Saturday, 4 February 2012

Madonna 1982-2012: 30 Years of Pop Genius

Great American Icon Posing
Madonna is one of the great cultural icons of the post-war era, easily as significant as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Brando, or Brad Pitt.  Indeed, given the fact that her first single debuted in 1982, thirty years ago this October, and that her new single is out now (ironically self-referencing), and that she is poised to play the Superbowl, it is time to marvel anew.  I can think of few major recording artists of similar career span, other than Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan (Leonard Cohen, of course).  Springsteen? Elvis, The Beatles - those other touchstones, lasted less long, as did Michael Jackson.  Prince, also a genius, is sporadic, hit-and-miss.  No other singer-songwriter of the 80s remains as relevant - indeed, Lady Gaga, and Lana Del Rey, to name two, make so sense without the context of Madonna.  Typing out on Spotify her best songs, I came up with 50, before stopping - it seemed silly.

All Madonna albums are a little weak, but winnowed out, each yields at least a clutch of classics.  The world of pop music is unthinkable without 'Express Yourself', 'Vogue', 'Like A Virgin', 'Like A Prayer', 'Holiday', or my favourite, 'Dress You Up', which first put me in touch with my inner girl, in a Larkin-lesbian fashion.  Madonna has had some bad marriages and relationships, more silly phases than Yeats, and can't seem to really star in a good film (few other top notch performers have bombed so often onscreen); one thinks of Henry James failing at theatre as an equivalent of an American in London with genius singularly incapable of transferring their gifts from their chosen genre to another they desired to excel in.  However, as she ages, she renews the idea of female beauty and drive and chutzpah, and increasingly threatens to out-Dietrich Dietrich.

There won't ever be another Madonna.  She is still with us, and, if the fates smile, there is no doubt she will be singing fun, zeitgeist songs in 2022, perhaps even 2032.  I have loved her from afar since I was 16, when she first appeared on my horizon, and have wanted her to be my big sister since then.  I went to see her in Montreal with my mother for the True Blue tour in the mid-80s at the height of her first wave.  I hope to meet her one day and write a song with her.  In the meantime, I will simply have to strike a pose on my own.
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