Madonna: queen of

In the week the pop icon turns 60, Ir­ish fe­male mu­si­cians tell TANYA SWEENEY how Madonna has in­flu­enced and in­spired their ca­reers, and why she con­tin­ues to pave the way not just for for fe­male artists, but all women

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - CULTURE -

Some might say that it’s been a while since Madonna re­ally kicked up some dust and made any sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the pop-culture land­scape. Her last stu­dio al­bum — 2015’s Rebel Heart — sold a mil­lion copies world­wide: a far cry from 1986’s True Blue, which shifted 25 mil­lion copies.

Ad­di­tion­ally, show­biz fol­low­ers are now more likely to read tabloid re­ports about the com­ings and go­ings of her chil­dren Lour­des Leon (21) or Rocco Ritchie (17). For in­stance, can you name Madonna’s cur­rent boyfriend? (I couldn’t. I had to look it up. It ap­pears to be some­one called Kevin Sam­paio).

Yet in 2016, the singer moved front and cen­tre to the agenda all over again. Call­ing out the very in­dus­try in which she flour­ished for close to four decades, Madonna made a blis­ter­ing speech from the Billboard Awards stage about the “sex­ism and misog­yny and con­stant bul­ly­ing and re­lent­less abuse” she had en­dured through­out her ca­reer.

“If you’re a girl, you have to play the game,” Madonna said. “You’re al­lowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opin­ion that’s out of line with the sta­tus quo. You are al­lowed to be ob­jec­ti­fied by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your slut­ti­ness.

“And do not, I re­peat do not, share your own sex­ual fan­tasies with the world.”

Singer 30-year-old Róisín O reg­is­tered Madonna’s dis­con­tent with the in­dus­try long ago.

“I re­mem­ber hear­ing ‘What It Feels Like For a Girl’ (in 2000) and re­mem­ber think­ing it was pointed at be­ing a girl in the mu­sic in­dus­try, and not just the world,” she re­calls. “To me, it was about be­ing looked at as a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen where you have to graft twice as hard as a man to be given the same sta­tus.”

Given Madonna’s ca­reer, which has run the gamut from the pi­ous to the eye-pop­pingly sexy, the speech was all the more as­ton­ish­ing.

And in the week that the singer turns 60, the re­marks are more rel­e­vant than ever. Last week, a tabloid head­line crowed: “Look who is still des­per­ately seek­ing at­ten­tion at 60!’

Ni­amh Far­rell, singer in Ham­sand­wicH, wasn’t in the least bit im­pressed: “I’ve heard of some peo­ple slag­ging her off, and women in par­tic­u­lar go­ing, ‘look at the state of her’, but my sense of it all is just, ‘leave her alone’,” the 35-yearold says. “You can see the pres­sure she feels

(to stay young), but that’s so­ci­ety for you.”

Per­haps Madonna’s mile­stone birthday is a sig­nif­i­cant one pre­cisely be­cause youth­ful fem­i­nin­ity, pre­co­cious­ness and in­no­va­tion have long been her stock in trade.

Her rise to fame at the age of 24 (with the re­lease of her epony­mous de­but al­bum in 1983) was a per­fect storm. Two years pre­vi­ously, MTV — a chan­nel then show­ing mu­sic videos 24 hours a day — had launched. It was a star­tlingly sym­bi­otic union: Joshua Rich from En­ter­tain­ment Weekly posited that “Madonna helped to make MTV”, while the sta­tion ce­mented the singer’s rep­u­ta­tion as a shape-shifter, an innovator, a provo­ca­teur, a cul­tur­ally nim­ble artist. At a time when promo videos were hastily cob­bled to­gether with live footage, Madonna used them as a means of artis­tic ex­pres­sion, el­e­vat­ing them to icono­graphic lev­els and caus­ing an atomic im­pact.

“I re­mem­bered see­ing the videos grow­ing up and def­i­nitely tak­ing no­tice of her,” re­calls Far­rell. “There was a huge at­ti­tude of not giv­ing a shit what peo­ple thought of her.”

In a par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive sleight of hand, Madonna proved she had a keen mu­si­cal nous, too. She of­ten kept close to the zeit­geist and aligned her­self with the pro­duc­ers and writ­ers of the mo­ment, from Nile Rogers and Wil­liam Or­bit to Mir­wais Ah­madzaï and Di­plo. At the very least, she

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