“Hey young people – you’re getting older every second. It’s what we do. One day someone will tell you to stop and you’ll be all like ‘fuck you’ just like Madonna.” That was former Savage Garden frontman Darren Hayes on Twitter the night of the Billboard Music Awards. Madonna and Colombian reggaeton star Maluma had just performed “Medellín,” the lead single from her new album, Madame X. In keeping with the project’s premise about a secret agent who travels around the world changing identities “fighting for freedom” and “bringing light to dark places,” the duet partners danced and sang amidst a trippy hologram display featuring multiple iterations of Madonna doing the cha-cha.

This was the sort of awards-show spectacle Madonna helped to invent — not as memorable as her iconic VMAs moments stripping out of a wedding dress and kissing Britney Spears, but entertaining and elaborate and cheeky in her signature fashion. She established many such templates during a good solid quarter-century of blazing trails and making hits. She almost singlehandedly carved out the modern pop-star archetype, endlessly reinventing herself and becoming a transformative figure in the sexual revolution. Before Britney and Katy and Taylor — and long before “nasty women” became a catchphrase in a presidential race that deteriorated into show business — there was Madonna, loud and proud and gleefully blasphemous.

She’s an undisputed legend who these days is just as often a punchline, largely thanks to her refusal to “retire with dignity.” That chorus of jeers picked up again the night of the Billboard Awards. Hayes had apparently encountered the usual chatter that accompanies Madonna’s every public action these days, the calls to hang it up and the jokes that imply as much, so he responded with an appeal for sympathy by way of the golden rule. Although his own moment in the spotlight was brief compared to Madonna’s peerless run, he surely knows what it’s like to be laughed at for having the nerve to continue your career when the zeitgeist moves on.

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