MARC’S ANGLE - When Madonna tweeted half-jokingly about the swelling on her face subsiding, one could acutely feel the sting she felt to even have to respond back in that way. Of course, such viral and widespread criticism has an effect on a person’s psyche and she’s still at the end of the day, a human.
But let’s dissect why this has become a sad cultural discussion this moment in time and why it’s especially sad, coming from a former trendsetter Madonna. To her credit, she captured the moment on this one, but not from dominance as she once did with cultural discussions. Instead, she doesn’t seem to get that the joke is on her. But she got us all talking about her.
This criticism on trying to act young Madonna is receiving has actually been a longtime coming. Since 2008’s “Hard Candy”, she has been following, not leading. Especially after a series of bold and deviant moves that saw her going against the grain and setting the stage culturally even as early as three years back in 2005’s “Confessions on a dancefloor”, her last great album, Madonna suddenly started following trends instead of leading them and the creativity seemed to be drying up. This was evident when her opening single, “4 Minutes” sounded more like a Justin Timberlake song featuring Madonna in the background. That would be her last real hit.
Contrast this with her previous projects that were boldly defiant, against the grain and ended up being key points in her colorful and accomplished career up to that point. Let’s recap them.
In the 1980s, Madonna brought New York urban multicultural street styles, read black and Latino, and dance music to the forefront with her first two albums. Madonna struck gold with a sexuality that provoked discussion. She was the first to be in control of that image through videos like “Like A Virgin”, “Material Girl” and “Open Your Heart”. They came off empowered, and her publicity machine generated interesting discussion that pushed cultural boundaries and harnessed the power of video with MTV.
Surprisingly, she spread a pro-life message with 1986’s “Papa Don’t Preach”, arguing she would keep her baby at a time when abortion was becoming commonplace and the norm. This related to average America and showed she could present other facets of her personality to remain interesting and relevant while staying mainstream and positive. She would later butcher classics like “Live To Tell” with “rebellion” without a purpose in her post-2008 years. Consistently for the last 15 years it’s been declining music quality, unnecessary attempts to shock the public (but ultimately no one cared) and more plastic surgery.
Back to the late 1980s, she was getting cancelled by Pepsi for her controversial “Like A Prayer” video which generated controversy but ultimately was ahead of the curve as it brought up topics like systematic racism, police corruption, religious hypocrisy and many things which became in “Vogue” no pun intended in the 2020s. Madonna was on that train 22 years prior.
In the early 1990s when she took her crass sexual image too far with the “Erotica” album and Sex book, she still broke records and knew how to dial it back when the public had enough, which culminated in her most dramatic image change: career-defining love ballads like “Rain”, “I’ll Remember”, Take A Bow” (her longest running US #1 hit) and “You’ll See”, with the latter two being essentially audition pieces for landing her successful “Evita” role with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Motherhood was exemplified in her positive and spiritual album, 1998’s “Ray of Light”, which not only brought her back to critical acclaim but rehabilitated her slightly tarnished image with the general public, as she became relatable as a mother and as a person truly grappling with spirituality and life themes. Read, maturity. This led to more commercial dominance from a series of soundtrack hits from blockbuster movies like Austin Powers to James Bond to hit albums like 2000’s “Music” to 2005’s successful “Confessions On A Dancefloor” generating her biggest worldwide hit “Hung Up”. Despite missteps along the way like 2003’s “American Life”, which got unnecessarily political with mediocre music, she always returned to form, going back to creating trendsetting or defying music.
All this to say that Madonna’s controversies were always turned to gold and seemed to be one step ahead of what everyone else was doing. For the last 15 years, not so much. It’s just cringe after cringe with mediocre music to boot.
Most importantly, Madonna started missing the mark culturally. Once speaking to a legion of female fans her age who followed her for many decades, these now-senior women are the ones most vocal about not relating. Many women her age can’t afford plastic surgeries and have opted instead to age gracefully, embracing wrinkles and visible signs of aging. That core group of followers is not relating to her like she did for a good 3 decades as her singles became events and anthems to young 20 something’s in the 80s or to soccer moms in the late 90s and 2000s.
Madonna could have been ahead of that curve and related to the average woman by embracing the entry to sunset years and old age. Instead she chose the route of looking like a caricature, desperate to hang on to youth, but ultimately coming off unrelatable and displaying her #firstworldproblems.
But maybe her values are just off? Most people find it incredibly weird for a 64 year old to be dating someone in their 20s. It is certainly criticized when a man does it, like Leonardo DiCaprio does. But while the headlines on this creepy aspect of Madonna’s life are largely avoided due to female privilege, many people are privately judging its weirdness. Bottom line: she’s been out of touch for about 15 years now and it finally has become conventional wisdom.
(Marc Ang ([email protected]) is a community organizer in Southern California and the founder of Asian Industry B2B. He has written many pieces analyzing pop culture and it’s context in the world and politics. Marc’s book “Minority Retort” was released on November 9, 2022 through Trinity Broadcasting Network. Marc is a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.com.)