Category Archives: Madonna

Your Madgesty is dead… long live Shakira!

If one needs any more evidence of Madonna’s increasing musical irrelevance, here it is. Celebration is a dud. While theoretically I support her return to dance, this is a track with zero originality — it could be anyone’s track. She doesn’t even seem herself in the spoken word sections, normally a Madonna strength. And despite it’s celebratory intent, there is no soul. Once again she sounds like she’s phoning it in. She makes all the right noises about being yourself, chasing pleasure etc., but she may as well have been recording it from the treadmill, slave to her insatiable work ethic. A sad day this is. I was hoping that after such a setback as Hard Candy, she would be reborn.

Shakira on the other hand has snuck out of hibernation to produce a killer track with a fantastic clip (which echoes Madge’s Sorry, as if to emphasise some kind of changing of the guard). She Wolf is disco fun at its best. My hips shake even writing about it. And I love the clip’s bizarre concoction of contrary scenes: Shakira gyrating in some kind of glitter womb; her recreation of MJ’s Smooth Criminal ‘lean forward’ move; the bit where she basically detaches her hips in some kind of cage; and her climactic dance solo which evokes early 2000 J.Lo ‘house’ dance in a thoroughly satisfying way. This is adventurous, progressive and full of soul. Shakira is the new pop innovator.

American Life revisited

American Life is a reminder of the Madonna that existed before she decided to stay young forever, and in a sense its failure sent her on the path she’s still treading now, with increasing cringe-factor. Whereas Confessions on a Dance Floor was a reclamation of dance, the body and youth (and for which Madge seemed suitably refreshed), American Life was framed as a meditation on her life at a juncture between past and uncertain future, in the broader context of conservative America and celebrity culture.

“I prefer my South American dictators to be played by Madonna”
But this is where the intent of the album became somewhat unstuck. As its Patty Hearst-inspired, faux-photocopied cover art signalled, Madonna was at war against… something. What exactly it was was never specified. The fame-machine she helped build? Her own excess? American foreign policy? Madonna’s strength has always been picking a range of different reference-points and then stitching them into something new, but not necessarily logical… and then defending any lack of coherence by labelling it art. But for an album with an apparent political intent, this was not convincing. While American Life’s infamous rap took a stab at teasing out her own complicity in the world she was trying to critique, it didn’t cut it. Instead the effect of a global superstar famed for her capitalist instinct and self-focus vaguely critiquing America, fame, and the superficial seemed, at the very least, a little limp.
Black hair=serious artistic period.
But if you subtract the half-hearted politics, there remain some beautiful songs that provide a bittersweet reminder of what Madge has left behind on her way to the Candy Shop. The album’s emotional core sits in a trio of songs, Nothing Fails, Intervention and Xstatic Process — all melodic, delicate, vulnerable, and unfortunately probably also about Guy Ritchie. There’s still the odd dud lyric (Madge’s lyrical quality control being generally quite appalling), but as songs they engage you on a level other than ‘superstar album.’ I’m So Stupid and Nobody Knows Me are the most overt critiques of celebrity culture, but don’t really work musically (albeit because of a presumably intentional abrasiveness). And while I think Mother Father is channeling some kind of therapeutic free association, it comes across as year 8-diary-confession detritus. While not always successful, the thought that’s gone into the songs is certainly a revelation in the context of Hard Candy’s laughable attempts at meaning (e.g. Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You).
But perhaps the main reason American Life seems a bit hollow is actually to do with history. Because what happened next seemed to fully undermine the album’s sentiment. After it failed commercially and (mostly) critically, Madonna, like the Terminator, returned to the forge. She re-built herself, re-grouped and came out with the dance album to beat all dance albums. While this was magical to watch, it nonetheless suggested that she maybe couldn’t handle a life without the success she was apparently so ambivalent about. As impressive as Confessions ultimately was, as Madge continues to strut from stadium to stadium, more ghoulish by the day, I wonder what form she’d be in today if she’d stuck to the artistic direction mapped out (occasionally bodgily) by American Life?

I likee. And Madge is looking pleasingly refreshed too… feels like the world is back on its proper orbit.

More Kylie product…

More off-season Kylie merch, this time from Spanish jeweller Tous. Directed by Ellen von Unwerth, it seems to have been filmed on tour and features some of the dancers as well as her glamorous-glamorous-gl-glamourous (flossy flossy) musical director Sarah DeCourcy (I think), who looks exactly as one would imagine musical directors look in 70s Bond films. Very much poaches the Justify my Love concept (also filmed mid-tour) of saucy maid in Euro-hotel peering through ‘peep-hole’ to catch god knows what going on inside, except in contrast to Madge’s sinful festival of erotica, all that seems to be happening here is K skipping around drinking champagne, spinning around to feel dizzy (like we did in primary school), and then passing out on top of a giant fur rug. For reference, here’s Justify my Love, although unfortunately the only version I could get has a very different song overlaid, which makes for a very different effect….

Even today, I don’t think you’d get someone of Madonna’s (celebrity) stature making a clip like this. I think we’ve become accustomed to seeing bodies, but nothing this darkly erotic. 

Thank you Rage. I did indeed want Madonna’s Burning Up to greet me this morning. Because this has to be one of the best lyrics ever, particularly when you know who uttered it.

Do you wanna see me down on my knees?
Or bending over backwards now would you be pleased?
Unlike the others I’d do anything
I’m not the same, I have no shame
I’m on fire.

I like the ‘on fire’ bit. It’s both flip and elemental. Cool. And you know she means ‘I’d do anything’, unlike Don’t pretend you’re not hungry/ I’ve seen it before/ I’ve got Turkish Delight baby and so much more…. Gross… In the realm of sexual metaphor, what exactly is turkish delight?
PS Note Christopher Ciccone as backup dancer in The Tube clip…

Kylie admits to Botox, and various other miscellaneous procedures. Good on her. I admire her delicate wording around plastic surgery “issues”. Traditionally she’s said she makes the best of what’s available to look her best, and then quite rightly points out that when she looks good we say she’s had work done, and when she doesn’t we say she’s old, and probably should get work done. Fair point. Because I think on some level we want her to remain ageless.

I’ve also enjoyed Courtney Love’s (initial) response to plastic surgery rumours — wearing a smirk, and with a twinkle in her eye, she simply proclaimed the transformative powers of yoga. Then there’s Cher’s choice quote: “they are my tits and if I wanna have them put on my back that is my own damn business”. Another fair point. And speaking of such bold procedures, Joan Rivers has now written a guide to plastic surgery, which I’m not entirely sure is a joke.

But still no word from Madge:

As a rule I find plastic surgery much more creepy when it’s not spoken about. For example, every time I see a photo of Madge’s face now I can’t help but picture two silicone orbs stuffed under her cheeks. Cheeks are huge right now.

Madonna vs Cyndi

Back in January I started a lazy pop cultural wrap up of 2008 and got as far as Sticky & Sweet and KylieX2008. Yes, many other things happened last year, but these were such obviously monumental events they deserved primary consideration. But as it’s, like, March, I thought I’d continue sifting through the wash-up of a quite significant year in pop…

You know something’s going on if two groundbreaking female pop icons forged in the mid-8os, both recently turned 50, release albums within months of each other. And while I remember thinking when these came out that they seemed such different approaches for mid-life pop stars to take, there’s actually some structural similarity between the two that makes their apparent differences even more interesting. 

Most obviously, Madge’s
Hard Candy is a take on R&B, whereas Cyndi’s thrown her lot into eurodance (which is, funnily enough, where Madge was positioning herself with Confessions on a Dance Floor). When I first heard that Madge was going to be working with Timbaland and Timberlake I was a little worried — why would she follow up something groundbreaking by jumping on a bandwagon that had already passed? Well, there’s always some method to Madge’s near pathalogical fascination with the new. It turns out Confessions just didn’t sell well in the US. On a business level, I guess it would make sense to claw back the American market by givin em’ what they want, but artistically it seemed quite regressive that she would sell herself out to hit-makers who were already beginning to lose their sheen.

While I can say with utter certainty that the result, Hard Candy, is awful, I’m still intrigued by it for reasons unknown. I think the awfulness stems from the improbability of a 50 year old control freak singing:

See which flavor you like and I’ll have it for you
Come on in to my store, I’ve got candy galore
Don’t pretend you’re not hungry, I’ve seen it before
I’ve got turkish delight baby and so much more.

This sounds creepy, but something about it keeps making me think of menopause, although I’m sure that’s some sick preoccupation of my own. 4 minutes seemed similarly disingenuous, with it’s half-hearted and vague eco-message (messages which always seem a bit off from Madonna and her ‘nannies, assistant driver and a jet’). To boot, she sounded completely bored throughout, except, interestingly, in the excellent Give it 2 MeI always believe Madonna more when she’s singing about getting what she wants, working hard, and screwing over whoever gets in the way. But most of it was bad R&B dross. So, so, sad, and a commercial failure, which proves once again that you don’t crack America by making music you expect America wants. But still my fascination. I think it’s cause I secretly want to believe that Madonna remains eternal, and if you listen to select moments and don’t actually look at her, you can just for a second believe she’s unstoppable.

Even though Cyndi Lauper’s Bring Ya to the Brink was a no-apologies dance record, it was Max Martin who she turned to for some of its best bits, which suggests that its quirkiness was coming from her own input rather than producer smarts. It also means that, in terms of turning to the hit-makers, Lauper wasn’t that different to Madge in her method. Martin’s Into the Nightlife has one of the *best* choruses I’ve heard in a long time, and while some songs veered into anonymous disco, her personality’s so winning they’re saved from complete banality. But most satisfying were the more ballady moments (e.g. Echo), where she proved she’s still able to project fragility and vulnerability with the same kind of authenticity she showed with Time After Time and True Colours. Considering Madge’s obsession with youth, it’s funny that Bring ya seems like a much younger record — I can actually believe that Lauper would, you know, go out and stuff, whereas Madge seems like she might be taking tips from Lourdes. If Hard Candy is a steely career women botoxed to oblivion (or perhaps some Patty Hughes from Damages type creature), Bring ya is the fun and kooky art teacher who never works out but still goes clubbing on the weekends. Or something.