10.28.2008

Madonna is pop art










Madonna

Madonna, shortly before breaking yet another religious taboo. Photograph: PA




Madonna
has always held a unique fascination for me: the myth, the legend, but
not the truth. Who cares about Madonna "the person"? Her impending divorce is only of interest in terms of how she packages it into the Madonna Myth.

And
what a myth! A dancer from Detroit, coming to New York City with $35 in
her pocket, no contacts, and dropped by a taxi driver in Times Square
after a request to be "'where the action is" to go on and dictate popular culture
for the next 30 years? Madonna and Michael Jackson invented the Queen
and King of Pop, and took the ideas of rock'n'roll myth-making into the
pop world.

In 1992, I met Jackson; he was playing an eight run
show at the Tokyo Dome and I was there with Bobby Gillespie. Gillespie
wanted to attend the shows and meet the man but was denied by Sony, who
thought he was too uncontrollable and off his head on drugs (ironic
considering that I was doing more drugs than Bob at the time). It was
pure religious spectacle being in an arena with 50,000 Jackson fans in
the midst of pop hysteria. After the show, I was taken to meet Jackson
and it was like having an audience with the Pope. It was pure dada; you
were taken behind a screen where you had your photograph taken with
Jackson.

However, I've never wanted to meet Madonna. Madonna
the spectacle, yes. Madonna, the cultural provocateur, yes. Madonna,
the producer, not creator, yes. Madonna, the person, no. It's almost as
if she is incapable of being anything other than Madonna The Myth,
something she has created. I love it. Who would want to meet Madonna
when the myth has a more fantastic life of its own?

You could
blame the myth on the cab driver who dropped her off where the action
was hot. In '77 NYC (the year of Punk, Disco and Madonna) there was an
art revolution going on: Television, Blondie, Arthur Russell, Larry Levine's Paradise Garage, the Ramones,
disco, punk rock, club culture and, of course, the godfather of New
York City, Andy Warhol. Warhol has held sway over her entire career.
Madonna, like Warhol, is the ultimate observer of, rather than
participant in, modern culture. She took Warhol's template of ambition
and success being an art form and regenerated it into a pop career
presented not only as art, but a mirror on society, reflecting our
tastes and aspirations; whether it be the yuppie life of Material Girl
to the pre-00 new age observations of Ray of Light. Her reinventions
are a reflection of us, not her, as she has always lacked a 'grand
purpose' or 'natural conclusion' of most rock'n'roll stories.

Madonna
is at her best when exploiting religion and sex to court controversy.
The woman has been banned by countries! Countries! The woman used a black Jesus,
self inflicted stigmatas, and danced in a field of burning crosses in
order to sell Pepsi! Total pop genius. Is Madonna even sexy? Madonna
'sexy' is parody and camp, yet she regularly presents herself as sex
object and deviant to middle America and MTV. Dressed as a dominatrix, kissing Britney and Christine Aguilera?
Check. A 50-year-old in a leotard disco dancing in a dark club
combating ageism in rock and doing it with style? Check. Cross-dressing
and getting dangerously close to transvestism in Vogue? Check. It's sex
for profit! It's sex as camp! It's sex as parody!

In the early
90s, she took sex too far for even America. But she still knew how to
turn controversy into profit, and when Justify my Love was banned by
MTV, she publicised the ban and sold the video separately. She somehow also found time to accidentally invent rock'n'roll reality television with her documentary In Bed with Madonna.

After the Sex debacle, she reinvented herself as Madonna, the Serious Artist with Bedtime Stories (and collaborations with Bjork)
and Ray of Light; consolidating it with the Mirwais-produced Music in
2000 (the only time I've got involved with Madonna is the chase for
Mirwais, her producer - we wanted him for Creation Records, however she
signed him up to Maverick).

She went too far with American
Life, though. Madonna tried to change the world and failed (Madonna
could never be Jesus Christ - or John Lennon - with a message; after
all her message for 30 years has been 'Hey, how hot is Jesus?'). Warhol
never delivered a moral message and neither should Madonna; she went
back to basics and the dancefloor with Confessions on a Dance Floor and
Hard Candy.

A friend sent me over a passage from Madonna's
brother's tell-all biography My Life with Sister Madonna. She said it
offers no real revelations and was trashy (with the rumour being
Madonna approved it ... genius!), but the brother's statement "I fear
she no longer has any boundaries, any limits. Everyone and everything
is grist for the publicity mill, fodder for her career - even our late
mother". The passage was supposed to be a damning indictment, but
ending up being a succinct reading of Madonna's career. Madonna is
post-modern art, the likes of which we will never see again.

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