- Lady Gaga is a Madonna fan. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has a) heard her new, predictably controversial single, a catchy homage to Madge by way of a Vogue/ExpressYourself mash up or b) looked at her, at any point since her explosion onto the music scene.
To be fair, Gaga isn’t the only young pop starlet to wear her Madonna inspiration on her sleeve; the grand dame of pop music, Madonna’s influence spreads far and wide. It is almost impossible to avoid comparisons with her if you are female, vaguely edgy and playing the pop music game. This can’t be good for the self-esteem of those concerned because to be brutally frank, there is but one Madonna and she is force of nature.
I was too little to appreciate Madonna’s ‘old school’ hits the first time around. My poor mother refused point blank to let me put the Immaculate Collection on my Santa list. I do believe were her exact words on the matter were, ‘why would you want to listen to that wan?’ She may or may not have blessed herself for good measure.
It wasn’t until university that I got my proper introduction to Madonna. Oh sure, I knew the songs – who didn’t – but beyond that, I never gave Madonna a second thought and certainly not in terms of feminism, until she popped up on a course I was taking at university about subverting popular culture.
At first, I was dubious. To me, Madonna was as mainstream as Adidas tracksuits and cups of tea. She was just another bubblegum pop star who made millions and liked to take her clothes off. So what? But as our lecturer encouraged us to scratch the shiny often very sexy veneer of Madonna’s music, something began to emerge, something that made me spend what little money I had on the Immaculate Collection (CDs were not cheap at the time and illegal downloading was the stuff of fantasy) which I listened to on repeat for a month. In short, I fell in love with Madonna. Here are 3 reasons why:
Sick of hearing songs about female ’empowerment’ that involve buying things, crying about lost loves and using your booty to get his attention? Then you need Express Yourself, the message of which is simply: value yourself as a human being. Expect your partner to do the same. If he can’t, you’ll be better off alone. (Don’t expect this one to feature on a rom-com sound track any time soon)
Who says a pop song can’t be serious? Case in point: Papa Don’t Preach. Plenty of pop songs are about sex; very few are about the realities of sex gone wrong and even fewer again are about a young woman facing up to a difficult situation in a world that just does not want to know. The lyrics are as relevant now as they ever were which sadly says a lot about how far we haven’t come.
On occasion, you might like a bit of sexy music but not obviously sexy music where the singer is shrieking about LOVING SEX, especially with WHIPS, CHAINS, TENNIS BALLS or whatever you might have lying around the house (Rihanna, I’m looking at you). Justify My Love – a song so sexually charged it will have you aching and blushing at the same time, without a tennis ball or whip in sight.
In terms of subverting popular culture, you could type about Madonna all day long from Sex to the Blonde Ambition Tour (Marilyn but with muscles) and her pop star status aged fifty-something. Likewise, the many gems on the Immaculate Collection are worthy of repeated listening and consideration (sorry Mum!). She has released many albums since, whose merit or lack there of is certainly up for debate.
The final Madonna moment I’ll leave you with is from the album Music, released in 2000, 10 years after the Immaculate Collection. Gaga et al would do well to remember that while performance art can be fierce fancy and wild, often what is most powerful and sometimes most shocking is using a deceptively simple pop song to hold a mirror up to our grubby world and telling it like it is. Just ask Madonna.
Madonna/ What It Feels Like for A Girl
What’s your favourite Madonna moment?
Mary McGill likes to talk. Thankfully, she gets to do that most nights, hosting i102104’s talk show. She also likes to write, read, travel, listen to music, speak French (badly), laugh a lot and look on the bright side of things – most of the time. She believes tea is the balm of life and if you make her a nice, strong cup, she’ll love you forever. You can tweet Mary here @missmarymcgill