“Madonna sings badly and is very vulgar, but her show is impeccable! The public never makes a mistake.”
Marlene Dietrich, 1987
The public have spoken. She’s under-dressed, over-heard, over-exposed and over everywhere, because in a remarkable career spanning four decades, Madonna Louise Ciccone has been one of the planet’s most discussed inhabitants for longer than many of us have been living on it. From Bombay to “stupid whore”, everybody in the world has seen her breasts, heard her records, laughed at her films and been painfully aware of her celebrity ubiquity. Aggressive, pushy and very, very ballsy, this scud missile has shoved herself so forcefully down so many people’s throats she really should have been born a man.
One suspects Madonna would have had less beef with the world, had less of that endless pathological obsession with always feeling like she had to have something to prove, if she hadn’t been born female. Amid accusations of sexism, ageism (by the time of her first world tour in 1987, she was already turning 29), misogyny, you name it, this is – if I can paraphrase her very own words at the end of the Blonde Ambition clip below – someone who many people have been wanting to fail miserably for 35 years or more. Bun so tight she’s almost bouncing off the walls.
Madge (as us Brits like to moniker her) has, quite rightly, earned a plethora of plaudits for her impressive global feats: upwards of 300 million records sold, more hit singles than any other woman, and the world’s biggest-selling female performer of all time. Having released a whopping 83 singles and 13 studio albums, Madonna is one little bitch-troll from hell who just refuses to go away. Appropriately, the first two of her relentless stream of 45s to become hits were both first released 35 years ago this week, Holiday (in the US) on 7th September 1983, and (in the UK) Lucky Star a day later. To put that into perspective, the singles sitting at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and the British chart were Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) by Eurythmics and UB40’s Red Red Wine respectively. Pop perennials, certainly, but from acts that imploded a long, long time ago.
Frequently funny and not in the slightest bit bitchy (well, OK, perhaps a bit), this clever, nasty but ultimately helpful guide to loving and loathing Madonna is designed as a revealing, brutally honest journal which lays out thirty of the most scathing reasons you ever needed to hate this iconic imbecile. Brilliantly vituperative chapters include Immaterial Girl, Desperately Seeking Elocution and Mamma Don’t Leach. It provides you darling readers with all the ammunition required to shoot down those deadly dull “Madonna has done more for feminism than Germaine Greer” types you endure on the train. You know the sort; the ones who wear eyelashes a camel would kill for, and a skirt even a Page 3 girl would baulk at wearing. Sorry, Sun!
Darling, Madonna was once cool, but Mr. Gravity’s been very unkind to that woman. But now that the queen of ego has reached her sixties and her career is a shadow of its former self, is it still fun to pick on her? Absolutely. How many of us wake up and look forward to hearing of the latest Madonna’s done another dumb thing alert? I can see a veritable sea of hands. But should we count her out? Not just yet. This is a creature so stubborn she’d almost certainly survive a nuclear war and wouldn’t hesitate in crowing to the cockroaches how she’s the last human standing, just before she ate them. But hey, as the swingorilliant Robbie Williams made clear, bitch, she’s Madonna. As if the conceited cow ever lets us forget it. So ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you The Hall of Shamelessness: thirty lowlights in a career of amazing non-grace. Those of a sensitive disposition may wish to look away now.
1. Something Not To Remember
Madonna contributed three songs to the 1985 film soundtrack Vision Quest. One, Warning Signs, remains unreleased, but of the pair that were used, both numbers were performed by her in the movie – her first major motion picture – as a shady saloon bar singer. Crazy For You, Madge’s first ballad single, became a monster hit and one of her most popular songs, reaching No.2 in Britain that year, and again as a slightly remixed version in 1991. It also made it to No.16 on last month’s poll of her 30 greatest singles. But what was the other one called?
I’m a gambler, and I will take you by surprise
Gambler, I’ll aim this straight between your eyes
Gambler, yeah I know all the words to say
‘Cause I’m a gambler, I only play the game my way, yeah
I’m a gambler, gambler
You understand what I’m talking about?”
That’s right, Betty, the song, funnily enough, is called Gambler. Who would have guessed? It’s cheap, it’s nasty, and it’s got a backing track lifted wholesale from Michael Sembello’s Maniac, the song from 1983’s Flashdance movie that just happened to be sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 when Madge’s song was being recorded with John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez and I was turning sweet 14. Gambler is easily Eighties Madonna’s most forgotten 45. In fact, it wasn’t even a single in the US, despite, ironically, being a staple of the American-only Virgin Tour. Though it did make No.4 across the Atlantic, which was undergoing Madgemania at the time.
On 9/11/2008 some wealthy boring old concert-goers attending the Sticky & Sweet Tour at Wembley Stadium tried to petition Madge to sing the song during the pretend ‘request’ section, holding up about 100 “Gambler” banners at the front of the stage, to no avail. Nope, this track has been well and truly left in the ‘80s by its author. If she thinks the likes of Cherish and Sorry are “retarded” one can only imagine how little she rates Gambler. It’s the only one of her singles never to appear on a Madonna album, and as such, is a lost song in her occasionally illustrious catalogue. But with that dire vocal performance and embarrassing heifer moves in the video, hardly a loss.
2. Lanklustre At Live Aid
A piece of inconsequential fluff like Gambler was able to bitch a ride on the coat-tails of Madonnamania, which was particularly pronounced across the pond: 1985 was that not-at-all OTT moment in time when the flashy fishwife placed a record-breaking eight UK top ten singles in one calendar year, a first for a female. Never mind Brexit, Britain’s current woes can be laid firmly at the doorstep of this raving hussy. No wonder she buggered off back to the States.
All of this over-saturated chart action was the result of a publicity campaign that was relentless in its dogged determination – that indefatigable “You will know me” approach that has been the trademark of her career. Endless record releases, two movies, her first tour (albeit only in her homeland), her first wedding… it would be easier to list the things Madonna didn’t do that year. Oh, and then there was that embarrassing appearance at Live Aid.
My god, woman, what have you done? You can’t sing, you can’t play, you look awful. You’ll go a long way. And unfortunately she has, but could you have predicted her career longevity based on this utterly cringeworthy cornball performance? Madge’s detractors always did say her dancing was nothing more than glorified aerobics, and who am I to disagree? Prince or Michael Jackson she ain’t.
No big deal, but it’s not just the cheesy over-exuberance on top of the lank hair and those white socks and shoes from C&A. After all, there are only so many ways you can make a tambourine look interesting. No, literally everything about Madonna in MTV’s YouTube clip stinks, starting with the self-absorbed snotbag ignoring Bette Midler for aeons to the ear-assaulting ‘singing’ on Into The Groove or the then unreleased Love Makes The World Goes Around (above). Every little thing she does is tragic.
I had to chuckle at her roping in Chic maestro Nile Rodgers (let’s not even mention the even more tragic Thompson Twins) for mere backing vocal duties. After all, the guitar legend had only played on and produced her then current album, 1984’s Like a Virgin, of which she performed precisely nowt. Oh, she’s a one. So it’s only fair I disseminate my favourite quote from the appropriately named Rodgers about this tiresome nympho narcissist.
“So we finished recording that particular day and I think she was just feeling a little bit insecure because I wasn’t hitting on her. I was leaving the studio and she walked out to the elevator and went, ‘Nile, do you think I’m sexy?’ I said, ‘Madonna, of course, you’re one of the sexiest women I ever met.’ ‘Well, then why don’t you wanna fuck me?!’ It was like ‘everybody wants me.’ I told her ‘because I’m your producer, and she said ‘Well that didn’t stop any of the other ones!'”
Anyway, moving swiftly on, if you’re brave or masochistic enough to listen to Madonna at Live Aid without the godawful visuals, the legendary dual-venue concert that saw everyone from David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, George Michael, Bryan Ferry, Duran Duran and Adam Ant get their charidee on for famine relief in Ethiopia has finally been released this week on audio format for the very first time. Streaming digitally from all the usual suspects, I suspect it’s no coincidence the (slightly edited) recordings have been quietly made available just a couple of days after the Queen camp announced they’d succeeded in obtaining permission to the include the band’s showstopping set on the forthcoming soundtrack of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. And talking of Wembley charity gigs…
3. Write A Word, Take A Third
Amazingly, the goofy Gambler remained Madonna’s last release entirely written by herself for over two decades, until 2007’s corny, chintzy charity download Hey You, written for and performed at Live Earth at Wembley Stadium that year. According to Stylus Magazine, the singer claimed that she got too “lazy” to write songs without help. Hmmm. It’s quite astonishing, not to mention telling, to think that Madonna has released the grand total of one self-written song since 1985. One. That’s 33 years ago. Yup. But lazy? Oh, come on, that’s the one thing Madonna is incapable of being. No, no, no, why write lyrics when you’re busy dealing with perfume launches. Why write music when you’re preoccupied with attending awards shows and opening gyms?
From Justify My Love to Ray Of Light, Madonna’s cunning way around such trifling matters as true songwriting is to ‘adapt’ other people’s existing material. Case in point: Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys was contacted by Warner Brothers on behalf of Madonna in 2007 asking “if we had anything she could work with.” But the frontman then revealed the seminal synthpop duo were contacted again rather sharply later that same week and told that the label had changed their minds: “We got told to forget it as they decided to shove her down the R&B route.” Ouch.
The album that went down that 21st Century Rhythm & Blues route was of course, 2008’s hideous Hard Candy, rightly condemned it for its blatant attempt to harness the urban market and latch on to the edgy cool of recent Timberlake and Timbaland successes, though the basis of the project’s development was actually a clutch of existing demos that Pharrell Williams had lying around, such as the one above. The public got stupid.
You have to remember Brand Madonna is a business, much more like a series of franchised companies than a sole trader, sorry, I mean solo artist. And one of the areas Madonna has been influential in is this whole controversial culture of “write a word, take a third”; the incredibly contrived doing-it-by-numbers scenario of songwriting by committee or just blatantly taking other people’s existing work, and as the saying sort-of goes, change a word and take a third of the royalties. This unfortunate turn of events didn’t exist before the rise of Badonna, starting with the ‘additional lyrics’ provided for Papa Don’t Preach and Open Your Heart, two of the highlights from 1986’s True Blue album, which of course just happens to be the biggest selling record of her career, reaching No.1 in 28 countries. Man, this charlatan has a lot to answer for.
4. She’s Not Me
Pfft. What Madonna really means is the Blondie and Pretenders frontwomen gave her courage to appropriate everyone else’s work because she’s too busy filling her face. In 2016 Lady Gaga, no stranger to being on the receiving end of Madge’s meanness, expressed herself to DJ Zane Lowe on his Apple Beats 1 radio show, displaying displeasure at constantly being compared to the older woman. Did ‘Madonna’s’ lyrics to Papa Don’t Preach not indicate they had lived a very parallel existence?
“Madonna and I are very different, just saying. I wouldn’t make that comparison at all. I don’t mean to disrespect Madonna. She’s… a nice lady (Hil-ar-i-ous – ed). And she’s had a fantastic, huge career and she’s the biggest pop star of all time. But I play a lot of instruments, I write all my own music. I spend hours and hours a day in the studio, I’m a producer, I’m a writer. What I do is different. I’m not just rehearsing over and over again to put on a show. There is a spontaneity in my work.”
Madonna then miaowed and furiously dashed off several social media posts that seemed to allude to the interview. “Ink is the blood of literature. Remember when people used to write?” she cryptically and defensively tweeted. She also wrote the same two sentences in a since-deleted Instagram post shared by Digital Spy, followed by: “This post is not a commentary on my ability to write. I have no need to defend myself. I love the art of writing. Putting ink to paper. It’s more soulful then texting and so beautiful to receive a handwritten letter.”
“The only time I ever criticised Lady Gaga was when I felt like she blatantly ripped off one of my songs. It’s got nothing to do with ‘she’s taking my crown’ or ‘she’s in some space of mine.’ She has her thing. I do think she’s a very talented singer and songwriter. It was just that one issue.”
6. Mamma Don’t Leech
“People spend $300 on crazy things all the time – things like handbags. So work all year, scrape the money together, and come to my show. I’m worth it.”
Of course! Because with unemployment rates increasing and a seemingly never-ending recession, everyone should use the little disposable income they have on a vastly overpriced ticket to watch some crotchety old hag do yoga moves and lip-sync! Honestly, has there ever been a more arrogant pop star? Another life-negative influence this flatulent fart-pellet has had is the astronomical price of concert tickets these days. And it all started with Madonna.
When she announced her Drowned World shows of 2001 gig-goers were quite rightly breathless in anticipation. Madge hadn’t toured for eight years, and unlike her previous world tours this time she wanted to ditch the huge football stadiums and play a series of indoor concerts. The poor public were told that the ridiculous cost of tickets (usually around 40-50% higher than contemporaneous touring entities at the time) was due to the switch to halls and arenas, where it’s less profitable to stage a “high quality” theatrical production to a smaller audience. God, this was the tour that was a “celebration” (her words) of her last two albums, plus that interminable strumathon version of La Isla Bonita that went on for 45 minutes.
Guess what? All this is fine and dandy for the Material Girl who was reported by Forbes to have earned between $40-50million each year since 2002. So did the price of Madonna tickets cost less when she returned to play outdoor locations? Did it bugger! Every subsequent M trek has cost substantially more than the last. Even the cheap-as-chips MDNA tour, which when I caught it at London’s Hyde Park in 2012 looked as though it had been conceived on a budget of about two pounds. And yes, you’re damned right I laughed when she toppled over, the fan-fleecing floozie.
7. Unrelenting Bitch
Madonna’s always been a demanding biatch, but her brief yet complex tour rider list is quite perplexing. According to Complex, she requires room for her 200-person entourage and twenty fixed phone lines to call friends in other countries, because obviously the tightwad doesn’t pay them enough that they can afford mobiles.
20 international phone lines
Her backstage area must look exactly like her own home (that means she actually ships around her furniture, even when she’s, er, miles away)
Special flower-scented fabric
Personal chef who prepares only vegan foods
Her own dry-cleaning service
Actual flowers. Yes, actual flowers. Heaven forbid if they’d dare to be as plastic as her personality.
8. You Won’t Bring Me Flowers
Talking of flowers, did you know Madge hates hydrangeas? Yeah, she actually said this. With cameras rolling. In front of the world’s press. The incident which left the imperious dwarf separating the sweet from the naff, happened at the 2011 Venice Film Festival press conference for her flop film WE. At the time Madge fancied herself as a bit of a director to rival her ex-husband Guy Itchy, and this was a dull as dishwater drama loosely based on Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced thin person whose relationship with King Edward VIII – the current Queen’s uncle – led to his abdication in 1936. Madge’s movie boss ambitions weren’t to last. And neither did the purple hydrangea that an adoring admirer had proffered just before the press junket began.
It was a touching gesture from a well-meaning fan, but the diva was left less than impressed. While she smiled wanly and mumbled a curt “thank you” to the gent, she quickly put the flower under the table before shooting a glaring look at a bemused colleague. M was caught voicing her disgust at the gift because the venue’s microphone was left on, and it’s likely the ungrateful bitch was unaware that cameras were already rolling as she ungraciously accepted the floral gift.
Madmoaner then proceeded to whinge: “I absolutely loathe hydrangeas,” adding: “He obviously doesn’t know that,” as if to say “He’s a fan, he should know what I like.” The poor guy should’ve asked for it back and then slapped her across her stupid filled-out face with it, though the kinky cow might have enjoyed that. And no, in case you’re wondering, I still haven’t forgiven her for Hanky Panky yet either. My bottom hurts just thinking about that one.
9. The Faux English Rose
After enduring a week of criticism from both the mainstream media and the internet shouting factory, Madonna, whose pretend English accent miraculously dematerialised after her divorce from Guy Ritchie (along with her more demure flowery image that was never really her, but she was clearly subjugating her slutty personality to please him), was advised by her British PR Barbara Charone that she needed to hop on a damage limitation exercise bike. The results were a reductive and redundant 45-second black-and-white video the silly singer posted online in which she dismissed the unfragrant flower flap. As the theme from The Godfather plays, Madge – never a likeable personality at the best of times – is seen as if through a keyhole, cuddling and weeping over a bouquet of hydrangeas. Text appears on the screen, silent-film style:
“You have no idea how many nights I have lost thinking how I hurt you. Words cannot express how sorry I am. To think I may have caused you pain. My heart is going to burst with sadness. I need to know in time you may forgive me. If I could take back my words I would but I can’t, so what am I left with?”
The heartless harlot then angrily turns to the camera as the words, “I’m left with the fact I still hate hydrangeas! And I will always hate them!” appear on screen. The queen of shade then throws the flowers to the ground, stomps on them and then marches off camera to her parting shot: “It’s a free country! So fuck you, I like roses!!” Yeah, whatever bitch.
I will say, though, that if you study the original Venice Film Festival footage I can’t help but wonder if Badonna’s grimace is because she’s a little startled at this kind but gushing gentleman telling her “You’re my princess. I love you.” Not very professional on his part, and at a press conference too – hardly the sort of thing you expect in a room full of journalists. Many of us hardened hacks are not terribly keen on being nice to anyone, least of all a charmless slapper who’s made it her entire raison d’être to constantly project a fierce and fearless “Fuck you, I say and do what I want” attitude.