As far as being a singer goes, Madonna is nothing special. She has a mediocre voice and is a terrible actress. Her main talents lie in being a shrewd businesswoman, envelope-pusher and groundbreaker. Kind of like Prince.
In fact, Prince is an excellent figure to compare her to. Both have mediocre vocal talents (Prince is more talented, though) and the most inspiring thing you can say about their songs is that they’re irresistibly catchy, so much so that people who were born ten years after Like a Prayer and 1999 were released know all the words. Both are unapologetically sexual and forthright, not giving a damn who they offend. Both are masters at self-promotion, and introducing controversial, ground-breaking ideas.
So why is Prince remembered for being a ground-breaker and Madonna remembered for being a self-promoting slut? This was brought up in one of my units, that if Madonna was a man, she’d be remembered as a ground-breaker and thought-provoker, in the same way Prince and (child molestation accusations aside) Michael Jackson are. But, you know, only men are allowed to be ground-breaking and thought-provoking; when women do it, they’re out-of-line sluts trying to draw attention away from the fact they have no talent beyond shit-stirring.
Funnily enough, growing up a Catholic, Madonna, along with Sinead O’Connor, were my two idols. I was about twelve years old and wanted to know what was so bad about ripping up a picture of the Pope. He was only a man, after all. (And I have Polish ancestry; you can only imagine the trouble I got into for challenging not only the Pope, but “˜our‘ Pope.) I wonder what would happen to Mel Gibson – a devout Catholic known to be critical of the Church for being too liberal – did the same thing? Would he be banned from respectable circles? I doubt it.
But back to my original topic. Why have Madonna’s achievements as an entertainer and businesswoman been largely overlooked in favour of her sexual accomplishments? (And I do say accomplishments; kudos to any woman who pursues whatever man she wants.) Probably because a woman who pursues whoever she wants in her bed with little thought of a relationship is acting like a man, and we can’t have that. We can’t have women talking about their sexuality freely; it might give other women ideas. And once other women get ideas, they might start demanding the same standards Madonna demands. And if that happens, men may just start having to give into those demands, or not get laid.
OMG, men not getting laid because they’re too inconsiderate for any self-respecting women. No, we can’t have that! Quick, let’s brand Madonna as a slut and show the women of the world if they act like her, they’ll get criticised like her. That should teach them.
Well, I don’t think it has taught them, because Madonna has enjoyed a twenty-year career, most of it at the top of her game. Sure, she’s been in some stinker movies, but those movies starred Tom Hanks and Warren Beatty, among others, so I wouldn’t be so quick to judge if I were the Patriarchy. I remember being in year six and one girl did a presentation on Madonna, even gave it wearing a cone-shaped bra. Eleven years old and emulating a controversial sex symbol! Was there something about her, her ballsiness, her can-do attitude, her catchy pop-songs, that pre-pubescent girls saw – and liked? I guess her equivalent, twelve years later, is Gwen Stefani; personally, I think we got the much better deal. But then, my grandparents got Tallulah Bankhead so maybe it’s all relative.
Funnily enough, I know plenty of women my age and a few years younger who love Gwen, Pink, whoever’s hot right now, but cite Madonna as their idol. Can’t say I blame them. The woman is pushing fifty, pushing envelopes and will no doubt outlive, career-wise, 90% of the Hot Young Things currently on the charts.
I say Madonna has an enduring appeal because she’s so ballsy, so forthright, so envelope-pushing. Sure, part of her agenda is shock value, but I think part of it is to make people question gender, politics, sexuality and religion – those four topics which are well and truly out of bounds for women, or so the Patriarchy tells us. Somehow, I don’t think Madonna cares. She’s selling out concert dates at $350 a ticket, there must be a fair few people out there who like her.
I’ve spoken before about how women are the greatest enemy of feminism, always bringing each other down rather than see someone else succeed. But I think the success of women like Madonna says that, ultimately, the majority of us want to see a woman who speaks her mind, a woman who embraces her sexuality, a woman who challenges us to challenge the status quo.
Madonna’s appeal does not lie in her catchy pop songs; there are plenty of Spice Girls around to cover that. No, Madonna’s appeal lies in her willingness to saunter up to the Patriarchy, say “˜Fuck You’ and kick it in the balls for good measure, all to the soundtrack of millions of women – and men – screaming with delight.