The first time I saw Madonna was at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1984 when she wore a trashed-out wedding dress and crucifixes and was grinding on the floor like a possessed Barbie doll in heat while singing Like a Virgin.
It was like watching a John Waters’ film. It was horrifying and hypnotic at the same time. It wasn’t that her performance was so good that it fascinated me, but that she was so horrible that had me riveted to the TV. You didn’t know what she was going to do next.
That’s Madonna for me. The first big video pop celebrity to grace MTV, Madonna proved you didn’t have to be a talented singer, songwriter or even performer to be a pop icon. All you had to do was keep yourself in the public eye and success would be yours.
Madonna was never about the music. Her whole career has always been about making Madonna a big celebrity. She’s reinvented herself so many times you forget just how long in the tooth she really is and how long she’s been in the business. Strangely, her music hasn’t changed much over 30 years. Like a Virgin, Papa Don’t Preach, Justify My Love, Vogue, Like A Prayer. She rarely strays from the sexually empowering disco format.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d be a hypocrite if I complained about the way she uses sex. But it’s the sex I find interesting, not Madonna.
Queen of Reinvention
Face it. She really isn’t much of a singer or an actor. But over the years, she’s shown herself to be adept at surrounding herself with more talented people. She and her producers are so adept at recycling hits she’s become known disparagingly by industry insiders as the Queen of Reinvention.
I think Madonna’s more of a powerful businesswoman than a recording artist. Over her 30-year career, she’s shown an extraordinary knack for anticipating, and manipulating the marketplace. Her latest tour is a good example. MDNA. The European reviews have been mixed to lousy at best. Yet, she can still demand, and get, top ticket prices for her Monday, Sept. 10 at Scotiabank Place top out at $350+ a ticket.
I think she views music the way Calvin Klein designs jeans. While all music is a commodity, Madonna takes music marketing to fast-food giant McDonalds-scale levels. How many can I sell? And like Klein, she knows the quickest way to sell your product is with a sexy image. Madonna is the musical equivalent of Brooke Shields in jeans. When she kissed Britney Spears, it wasn’t sex. It was a business contract. An exchange of sex for power.
She’s like a champion boxer who doesn’t know when to quit. There seems to be something dark and hungry that drives her on. What that is we may never know.
Denis Armstrong's Top 5 Appallingly Bad Madonna Songs
1. Vogue - A song about posing, this has to be THE worst Madonna song ever. Without a decipherable melody or story, it’s actually not a song at all, but an instructional video on how many ways you can look like a constipated fool.
2. 4 Minutes - Not even Justin Timberlake can rescue this prodding mess, and she looks like his mother in the video. Not only is it pointless, it’s the opposite of sexy.
3. Give It 2 Me - Did she write this on Twitter? This disco dazzler was surely written using fewer than 140 characters, which is about 120 too many.
4. Girl Gone Wild - Wow. The act of contrition opens this bit of disco thunder best saved for the gay strip club. About as erotic as an oil change.
5. Justify My Love: Not for the song, which I think is cool, but Madonna’s performance as the hot temptress in the video. Pure lime-green Jello. About as sexy as kissing your aunt. I’m guess Guy Ritchie never saw this video.