Madonna will not be remembered for her music as much as her controversies. In fact, the latter is likely to shadow the former so much that her output as an artist will become an afterthought. And while Mariah Carey’s vocal acrobatics have become the standard pop style (thereby irreparably screwing everything up), Maddy’s antics have become the standard conduct by which all young up-and-comers must match or else not be noticed at all.
Your first salient question would be, “Dunphy, do you even like Madonna’s music?” Honestly, it’s not that I dislike her music at all. No, I’m not a fan and no, I don’t own any of her albums, but I can say unequivocally that she’s made three truly great songs in her career, a lot that I like in passing, and some that are total crap for the sake of spiking the media. The three great songs are, in no particular order, “Live To Tell,” “Oh Father,” and “Frozen.” All three indicated to me that she could radically depart from her patterns and deliver. There is nothing on her latest, Hard Candy, that comes close to the style and sentiment of the aforementioned tunes, even though that album is being hailed as a return to form.
Ideally, that’s what we should be talking about, right? That album? The music? Sure, Maddy’s a PR animal and seeks attention the way sharks seek chum, but she’s a singer and that ought to be the first thing that comes to mind, no? Not the latest alleged sexual faux pas with Yankee money pit Alex Rodriguez, the possible dissolution of her marriage to director Guy Ritchie, her sometimes bizarre Kabbalah jaunts, her onstage French kisses with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, or the upcoming Britney reunion on the Sticky and Sweet Tour (read “reunion” any way you care to; as much has already been inferred by both stars and their handlers.) It’s the Sex Book and Truth or Dare all over again, except that where once her exploits once commanded the spotlight, they now feel like Bette Davis in All About Eve, trying to wrestle former tawdry glories from the poptart du jour.
As the teacher to the next wave of music starlets, Madonna indirectly guides the Spears trainwreck saga, in the way sexuality is the predominant message regardless of sincerity or even passion, visibility is more important than responsibility to craft and ultimately no publicity is bad publicity, even in a four-alarm mental meltdown. One by one, the young hopefuls take the slippery slutty slope and, one by one, they lose a degree of credibility. The latest candidates, Katy Perry and her bi-baiting and the slightly sinister image deflowering of Miley Cyrus, all seem to spring from the need to be in the public consciousness all the time, even if it means the mysterious leaking of risque cellphone snaps. These are all the hot-button headlines, but none of it has anything to do with music.
Keen observers of pop culture know that the wild life has always been part and parcel with celebrity. Cher was a pioneer of such things — her romances, her clothes and sometimes lack thereof, her predilection over the years to define and redefine “Cougar Chic” — but she always appeared to be unwitting in her revelations: You caught me red-handed. Okay, here’s what went down. Maddy, on the other hand, is just throwing herself at you all the time, occasionally reminding you that she sings a little too: I’ll give you the details even if you don’t want me to — especially if you don’t want me to. All the while, what I know of Hard Candy is that Justin Timberlake is on it, presumably to make it palatable to a generation who see Madonna as a leather-bound Medusa creeping from the caverns to ensnare more horny Greeks. I know Timbaland has to be there somewhere because, hey, Siamese twins, Timbalake and all that…
The latest producers and Pro Tools paste-ologists are involved to give the product “a fresh, modern sound,” yet I’ll be swoggled if I know what that sound sounds like. I actually wish I knew. I heard “4 Minutes,” her JT duet, deemed it interesting, and moved on. Where was the big hook? What did I miss? There was a time when one listen to “Holiday,” “Like A Prayer,” or even “Music” meant it was to be stuck inside your head the rest of the day, for better or worse. And yet, having said that I wish I had a better understanding of Hard Candy, I have little to no desire to seek it out. By the time I’ve run her salacious gauntlet of gossip, mischief and madness, I simply don’t care anymore.
That’s where I’m at, then. I can’t imagine I’m alone, and the innocent girl-group pop of “True Blue” seems a million miles away now, blocked by the endless stunts and camouflage of her own ego fulfillment. I’m waiting for a time when the (ugh) Material Girl shocks me again, not with her rubber accoutrement and tales of what she did with them, but with a song that stays in mind and proves she had it in her all along. I’m waiting for her music, but perhaps she just ain’t in that business anymore.
We’ll see in twenty more years.