Madonna turns 50 today. Enjoy Like a Prayer.
Madonna is the paragon a kind of pop music that I enjoy (only semi-ironically) far more, I imagine, than my fellow writers on the blog. But despite the many (younger and younger*) girls who have come after with aspirations to the crown, I think nobody has, like, a prayer of coming close. Why? My thoughts after the jump.
In itself this is a great video, featuring racial politics, weird associative montage, meta-theatricality, and statue toe shrimping. But I also think it marks the moment that Madonna came into her own as a free artist of herself in her chosen medium, the popular culture itself.
She is a kind of curator, a bricoleur who metabolizes an astounding range of culture reference and synthesizes it into a satisfying and marketable form. I mean that as a compliment.
But you also get the felling that she’s being sincere on some level, and that there is someone in there who is actually living the memes she attaches herself to (some of the major ones being, in chronological order, Catholicism, nondescript Indian spirituality, and Kabbalah). This material girl knew the meaning of meme before Richard Dawkins even coined the term (in 1976, when Madonna was 18).
Which only reminds me how old she is. So happy birthday, Madoona. Oft imitated (even by you yourself), never duplicated (especially by you yourself). Here’s to another 50. No doubt you’ll still look hot then.
* I think the phrase “Get ready to rock it out on Disney Channel!” caused the most cognitive dissonance of anything I’ve heard this week.
I think it’s also interesting to note that the “Like A Prayer” video – though it premiered on MTV – was witnessed by most Americans for the first time when it was prominently featured in a nation-wide ad campaign by a major consumer corporation. The fact that Madonna was able to strongarm her racially, socially, sexually, religiously charged imagery into the eyeballs of Joe Everyman, and that she got *Pepsi* to sponsor it, demonstrates not only her unparalleled acumen at manipulating the American media machine, but also a key moment in her on-again/off-again relationship with Irony.
‘Cause yeah, Pepsi – the official soft drink of the American Mid-West – is *totally* into Black Jesus.
The Pepsi thing is one of myriad instances that prove how she is so iconic and definitive that while she does get sponsors, she is not defined by them like so many of the other pop stars out there. All they do is pay for things- SHE decides what image she presents, not them. And she’s SO much a permanent part of the pop culture structure that she’s able to give everyone, including those sponsors, the (not necessarily metaphorical) finger in the images she presents, and instead of being shunned, we and they come crawling back for more. She’s awesome.
I can’t believe I forgot to mention that. I was meaning to make a point along the lines of what Gab says above.
What I wrote in the post — that Madonna’s medium is the popular culture itself — I would reiterate here: It’s not surprising that she manages to retain her own distinct identity that transcends TV commercials (and movies, etc.) because that’s where she’s in her element. She’s not a singer — music is just one of the tools she uses to develop her art, which is herself.
The only other person I can think of that has a similar relationship to the culture is Oprah. (Maybe Martha Stewart also.) Interesting that they’re all women?
Well, isn’t that the way a lot of pop culture is moving these days? What about Sean Combs (or whatever he’s calling himself now)? First, he started with music; now he’s got a fashion line and his own TV show. He’s also a film actor and producer. This is what EVERYONE is doing now. You don’t sell the music; you use music/movies/magazines/clothing lines to sell yourself. Everyone is his/her own brand. I’m not sure if Madonna started that trend or was a symptom of it.