WHEN I’M 54
What it feels like for a girl... Tony Clayton-lea on Madonna’s latest re-incarnation
SINCE HER ARRIVAL in our lives in 1983, Madonna has made a virtue out of promising more than she delivers. While academics such as Camille Paglia loved Like A Virgin for its “coruscating polarities of evil and innocence” the rest of us sang along to the song at discos and watched a cheap video that promoted the classic nice-girl-next-door/dirty-doris stereotypes. Good for Madonna, though – even back then she instinctively understood that her business model of fabricating pleasure and triggering desire was the way to go.
In subsequent years, of course, she became the pin-up for broadsheet post-modern theorising on the sexualisation of consumerist-driven pop culture, written about more as a marketing phenomenon than a skillful woman whose acumen for filtering/filching/adapting underground trends before they went mainstream made it look deceptively easy.
Some say her real gift is akin to that of David Bowie in his 1970s heyday: the ability to consolidate her research and reconnaissance in a style that is utterly hers.
Certainly, female pop stars of today (yesterday and the day before, too) owe her a lot. Madonna was the first female pop star to fully engage with the visual elements of her art by drawing into her inner circle designers (Jean-paul Gaultier), video-makers (Mary Lambert) and high-end fashion photographers (Herb Ritts, Steven Meisel).
And now? Well, over the years she has been viewed as part female sell-out (in 1991 she formed a joint company, Maverick, with Time-warner, receiving a $60 million advance, and renegotiated her recording contract for a $5 million advance for each of her next seven albums – plus a 20 per cent royalty; in 2007, she signed a $120 million contract with Live Nation) and part feminist icon (“She drags feminism along casually in her slinking stride like a cave woman who has just killed her dinner,” Julie Burchill once noted).
This year sees a pop star – 54 this August – still very much aware that peak physique equals ultimate appeal (the second of her gym franchise, Hard Candy Fitness, opened in Moscow last December). That she has been effectively usurped by the very women she has so obviously influenced doesn’t hide the fact that she remains fully on-point, even if her sense of regimented control is increasingly viewed by her detractors in a cold light. Ultimately, though, what’s not to admire about her? Over 30 years ago, she started out as a tough little scrapper in a male-dominated industry determined to succeed. Now here she is – rich beyond her dreams. Autonomous.
Not to be written off just yet.