Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Madonna v Lady Gaga: How the Queen of Pop reclaimed her throne

Madonna (© PA)
Why Madonna's Super Bowl performance proves she's still light years ahead of Lady Gaga…
For the last three years it has seemed as if The Queen of Pop was a title we only bestowed on Madonna as an affectionate courtesy for all the work she's put in, and that the real crown was actually now firmly on the head of Lady Gaga (when she isn't wearing a cup, some ham or a fascinator made out of beagles and moon rocks).
At the half-time of a sporting event we can't begin to fathom, Madonna changed the game.
Or more accurately Madonna used the 2012 Super Bowl to remind everyone that the game is hers and that she is still the best pop star we've got, and any young pretender, no matter how ambitious/creative/deranged, is going to have to work a whole lot harder for a whole lot longer to even get near the ball.
Long gone are the days when the pop world was ruled by giants. Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince once strode about the Earth performing vast, dazzling, theatrically thrilling, stadium-busting concerts other acts could only dream about (as their accountants pointed to the bank balance and shook their heads).

Now, even our biggest stars seem to exist on a more manageable scale.
Certainly pop concerts are still big, flashy, laser-filled, dancified affairs, packed to the popcorn-odoured rafters with costume changes, trap doors, daft props and glitter canons.

But such fripperies are now commonplace, expected and done on the cheap.
That was until Gaga decided it was a perfectly shrewd business move to lose money on a tour - such were her extravagant technical tastes.
Madonna and Nicki Minaj (© PA)
Madonna takes it to 'a whole other level'
Yet while Gaga's gigs are a riot of high camp, gore and awe (recently revealed stage plans for the Born This Way tour suggest the action will take place in a castle), Madonna's Super Bowl show was on a whole other level.

We'd go so far as to call it her most inventive and impressive display since 1990's Blond Ambition concerts and the best use of a video floor since the Beijing Olympics.
Most importantly she made several million dollars worth of excessive, advertiser-attracting, attention-demanding spectacle look almost effortless and hugely entertaining. Did you clock that smile during Music?
Madonna genuinely looked to be having the time of her life up there with the hyper-real Nicki Minaj, M.I.A. and her naughty finger, the frat-buffoons LMFAO, the Reverend Cee Lo Green, Roman centurions, cheerleaders, marching bands, and... oh my, we had forgotten what we were missing.
Madonna makes pop fun; now we remember!
Because no matter how fascinating The Haus of Gaga's work is (and we're not bored yet, despite the media saturation), their creative director sure goes a long way to make it seem like a thankless task.
In her interviews she's always keen to stress just how much "hard work" goes into being this otherworldly superstar.
And while we appreciate the extra effort, her job is simply to make some nice pop records, wear daft clothes and emerge from an egg from time to time.

Gaga doesn't seem to enjoy herselfAnd yet we don't get the sense Ms Germanotta is actually enjoying herself from the über-serious and often incomprehensible way she discusses her art. To borrow a phrase from an old editor of ours, we don't want to hear the labour pains; we just want to see the baby.
The main difference between Madonna's approach to her work and Gaga's is that Ms Ciconne never makes it feel like a task. Being Madonna is always what Madonna has wanted to do, and it's what she does best. She positively revels in being Madonna. Or at least she used to before the marriage, religion and film directing made her boring.
The first sign that the fun, solipsistic Madonna was back came when she was overheard expressing her disgust at the flowers presented to her by a fan. It was the Madonna of In Bed With Madonna - hilariously callous and particular.

Lady Gaga (© PA)The second sign was when she responded to the media brouhaha about hydrangea-gate with a tongue-in-cheek video begging for absolution (once a Catholic...)
The third indicator that the Queen of Pop was returning to her throne was a literal one: her arrival onto the Super Bowl stage on a colossal, man-pulled chariot - fit for a Cecil B. DeMille directed Cleopatra.  These are good signs.

"What are you looking at?"
When Michael Jackson played the same show in 1993, he pulled off the illusion of darting from one side of the stadium to the other, as if to say, "You think you see me but you don't. I'm elusive. You can't pin me down". By contrast, Madonna's entrance was slow, stately and supremely confident. All eyes were on her as she drawled, "What are you looking at?"
It was the entrance of someone at ease with her self, her stardom and her sense of humour.
And no, we don't think Give Me All Your Luvin' (don't you just hate that spelling?) is going to trouble any 'best songs of all time' charts. Personally, we'd rank it as only our 59th favourite Madonna single, although we appreciate the Daphne & Celeste influence (we'll never forget you, girls).
And judging by the titles on her upcoming album MDNA (that joke isn't funny anymore, is it?) we're not looking at classic songwriting (Gang Bang? Really?)

But it doesn't matter if these new songs aren't the best songs of her career, because we've 11 previous albums to pick from. There's no shame in trading on past glories if no one else's current glory comes close.
Lady Gaga has made two and a half albums so far, and while she's racked up a few cracking singles, at this point in her career Madonna had given us Holiday, Lucky Star, Borderline, Like A Virgin, Material Girl, Crazy For You and Into The Groove.

There's no comparison.
It seems ludicrous and unfair to Gaga that we even began to consider her worthy of pop royalty so soon. She's achieved an awful lot in a very short amount of time, but let's give it 30 years before we see if Madonna needs to abdicate.
And no, as we're tired of reading in the comments sections of websites, Madonna didn't sing live for the majority of the performance, but then you can't be spun upside your head by impossibly elastic dancers and still hold a note immediately afterwards.
It's one or the other.
And if you think that singing live is more important than being spun upside your head by impossibly elastic dancers, on a night like that, then you don't understand pop at all.
However, for those of you who still think singing is a competitive sport, her rendition of Like A Prayer was all her own live voice and it was faultless.
Touchdown Madonna.