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Causing a Commotion: 30 Stupid Things Madonna’s Done (part two)

“Since I was a little girl back in Detroit we have tried to keep the standards high. We do not have to say the F-word, we do not have to pump and grind. We do not have to do some of these things to have longevity in our career. I think it’s very important for us to know that you can stand tall and be classy, be ladies and dance and have a long career. I will do the diva masterclass for you.”

Diana Ross, 2007

So, as I was saying in the previous part, she’s Madonna and with age brings even more amazing gracelessness. The older she gets the more desperate she becomes to conjure up new ways of attracting publicity, and if that means getting stupider and stupider then in her crazily cat-lifted eyes so be it. And we ain’t done with the VMAs just yet…

10. Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean, Do You Remember When She Was Queen?

Let’s not beat around her bush, the rot really started setting in with that laughable lesbo liplock from 2003. I can forgive some of the funnier, egocentric items on this list, very easily. They’re glitches in megalomaniacal Madonna’s calculating carnal machine, mere kinks in an otherwise pulsating, power-mad fame monster. But I’m sorry, I’ll never forget the horror of watching Madge lock lips (or “share energy,” as she put it, pretentiously) with two of the shallowest excuses for Material Girl descendants on this Earth.

As Spears and Aguilera chirped Like A Virgin in Oxfam wedding dresses while Madonna descended a fake cake in one of Primary’s equestrian groom’s regalia range, the message of this tepid three-ring circus was clear: the older woman was ‘passing the baton’ and submitting to the freakish popular opinion that, yes, processed Broccoli Spears and artistry-deaf over-singer Xtina Aqua Labia were Madonna’s true heirs. After all, they sometimes have blonde hair too! They dance! Sometimes they’re even ‘sexual’ when the choreography calls for it!

Beware the savage whore, it’s 1984: Madogga and a young pretender max-et-vincent

And to think it was less than three years since I’d witnessed first-hand Madonna’s sassy sporting of those Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears T-shirts at her Brixton Academy club gig. The message, however imperious, was clear (though not everyone got it at the time): ‘Kylie and Britney? Ah, they’re just kids!’ As if to sledgehammer home the point, Madge then sported a slight variant, only now it said Rocco, the name of her then-newborn son.

Call me a sort-of Madonna disciple (however lapsed), but Vylie, Britney and Christina have exhibited none of Ciccone’s’s art of self-invention and self-possession; precious little of the half-winking, half-committed self-lionisation. There’s no question Madonna been extremely influential and paved the way for scores of women in pop, but quite often it’s been for all the wrong reasons. These younger and much less savvy pretenders have studied this old slag “expressing her sexuality” in the papers, and yet what they’ve taken away from the classroom is merely a licence to thrill. A licence to slut.

Instead of emulating the more assertive aspects of Madonna’s stagecraft, scores of female acts that have trailed in her wake – Pussycat Dolls, Little Mix, Rihanna et al – have taken pole-dancing stripper pop to excruciating levels, objectifying themselves as pussy to be constantly grabbed rather than Madge’s wondrously wicked way of always being boss.

How come she always gets to be the man? Because, as she tells ABC’s Nightline programme in the above interview, defending the Justify My Love video controversy, “I do everything by my own volition. I’m in charge.” Whatever the lessons, it was torturous and pretty preposterous of Badonna to use a worldwide television broadcast like the VMAs to legitimise some jackass Rolling Stone critic’s idea that she’s simply Old Britney – or Old Spice or Oldfrapp if you can remember Madge being pilloried in the British press when she said how much she liked the Spice Girls and Goldfrapp. As far as I’m concerned, Madonna never stooped so low as she did that day. And she didn’t. Until Hard Candy.

11. Immaterial Girl

Have you noticed how the Madge brand is regularly refreshed with younger, hipper people? — a Justin duet here, a Britney kiss there. Of course you have. And Master Timberlake, I’m still exchanging mystified glances with you, because you figure heavily in this. Madonna’s always been a calculating cow, but those psychic vampire fangs have become ever sharper since 2008’s hideous Hard Candy; leeching off, sorry collaborating with, hotter and hipper acts in order to appear relevant. Her idol, Dame David of Bowie, was famous for it.

It’s as if she’s learned all the bad stuff about being Bowie – the obsession with fame and image; the constantly employing shapeshifting reinvention to try to be all things to all men – and none of the groundbreaking, pioneering artistry that he peppered his career with. Indeed, in my book BowieStyle (2000), I managed to quote Bowie himself spouting forth on Madonna’s act: “It’s conventional in the extreme. I guess I’ve seen too much, because I don’t really find her provocative, either.” Ironically, this is was a book which I was more than a little pleased and bemused to learn (from her UK PR Barbara Charone) that Madge was displaying on her Marble Arch coffee table for a good chunk of that year.

Case in point: Give Me All Your Luvin is a song of zero worth, but it was a telling bizarro-portrait of What Music Is Now. Or Then. Madge, then 53, was joined by avowed political activist M.I.A. and that candy-femme narcissist Nicki Minaj — the edgy and the profane join with the lame. At the Super Bowl, M.I.A. even provided M with the Madonna-esque finger scandal that the old girl herself can’t muster anymore. The album from which the song was extracted, 2012’s MDNA saw her reunite with William Orbit though when the album slid out of the Top 40 after just six weeks, the producer took to Facebook to complain that Madonna’s commercial enterprises seemed more important than a trifling thing like music, noting the “various pressing commitments that took up the artist’s limited time, such as perfume ranges and teen fashion contests and other such endeavors which are beyond my own limited understanding of pop star agendas.” Ouch.

Yes, she’s financially relevant (who wouldn’t be with those ticket prices) and a shrewd and savvy businesswoman and marketeer. But no, Madonna’s not been culturally relevant since the 1990s. Let’s be frank here: her last decent long-player, 2005’s disco mash-up Confessions On A Dance Floor, was a bit of a fluke. It’s a brilliant if derivative Stuart Price mash-up, the greatest Pet Shop Boys album they never made, with Madge reduced to little more than a guest vocalist on her own record. Nevertheless, she had the longest “relevancy” run of any female pop star ever. But with all this refreshing and rebooting you can’t help but ponder how much Madonna is like a commercial film franchise, and in particular how much she has in common with the James Bond series. And as if by tragic…

12. Shaken Not Stirred

An exercise in pure blockbuster decadence, the James Bond film Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as 007 has become synonymous with a certain kind of overstuffed travesty. It features an invisible car, an ice palace, a sun laser, and a cameo from Madonna. It’s hard to know which of those things is more ridiculous. Yes, Madge appears in this movie, and yes, she really is a terrible actress. Madge isn’t exactly convincing as a human being, let alone a thinly veiled version of herself. The most interesting Madonna film roles were the ones where her characters were informed by her overbearing public persona rather than just being a variation of it. But in DAD she’s so creaky and self-conscious she makes Roger Moore look Oscar worthy.

Luckily, M (the rubbish actress, obviously not Judi Dench) only appears for about two seconds as a lesbian fencing trainer named Verity, gets one predictable double entendre about “cockfights” and then mercifully disappears. You’d think having been in the ‘acting’ game for over 30 years someone – anyone really – would have told her how to project her voice. What do you mean they wouldn’t dare? Is she that above constructive technical advice? Because who is it that suffers, the performer or the audience? In the Bond film Madge sounds like a squeaky little nine year-old let out to play.

13. Desperately Seeking Elocution

Talking of plays, at least you can turn up the TV (or a radio). Spare a thought for those silly, silly fools who were brave enough to actually pay money for tickets to see Madonna tread the boards in a theatre production? Yes, that includes me. What was I thinking? In July 2002 I was one of the unlucky ones who saw but not barely heard her in something called Up For Grabs at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s Leicester Square. Sitting in the back row of the stalls (convenient for the toilets; this was a mainly gay audience after all) we could hear all the actors, on stage… except the one person everyone was there for.

If you thought Madonna was a two-dimensional film actress, well treading the boards she was even worse. There was absolutely zero stage presence, with no projecting of her voice or character to anyone beyond the front row. Having done a little stage work myself, at least I’m aware of how it’s a completely exaggerated form of acting to the screen, big or small. You have to become larger than life and amplify your gestures, your voice, your nuances, everything so you can reach absolutely everyone in the theatre. It felt like no one dared tell the queen of ego that This Is What You Do. But don’t just take my word for it, thanks to some sneaky iPhone filming and the joys of YouTube you can see for yourselves…

Most of the maddening crowd that gave Madge a standing ovation at the story’s denouement, as they probably did every night of the run. But since her performance in David Williamson’s comedy was that of a dogged trier woefully lacking in stagecraft, technique or mystery, the gesture was absolutely meaningless. She took her bow, but I was reluctant to stand. Of course, most of the proles didn’t actually realise it themselves, but what they were applauding was not artistic achievement but a vacuous hollow concept of celebrity. “I’ve seen Madonna and she was this close!” This episode remains my own personal version of soul torture.

“I was there for the first week of rehearsals in London when Madonna was playing the lead role… It was fascinating to see how she operated. She was very aware of her power and exercised it and demanded rewrites that she assumed would suit her character. I either did them or the play didn’t go on. I think the Australian version of the play was probably better.”

That was the show’s author, David Williamson, recounting his experience of working with Madge, and how, just like Die Another Day, she’d insisted on including a (shock, horror) lesbian angle, and relocating the story from Sydney to New York City. Madonna, just surrender, dear. Don’t even think about ‘acting’ on stage until you’ve mastered the act of projecting. Better still, just don’t even bother trying to act again, ok? The show is over, say goodbye.

14. Ree Had Style, Ree Had Grace, Poor Madonna Ruined Her Face

If you recall, Her Madgesty also had the honour of performing the contoversially technofied theme tune to Die Another Day. In 2002 it gave the singer her 35th Top 40 hit on the American Billboard chart, surpassing the First Lady of Soul, the late Aretha Franklin, as the female with the most Top 40 entries in music history. But hey, that’s just one of many reasons Franklin fans have to hate Madonna. You’ve probably heard about the most recent one.

Thursday 16 August 2018 will be forever remembered as the day the Queen of Soul died on the 60th birthday of the so-called Queen of Pop. And on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death to boot. It’s the kind of sublime coincidence that should keep fans and conspiracy theorists active for years, though you can bet your bottom dollar there was much gnashing of teeth in Madonna land when this publicity crazed egotist realised how quickly her ascent into sexagenarianism was being overshadowed in the media by the death of a proper singer.

Just four days after her birthday, a football-faced Madge was asked to indulge in a spot of prize-giving at the MTV Video Music Awards. Yes, that’s it, just to go to the VMAs and hand over an award – the Video Of The Year – to someone else. Not to receive one or waffle endlessly about herself. However, being under the not-in-the-slightest impression the M in MTV stood for Madonna, this ridiculous hyper-narcissist made every second she was on stage all about her. I bet you don’t even remember the winner of the award, do you? Thought not.

Who’s that girl? Boy George and Madge in 1987

Looking like a cross between Boy George, a rag doll and Teletubby, Madonna actually went out there in her best cultural appropriation outfit to pay lip service to an Afro-American black musician who was probably the most authentically soulful singer of the 20th century. As soulful as Madonna is soulless. Like, really? Madge’s North African ethnic ensemble included a horned headdress, heavy silver necklaces and a colourful tunic, all of which can be found in the thrift shops of Morocco where she’d celebrated her much publicised 60th birthday a few days earlier. More Amazigh than amazing, spare a thought for That Speech. Oh lord. Why don’t we get her to explain.

“Just to clarify: I was asked to present Video of the Year by MTV, and then they asked me to share any anecdotes I had in my career connected to Aretha Franklin! I shared a part of my journey and thanked Aretha for inspiring me along the way. I did not intend to do a tribute to her! That would be impossible in 2 minutes with all the noise and tinsel of an award show. I could never do her justice in this context or environment. Unfortunately most people have short attention spans, and are so quick to judge. I love Aretha!”

Unexpected item in the baggage area

It was rich, even by Madge’s stoopy standards. She opened her interminable 10-minute address by claiming Franklin “changed the course of my life”, then gave a long and rambling reminisce about her life in the 1970s, declaring, “fortunately, one of my favourite albums was Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin,” and that she opted to perform (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at an audition in Paris. She reckoned she ended up impressing the two French record producers she was trying out for by singing the tune a capella, despite them believing “some skinny-ass white girl” would not be able to “belt out a song by one of the greatest soul singers that ever lived.” Eventually, the calculating manipulator came around to mentioning Franklin’s name again, saying: “None of this would have happened without our lady of soul. She led me where I am today.” And it just so happened that Madonna got to cleverly claim both Aretha’s most celebrated song and album as figuring greatly in her own musical history. Oh, what a coincidence!

In other words, what a load of baloney, phony. In the early days the squealy, squeaky Madonna was incredibly insecure about her vocal prowess (ie she didn’t have any), so this claim that she would have chosen a demanding piece of work like A Natural Woman to audition with to is utter codswallop. I’m not buying it for one second. I don’t doubt that Madonna appreciated some of Aretha’s music, having scoured through thousands of interviews with motormouth Madge over the years I can only find one reference to Aretha before that teary 2016 Woman Of The Year acceptance speech at Billboard, and it’s from 1985 and suggests that Madonna had only just started listening to her. Lest we forget, ’85 was the year of Franklin’s big comeback with Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, Freeway of Love and the feminist duet with Eurythmics on Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.

They may have both grown up in Detroit with the same middle name but the similarities end there. Aretha hated Madonna, and she knew it. That’s why she stayed schtum on the subject and pointedly refused to acknowledge Franklin’s passing on her social media accounts. This is someone who has frequently taken to the Instasphere to post tributes marking any Tom, Dick or Harry’s passing. So Madonna, I’m calling you out on this. Please don’t pretend Aretha was a formative influence like the ones you’ve repeatedly acknowledged since the dawn of time: I’m of course talking about Bowie, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde. No one doubts for a second how influential they were to the Michigan miscreant, but the Queen of Soul? C’mon! It’s easy to call Madonna out on her fabricated and above all hypocritical ‘I’ve only got ten minutes to bore the world’ speech and she really should have thought about how this would play out.

If you look at popular culture in the last half century, Madonna has been every bit as influential as Aretha. Probably more so, though not always for the right reasons. So why the need to lie, Madge? Stop the vampiric name-dropping, it’s reductive. I’m sure you’ll appreciate the use of that word. If I can paraphrase her real hero’s 1993 song Lucy Can’t Dance (and seasoned Bowiephiles know exactly who that song is about, wink wink) “Who died and made you Falsidical Girl?” Oh, Aretha did! Be off with you, Madge. Take your trumped up lies somewhere else, say Syria.

15. I’ll Give It An Instagram Of Enthusiasm

Not such a nice pair: Madonna’s Insta post from January. She reckons beauty’s where you find it but I’m struggling to find anything pleasant about this revolting image

In recent years Madge has decided that Instagram, the narcissists’ digital utopia, is her preferred social media tool for evermore tiresome attention-seeking antics. Here she’ll post endless pictures of herself getting her saggy baps out, semi-naked pictures of her possessions, sorry I mean children. Then there was the time she humiliated her son Rocco by talking about his slowly developing ‘junk’.

People did not react well when Madonna Instagrammed a photo of her 13-year-old son Rocco holding a gin bottle in celebration of the new year. (She said he wasn’t drinking). There’s a whole range of other embarrassing things only a mother could possibly do, accompanied by a myriad of self-aggrandizing hashtags. It’s little wonder she has so little time to devote to inconsequential unimportant things like music, and, looking back, no wonder my own mum often lambasted Madonna as “common” and “tarty.”

When I mentioned how Madge has taken to Insta to pay lip service to anyone currently ‘trending’ I wasn’t exaggerating. In 2013, she even posted a tribute to the Conservative former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when she died that April. That is until she started getting trolled for aligning herself with a right-wing ideologue who tried to return Great Britain to ‘Victorian values’ and promptly deleted the post. Hell, Mrs. T probably didn’t have the faintest idea who Madonna was. Jeez Madge, at least be like Thatch and have the courage of your convictions. The answer, my dear, is not blowing in the wind, though clearly most of what you do is expecting people to direct that puff up your backside.

Later that same year, and just a day after a Navy Yard shooting in Washington DC where 12 people were shot, Madonna, short of attention for about 30 seconds, thought it’d be a good and tasteful idea to release a photograph of herself brandishing a gun. The tackily timed image was released to promote the insensitive bitch’s short film SecretProjectRevolution which, from what we gathered from the press release (no one actually watched it), was a self-indulgent load of old tosh. Much like the “director” herself then.

Anything else? Of course!

Let My Mouth Go Where It Wants To

Never less than forthcoming in the verbosity department, in recent years motormouth Madge seems to have been getting her dumb on more than ever before, spouting forth about a whole range of senseless things. Here is a completely superfluous selection of the most jaw-droppingly ridiculous things Madonna’s ever said. Stupider than stupid:

16“I was born in Bay City — a little smelly town in northern Michigan.”

Yeah, except that Bay City is in central Michigan. Clearly the young Madonna was too busy giving blowies in the school toilets to attend anything worthwhile like a geography lesson.

17. “I won’t be happy ’til I’m as famous as God.”

– Riiiiiiiight.

18. “When I get down on my knees, it is not to pray.”

– Bet that’s not so easy these days, eh, Madge? No, that’s not a creaky floorboard you can hear, it’s Madge’s left knee giving up.

19. “Honey, I didn’t get where I am without being pushy.”

– Madonna’s retort to Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys backstage at Wembley on the Who’s That Girl tour of ’87. The PSB’s frontman Neil Tennant later noted, diplomatically, “She doesn’t fake personal charm, I suppose.”

20. “One of the biggest problems in the world right now is nuclear waste… That’s something I’ve been involved in for a while with a group of scientists – finding a way to neutralise radiation.”

– Wanna know what Madonna ‘Marie Curie’ Ciccone’s master plan was for solving the world’s nuclear waste problems? She was planning to use “Kabbalah fluid.” God, give me strength.

21. “Everything I do is so original and unique, and it’s only brought me heartache and pain. I don’t think I can play the game to be accepted. I’m too intelligent, I have too much pride.”

– Pride before that fall, small. The silly mare is getting terribly confused. Original? Hardly. Unique? Uniquely great at recycling, sure. But then you just latched on to that idea because you so desperately wanted to be the female Bowie. Not seeing too many Life On Marses or Heroes-type anthems in your canon though, dear. Yes, you’re smart, shrewd and sassy – in that relentlessly calculating, conniving kinda way, but don’t go confusing intelligence with intellectualism. Hell, in that interview you gave to BBC Radio 1 in 1998 you didn’t even know how to pronounce the word ‘anonymity’. “Anonynymity” you said. Oh, we did laugh at that one. All the way until your next gaffe.

22. “Unhappy people are nasty people.”

– So she’s Madonna and by that token she’s sort of admitting she must be the unhappiest girl in the world. Hell, if your record label forced to do that cover of American Pie wouldn’t you be?

23. “No. Have you seen her lately?

– In response to Arsenio Hall asking her if the name Joan Collins makes her jealous. Because it’s absolutely fine to mock the appearance of an old woman and what she’s done to her face, right? Touché.

24. “I don’t like being late, by the way. So all you bitches who keep complaining about it can shut the fuck up.”

– That’s Madge’s form of apology for the embarrassing ultra-late starts Rebel Heart tour of 2016, including the show I endured in Sydney that became the basis of the DVD. A simple explanation would have sufficed.

25. “I’d rather be getting an award than giving one away.”

– Presenting the Video Vanguard award to George Michael at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. Gosh, she really doesn’t have a great track record with the VMAs, eh?

26. “I begged him not to wear his sunglasses, and of course he complies because I’m stronger than he is.”

– This is how she responds when quizzed about what she and Michael Jackson talked about. I’m still puzzled why he didn’t think she was a nice person. Wouldn’t you?

27. “I turned down singing with Frank Sinatra, did you know that? Why? I don’t really like duets. They’re cheesy.”

– Oh, well so speaks the woman whose head’s been lolling around like a bladder on a stick for the best part of 20 years. The same femme fatale who’s actually duetted with Prince, Tupac Shakur, Ricky Martin, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Lil Wayne and probably next door’s cleaner. I bet she sucks better than a Dyson too.

28. “I think I take heat for everything I do.”

– You know the age-old phrase, babe: if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Go and slip into something more comfortable, like an igloo. In Greenland. You’re so cold I bet you used to have your periods in ice cubes.”

29. “I want to be like Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, and John Lennon… but I want to stay alive.”

– Of all the people that should have been assassinated…

30. “When I’m dead they’ll finally kiss my ass. Isn’t that how it works?”

– Everything’s bottoms to you Americans, isn’t it? Forunately, I love them.

Steve Pafford

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