A few years ago, when Madonna performed at the Superbowl Halftime Show, a friend of mine said something to the effect of, “Oh god, why is MIA on stage with Madonna?” as though it was a complete affront to MIA that she would have to perform with such an old popstar.
And immediately I snapped back, “Isn’t it the other way around? Why is Madonna onstage with MIA?” I went on to say that a) no one who cares about the Superbowl knows who MIA is, so Madonna bringing her onstage was pretty brave and b) that without Madonna, there would probably be no MIA, no Nicki Minaj, no Miley.
I’ve always liked Madonna, but it wasn’t until I saw her live at the MDNA tour that I really understood the magic and the power of Madonna. She was spectacular. She was unstoppable. She walked tightropes, danced her ass off, showed off her incredible body and exuded a fun, powerful energy that hooked me for life. I found new appreciation for her back catalog, which is huge. She’s the Queen of Pop and she always will be.
Madonna has long been known for her chameleon-like ability to shapeshift with the times and with the eras of her life. We had faux-Marilyn Madonna in the early ‘90s, bondage Madonna, “Ray of Light” trip-hop Madonna after the birth of her first child, UK Madonna who married a Brit and created the underappreciated gem “American Life.” She’s done everything. I always looked at her with awe. She was so completely unafraid. I wasn’t alive when she told Dick Clark that her goal was to “rule the world,” but I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind as an inspiration. Without Madonna, the barriers that still seem to hold women in music back would be a hell of a lot bigger and harder to break.
Madonna could be doing the Vegas residency, making bored loops around the stage in a half-assed performance of her biggest hits, and people would come from miles away to see that. But she’s not. She’s not settling into comfortable revenue just because she’s in her mid-50s, because she has a name to bank on.
After the leak of several songs from her upcoming album “Rebel Heart,” Madonna released a handful with a pre-order of the album. Immediately people criticized her for trying to make “Bangerz 2.0” or called her “desperate.” They rag on her for insisting on retaining her powerful sexuality even though she’s in her fifties. I think her refusal to dress and act the way people think she should – no thigh-high latex boots for you, they say! – is as brave an act as anything she’s ever done. Madonna gives no fucks about what you think.
What I’ve heard from “Rebel Heart” isn’t her best work, sure. I haven’t LOVED a Madonna album since “Confessions on Dance Floor,” but the thing about Madonna is that she isn’t desperate. She wants to try new things, keep a finger on the pulse of pop music as she’s been doing for decades, and if it doesn’t work, she doesn’t apologize or go back to her tried-and-true sound to please her fans. Her true fans don’t want her to do that anyway. She’s always changing. She’s not boring. And if her new image and new sound fails, she says, “Fuck it” and moves on to the next thing. That’s the real magic of Madonna. She’s unafraid to fail.