Madonna is the most successful female musical artist of all time; a music, fashion and culture A-lister for four decades. One of our most defiantly outspoken of all female role models really doesn’t need me to defend her.
But if one ever wondered what misogyny, casual and overt ageism, being patronised and suffering vituperative ridicule looked like, then look no further than the spiteful reactions to her new Madame X persona and her appearance on the Graham Norton Show this weekend.
Celebrities don’t do chat shows for fun, however lovely Norton is. Danny Boyle. Lily James and Himesh Patel were promoting “Yesterday” and Sir Ian McKellan was touting his one-man show.
Madonna is pushing Madame X, her first album in four years. She was drily funny, genuinely pleased to be sitting with Boyle, whose Trainspotting film she admires, and admitted honestly she didn’t recall working with McKellan, with whom she sparred playfully. She has adopted a Madame X vaudeville persona for the album: all bustier and eye patch.
Madonna is the one time “Material Girl”, “Vogue”, “Evita” and “Queen of Pop” and so many more. Like David Bowie, the key to her longevity is talent, chutzpah and re-invention. Unlike David Bowie, she is ridiculed at every turn for having the temerity to put herself out there and subvert cultural expectations. If that includes pushing up her boobs via an excruciatingly tight bustier and wearing an eye patch for “the look”, what of it?
“Holiday”, her first hit, came out in 1983. What were you like 36 years ago? Do you look, think and sound the same? I saw her first world tour at Wembley Stadium in 1987. There was a real frisson about seeing a global icon then – perhaps like Beyoncé today. She had already created a rebel persona with the attendant criticism for her outspokenness. Fast-forward 30-plus years and her honest concerns about moving to Portugal to be a soccer mom, or the dangers of social media, or being asked for sexual favours by powerful men only lead to her being damned.
How should she behave at 60? She has no real role models at her level of fame. Why should she conform to notions of behaviour and dress that are rooted in our casual ageism and misogyny? Some admire her for supposedly giving “zero f***s”, but as she spoke of her children perhaps wishing Madonna wasn’t their mother for an easier life, it’s clear she actually does. The kneejerk, patronising and spiteful criticism she receives in truth reveals more about us than her.
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