In Defence of Madonna

Where were the same calls to "chill out" and "act your age" for Bowie?

"And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin." - Madonna, 2016

Madonna first graced the public consciousness in 1979 when few would have imagined that she would be anything more than just another forgettable popstar hungry for fame. Receiving criticism before the drop of her first album, Madonna's career was stamped with a best before date before it even began.

Lucky for us, Madonna didn't follow suit after her fellow 80s icons who rode that brief wave of popularity to only find themselves abandoned when times moved on. As much to her critics' dismay, Madonna has continued to reign over not just pop but the world for the past 36 years in the face of blatant sexism, misogyny, constant bullying and relentless abuse.  

And yet despite her undeniable success, her public image and the press she receives focuses solely on her age as opposed to her talent and longevity. Just last week, Madonna announced she was returning to pop after a brief hiatus - cue the unoriginal hateful comments of  "Madonna should act her age", "Grow up", and "Chill out Madge" masquerading themselves as a Madonna Madame X review. 

There is more than just a hint of sexism about this as Madonna's age and appearance are focused on in a way that Bono, Bruce Springsteen or Elton John (all of whom were in the charts before if not during Madonna's reign) are not. Where are the cries for Elton to wear more age appropriate eyewear or for Bono to act his age? As Madonna pointed out in her Billboard Woman of the Year award in 2016, the same rules do not apply for both men and women. 

"Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticized and vilified and definitely not played on the radio."

Madonna's music has too been met with such sexism and ageism despite being an artist where even those that profess their hatred for Madonna, enjoy at least one song. Whether it's the simple pop hit that is Material Girl, the musical masterpiece that is Like A Prayer, the house-inspired hit that defined the 90s, Ray of Light or her moving with the times, Latino influenced soon to be hit, Medellin - there is a Madonna song for everyone. 

What's important to note here is that Madonna is a pop artist and pop, as the name suggests, is fickle yet no artist has come close to dominating the genre. Unlike the pop stars of the past, Madonna possesses the ability to not only sense change but adapt accordingly. She knows when a new trend is worth joining in and more importantly when it's time to bow out - a trait I wish many more musicians had.

Madge (as I'm sure none of her friends call her) has also been deemed controversial for her sexuality - yet another criticism male artists and younger female artists for that matter don't receive. Apparently, the world can accept and admire 70-something-year-old men like Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop for thrusting their pelvises in our faces but god forbid Madonna doesn't wear sleeves. 

And it's not just her music and sexuality that have been met with outdated attitudes as Madonna's various incarnations have received similar backlash. Madonna has been a dominatrix, a disco queen, a cowgirl, an earth mother and more, yet the very same principle of reinvention that David Bowie was worshipped for is reduced to vanity simply because she's a woman. While Bowie holds the title of cultural chameleon, Madonna is deemed a dilettante. 

In a world where there is such a need for strong female role models, women who prove every day that it's okay to be yourself, to be opinionated and take charge of your life, we have someone who can do exactly that ten times over. 

We have Madonna. 

Main image by Joe Bangay

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