Thursday, October 19, 2006


Growing up I worshipped Madonna (in our house you weren't allowed to just like someone, you either loved them, hated them or had no opinion at all). I loved her music, I loved her videos, I loved her. She is the only person who ever came close to playing the role of "female role model" in my life. As an adult, I am perfectly happy with this fact. I don't worry that I spent my childhood adoring a woman who used sex to sell herself, because there was never any doubt that she was in control. When people (I'm looking at you MuchMoreMusic) suggest that she set the stage for Britney Spears and her ilk I get furious. Today's entire teen pop industry is dominated by parents who realised that their child had a little bit of talent and decided that their one chance of fame and riches in this world was to milk their kid for all it was worth. (You knew that Tony Ciconne was in no way cool with his daughter talking about sex, and certainly wasn't walking around talking about how great her breasts were under her cone shaped bra, unlike certain other fathers who shall remain nameless). Madonna was a self-made woman. She is basically the living embodiment of the American dream.

Madonna ceased being interesting circa 1992. Her last good album was Like a Prayer, Vogue was a wonderful moment in pop culture history but the song itself was not so great. Everything that she has done since then has been boring. It is not entirely her fault. Her musical career was based on the idea of taking music from the gay underground and making it mainstream. By the mid-1990s the gay scene was decidedly "in" (in no small part due to Madonna), so that couldn't work for her anymore. If you add to that the fact that nobody was listening to pop in the 90s, Madonna really didn't have a role to play.

Some will claim that Madonna became interesting again with the release of Ray of Light. They are wrong. Ray of Light was fine, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing. If somebody who did not already have Madonna's stature had released it, it would have gone nowhere. But this post is not about Madonna's music (and I am getting to my point....).

By the late '90s when Madonna's "comeback" started, she was 40, had turned introspective, become a parent, and joined a cult. This does not make for a great pop star. It is also a long time since Madonna has been tuned into anything even remotely underground. Sure gay men still worship her, but they also worship Cher, Liza Minnelli and Barbra "shut the fuck up" Streissand. She is no longer cutting edge pop. But more importantly, she is no longer cutting edge socially. Whereas she was one of the first mega-celebs to talk about AIDS, she now thinks it can be cured by magical water, she jumped on the anti-Bush wagon far too late for it to be interesting and withdrew the American Life video at the first sign of controversy. In short, she is now just like every other aging celebrity, desperately trying to still be relevant long past their time, trying to keep up with the fashions.

What is in right now? Babies. Every celebrity has to have one. (Now, I actually believe that Madonna may have been in part responsible for starting this trend, but it was unintentional and she failed to capitalize on it in as children's author notwithstanding). Madonna's not really the baby sort. Sure, she has kids, and I'm sure she's probably a better parent than most, but her strict disciplinarian style isn't really conducive to Annie Liebowitz spreads in Vanity Fair.

What else is in? Caring about the third world. I'm not knocking her here, but the woman doesn't care about anyone but herself (and her cult). The idea of Madonna as humanitarian is completely far-fetched. But there she was this week getting herself one of those trendy African babies that are so in right now.

And so the controversy begins (and Lemon arrives at her point). Is she just doing this to get attention or does she actually care about the children of the world? Is David Banda just the latest in a long line of people that Madonna has picked up on a whim (Jelly Bean Benitez, Sean Penn, Sandra Bernhardt, Rosie O'Donnell) only to unceremoniously dump them when they are no longer of interest to her? Probably, yes. But you know what? Having Madonna hitch you to her star does great things for your life. I'm sure that Madonna was not driven by a feeling that she needs to do something to help in this crazy world of ours, rather she is trying to create a better image for herself and her cult. But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter because everybody wins. Little David gets to go live in England where his every need will be fulfilled, and Madonna gets to show that she's doing her part for Africa. Like Bono, but with less actual effort.

However, while I am in no way opposed to Madonna buying babies from the continent of Africa (and couldn't care less whether she bypassed laws to do it. If the superrich want to take care of orphans, I'm not going to defend the law that forbids them from doing so), it does further prove my point that she is no longer interesting. Angelina already did the African adoption thing (and call me naive, but I do believe she actually cares), Oprah has the orphanage thing covered (I don't believe she cares all that much, but she's motivated by guilt not trendiness), Madonna is breaking no new ground. It's pathetic really. But there you have it.

Pop stars are never interesting after 40.

1 comment:

mlbright said...

I can't believe no one has commented yet!!

Absolutely brilliant.

I'm not as convinced as you that Madonna's adoption of little David is so harmless: throwing one's money around to buy babies in Africa may not be the best way to correct the continent's state of corruption and kleptocracy. However, I realise the solving of Africa's problems is not Madonna's stated objective. And I find it difficult to argue against the saving a child from certain misery. So I won't.

I suppose Madonna sheds a "Ray Of Light" wherever she goes: millions of people are now aware of Malawi. Sort of like what Borat does for Kazakhstan, but not as funny.