The queen is dead, long live the queen: 60 years of Madonna
El editorial de la revista literaria Cubaneo, que tuvo apenas 4 números, hechos a mano, en los inicios del períodod especial, decía intentado explicar «lo cubano» con la ayuda de Fernando Ortiz y la postmodernidad, que Madonna era cubana por derecho propio, con su «voy a mí», y su afán por tener descenedencia con nuestra sangre…Por su «cubanía», se ha ganado Madonna que celebremos sus 60 desde este texto de Norge Espinosa, en una revista de música cubana.
It seems unbelievable, but only 16 years separated in age Aretha Franklin, who has just died, and Madonna, who reaches her 60th birthday today. In their own way, each one gives us a low blow: the loss of an exceptional person who made of singing and her dedication to black roots music, a faith of radical consequences even for herself; on the other hand, the entry to a point in which her acrobatics and youthful provocations will be considered strictly museum stuff. Comparing them is impossible because, queens after all, each one established herself in a sphere of her own. The amazing thing, in the case of Madonna, who like Aretha hails from Michigan, is how she has made us witnesses to her long doctorate of survival.
When 35 years ago the debut album of that irreverent girl dressed to her own taste and whim appeared, many prophesied a quick end, betting on other presences of the moment that seemed (and are) more talented, Cindy Lauper included in that avalanche of faces that MTV feverishly made known. Madonna, at the turn of six decades, has achieved it all, without reducing herself to a residency in Las Vegas, where Lady Gaga is going now, to show herself as a luxury doll in her weakened career. The Material Girl didn't just crave her crown: she ended up designing it to her whim. It is difficult to take away from her something she achieved with her share of sacrifice to impose herself in that New York where she arrived with a few dollars and ready for anything. And she still continues, from time to time, to show it with pride in some of her many metamorphoses.
Between one and another phase of those transformations that have been the axis of her multiform trajectory, Madonna has rarely let us see her in her most vulnerable state. His commitment has been to build a shell, not just an empire, which the evil tongues assure has managed to suck the blood of collaborators, friends, and faithful. Not even his own brother has been able to avoid such maneuvers, and that list includes famous lovers, movie stars, dancers and models, men and women, Prince and Basquiat, Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur, not to mention Carlos León and Guy Ritchie, parents of their biological children. In the process, she gained a more educated voice (she went from being a Minnie Mouse under the effects of helium, to a woman capable of singing with dignity but without the histrionic gleam of others. Don't cry for me, Argentina, from Avoid) and defined herself more as a performer that as a singer, so that his extensive videography becomes the best-defined manifesto, his most thorough hagiography, conceived for the camera in a romance of many edges.
Her ambition was always to dominate the world, and to have a chance to express her opinion, however polemic or banal it may seem to the listener, in a context where women used to be just decorative objects. Her art consists of knowing how to press the precise buttons: she is a teacher of provocation. And it reminds us of the ingenuity of our morals when it achieves the expected effect, whether with a book like Sex, in the apotheosis of AIDS, or showing a nipple and something older on a recent tour.
Much have been written about her. Graduate theses, volumes where she is recognized as a postmodernity icon, as the last vestige of an era in which few can make the story of the past glories of the 80s. Neither Prince, nor Jackson, nor George Michael, nor David Bowie. With those monarchs gone, Madonna, a bit like Cersei Lannister, has taken the throne for herself. Notice that, in the effort, she has left us a list of songs in which we now see her (and our) biography.
Maybe the title of classic will be great. Not the icon that she herself, thanks to Jean Paul Gaultier and other designers, has been bequeathing us. When I saw your video of Material GirlFor the first time, I was outraged at his brazen reappropriation of what Marilyn Monroe had left as an indelible stamp on the big screen. Then I learned that this was one of her tricks, and I would see her repeating the resource to the point of exhaustion. What once seemed fun and spontaneous (since its terrible performances in Who's that Girl or Shanghai surprise, not to mention Swept away, where she overcame herself as a Razzie candidate), now becomes a carefully calculated gesture, contempt that has to be measured against the shadow of her own trajectory.
From the Confessions on a dance floor, your discs look like a remix not always successful of successes and producers that has already had to his side, and except one that another single, the rest does not manage to equal the old expectations. Now he announces a new album, in which he devotes his time to charity work in Malawi, providing his son Rocco with the education he longs for as a fubtbolist, and continuing to wait, spectacular mantis, for the next man. He is 60 years old and has been seen on stage with a cane, although that was already in the video of his brainless duo with Britney Spears, whom he gave a kiss of which the girl never recovered completely. We also have, in a certain way, that age, or part of it, because their music has been the soundtrack of so many things, in a time when she helped us to challenge parents and religions, even if it was a game, or to celebrate sex at the cost of several scoldings and threats of excommunication. He came to Havana to dance on a restaurant table, and to celebrate a birthday at the roof terrace of La Guarida, perhaps only to be news again and mark territory, during the brief season that Obama advocated. A demanding goddess, she has a cult that rarely admits contradictions about her creeds, but she has not forgotten to laugh at herself, knowing that at her call, the new pop figures will gather at her door, eager for a cameo before the Sphinx that once seemed to enjoy eternal youth.
For those of us who belong to the LGTBIQ community, she is an inescapable reference. A reference to be handled with care, as did Björk, who was able to give her one of his songs for her trance era, but refused to meet her personally. Today, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Cardi B and so many others dare to do things she preconized. They don't always seem to have learned that Madonna fed off the geniuses of her time, and not just those in music. She can look at that landscape of flashing and frenetic lights where she has worn her crown, even at the risk of falling or stumbling. That, of course, will also become news.
In his new album he will experiment with Lusitanian airs, as an echo of his current residence in Lisbon. We'll see. It has just begun to raise the campaign that will be around, again, that sequence that we already know: teasers, flashazos, rumors, photos that advance the art work of the album, announcements of the world tour, and perhaps even the filtering of the entire album in the promiscuities of the internet. He has also survived all that, reminding us of that essential thing that many forget: with talent, by itself, it is not enough to become king or queen. You need many other things, will, guts and guts, to continue in the struggle. That was also what Aretha Franklin knew. Only if Aretha learned to sing in churches, as the daughter of a pastor; Madonna has written her own gospel, which does not lack the nuances of a frivolous courtesan, nor of a political speaker who does not hesitate to pass for bad speech. She is not the best singer or the best dancer, she is not the most beautiful nor the best actress. But it is he who defines, above those obstacles, the role of the super star in the world of pop, and who has managed to take on the ambitions of anyone who aspires to win that throne.
At soundtrack that she gave us, I have several hymns, some of which accompanied me in my exit from the closet and in the assumption of other decisions no less definite. And also, with those songs, he has earned my respect, because in that eagerness to survive he has let us distinguish his wounds, as he did when he sang his old hit Like a Virgin In the MDNA tour slowly, while the public paid with dollar bills his strange and pathetic surrender, so many years of that ceremony where he achieved his primary goal: not to leave anyone indifferent.
To many others wannabe we can define them with the speed of a caricature: stars without folds, barbies one-sided She, perverse and rabid, astute and spectacular, has been spinning her own myth with the patience, wisdom and charm of a spider that seduces us as she prepares to devour us. How not to thank her then, for so many exits of tone, for so many bravado against presidents of turn, so many bets for being herself under all those layers of masking. Maybe she can not even identify her true face anymore. But that's also part of its charm. Of his triumph. From her precarious eternity as queen in a world that is, precisely, increasingly precarious. A queen has died. Another still accompanies us. That they make us sing some of their songs, be it Respect or Vogue, is the proof of how we bow to them.
And finally, before saying the mandatory "Happy birthday", here's a recommendation of my favorite four Madonna albums:
- True BlueIt is the third album and the most solid step towards her definitive consecration. She had already rubbed herself against the floor at an MTV gala to sing Like a VirginLike a Virgin, and had caused a scandal that made her known worldwide. But on True Blue, a tribute to the female music of the 50s, several songs seem to have been recorded yesterday, such as Open your heart.
- Erotica, 1992. Produced by Shep Pettibone, it is her first concept album. Accompanied by Sex, and a scandalous tour, it almost made her lose her career. She had to take down a notch, but on the following album she sang: Absolutely no regretsAnd so we can hear it now, beyond the rejection of its moment, as a piece of strong and defiant sound.
- Ray of light, 1998. It's turning 20 years since its release, and the agreement between William Orbit, Marius de Vries and Patrick Leonard worked the miracle of a true resurrection. Here's Drowned World/Substitute for love, the ballad of hers that I prefer. Ray of Light is an immersion in faith, in Hindu texts, and in the effect of motherhood on a woman who learned to cede her star status to a daughter whom she thanks in every lyric. It is Madonna in her splendor. And it put her back on track to the top of the charts.
- Confessions on a dance floor, 2005. Under Stuart Price's supervision, Madonna recovered from her political manifesto, American Life, by returning to her most comfortable environment: partying and overflowing. She did so, however, several decades after Lucky Star and Holiday, with the wisdom of someone who has learned certain things but still wants to set a moment of the night on fire. As a single track linking the tracks, it's a shot of amphetamines. A lucid proof that the Queen, despite age and the threats of other competitions, still continues to dominate the dance floor, her undisputed empire.