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
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