I avoid getting into discussions about Madonna because, more often than not, they’re no longer pleasant discussions. Outside of her still rather large fan base she has become, at best, irrelevant. More commonly among the general public she has become the punch line to a very public joke.
INTO THE POP VOID recently had this to say about the queen of pop ; “If Madonna is the last one to leave the party does that make her brilliant or tragic?”
More than anything I want the answer to be brilliant, because she was brilliant. Whenever some snotty nosed 20 year old upstart laughs at her latest attempt to reinvent herself I think they must be laughing at a stranger. Because if they knew who Madonna was they wouldn’t be laughing.
If they were there to get swept along as she turned pop culture on its head they wouldn’t dismiss her.
If they were there to witness her rewrite the rule book they wouldn’t laugh at her.
If they knew what it was like to be under her spell at the peak of her powers they would show her some damn respect.
I still buy every album she puts out. I’ve never actually listened to MDNA or Rebel Heart but I bought them. Because that’s what you do. If Madonna releases a new album you buy it. It’s been that way since 1984, maybe I’m having trouble breaking the habit or maybe I’m convinced that somewhere in her is the Madonna I know and love.
So if the party really is over, I think the least we can do is acknowledge that before the come down kicked in, it was the best party the world has ever seen.
Madonna was the 80s. She ripped through the decade leaving every other artist playing catchup. Her presence changed the course of pop history forever and although she would march through the 90s and 00s as the undisputed queen of pop, 80s Madonna will always be the one for me, because…
The queen of re-invention understood the power of her image from day 1. Her look and attitude changed almost from single to single, certainly no two albums had the same image.
She was my style guru from 1984 until Mel & Kim came along in ’87 to teach me just how important it was to wear a very large (preferably yellow) hat at all times.
No-one, but no-one looked cooler than Madonna in the 80s. Wether she was spraying a heart onto a wall in the Borderline video, or taking the absolute piss with her mates in the True Blue clip, Madonna was the physical embodiment of cool.
She led me down the rabbit hole of black rubber wrist bands (how many is too many? )
She owes my mother a fortune in dental treatment for the 6 solid months I spent with a lolly in my mouth (whilst wearing fingerless lace gloves, and a zillion rubber wrist bands)
As the new decade dawned something changed. Either I grew up a bit and stopped wanting to be Madonna (unlikely) or her style stopped becoming so accessible. Yes her image continued to redefine the rules of fashion, but for me her most iconic looks will always include a wedding dress, fabric in her hair and some form of water transportation.
Where do I start? Seriously. From the twinkling intro on Borderline to the all encompassing majestic choir on Like a Prayer everything, yes everything Madonna recorded in the 80s was a feast for the ears.
I don’t know, and I probably don’t want to know what the formula was, but her voice defined the decade and , for me at least, every single thing she commited to vinyl was pure magic.
I know this is the cover of the re-issue but this is the one I bought. I only became aware of the existence of this little treasure when Borderline finally made the UK Top 40 in 1986. I will never forget the dizzy bewilderment and excitement I felt when I discovered there was a whole album that she made before Like a Virgin that I hadn’t heard.
I still feel a twinge of bitterness and anger when I remember discovering there were two versions of this album. One with INTO THE GROOVE and one without. I,of course managed to buy the one without. That sad fact aside Like A Virgin needs no explanation. The album sold 2 million copies in its first month. It was the first album by a female artist to sell 5 million units. The course of music history was changed forever and a star was born.
Christmas 1987 was one of the best days of my life. I ran downstairs at some ungodly hour and the first present I ripped open was True Blue on vinyl. I screeched so loud I shattered glass all over South Dublin.
It’s impossible to describe this album. It just is 1987.
March 1989 saw the release of Like a Prayer. In hindsight, at this stage Madonna was in danger of joining the legions of discarded disco queens who’s time at the top would always be memorable, but brief. Madonna saw it coming and changed lanes just when the perky pop revolution she had pioneered was reaching its peak. As the rest of the world was imitating her sound, Madonna had already moved on. Truly one of the greatest albums of all time, made even better by the inclusion of a scented AIDS awareness flyer – legend had it that the scent would last forever. If you’ve got it handy give it a sniff to test the legend. If we include the Who’s That Girl soundtrack and the remix album You Can Dance then it is indisputable- Madonna was the 80s.
3. The Films.
Long before Madonna the person became an international joke, Madonna the actress was the chink in her armour. Her influence in music was undeniable, but her films gave the critics an opportunity to do what they do best. Critcize. And it all started so well.
I must re-watch Desperately Seeking Susan because, in all honesty when I saw it on Betamax in 1986 I hadn’t a clue what was going on. I didn’t care though,it was a film starring Madonna, looking, acting and sounding exactly how I imagined Madonna to look, act and sound.
Let’s move on.
Who’s That Girl is my favourite Madonna film ever. I thought it was hilarious. I loved it so much that when it came out on video (rental only) I made my dad ask the video store owner how much it would be to buy. The video store man, sensing my Madonna obsession (probably because I was wearing a wedding dress, fingerless lace gloves and a billion rubber bands on my arm) told my dad he would sell it for £80….!!!!!!!!
I thought it was an absolute bargain, my dad wasn’t convinced. The temper tantrum I threw when we had to return the video because of my dad’s tightness is still a family legend.
4. The Controversies
Maybe it’s an age thing, but to my mind, it wasn’t until 1992 and the whole Erotica era that Madonna began to actually seek out controversy. Yes, in the 80s she shocked the world, yes people were appalled by her behaviour, but looking back it seems that during the 80s Madonna always had something relevant to express, and the gasps of horror from the public were a by product of her artistic integrity. The point wasn’t to cause controversy, it just happened that way.
By the time the noughties rolled round it felt like Madonna would go to any lengths to shock. At some point between 2000 and today our shock turned to annoyance, exasperation and finally boredom.
Maybe my obsession with Madonna in the 80s caused me to overlook her attention seeking behaviour. Maybe I’m seeing artistic expression in what was actually a tacky publicity stunt designed to shock and offend. Maybe she’s always shocked for the sake of being shocking. She just did it to a better soundtrack in the 80s