WHEN I’M 54

What it feels like for a girl... Tony Clay­ton-lea on Madonna’s lat­est re-in­car­na­tion

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

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.

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