – it's got that coming out of it's pores, even the debut single "Give Me All Your Luvin'" comes across like a thumbing up the nose of anyone who had been expecting her to sit 2012 out.
And even when MDNA gets whimsy like on the next hit single "Turn Up the Radio" the irreplaceable irony in its tone is still there. After all...who even listens to the radio anymore? Maybe that's exactly how Madonna as an artist is willing to share with the public her feelings on the notion that retirement is catching up to her. No, she says: "Turn up the radio until the speakers blow!"
Should a woman entered into her 50's be asked to behave a certain way; curtail her ambition, or deliver content in a manner that is deemed more appropriately digestible, because a woman of a certain age shouldn't be "certain" things. Madonna is not a woman, so much as she is a force of nature. And I don't mean that to be rhetorical...no other pop star in history, Michael Jackson aside has been able to accomplish what she has within the span of her career.
There has never been an artist (alive) who has been able to maintain this relevancy of momentum. Madonna admits that she's not the greatest singer; she's a performer who continues even today to encourage the emerging set of new pop acts to push the envelope further and harder – testing and questioning the existing status quo. Opening further social dialogues through art and the "installations" (her tours) she is so profound to stage.
So, it's not that I have a personal investment in Madonna's successes, her highs and her lows, but like only a handful of artists, Madonna's career is what is interesting to watch – the expression of all that naked ambition is the real star. That's the most fascinating aspect of Madonna. It's not the music, the movies, the image, the videos or the live stage act – it's the ability to just keep on keeping on. Like a seamless bit of software that integrates into a hard-drive and super-responds the operating system, Madonna similarly infuses the response of popular culture.
Here's to the new OS. Version MDNA.
JC Alvarez is the host and personality behind the nationally syndicated radio-show "Out Loud & Live!" on Modern World Radio (www.modernworldradio.com) and is also a pop-culture/celebrity columnist and Nightlife Editor for EDGE On The Net (www.edgeonthenet.com).