Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Madonna’s constant presence in the industry over the last thirty plus years has generated some memorable moments that only she could’ve pulled off. Along the way she’s entertained people, let her ego and imagination run beyond wild and managed to rub more than one section of society up the wrong way. Ever controversial, ever changing, ever pushing boundaries; when it comes to popular music, will we ever see her like again? Ok, there are better singers, better performers, better everything really, but lets face it, Madonna is the last of the greats – when I was young a new Madonna song was an event; there aren’t many artists around today that could make the front pages with a new song/video/live show – and do you know what? Every now and then she actually came up with a killer tune.
Like a Prayer
She’d already played the sex card on Like a Virgin and she’d already had number one singles, but Like a Prayer was THE defining moment that would shape the years to come. The madcap, pseudo arty video with its sexual and religious imagery and the black Jesus masterstroke upset conservatives across the board, throw in the gospel choir and the superbly executed tempo changes in the mid section and you’ve got perfect Madonnaness.
The whole concept was vaguely ridiculous with the cone shaped bras and the silly poses but, somehow, god knows how, she actually got away with it and came up with one of the most enduring pop songs of the time. It looked as though it could have come from a Saturday Night Live skit poking fun at the star but at the time she could do no wrong, amazing how far a little confidence can go.
Justify My Love
Actually written by Lenny Kravitz, who also provides the moany na na nas of the backing vocal, this one made the front pages for its excessive sexual content. Strangely though the most memorable image is the theatrical giggle from Madge as she rushes down the corridor at the end. Perfect Madonna marketing.
After all kinds of reinventions to keep herself in the public eye throughout the nineties; being controversial and then enlisting top producers to stay one step ahead, what does she do? Reinvent herself as herself. It was pretty much back to basics just singing songs and in Music she totally nailed it, it was fresh, had groove and was instantly catchy – perfect pop song….”Is you Madonna?”
The Ray of Light/Music/ American Life trilogy was arguably the most creative of Madonna’s career and on the title track of the latter she was way out on a limb being Madonna. Live, it had war theatrics, gun shots and helicopters, metal guitars and that rap about drinking Soy Latte and doing Yoga, I mean, what the actual fuck? It’s as mad as a box of frogs but totally kills it; this multi-faceted track chops and changes and goes places where no other pop star would dare to go – she had Michael Moore gushing and upset the entire Republican establishment of George W. Bush’s Iraq invading America.
Into the Groove (American Life tour)
So you’re a forty something pop star with a string of number ones behind you, how do you breathe new life into a classic? A five minute bagpipe intro with your dancers kilted up as a marching band plus Missy Elliott, all executed with a supreme sense of timing of course.
Just when we thought there would be no more reinventions, back she comes as a marauding disco queen with a hook so sharp and a sample so genius that she inadvertently came up with one of the best pop songs of recent years.
Bitch I’m Madonna
She may be pushing sixty, she may be playing catch up rather than setting trends, there may well be just the vaguest air of desperation about her latest guise (the outrageous “S.E.X” totally lacking the cool of Justify my Love) but is it catchy? Yep. Is it current? Yep. Has she still got one butt cheek on the throne of queen of pop? Not really. She’s given up that fight but I think she’s showing that she can still slug it out when she wants to and would maybe be a strong note to finish on.
Maybe now it’s time for Madge to call it a day, not that she is too old to make music, I don’t believe in the ‘too old’ ethic, but maybe it’s time for something different before she becomes a parody of herself. After years of shaking things up how about a break, one last bad ass tour then an MTV unplugged before mentoring the next big thing?