Sunday, 15 August 2010

Big Gay Monday: Madonna.

Happy Birthday, Mo.

Today, as you read this, Madonna is 52 years old. 52, people. The Queen of Pop is 52 years old. I wanted to do something special for her birthday because she is my ultimate idol and my ultimate inspiration. She is fearless, unapologetic and absolutely beautiful. People seem obsessed with the idea that at 52 Madonna is "past it", "too old" and "irrelevant" but this is a woman who has clocked up more Number 1 singles in the past 10 years than Black Eyed Peas, Girls Aloud and Britney Spears. In just the past few years she's been in the studio with Pharrell Williams, David Guetta and Justin Timberlake. She's influenced everyone from Rihanna to Lady GaGa and it's safe to say she's the most important woman in musical history. She's written her own songs from the beginning (allegedly), she's talked candidly about sex since her career began (undoubtedly paving the way for Sex And The City and the female sexual revolution of the 1990s) and she has always been one step ahead of the fashion world.

More importantly than that, though, her music is absolutely incredible. So I can talk on and on about her importance and relevance in the music industry, her achievements and her accolades but at the end of the day she'll, quite rightly, be remembered for the cowboy hat and the leotard. These are my Top Ten Madonna anthems (and let me tell you, narrowing it down to ten was not easy) ...

10. Give It 2 Me (Hard Candy)

Give It 2 Me basically represents everything about where Madonna is in 2010 (OK, it was released in 2008 but even the Queen of Re-Invention can't change that much in two years) and was quite rightly chosen to close the now record-breaking Sticky and Sweet Tour. It's a song about soldiering on even when everyone else has given up. It's a song about not waiting around for what you want. And, finally, it's a song about being carefree and not arsed what people think. It's about waving your arms in the air and having a good time. Lovely.

And that's just it. This video came out and people spilled their guts in the usual way about how Madonna was too old to be wearing the clothes she has on in this video, that she needs to cover it up and start acting her age. But that's the whole point of the song-- Madonna does not give a fuck. "No one's gonna stop me now", she sings. 25 years into her career, if a 50-year-old Madonna wants to put on a pair of knickers and a chiffon top and swish a feather boa over her head I'd say she's earned the right to. And who would bloody dare argue with her anyway?

Best lyric: When the lights go down and there's no one left I can go on and on and on.

9. Justify My Love (The Immaculate Collection)

Anyone with a brain could have worked out between 1983 and 1989 that Madonna liked a good shag. From the word go Maddy has never minced her words when it came to discussing matters of sex. She was an early advocate for safe sex (the original Like A Prayer LP came with a leaflet about AIDS) and once declared "sex is only dirty if you don't have a bath afterwards". However, despite this frankness towards sex, no one was really ready for the Justify My Love video when she sprang it on the world in 1990 to promote her upcoming greatest hits collection The Immaculate Collection.

If we're being honest with ourselves, Justify My Love as a song is not all that. It's basically lots of hypnotic, repetitive beats with Madonna moaning about you giving her a good old-fashioned seeing to over the top. But Justify My Love is all about that, it was one of the first mainstream videos to be banned by MTV for its explicit content which, of course, Madonna used to her advantage by making it the first ever music video available to buy on VHS. More weirdly still, people actually went out and bought it. And why did they do that? Because Madonna looks absolutely hot hot hot in that video. Anyone who says that Madonna is anything short of sex personified in the Justify My Love video has something seriously wrong with them. Hot stuff.

Best lyric: Poor is the man whose pleasure depends on the permission of another.

8. Ray Of Light (Ray Of Light)

If you listen to Ray Of Light and don't immediately feel good about everything then you might need to see some class of a specialist. Ray Of Light is hailed as one of Madonna's most personal albums, but in truth while it is lovely and introspective and all that, it is a bit of a gloomy listen. On an album that starts with the regretful Drowned World/Substitute For Love and ends with the haunting Mer Girl, Ray Of Light is one of the album's few highs. And what a high it is, culminating in total euphoria.

Ray Of Light is also one of my favourite Madonna videos because, while the high-speed background images go well with the fast-paced nature of the song, Madonna herself is singing in real time dressed in simple double-denim (which my lovely friend Messy Carla can tell you more about). One of my favourite Madonna clips ever are the scenes where she's in the night club in the white vest-top generally having a lovely time and doing what she does best, dancing her arse off (plus the club has a light-up dance floor so I like to pretend it was filmed in Powerhouse). Ray Of Light is 5 minutes of pure pop Heaven, and I defy anyone not to fall in love with it.

Best lyric: Quicker than a ray of light I'm flying.

7. Hung Up (Confessions On A Dance Floor)

In the gap between American Life and Confessions On A Dance Floor, I became a devoutMadonna fan and I became an out and proud homosexual. I'm going to be honest and say that the two happened at pretty much the same time, but I can't explicitly remember becoming aware of either of them happening. It was late 2005 the very first time I heard Hung Up and I will literally never, ever forget hearing it. The video needn't have featured Madonna in a bright pink leotard with 70s hair and topless men, a closeup of a Post-It note bearing the message...

Dear Gays,
I've made you something

...would really have sufficed. What I love about Hung Up is that it was the perfect comeback for Madonna following the release of American Life which saw her lose a lot of fans. People were starting to lose faith in Madonna, and some believe she would never get her sparkle back following what was not an easy album to listen to. It seemed she'd become a bitter cynic, and she'd never have another Into The Groove or Deeper And Deeper again. Of course, the critics should have known better than to doubt Madonna. You'd think by that stage of her career they would have learned.

Most importantly, I love Hung Up because it is a glittery, disco mess of a track that goes on about two minutes too long and has an accompanying video of a 47-year-old woman taking off her garish blue tracksuit to reveal an even more garish pink leotard. My favourite part of the video, however, is when Madonna grabs hold of a man who is probably half her age and literally throws him out of the way so she can have his spot dancing on a DanceNation arcade game. What's important to remember is that not six months earlier Madonna had been flung off a horse and during the filming of this video her arm is not actually in the socket. Her arm. Is not. In the socket. This is why Madonna is the Queen, and we are just her subjects.

Best lyric: You'll wake up some day, but it'll be too late.

6. Vogue (The Immaculate Collection)

Vogue has become something of a cliché in Madonna's back catalogue, but I think to appreciate how good it is you have to put yourself back in 1990 when Vogue was given by Madonna as a present to the homosexuals of the world. The 80s were over, and it was basically accepted that if you were gay you had AIDS. If you knew a homosexual you probably had AIDS. If you had AIDS and you weren't a homosexual the chances were a homosexual was to blame. Homosexuals were not a popular people. "Vogue"-ing was an underground dance movement going in gay clubs all over the world. Many have claimed that Madonna stole the idea of "Vogue"-ing and tried to pass it off as her own as a way of exploiting gay people. While I'm not saying this isn't true, it's no secret Madonna has a soft spot for money, but to me making Vogue was Madonna's way of saying "I'm still on your side, I still love you".

Moreover, the message of the song is absolutely amazing. We all love drippy Christina Aguilera bullshit "we are all beautiful in our own way", of course we do, but sometimes what we really want to hear is that we're sexy. That we're stars. It's lovely having inner beauty, of course, but it would be ridiculous to pretend that it isn't lovely to feel like you have outer beauty as well. Vogue is a very special song to me because OH MY GOD HORRENDOUS CLICHÉ ALERT WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST when I listen to it I genuinely feel like Madonna is singing it to me. That if I "get up on the dancefloor" I too can be a "superstar" and if you join me "yes, that's what you are".

The first time I ever went to Powerhouse I was 17 years old and scared I wouldn't fit in. I was with my dear friend Kate and, truthfully, I was nervous. The truth is I've never really felt like I fit in, and was scared that it would be the same at Powerhouse. When the doors opened, Vogue was playing and I got so excited that I ran into the club and, not realising there was a step down onto the dance-floor I've since danced on more times than I could count, I fell over and twisted my ankle. I was in absolute agony. But I got up and I vogued. Because Madonna told me to.

Best lyric: It makes no difference if you're black or white, if you're a boy or a girl, if the music's pumping it will give you new life, you're a superstar.

5. Lucky Star (Madonna)

Lucky Star was Madonna's first mainstream pop video (Pop Fact: The video for Holiday is reportedly so bad that 27 years later it still hasn't seen the light of day). I'd like to show you something. The opening of the Lucky Star video features total silence. And this image:

Madonna is taking off her sunglasses. It takes her six seconds to do so, with no sound whatsoever. And that's it. The very first time you see Madonna, you know straight away she means business. You know straight away everything she's about. And you know straight away she's not someone you're likely to forget in a hurry. I'm not going to go on and on about Lucky Star because overall it's quite a silly song really. It's one of the very few songs (I could be wrong but I believe it might be the only one) Madonna wrote all by herself and it's basically a bubblegum pop love song to someone special.

Lucky Star is, of course, all about image. Madonna, in the Lucky Star video, is someone you literally can not take your eyes off. It's almost as if she's hypnotised you. Of course it's all a bit dated now, but I can't imagine what it must have been like seeing her for the first time as a teenager in the 80s. Madonna was so edgy and so sexy and she was someone you wanted to follow and see what she did next.

It's hard to believe this punky little street princess would eventually turn into the mother of four Queen of Pop we've all grown to love/hate/love-to-hate/hate-to-love. Madonna says she cringes when she watches her old videos and sees the things she used to wear. But I think Madonna should be proud. She inspired an entire movement, an entire generation. With her silly songs and bizarre fashions, she gave misfits a feeling of belonging. The very first time you see her in her first mainstream video you know you're in for a treat. Sound familiar...?

Best lyric: When I'm lost you'll be my guide I just turn around and you're by my side.

4. Don't Tell Me (Music)

Everything about Don't Tell Me shouldn't work. Its lyrics see a middle aged woman declare that her entire world can fall apart as long as her man keeps on loving her. The now-famous choppy guitars provoked many people to take their CDs back to shop, believing their to be a fault with the disc. The accompanying video has Madonna in a leather jacket and a cowboy hat kicking sand around and...line dancing. I'll repeat it, everything about Don't Tell Me should not work. But, of course, it does. Because it's Madonna.

Bizarrely, I don't really have anything more to say on the matter, other than that this song will always remind me of my sister whose Madonna obsession began around the Music era of the early 2000s. She was 14 at the time, and had a poster of Madonna lying in a bail of hay on her bedroom wall and a bejewelled t-shirt with Madonna's name over a cowboy hat on it. Much can be said for the power of Madonna that even in her 40s (as she still was at this time) she still had enough influence to change the fashion of teenagers. Eventually two years ago I sat next to my sister at Wembley Stadium as Madonna took the stage for the first leg of her Sticky and Sweet Tour. I thought of that poster and I thought of that t-shirt, and I thanked God that I had the world's campest mother whose children would both turn out to be Madonna fans.

Best lyric: Take the black off a crow but don't tell me I have to go.

3. Into The Groove (Like A Virgin)

I love Rain and I love Miles Away and I love Crazy For You. Of course, they're lovely little ditties and you can't beat a good Madonna ballad. That said, they pale in comparison to her upbeat songs and they don't come any more upbeat than Into The Groove which is probably my favourite 80s Madonna song. The weird thing is, like Vogue, it was never intended to be a staple Madonna song, it was only really recorded to help promote the upcoming Desperately Seeking Susan film, which is why the video for the song is made up entirely of clips from the film. Many people criticised the film, and said that it wasn't worth seeing because Madonna was only playing herself rather than really using her acting abilities (which she later proved were non-existent), but personally I love the idea that Madonna and Susan are one and alike, because it means that Into The Groove's video is basically a montage of clips of Madonna being Madonna.

My favourite Madonna video clip ever comes at the point in the video where she's dancing in the club with her arms in the air. She looks so endearing and bewitching, I absolutely adore it. Anyone who can watch that clip and not fall in love with Madonna is no friend of mine. Into The Groove, like the aforementioned Give It 2 Me, is not a song that is going to change the world or challenge anyone's ideals. But it is going to make you forget yourself and just fucking dance for four minutes, and is that really such a bad thing? I mentioned earlier in the blog that I saw The Sticky And Sweet Tour and an interesting fact is that no one stood up until Into The Groove came on. It isn't especially hard to see why:

"Get up on your feet, yeah, step to the beat", sang Madonna, and we all obeyed. There was a middle aged woman pole-dancing and skipping on a skipping rope on the stage in front of us with a gang of dancers half her age, how could we protest? Such is the power of Into The Groove. Long after we're all gone, I honestly believe that when Like A Prayer and Erotica have all been forgotten, Into The Groove will still be filling dance-floors the world over.

Best lyric: Only when I'm dancing can I feel this free, at night I lock the doors where no one else can see, I'm tired of dancing here all by myself, tonight I'm gonna dance with someone else.

2. You Must Love Me (Evita - Music From The Motion Picture)

I started to love Madonna when I was 5 years old. To me, though, her name was not Madonna. Her name was Eva Perón. It was a strange period, as my somewhat erratic mother was becoming increasingly obsessed with the film Evita. I remember vividly, I would come home from school and the Evita soundtrack would be playing on a constant loop while my mam made us our tea. We'd all sit down and watch Evita and then the soundtrack would go back on until it was time for bed. I would love to say I was exaggerating, but this was literally the extent of the amount of Madonna I was exposed to at a young age. I literally knew the whole thing off my heart, and still do.

To this day, when I hear my mam sing "Colonel Perón" I know it is time for me to respond "Eva Duarte". When I hear my mam sing "If you were rich or middle class" it is time for me to respond "screw the middle classes, I will never accept them". Between the two of us we could perform the whole thing. And this is where my Madonna obsession began. I truly believe that my mam is the only person in the world who loves Madonna more than I do (just the other day she said that Lady GaGa's Alejandro video was "disgraceful". "For the blasphemy?" I asked. "No, she's totally ripped Madonna off," she said back to me, shocked.)

Mufasa dies in The Lion King and kids cry at a film for the first time. This is generally how it went for the children of the early 1990s. I, of course, was watching the demise and deterioration of Evita Perón every night as I settled in with my family for our daily viewing of Evita. Mufasa can fuck off for all I care, but every time I hear Madonna sing "Where do we go from here?" at the start of You Must Love Me, I get the unsettling feeling in my stomach that something is wrong. And that's because I knew as a kid when I heard that it meant that Evita would be dead soon. You Must Love Me is a very special song to me, and I'm so pleased Madonna performed it on her Sticky And Sweet Tour because it meant last July my mam and I finally got to see Madonna performing the song we'd sang together countless times before.

On a less personal note, it's generally just a bloody good song. Evita, like Madonna herself, is a character who despises weakness and with this song she's finally realising that the man she assumed was only using her for power, popularity or position is staying with her in her hour of darkness, and that he truly does love her as she does him. And finally, to anyone who says that Madonna can't sing, she was vocally trained by Andrew Lloyd Webber who wrote this song specially for her so, frankly, you can suck it.

Best lyric: This isn't where we intended to be.

1. Express Yourself (Like A Prayer)

My personal anthem. Express Yourself started off as a feminism anthem, but over time has developed into something so much more. In fact, when Madonna performs this live she sings "come on boys" as a tribute to her gay fans. Express Yourself is something of a pre-decessor to Independent Woman and Broken Heels. It's about standing up for yourself, and realising that you don't have to be with someone just for the sake of it. It's a song about understanding that you, yourself, are a complete human being who don't rely on other people to make you happy. It's about how if your man isn't willing to "express how he feels" then he can jolly well fuck off.

Express Yourself sums up everything Madonna is about. Like A Prayer was a tough video to follow, but Madonna managed to do it with a music video that was, at the time of its release, the most expensive music video of all time which sees Madonna at the head of a society where women run the show and men are just the buff workers who do press-ups in the rain and wear chains. Of course, it's gained a bit of press recently since Christina Aguilera "paid tribute" to it with her own video for Not Myself Tonight.

If you ask me, if you aren't willing to follow the rules laid out in Express Yourself then you aren't allowed to be a Madonna fan. If you're willing to go for second best, and won't put your love to the test, then you're off the team. Satin sheets are very romantic-- but what happens when you're not in bed? Fancy cars that go very fast-- they never last. Express Yourself teaches us that pussy-men simply will not cut the mustard. Men who are second best-- why bother?

Best lyric: Second best is never enough, you'll do much better, baby, on your own.

And so, you've read my Madonna Top Ten. And this August 16th I invite you to consider your own favourite Madonna moments, I bet there are more than you realise. Even if you aren't a Madonna fan, on this day (the Silly Old Daniel high holy day, when my future children will receive their Christmas presents) I invite you to live by the principles that Madonna puts forward in her music and in her life. If you want something, then bloody well go and get it. If your man is a dick, then you don't need him. Know what's really important. And, of course, love others.

Happy Madonna Day!

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you about the Justify my Love video- it's the first time I have seen/heard it and I can't take my eyes off her!

    Maria xxx