Madonna Louise Verónica Ciccone (born on 16 August 1958 in Bay City, Michigan, United States), known simply as Madonna, is a recording artist, entrepreneur and occasional actress. Throughout her career, often referred to as The Queen of Pop, many of her songs have hit number one on the record charts, including Like a Virgin, Papa Don't Preach, Like a Prayer, Vogue, Frozen, Music, Hung Up, & 4 Minutes.
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Madonna the Missus The Independent, May 2001
IN HENRY JAMES' 1873 short story The Madonna of the Future, the American protagonist visits the city of Florence, where he encounters a strange and charismatic fellow-countryman an impassioned advocate of aesthetic excellence, who leads him on a guided tour of Renaissance art-works. Sadly, this would-be painter's devout appreciation of the wonders of Raphael has given him such an acute sense of his own nation's cultural inferiority "the soil of American perception," he claims sorrowfully, "is a poor little barren artifical deposit" that the canvas upon which his own masterpiece was to be painted remains blank until he goes mad and dies.
In her willingness to offer us endless different versions of herself, the Madonna of the Present and Recent Past might seem to be a living denial of such self-defeating perfectionism, but her current affinity for the Old World has still set a few alarm bells ringing back home.
"Madonna goes to Europe for a few weeks," Brooklyn R&B diva Kelis observed scathingly in an interview last year, "then comes back to New York and she's like [assumes cut glass Noel Coward accent] 'Hello'... [Affectionately] Bitch, we know where you're from." Cocking a snook at the queen of pop has long been a rite of passage for up and coming female artists from Courtney Love to J-Lo but the Stateside backlash does not end there.
In the forthcoming US teen comedy Get Over It, the hero has his girlfriend stolen by a refugee from an English boy band. At the auditions for a school Shakespeare production, he talks in a ludicrously affected Dick Van Dyke brogue. "What's up with his accent?" someone asks mockingly "He sounds just like Madonna".
This gentle barb caused a ripple of anxiety in the audience at a recent London preview screening, as if people were beginning to realise that maybe Madonna's oft-averred affinity for quaint old Britain with its warm beer and amusing class system is not merely disingenuous (in the same way that her wearing a Kylie or Britney t-shirt onstage was) but actually has a real dark side. Watching the video for her current single What it Feels Like For A Girl, this sense of foreboding gets increasingly harder to shake.
For anyone who might have missed its late-night screenings on MTV and Channel 4, this promotional clip directed by her husband Guy Ritchie features Madonna as a "nihilistic pissed-off chick" at the wheel of a fast car on the streets of LA. She picks up an old person her grandmother, apparently from a rest home named Ol Kuntz (the sort of hilarious mockney witticism that makes Ritchie the poster-boy for so much about this country that really needs seeing to) and embarks on an orgy of automotive destruction while the hapless pensioner sits vacantly in the passenger seat.
The first thing you notice about the video after the violence has bored and annoyed you is how artistically inferior Ritchie's work is to Madonna's previous collaborations with freeze-frame auteurs such as Chris Cunningham and Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Then you start to wonder what she hoped to achieve by making it; her po-faced assertion that she wanted this remorselessly malign Boy's Own fantasy sequence to "make people ask questions and open dialogues," just makes you wonder all the more.
Madonna censorship furores used to be so much fun. Romancing a black Jesus in Like A Prayer, pushing back the boundaries of hotel etiquette in Justify My Love, or flirting cheesily with fetishism in Erotica, she was the happy epitome of freedom-loving mischief. But the violence and contempt for the old in the What It Feels Like For A Girl video like the misogyny in Music's nasty pregnant lap-dancing Ali G adventure are conservative rather than radical.
And the fact that the song it purports to illustrate like so much of the music Madonna has made since her triumphant post-Evita return to the pop fray has a delicacy and sophistication which puts it up there with her very best work, only intensifies the sour taste left by the video. She never felt it necessary to do anything like this in the dark days of the mid-90s, when she was scratching around for a musical identity doing embarrassing cover versions of Bjork songs and letting Massive Attack run wild in the corridors of her LA mansion so why does she have to start now?
This is a question which supplies its own answer. "At some level she's bored, and she has to do something to scare herself," Madonna's old friend Sandra Bernhard said this of one of the Material Girl's previous forays into social unacceptability, but it seems just as true of her current incarnation. It's as if Madonna fears that her greatest personal triumph reasserting her status as global pop dominatrix at the same time as producing a brace of healthy offspring has somehow done what her sternest detractors never could: made her tedious.
For Madonna, domesticity might actually be the ultimate taboo. In this respect, playing with the iconography of The Little Woman the his and hers t-shirts, that toe-curling video message to the Brits, allowing Ritchie to refer to her in public as "The Missus" without having him killed is a natural extension of the S&M moves she was making in her Sex period.
Ironically, her current eager embrace of patriarchy sets up a double standard every bit as pernicious and as perplexing as that old chastity/motherhood conundrum the original Madonna got so much stick for.
Madonna: True Blue Rolling Stone, Jul 1986
OF ALL CURRENT superstars, none has manipulated the apparatus of fame more astutely than Madonna. Like Prince, she recognized the virtue of a one-word name and demonstrated the truth of an old adage sex sells. She has played America's public morals like a virtuoso, building from starlet to megaslut to bad girl with a heart of gold to New Honest Woman.
Cynics and idealists can agree: a conquest this perfect requires incredible amounts of both luck and smarts. Up comes a good-looking, good-singing doll who parlays great ambition and market sense into a lowbrow dance album that becomes an international hit. She completes the transition from genre diva to mass-media wet dream brandishing a boy toy belt buckle under her bared bellybutton (for all convent girls to admire and feminists to loathe), then turns it around in a show of humor and pluck. But Madonna's march takes her to the brink of overexposure.
Then, out come the Penthouse and Playboy spreads. How do a couple of four-year-old portfolios just happen to make it into the hands of two fiercely competitive publications at the same exact ideal-for-Madonna moment? If it isn't a fix, then clearly God likes bad Catholic girls. And what could be better? That this bathroom consummation of boy toy love should be followed immediately by ritual purification at the altar of real love. Madonna marries Sean Penn and at long last hits the matrimonial sack.
And she did it all in less time than it has taken Ronald Reagan to send millions below the poverty line. Like Jimmy Cagney, to whom she dedicates 'White Heat', Madonna is a lovable punk: cynical, street smart, funky, sexy, fundamentally idealistic, indestructibly self-respecting. Like Cagney, she's a national icon but first and always, a patron saint of parochial-school America.
It is for the prokie (a less publicized but still more populous stratum than yuppie or preppie) that True Blue is written. Singing better than ever, Madonna stakes her claim as the pop poet of lower-middle-class America. On 'Where's the Party', she presents a concise manifesto for the straphanging classes: "Couldn't wait to get older/Thought I'd have so much fun/Guess I'm one of the grown-ups/Now I have to get the job done." But Madonna isn't sad about her responsibilities. Full of immigrant-stock hustle, she's going to "find a way to make the good times last." On 'Jimmy Jimmy', she laughs at her breathless boyfriend: "You say you're gonna be the king of Las Vegas.... You're just a boy who comes from bad places." But it's a loving laugh and, surprise, Jimmy really does leave to make a better life. The story ends sadly, but the song is so happy that we can't doubt Madonna's pride in her guy or that she'll find a way to follow.
In 'Love Makes the World Go Round', the happiest anthem for this age of uplift, Madonna scores at least as many points as 'We Are the World' with lines like "It's easy to forget/If you don't hear the sound/Of pain and prejudice/Love makes the world go round" and "We're all so quick to look away/'Cause it's the easy thing to do."
Produced by Madonna with Pat Leonard and Stephen Bray, the sound of True Blue is yet another canny move. Armed with the success of 'Into the Groove' (an unretouched eight-track demo by Bray and Madonna that epitomizes dance-pop perfection), M. resisted any temptation to reach for the kind of tour de force production Nile Rodgers achieved on Like a Virgin. Instead, we have a clean, accessible record assembled by a singer and songwriters to showcase material and performances. And (excepting the 'Both Sides Now' rewrite 'Live to Tell') it's true blue to Madonna's disco roots.
If there is a problem with Madonna's proke-rock testament, it's the lack of outstanding songs. Only the magnificent 'Papa Don't Preach' Madonna's 'Billie Jean' has the high-profile hook to match 'Like a Virgin', 'Dress You Up' and 'Material Girl'. Not coincidentally, all of the above were written by outside contributors. 'White Heat', 'Jimmy Jimmy' and 'World Go Round' are excellent within their aspirations and easily comparable to 'Angel' and 'Holiday' (though not quite up to 'Into the Groove' or 'Lucky Star'). But none has the feel of a pop event. 'Party' starts well but doesn't ignite, and 'True Blue', a cross between 'Heaven Must Have Sent You' and 'Chapel of Love', squanders a classic beat and an immensely promising title.
In commercial terms, it may not matter. 'Live to Tell' hit Number One on career momentum, and 'Papa Don't Preach' is great enough to carry several of True Blue's solid contenders home. In a clever double-entendre, M. no longer anything like a virgin pleads for her father's approval of the decision to keep an unborn child. Given Madonna's conscientiousness and ambition, it's not likely True Blue's dearth of "career records" was intentional. But its integrity and very freedom from attention seeking may turn out to be yet another piece of great timing in a remarkable career.
Madonna's sturdy, dependable, lovable new album remains faithful to her past while shamelessly rising above it. True Blue may generate fewer sales and less attention than Like a Virgin, but it sets her up as an artist for the long run. And like every other brainy move from this best of all possible pop madonnas, it sounds as if it comes from the heart.
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2006 WMG Vogue (video)
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