Many of us, the gayborn, of the 70s and 80s, were without consent, indoctrinated to worship Madonna.
And like the Madonna of the Catholic Church she is passionately and zealously worshiped.
Yes this about the American singer, Madonna Louise Ciccone.
As zealously as a Pentecostal youth can quote scripture with the unwavering conviction and faith in their deity, she was to us at the very least a hero, if not of the closest thing to the divine we could experience on earth vis a vis her concerts and performances.
Like scripture we know every released and unreleased song and lyrics, video, concert, and movie character she’s portrayed—we are allowed a pass on memorizing the minutia of her filmography and not required to know the details of every movie she’s done—that would just be a case of too much time and bad taste.
I idolized my older brother David—who was also gay—and witnessing the impact she had on him was thrillingly infectious. It also formed a bond and friendship that supersedes every other relationship in my life We both have yet to go a day without thinking about her, and easily know, say, the nuanced differences between the choreography of “Vogue” from her “Blond Ambition Tour” (hailed in 1990 by critics as the greatest pop concert of all time) and MTV’s sneak peak of “Vogue” during that tour’s rehearsal in Houston. No stalking, we would never—I believe the magic an artist conjures up for us common folk largely lies in the mystery of what’s behind the curtain of their private life.
I went to New York. I had a dream. I wanted to be a big star, I didn’t know anybody, I wanted to dance, I wanted to sing, I wanted to do all those things, I wanted to make people happy, I wanted to be famous, I wanted everybody to love me. I wanted to be a star. I worked really hard, and my dream came true.
Every fan has their kickoff moment, for me it was watching “Dress You Up” in 1985’s “The Virgin Tour” and subsequently watching the rest of that tour on VHS as many times a day as my folks allowed. I suppose she was a hero of mine before it affected me directly, I mean I was a boy, but I loved strong females. Fictional characters like Jamie Summers, Diana Prince or Samantha Stevens were always underestimated by men and I thrived on the shock they gave them when they’d outsmart and dominate men, sometimes with their minds, others by using their secret powers. But Madonna was a real woman, and watching her in interviews, I deemed her a superhero and a total inspiration. I wasn’t the only one, her popularity and influence grew exponentially with every new single, video or tour release. Her genius at playing with the public and taunting them through religion, taboo and sexuality, etc. while putting out one top ten single after another, garnered her a gargantuan amount of airtime during her first two decades. Exposure that can only be described as Beyonce, Ariana, Kardashians and Trump’s share of media minutes combined, biquadrated, roided up and on C4. But what was at the heart of all her power?
First there was her confidence, “The Madonna school of confidence” became a widely used expression to describe where someone might’ve achieved unparalleled belief in themselves, with charisma and charm to spare. Then her ambition, leaving her dance scholarship in Michigan behind, she moved to NYC with no money and learned how to play instruments and hone raw talent even she didn’t know existed. In the end it comes down to her music, her voice (volatile, from the gut, often rich and unique) and her music videos. It always comes down to the art, you must resonate with people in order for them to pay attention to you, to want more from you, and being sexually political is not enough, you need substance to drive your point of view, and she gave the world exactly that, year after year. Her astute connection to the cultural zeitgeist was uncanny, sensing what the world needed before it did.
Now Madonna’s outspoken stance on LGBT politics was present from the start, but her voice on the issue really penetrated mainstream culture right around the time I was 15 and figuring out my own sexuality. I believe she had the most powerful impact any artist has ever had on the door opening to publicly accepting homosexuality. Just when everyone was looking, it was Madonna who risked it all, putting in front of the world unconventional sexual themes that forced conversations between fans and their parents. Most importantly, she made it seem cool to know and love gay people, to see their uniqueness as a gift, especially at a time when HIV turned so many into pariahs and gave conservatives a reason to hate them. She didn’t care, it was gays like Christopher Flynn that inspired her, and she was proud of them and she was going to show them off to the world, so the world could see what she saw. Even if she paraded and potentially exploited many of these gays in her documentary Truth or Dare to achieve this goal, it was worth it, and necessary. For people like myself, she turned Jose, Luis, Gabriel, Carlton and Slam into legends. Not freaks to be paraded around the daytime talk show circuit. Gays as people to look up to, what a concept.
Cut to 30 years later, in 2015’s “Joan of Arc” she acknowledged my perception of who she was becoming, sadly singing, “I can’t be a superhero right now…” but that was 5 years ago, and I really need my superhero back, she’s lost and apparently held prisoner by some imposter known as Madame X.
[Editor’s Note: Please note that the author will use the name Madonna to refer to the version the world has known up through 2015’s Rebel Heart Tour and her subsequent and current iteration debuted as her alter ego, Madame X.]
Firstly, if you’re not a fan of any musician, artist, etc. on a psychosis-level like me, and think you can’t relate, then think of a sports fan with a favorite football team. Say, The Patriots, they have dominated and dominated and you’ve been their biggest fan for decades, but then suddenly the coach starts making horrible moves, the quarterback is calling the worst plays. They’re 1st and goal and they sit on the ball, even though they are behind, and run down the clock. Makes no sense right? You would feel totally let down and angry, and then angry at them for making you angry at your favorite team, because you’re known for being their biggest fan and you can’t talk bad about them without feeling like a traitor. But you now feel silly being their biggest fan STILL and defending them and calling them the best still, because they seem to be throwing it all away. You can’t argue something you don’t believe in.
I find that I simply don’t recognize her, at all anymore. How do you cope when someone so pivotal, suddenly appears to make bad call after bad call? How do you retain your passion? Madame X is an aspiring social media influencer who wears grillz, and thinks people don’t like them because she’s white and don’t find them age appropriate. Wrong, they are a HUGE speech impediment causing her a distraction that won’t allow her to speak intelligently (they also mask her beautiful smile). Madame X cannot control herself on social media. Madonna on the other hand demanded privacy, and didn’t overexpose her private life, she left that to the paps. Madame X thinks that incessant selfies of her contorting her face, biting in her cheeks and pouting is necessary to be relevant in today’s market. And Madame X really can’t dance, I mean, what happened there?
Madonna sings in a passionate voice, I want the classic Madonna voice that drives her best music, that Patrick Leonard drew out in every incredible song they worked on together. Madame X doesn’t even sing, she kind of talks with autotune and marbles in her mouth, and appears not to be a dancer/musician but instead an aspiring social media star. Madame X looks to Kim K. for advice and has even changed her ass in order to fit in. Madonna’s style strikes a balance of grace, class and edginess, while Madame X wears cheap looking clothes that turn her into a caricature of Madonna. Madame X blows up her lips and face constantly (mitigating her teeth’s size when she smiles), and for some reason struggles to speak English in interviews, whereas Madonna is quick-witted. Madame X is not joyful. Madame X performs in ridiculous shoes, that cause her so much pain she barely can move around the stage (I saw this first hand and up close during her latest ‘theater tour”) and then cancels shows regularly due to pain. She refuses to give up the 6″ heeled combat boots for sensible shoes she can dance in. Madame X also drinks alcohol, something Madonna hardly ever did.
Madame X is not an inspiration, and the irony is that she thinks she is – she shouts political things to her liberal audience but no one else is listening because Madame X is simply not reaching the masses like Madonna did. She isn’t leading musically and artistically, and is caught in some depressing loop Madonna never would’ve considered.
If I have to ask myself how Madame X came about, sure it’s partly through spending years alone in Lisbon being Mom of the Year, absolutely, but I think social media is Madonna’s kryptonite. I wish she would leave it alone. Let the paps chase her for a family pic. I’m not the first to say it, she’s overexposing herself with garbage that is simply not interesting, and is truly hurting the fans who love her for being HER, not for being someone else. I just hope Madame X hasn’t taken over so much of her that we will never see Madonna again, mentally or physically, because she is greatly missed.
Gen Y and Z simply deserve to experience the magic of Madonna, and personally I’m not done with her either. It’s also ironic that the master of reinvention could control every aspect of her image in a system that was virtually impossible to succeed in, yet the democratization of style and music and expressing it through social media has proved to be her biggest challenge yet.