Nipple flashes. Guns. Nazi imagery. Gaga-bashing. Blasphemy. Yep, another Madonna tour, another round of utterly predictable controversy. And this is news?
Apparently so, since every other date on Her Madge-esty’s current MDNA tour seems to dangle some fresh piece of titillation — literally dangle in some cases, as the fans in Paris and Istanbul who recently got to play peek-a-boob with Madonna’s left and right breasts, respectively, can attest — before global media that are all too willing to run with it like none of this has ever happened before, like this isn’t exactly what she wants. Seriously, does the entire planet suffer from some kind of disease, some Memento-esque “condition” that makes it perpetually forget what Madonna has done for a living for the past 30 years?
A day without headlines must be akin to a day without air for Madonna Louise Ciccone, and she is to be admired for doing such a smashing job of keeping herself in near-constant circulation for all this time. Some people with the time to devote to these sorts of things have observed that her present-day attention-getting tactics are starting to look a little bit desperate — I did as much in my review of MDNA, the album, this past March — but the actually truth is far simpler: Madonna has always been desperate. Desperate for acknowledgement, if not approval, by any means necessary. Even if it means posing in compromising positions with Vanilla Ice for a book of erotic photos.
And she’s good at getting what she wants. Be it the Catholic Church condemning the “Like a Prayer” video in 1989 or Front National leader Marion Le Pen now getting her back up over a tour-video montage that suggests she’s a Nazi, Madonna baits the trap and her intended targets come rushing indignantly in.
If we’re noticing that desperation a little more nowadays, it’s maybe because Madonna’s gambits for calling attention to herself haven’t really matured in a manner becoming a 53-year-old mom.
Flashing a breast or baring one’s bottom (Rome got mooned on the MDNA tour) is the sort of mildly transgressive gesture you’d expect from a teenager trying to rile up her parents, after all; it’s not a terribly creative way to stir the pot during one’s middle years. Likewise, one expects angry young punks to employ swastikas and Hitler moustaches in their courtship of controversy because invoking Nazism is an easy route to outrage, and when you’re an angry young punk you’re looking for an instant, knee-jerk reaction.
Ditto Madonna’s awkward evocation of Ecstasy culture in the title MDNA — which would have been far more au courant during the early ’90s — or her unfortunate “Has anyone her seen Molly?” remarks at Miami’s Ultra festival earlier this year. One might reasonably expect more sophistication from the Queen of Pop at this stage in her life, no?
Her feud with Madonna-come-lately Lady Gaga also has an air of the schoolyard about it. Apparently, Madge is mashing “Express Yourself” into “Born this Way” on the road these days and ranting “She’s not me, she’s not me” in the coda.
Since Gaga has never been anything but honest and appreciative of the debt she owes to Madonna, referencing the obvious similarities between “Express Yourself” and “Born this Way” could have been a fun way for Madonna to show the kiddies where it came from without adding a layer of bad-tempered neediness to the proceedings. That really does look desperate, especially since Gaga has thus far taken the high road and stayed the hell away from the bait, only noting online that “we don’t need to slice and hate each other.”
None of this matters to Madonna, of course. The important thing to Madonna is that we keep talking about her. And here we are again, talking about her. The MDNA tour — which arrives at the Air Canada Centre on Sept. 12-13 with tickets topping out at a whopping $374 each — will have grossed $450 million by the time it wraps up, not least because it promises to deliver her millions of fans with much further fodder for talking about Madonna in the future. She knows what she’s doing. If you’re tired of hearing about it, stop talking about it.