A quarter-century into a career that shows no signs of waning, she has earned a place in pop history
he gets over the stinging reality that his days of rogering one of the
most famous women on the planet are officially over, Guy Ritchie will
come to realize that he's truly a blessed man. Forgive him if he's
unable to see that now. After all, there've been definite perks to
spending the past eight years as Mr. Madonna Louise Ciccone.
On a completely superficial level, there's the fact that Ritchie's
soon-to-be-ex-wife—improbably, and against all known laws of nature—is
hotter at 50 than she was in her 20s, and only partly because she no
longer dresses like something Keith Richards's cat dragged in. Let's
not overlook that Ms. Ciccone has amassed the kind of personal
fortune—an estimated $600 million and counting—that Heather Mills would
happily switch teams for a piece of. And there's no disputing that
Madonna seems like the kind of wife who's willing to go the extra
distance for her man. Hell, she not only abandoned America for life in
Ye Jolly Olde English Countryside with Ritchie, she actually started
talking like someone who shits strawberries and clotted cream.
So why is the 40-year-old filmmaker better off in the wake of the
recent announcement that he and Madonna are finally splitsville? That
one's easy: he'll no longer have the nagging conviction that, compared
to what his far-beyond-driven wife has accomplished, he's a complete
and abject failure.
If her quarter-century reign has taught us anything, it's that
Madonna is obviously not human, and not just because she's reportedly
banned everyone on her current Sticky and Sweet tour from making eye
contact with her. Three decades into an already astonishing career, she
remains pop culture's most savvy chameleon, successfully reinventing
herself with a regularity that David Bowie and that toad from U2 can
only dream of. Trying to compete with such a one-woman force of nature
is futile. During their time together, Ritchie has watched Madonna
continue to pile up the hits, striking late-period platinum (hello,
"Hung Up") while making a convincing case that not all 47-year-old
women need to be forcibly separated from their unitards. Through it
all, he's been best known as that English guy who once had a hit with
2000's Snatch. Somewhere, a permanently-stuck-on-diaper-duty Gavin Rossdale feels his pain.
What makes Madonna seem like she's not of this Earth is that right
from the point she sashayed onto MTV with "Lucky Star" 25 years ago,
she's never once coasted, never once become irrelevant. That's made her
one of pop music's rarest of creatures. As sure as Cyndi Lauper,
Tiffany, and that flatulent white-trash lunatic from Louisiana wake up
each morning to wonder what could have been, Madonna has not only taken
her place among giants, she's in many ways outshined them. Because she
doesn't have a penis, she rarely gets credit for that.
But think about it. As if keeling over on the crapper wasn't enough
of an indignity, Elvis Presley had blown his creative wad five years
into his run, which is why he's today remembered as much as a bloated
Vegas-buffet horror show as for once being the most fuckable man in
'50s America. The Beatles were done seven years after a generation of
screaming teens first soiled themselves at The Ed Sullivan Show, and
the Stones have been a glorified cover band since 1981's Tattoo You, the last record that even Mick Jagger will publicly admit to owning.
Madonna, on the other hand, not-so-quietly became the best-selling
female rock artist of the 20th century, all the while displaying a
Teflon-like ability to weather pop music's never-ending string of
palace revolutions. Displaying an endurance that would impress a
Brooklyn cockroach, she's not only managed to survive new wave, hair
metal, new country, grunge, alternative rock, teen pop, techno, rap
rock, hip-hop, nu metal, rawk, screamo, emo, and indie rock, but she's
done so without ever once having to sink to a '68 Comeback Special.
Chalk that up partly to her understanding that nothing sells like sex,
music videos, and music videos that bring the sex; incredible as it
might seem today in an America where Riveted Rectums passes
as a couples' flick, there was a time when the sight of a pop star
grabbing her crotch ("Express Yourself"), whoring around in a wedding
dress ("Like a Virgin"), and brandishing a whip in bring-out-the-Gimp
bondage gear ("Human Nature") was actually boundary-breaking.
Doubly laudable is that Madonna has actually gotten more interesting
as her career has progressed. As much as "Material Girl", "Papa Don't
Preach", and "Into the Groove" are all guaranteed to get liquored-up
geriatrics stampeding for the dance floor at white weddings, the truth
is that they sound a little dated today. If Madonna's vocal limitations
are never going to make anyone forget Aretha Franklin—or, for that
matter, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Hudson, or that neon-haired midget from
Paramore—no one can knock the phaser-strafed brilliance of "Ray of
Light". Or the tower-of-power soul workout "Express Yourself". Or the
acoustic glitch-pop majesty of "I Deserve It".
So fuck Guy Ritchie, who, if the tabloid rumblings are to be
believed, liked to tell anyone who would listen that his wife couldn't
act and that she looked like a grandmother on-stage compared to her
backup dancers. When's the last time he debuted at number one three
decades into a career where the average lifespan is two albums, a feat
Madonna pulled off with this year's Hard Candy? Or strapped
on a corn silo–inspired bra without looking more ridiculous than
Marilyn Manson during his man-eunuch Mechanical Animals phase? Or
somehow managed to make Timbaland sound like he might occasionally know
what he's doing?
And on the off chance that Ritchie still needs proof that his former
better half is indeed a force of nature, remember this: in the spring
of 1985, Madonna made headlines for a nude photo shoot she'd done while
broke and starving in New York. Considering that Al Gore hadn't yet
invented the Internet, a bidding war, predictably, broke out among
girlie-magazine magnates Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione. In July of that
year, Madonna made history. Despite looking like she had a dead polecat
Velcroed to her crotch, she got men buying both Penthouse and Playboy for something other than the articles. Some guys truly don't know what they've got till it's gone.
Madonna plays B.C. Place Stadium next Thursday (October 30).
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