Wide Range. Cultural Focus. Editor Patrick Neithard
Essay by Patrick Neithard, April 15th 2012 “MDNA” by Madonna. According to the billboards the most anticipated album 2012. Issued on march 23rd 2012, it provoked comments drenched with ignorance, its base tone somehow reminiscing of:
I`m like! Girl Gone Wild
The german language area almost quoted unanimously the word “Girl” would be appearing far too many times in this 12th studio album of the, OMG!, already 53-year-old artist. Starting with her looks voices grumbled she had far too many surgical interventions, and now, another album? A deferred ending! Not your ideal male fantasy. Better yet: Madonna outacted, bitchy, growling cattily! It seems in the year 2012, quite a bunch of ones takes a fair share in perpetuating prophecies. And would it not be a trophy if a writer might have said it first: she`s done, she`s over, and I, oh I.. knew it!
And yet. One of those questions raised (in this slightly slanderous canon) seemed rather plausible. Is “MDNA” the answer to her current competitors bringing her majesty`s throne slightly to a jiggle? The answer comes promptly with the housy album opener “Girl Gone Wild”: “It`s so hypnotic. I got that burning hot desire, no one can put out my fire.” The song unwinds and surprisingly quotes Rock Girl Cindy Lauper`s “Girls just wanna have fun!”. Lauper, thirty years back in 1983/1984, during Thatcherism, had thus set young`n`feisty Madonna a simple, almost stylish visual quote, dressed in a funky-punk tulle bridal gown, almost as “virgeniously” as Madonna in her video “Like A Virgin”. MTV was just about to usher a new era, an era though to be full of visual quotes in short form. Pop participated in a musical dialogue, transatlantic. Many citations were to follow, quite many of them oscillating between a romantic, somewhat overblown squeezy pop coming out of the alembic kitchen by Stock Aitken Waterman and an ongoing strong mainstreamy thumpa-thumpa later known as eurotrash. Thirty years later one single pronoun – “they” – should suffice when Madonna braids it into “Girls just wanna have fun”. To make a statement. On todays new female blood. Laxily, she mutters: “Girls…They just wanna have fun” which plays well into her subsequent apostille: (they) “get fired up like a smoking gun”. But are those new breeds of pop industry her target public? And, asking frankly, does her position require such comments?
Competition. Madonna lived up to it ever since. Patsy Kensit (taking the underpart near David Bowie in Absolute Beginners) whispered as a blonde female fatale front woman of the band “eight wonder” 1986 “I`m not scared”. Samantha Fox (British Ex Page Three Girl) was (also) consumed with the idea of being touched and thus sang “Touch Me” (1986), though desperately missing out the strict catholic background of Madonna`s Song “Like A Virgin”. Italy, known for being the source of catholicism, brought in Sabrina. (actually Sabrina Salerno). Another story quickly told. While Madonna had used her “Boy Toy” belt buckle to point on the female enthrallment under patriarchy for centuries, Sabrina thought that three years after Madonna just any argument now might be expressed freely, so why not just sing an ode to the “Boys” (1987). Nobody really remembers more than the chorus of that song “Boys Boys Boys, I`m Looking for a good time”. It came well endowed by seemingly overheated mammal arguments being cooled off in a swimming pool amongst further splashed around colorful balloons. Small was that bikini, and short where the coming successful years. Once you`re beyond the alps, there lies the fun. On the contrary Madonna`s clip began at sunset in New York. The spectator got lured “over to the old world” and landed in Venice, Italy, where she could be met singing about being “loved and touched by his ( His aka Gods?) love for the very first time”. In the course of her visualization she meets Venice`s most prominent saint named Marcus, in his allegoric embodiment, the lion – just to release (as an American) the (thus constituted?) beast out of its cage. The scandal was historic. And Madonna, singing “I made it through the wilderness” was only at her beginnings.
The DNA a heritage, the Album “MDNA” a cheerleading to feminism
Maybe this is why the song “Girl Gone Wild” (it was co-produced by the house duo Marco “Benny” Benassi and Alessandro “Alle” Benassi) continues in its happy-go-lucky rhymes. „I`m like – Hey-ey-ey! Like a girl gone wild. “ One recognises a typical american idiom, used also in Tom Wolfe`s satires where, as in the real world, “I`m like” is only used by (very young) female speakers to highlight their speech and putting it into meaningful and explicitly gendered brackets: Serious girl talk! Madonna`s first single release from “MDNA”, the cheerleader song “Gimme All Your Luvin`”, although a flop in the UK, scored the american billboard charts as Top Ten again, which pushed her to the very top. No other artist than Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone has ever scored the tremendous success of 42 Top Ten Hits within three decades. Amiably, the cheerio chorus counts off the song: “L-U-V. Madonna! Y-O-U?! You wanna?!” to then continue groovily as in “Beautiful Stranger” (1999) or earlier in “Gambler” (1988) with a necessary hook. „I see you coming and I don’t wanna know your name (L-U-V Madonna!) I see you coming and you’re gonna have to change the game“. No less irony is to see in the video. Madonna first exits home sweet home in a trench coat to take a stroll with a baby buggy. Some cheerleaders form a trellis. Rain begins to pour, ( hailing critique!) cheerleaders holding up umbrellas, hectic everywhere. Finally she lands in between american footballers, makes it to a very small stage from which she stagedives. (That woman had to fight a whole array of men and yet they are at their service!) Nothing all too tricky, (well, .. when in Rome, do as the Romans do?) even slower viewers might understand. Until the Roland 808 Drums crush into downbeats and the visual trip is finally reestablished in a deluxe (adult?) entertainment environment. Madonna is dressed up high-necked in white, her bosom overall adorned with diamonds up to her ears. Her french manicured fingers fondle with her platinum blonde locks, while the two featured female singers Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. are allowed to start dissing to whom it may concern. In the back of this light –in- white scene several masked girls hobble or march simultaneously. All dressed in black cheerleader dresses, with chaste black sport stockings.
(Ah yes, those might be the girls who before have held up the umbrellas) they now seem to perform a rather puppet like dance performance while throughout masked with one similar manga mask. What have they become? Lost dancers of the Moulin Rouge? Funny faces at the Vaudeville? Careful what you wish for, it goes fast these days.
Directing the view
Style counseling advises, in order to direct the viewer up close to your identity, your face, “do wear white as the brightest colour closest to your face”. Madonna, wearing all that white, blinking in amused fashion at the audience, seems to ask: ” What are you looking at? Who gets the attention?” whilst the darker clothed circus behind her is going on and the song regorges into a hot dissing dialogue between talented women in general, AKA the two featured female singers Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.and those seem to only want to be cool and hip and “give-a-shit-uranium-hit”. It does not sound like the piece of cake, and it does not sound like girlie talk in a coooosy wooozy comfort zone. It rather declines todays terms of assertion of female rights in a world still controlled by the male. And that cannot be achieved through an inertia and a lack of ideas. (“Every record sounds the same, you gotta step into my world”) but rather by all means of love and devotion. “Give me all your Luvin`. Give it to me. Now!” Those who only pretend progress by refinement in constantly and dully exercising the invention of an image, those who only parade through a historical stillage full of prominent icons taking and packing whatever might suit into the duration of a music video, well those tend to deny their musical upgrowth. (aside from actually mistaking “depicting somebody profoundly and seriously” with “senselessly warmongering over actual history/biography”) They become a pure image hurl. They might miss, spoken in capitalistic manner, their branch connection. Women all over the world have sought their personal exemption. (when/ or has this model been discarded? and frankly, since history seems not to teach us always, are 30 years of “equality” enough?). And has this “model” transferred into a model of direct marketing? It seems it starts with the public role model and stereotype “girlie”. Its transition is due only under a jealous watch over, say as an example, with Victoria Beckham: When the public figure “Posh Spice” propagating the “ten golden rules of girl power” and taking part of the “Spice Girls” in the 1990-ties had to come to an end in 2000, the bourgeois Victoria Adams switched over to being Victoria Beckham, married to David Beckham (thus still only figuring in the UK as a “WAG”, Wives and Girlfriends) and only due to her perseverance until 2011 when she finally won the brit fashion award linking her role as mother with the one as an ever since active businesswoman. The gap here, the one between pop girlie and acknowledged fashion creative, is a time gap, it took Victoria Beckham about ten years to make that jump.
So how is it with “aging” pop stars? German writers ( both genders, surprisingly) click their fingers: “Madonna should unveil her wrinkly leather skin. She should stop being party girl. That way she would do a good thing to us, yet it would be radical, madonnaesque so to speak.” ( Spiegel online during Madonnas release of “MDNA”). And to lead all threads back to one, it seems it aint enough to visualize the conditions of a woman (would it be again “Women should pull buggies with kids.” ?). Where had the fact got lost, that the quoted manga masks in Madonna`s “Gimme All Your Luvin`” are a simple quote that manga is a current rampant worldwide visualization of very young underaged women? How can it be it is now so rampant? It seems to be “amusing” worldwide, but is its consumption just legalised by a context? A context of a hypersexualised society? As in “We see so much naked skin, why not see a computer drawn thus caricatured (female!) sex object”? It seems because it comes in drawn fashion, thus it does much less harm. (Does it?). This comes with the widely spread thought that a nowadays female shaman, a nowadays female medium, a nowadays female role model can only be one if it is old, wrinkly, and smoking, and has the right for an approximate speech time of, say, six minutes tops, and should be best placed in a sci-fi movie such as “The Matrix”. And yet, Madonna is still asking us:
What are you looking at? (Vogue! 1990)
It was Madonna`s flying visit to Harlem, New York City in the late 1980ties which should make her yield a street term into the limelight. What has also been portraied by New York documentary filmmaker Jennie Livingstone 1990 in her documentary “Paris Is Burning” was nothing less than the creation of a lifestyle, or should it be named “survival behavior” cultivated by a group of queer/ transgender Puerto Ricans. “Venus Xtravaganza”, amongst others, would create some sort of catwalk ambiente and the participants would endorse in a contest. They would strike a pose as seen on the covers of fashion magazines. Terms like “shading” and “vogueing” were instruments in order to set themselves apart from others. Briefly said it was a cultivated attitude to “hold up an image against the repressing/ competing other” and thus encourage ones will to survive in the melting pot. Does this sound like a rite to you? Madonna hence quotes in her track “Vogue” historic icons from Marlene Dietrich to James Dean (“they had style, they had grace”). It was no other than later director David Fincher who made the black and white clip showing Madonna posing as actresses from the Hollywood golden era, she did not so much strike a pose of some 1990ties supermodel as did the Venus Xtravaganza Clan. (The track itself saved the success of the disc “I`m breathless” as an Original Motion Picture Soundtrack accompanying Madonna`s film project “Dick Tracy” with Warren Beatty.) Yet this track should herald the era of the 1990ties as it bears within great foresight to what came and what might be called an era of reinvention of the self, almost as a guarantor to the extension of the war zones in what again might be called a civil war, at least in terms of phenomenons in popular culture. Madonna must have realised the possible flop of the Movie “Dick Tracy” and consequently handed in her “Immaculate Collection” a compilation of her greatest hits containing “Vogue” that very same year. Just so that no dream machine like Hollywood might stain her hitherto existing success.
The game of finding and creating trends with images however, with icons of the past, has its downside. In Madonnas concept of reinvention of a public figure lies a key. Noting that there was a peak to it, she founded her own record label Maverick Records. There would not be any further damage if she would quit quoting icons of an era. So she stopped reaching for “stars”( although quoting stars ( Vogue) seemed to be a one and only project) and produced two albums in which she revealed herself as a person rather than showing off her admiring part in her. 1992 she became “Dita, your misstress tonight” in “Erotica”, a Hip Hop based Album. It was humming with eros, and thus caused great disturbance despite the fact that the sexually open summer of (19)69 ties lay only 20 years back. Yet she pulled off another ace by singing soulful ballades collected on her “Bedtime Stories”(1994) which contained tracks produced by Nellee Hooper, upon whoms spheric sounds she sang “Let`s get unconscious honey” just to state that in most of her albums she would already lay a seed for her next up and coming work. She was an everyday woman in a period when Supermodels were proceeding their way to their noisy fulfilment. Finally 1998 she produced the Album “Ray Of Light” with William Orbit, which showed her off, with every verse, as a wise, experienced yet sassy and juvenescent woman. She sung about what she had studied in the Kabbalah, she called herself Ester. She sung about her daughter Lourdes, whom she had given birth to. And about suffering the incomprehensible early loss of her mother. (A female role model.) Needless to say that within the terms of pop such as the short duration of a pop song, she might have been operating just as effectively as some (of course virtuously just as much) constructed sentimental 90- minutes-drama made in Hollywood. Yet “Ray of Light” is not her most personal album. Madonna`s albums are all personal. It is her base desire. Once something carries her label, there must be her effort in it. This constitutes the total work of art Madonna. And yet we do not see the blood, sweat and tears in them. We see Supersonic.
So “ Don`t play this stoopid game `cause I’m a different kind of girl. Every record sounds the same you gotta step into my world.!” though it might sound harsh for a sensitive young new artist, but it comes with an invitation to drink some wine (“Burgundy is fine!”) and sounds pretty damn loyal and motherly. So when her beat in a song suddenly changes direction like a washing drum, it might not so much be Madonna washing her own dirty laundry, but those might be the words uttered, speaking frankly, adding to the pop Dialogue „You have all the L-U-V, I gave you all the love you need. Now mooove!“. Who wants to see ones prolific work being compromised by rather dull citations when benchmarks finally and after 30 years of effort are set high enough just to stand face to face with the male? Those are words of a pathfinder, who, in fact, invites talents like Nikki Minaij and M.I.A. to her show, to briefly shout “ I`m a barbarian, I`m Roman. Brr –Huuuh, I`m Conan!” just to name some things what they are made of: Eurotrash. Of course this also unveils newly established conditions of the pop industry and superficial stardom. But is that really bitchy? Or asked more specifically – in terms of gender equality – would this naming her bitchy mean that a male priding his rank would have to be described as bitchy? Seriously? Madonna has often worked as a convertor and has thus been charged with dismissive terms. Why should she not at least want to alter the course of the overall female production? And is it sinful? Not really. But it explains why aforegoing the first track of the album one finds Madonna praying the Act of Contrition. It seems as if she sees those who shoot one`s wad prematurely and without foresight, should pray. Center. Rethink. In spite of an evident vocal talent, it is crucial to undergo serious girl talk. The pure run for a repetitive imagery just for the sole purpose of being or becoming famous seems premature. Yet there is, although, such a genre spreading worldwide. It is slightly, fairly a bit Pop. It is not music industry. It is facebook.
© of quoted: lyrics Madonna, the boy toy inc. All rights reserved.
© this blog: Patrick Neithard, Zürich, Switzerland. All rights reserved. Do not use or reproduce without permission.