“No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.” ~ Madonna
Posted by Damon Wallace on March 18, 2012
On March 10, 2015, Madonna will be releasing her thirteenth studio album, Rebel Heart. Most early indications are positive. Because of the leaks and the decision to release six official tracks immediately, initial reviews are favorable, songs are charting, and a buzz is emerging – Madonna is back.
Of course, with the anticipation of new Madonna music comes publicity and press. And with publicity and press comes the commentary, good and bad. Few women, after all, are more polarizing than Madonna. For as many people that love Madonna’s music around the globe, there are those, equally enthusiastic, who love to point out how much they hate Madonna.
Haters are nothing new for Madonna. As long as there have been Madonna and Madonna fans, there have been those eager to point out why they think Madonna is untalented, desperate, and irrelevant. In the past, such negative commentary typically took place in person. Now, of course, we conveniently have the internet to document the frustration.
Naturally, the commentary above isn’t exclusive to Madonna. But, as illustrated above, Madonna still has a knack for attracting criticism. People love to go out of their way to leave snarky comments about Madonna’s age, her desperation, and, most prevalent of all, haters love to point out that Madonna is no longer relevant.
Debating Madonna’s relevance is something of a paradox. The very act of leaving snide commentary or debating Madonna’s merits, only seems to prove that Madonna is still very relevant. If she wasn’t significant, no one would be talking about her, lovers and haters alike. Yet, after 30 + years in the national psyche, here we are, still talking about Madonna. And not only does that make Madonna relevant in 2015, it makes her uniquely exceptional.
While the great Madonna debate has propelled her career and kept her hovering with the stars for decades, it would serve us well to remember why Madonna remains a worldwide phenomena. After all, if there is no substance to debate, there would be no debate to be had.
Hell hath no fury like Madonna ignored. Call her what you will, but at her heart Madonna is a fighter, and she takes her craft and commercial success very seriously. She is always at her best when she has a point to prove, when Madonna demands our attention… not for her controversies but for her music.
Although Madonna has many noteworthy albums and every fan has their favorites, over the past 3 decades there have been 3 defining Madonna albums:
Given the lukewarm reception Madonna received with 2008’s “Hard Candy” and 2012’s “MDNA”, it appears that Madonna is on the cusp of a fourth defining album to anchor her stardom into another decade.
Madonna has certainly invested the time and energy into Rebel Heart. 2014 was dedicated to writing and recording music for the album, of which 19 songs will be officially released. If the six teaser tracks are any indication, like the albums noted above, Rebel Heart will see a return of the vulnerable, ballsy, and inspired artists that has defined pop music for 30+ years.
The very fact that Madonna has invested so much into Rebel Heart should give us pause. Based on her track record, in the wake of #SecretProject, Rebel Heart (whether we want to listen or not) has already proven to be a labor of love. And let’s be honest with each other, Madonna is at her best when she wants to make love.
Age makes Madonna more relevant.
People are quick to discount Madonna because of her age. Yet in most other circles, experience actually means something.
Where other artists over the decades have stumbled to a finish line, Madonna has been running a 30-year marathon unchallenged. To discount Madonna because of her age is to turn a blind to her stamina, discipline, and drive… Last I checked, these are all qualities that should be celebrated, not shunned.
While Madonna may not be the prettiest pop star on the dance floor, make no mistake – Madonna is the most inspirational. I challenge any naysayer, young and old, to a dance off with Madonna. At 56, Madonna is more fit than most people in their 30s. Her grit and endurance are the result of a lifetime dedicated to fitness and diet, and such determination and stick-to-itiveness can’t be bought with plastic surgery or be photoshopped. Madonna remains beautiful with age, because Madonna fought hard to stay fit.
Men lie. Women Lie. Numbers don’t lie.
People can hate Madonna and Madonna’s music. But the one thing none of us can take away from Madonna are her accomplishments.
Many people may choose to scoff at Madonna’s accomplishments and write them off as something in the past tense, no longer relevant to the here and now. Yet when unfinished tracks from Rebel Heart leaked in December 2014, and the decision was made to release 6 tracks immediately, once again Madonna proved how very relevant she remains.
As noted by Billboard Magazine:
“The album preorder topped the iTunes charts in more than 40 countries, including the United States, where three of the six released tracks entered Billboard‘s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart dated Jan. 3, despite just two days of eligibility. To date, the six tracks have sold a combined 131,000 downloads, according to Nielsen Music, with preorders for Rebel Heart at a robust (considering the situation) 50,000 to 60,000, according to industry estimates.”
Only time will tell whether Madonna will dominate 2015. But considering Rebel Heart hasn’t had any official publicity yet, the album and tour to follow will surely add to Madonna’s already impressive catalog of accomplishments. This being said, haters should brace themselves. For as much effort as Madonna has put into the project so far, Rebel Heart will likely receive a lot of promotion, and no one markets Madonna better than Madonna.
Madonna is loved.
Madonna is a matter of perspective. How we choose to react to her typically says more about us than Madonna. For the millions of people around the world who look up to her, Madonna is an endearing, thought-provoking muse whose humor, voice, and encouragement has accompanied them through life’s trials and tribulations. For them, Madonna doesn’t write music; she is the composer of a gospel, a modern soundtrack to document who we were, who we are, and who we want to be. And despite what haters may opine, like Madonna’s accomplishments, her legion of fans should not be discounted.
Love for Madonna has no borders, admiration for her transcends cultures, ethnicity, sexual preferences, and national origins. And the reason her voice resonates around the planet isn’t because Madonna is sexy or controversial. Madonna fandom, after all, comes with a reckoning, a willingness to look past the cleavage and take Madonna at her word. Remove the woman from the equation and all that is left is Madonna’s music, a collection of songs encouraging all of us to be more bold, celebratory, inclusive, and kind.
Although it’s been over 30 years, Madonna has never stopped demanding that holiday, that one brilliant day when we would all come together and celebrate our collective humanity. Starting in 2015, we should consider taking Madonna up on her offer.
Whether religious extremism, political fear mongering, or snarky comments in a newsfeed, the signs are everywhere: hate has made a comeback. In this vein, Madonna couldn’t be more relevant to 2015. Whether she intended to or not, Madonna is emblematic of the times we live in. She represents the choice before us, a decision that we should all take to heart. We can be spiteful, cruel, and judgmental, and lash at the likes of Madonna because of her age, appearance, and views, or we can do the unthinkable; we can challenge ourselves to live in the world as Madonna wants it to be, which is to say: we can reject intolerance and live for love.
Long after we all cease to exist, Madonna’s voice will live on. Future generations will dissect her celebrity and debate her significance in the context of the times in which we live. Like us, they will wonder how an outspoken girl from Detroit sung and danced her way into the hearts of millions, while simultaneously drawing ire and ridicule from the masses. Should this essay make it to the hands of someone studying Madonna in the future, I’d like to point out one last reason why Madonna is so relevant to the here and now of 2015.
Madonna is a product of a free society, the equivalent of Lady Liberty in a cone shaped bra. Even if Madonna appalls you, in a time when our liberties are under attack, we should all appreciate that after 30 years we still have the likes of Madonna to champion freedom of expression. After all, had it not been for Madonna’s unapologetic advocacy of self expression, her accomplishments and notoriety wouldn’t exist.
To live in a free society also means that people are free to share their opinions, however snarky and hateful. In this regard, I’ve always considered Madonna something of a warrior. While she may not wield a sword in the name of freedom, I suspect her wounds run just as deep. Whether dancing in front of burning crosses in the Like a Prayer video, photographing her sexual fantasies in her Sex book, or the backlash she received for opposing the Iraq War with the American Life video, Madonna has withstood a lot of public outrage over the decades. And whether we realize it or not, all of those debates centered around the limitations of freedom and speech.
Haters can hate, but I applaud Madonna’s tenacity and resilience. After 30 years of backlash, she keeps on pushing boundaries. Even when faced with a growing mob that insists she can’t, because she’s unworthy or too old, because there’s someone better, prettier, more relevant and talented, acting more age-appropriate than her, Madonna keeps on being Madonna.
Paying attention to Madonna can be exhausting, and her music is not for everyone. For all her strengths, Madonna has her share of flaws. In being outspoken, she sometimes speaks before she thinks. And yes, Madonna is guilty of being narcissistic at times.
There are plenty of reasons not to care for Madonna. But should you want Madonna censored, find yourself despising her for not conforming to your ideals, or feel compelled to leave snarky commentary for the sake of being hateful, let’s be clear on this one final point…
That doesn’t make Madonna irrelevant. That makes you irrelevant.
Posted by Damon Wallace on January 11, 2015
Denise was a good Christian. I know she was a good Christian, because when I worked with her at a call center in the early 1990’s, she reminded me that she was a good Christian frequently. She loved all things Jesus, even brought a bible to work, which she’d fuss over and highlight in between calls.
I was no stranger to good Christians. My mom’s family was Catholic, my Dad’s family was Baptist, and I was educated by nuns up until high school. All of them were good, honest, hardworking people, but their time with God tended to be more intimate, not so brazenly in my face. Something about Denise’s Christianity was more aggressive. It felt more offensive, or at least I felt more guarded and guilty around her.
Back in the early 1990’s, I was but a wee queer, still somewhat closeted and not yet at peace with my homosexuality. The output resulted in me being a mild mannered, agreeable, clean-cut banker by day / boy crazy, booze guzzling, sinner by night. So while Denise rubbed many of my coworkers the wrong way, I entertained her biblical ramblings, even when her venomous sermons were directed at gays.
In a sense, I saw Denise as my penance, a reminder of how unchristian I had become.
Once upon a time, Jesus and I had also been tight. As a boy, while others fantasized about being astronauts and cowboys, I dreamed of becoming a priest. While I wasn’t as fanatical as Denise and didn’t highlight a bible or jeer those who did Jesus wrong, I was still moved by his sacrifices and inspired by his teachings. Like Jesus, I was also in it for the love and wanted to encourage others to be more compassionate and kind.
My childhood aspirations were short lived, however, and by the early 1980’s, when puberty kicked in, my relationship with Jesus grew strained. While I still wanted to invite others to be more charitable and loving, upon realizing that I was gay, it became apparent to me that the priesthood wasn’t my calling. I also began to question whether my bond with the Son of God would endure the test of time.
Before coming out to anyone, I came out to Jesus. When we were alone, I would ask him to absolve me of my sins, to give me the strength to overcome my urges. My efforts proved to be futile, however. With time, my desires only grew stronger and confiding in Jesus became increasingly awkward. Around him, I felt defeated and perverse, undeserving of his friendship and attention. Despite my hopes to the contrary, I feared, in the end, I would only let Jesus down.
As a result of the friction, although it pained me to do so, I made a conscience decision: I stopped praying and parted ways with my childhood companion. I didn’t see my separation with Jesus as succumbing to sin, so much as I saw it as a recognition that Jesus and I had outgrown one another. There were some lessons in life, I concluded, Jesus wouldn’t be able to teach me. If I was to have a role model that would accompany me into adulthood, I needed someone that would be less prudish and, dare I say it, more forgiving.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Perhaps it was divine intervention, but in the absence of Jesus, I soon found solace in another, a woman who seemingly couldn’t be more divergent than the Son of God… Where Jesus and I had parted ways, Madonna found me: wounded and alone, needing to be healed.
While comparing Madonna to Jesus may seem blasphemous, her influence on me throughout my adolescence and adulthood would prove to be equally profound. While Madonna may be unsung by the church, she would nonetheless play a critical role in liberating me from the demons that haunted me as a boy.
In Madonna, I found a new religion. Where Christianity had been sterile and claustrophobic, Madonna was inclusive and lighthearted, a testament that life should be lived without judgement and inhibitions. Like some mystical priestess ordained in rosaries and lace, she invited me to envision a world less monochromatic and stale, where people were more diverse and festive, and even a gay kid like me was welcomed to the party.
Admittedly, the gospel according to Madonna is grittier and more taboo. For me, it proved to be a tale about coming of age. Throughout my missteps, heartbreak, and tears, however, Madonna’s voice and optimism would ground me, make the angst of coming out all the more bearable. While friendship with Jesus came with prudence and stipulations, in Madonna I found my rebel heart, a role model that supported my sexual independence and explorations into adulthood.
In effect, Madonna would do what Jesus had been unable to accomplish: she inspired me to live my life, not a lie.
As a rebellious teenager, I assumed that I was drawn to Madonna for her defiance of the church. And while I found her capacity to provoke and agitate validating, looking back on 1984 and all the years that followed, with age I’d come to realize that my attraction to Madonna was more wholesome and noble than I initially thought.
While on the surface Madonna and Jesus may appear to be polarizing figures, the more I pondered my relationship with both, the more I realized: I was drawn to Madonna for the same reason I gravitated to my estranged childhood friend. While the paths I traveled with each were divergent, the destination was the same.
Like Jesus and me, Madonna was also in it for the love. And like all inspiring gospels, Madonna’s came with a moral, and it was as simple as it was profound: celebrate life, love unconditionally, and when the moment presents itself, never shy away from a dance floor.
To highlight the parallels of both my mentors, ironically, I had Denise – the good Christian – to thank.
“Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.”
By the time I met Denise, Jesus and I had been estranged for a decade, so engaging her was like hearing about an old childhood friend but discovering how much he’d changed. Through Denise I learned that Jesus had become more spiteful, angry, and judgmental, far less friendly than the generous man I knew as a boy. He’d gotten bitter with age, had a scowl embedded into his face…
To my dismay, Jesus had done the unthinkable: he’d become a hater.
But then one afternoon, while Denise was speaking in tongues and my coworkers were gouging their eardrums with letter openers, I had an epiphany. I noticed the cops talking to the Director of Operations, and if there was anything that would help me reevaluate my religion, it was watching my boss escort the police towards me when I had a bag a weed in my backpack. Before I could fall to my knees and beg for forgiveness, however, I realized something: the police weren’t there for me. They were there for Denise, who I’d soon discover had been embezzling money from customers.
I learned an important lesson that afternoon. I was naive to take Denise at her word. Had I been paying attention to her actions instead, I would’ve realized Denise wasn’t so Christian after all. She participated in potlucks begrudgingly, yet she ate more than her share. She never pitched in when extra hours were needed or a coworker’s shift had to be covered. And perhaps most telling of all, she always rushed customers off the phone, so afterwards she could judge and mock them, determine who was going to heaven or hell by their debits and credits.
Although I never claimed to be otherwise, I was guilty of being unchristian the afternoon Denise was arrested. I took satisfaction in seeing her led away in handcuffs. I was comforted by her hurt expression, when I announced to my coworkers, “There goes a good Christian woman.”
I realized that day that Jesus never left me. Like many gay people, I was guilty of allowing others to influence my identity and self worth. While I hadn’t encountered the likes of Denise when I was a kid, the church had nonetheless led me to believe that being gay was a sin. In doubting myself, regrettably, I had enabled others to define my relationship with God.
While I am no longer religious, and I don’t actually think Madonna is the Messiah, is it so unfathomable to consider that instead of a son, God might send us his spirited baby girl? And are we foolish and naive to assume such a woman would be pure and the void of sin? To me, that doesn’t sound like much of a trial or tribulation.
It’s easy to see Madonna as the devil incarnated, there to lure a generation into a life of sin. Yet it’s for that reason I am a disciple, why I find Madonna fandom as validating as I do liberating. Because to truly appreciate Madonna, after all, I resisted the urge to judge and mock her. I had the proclivity to ignore the righteous indignation of the mob, the wherewithal to grasp: Madonna isn’t selling heresy and sin, she’s challenging all of us to be less judgmental, intolerant, and dogmatic, more forgiving, open-minded, and merciful. Madonna raises my spirit, because she knows what it means to be judged by those who are shackled to the ground.
Whether you pray to Jesus or idolize Madonna, the lessons we learn are what define us. Be weary of those who would confine your soul to a cage, who would lead you to believe that you are unworthy of love or entry to heaven unless you obey their doctrine and share their worldview. That’s not Jesus or Madonna talking; it’s something far more sinister, predatory, and damning – Hate.
I thank Denise for the lesson she taught me. Had it not been for her, I may have remained naive to the intentions of those boasting to be good Christians. Because of her, I am richer for knowing: the real sin is distorting love and turning it into something dirty and perverse, only worthy of those who have the arrogance and audacity to presume to speak for God.
I’ve known and loved many good Christians in my lifetime, yet they never flaunted their Christianity. They never used Jesus as a weapon, because doing so, they recognized, would be unchristian. Instead, they lived life by Christian values. They were gracious, kind, and forgiving, and offered help when they could. But they left judgement to the almighty.
To all the good Christians spewing condemnation and hate, I reserve these parting words for you. If you are truly a good Christian, then I challenge you to be be more Christlike: forgive the sinners, care for the poor, and embrace your lepers. But get your bible out of my face.
Don’t hide behind a book and tell me you’re a good Christian. Prove it. Be more like Jesus and Madonna, and strive to make the world a better place.
Choose love over hate, starting with yourself.
Posted by Damon Wallace on July 5, 2014
When I was a boy, I believed that Democracy and the United States were mutually dependent on each other, that without one the other would cease to flourish and eventually wilt.
30 years later, it pains me to say: I was right. While I still live in America, for reasons forthcoming, I am no longer a citizen of a country united. And because of it, American Democracy is failing.
Drastic times call for drastic measures, and given the current state of American politics and the dysfunction of Washington DC, I feel strongly – It’s time to get drastic. So to break through the gridlock and incessant bickering of Republicans and Democrats, I’d like to take a moment to reinvent the party lines…
I call for the formation of the LUV Party, and I nominate Madonna to be President of the United States.
If you don’t see Madonna as a politician, then you haven’t been following the 30-year campaign of the singing Senator from Michigan, which is understandable given the demands. Supporting Madonna can be taxing. For starters, you have to ignore the hecklers and reject the notion that Madonna is an opportunistic sellout seeking attention. Because instead, as a supporter, you elect to take Madonna at her word. You believe her to be an outspoken girl from Detroit, determined to save the world one inclusive celebration at a time.
When considering wholesome American values – I get it – Madonna doesn’t leap to the forefront. Yet it’s for that very reason, I’m asking the singing Senator to intervene in Washington DC. Because after 30 years of calling out hypocrisy and defying social norms, regardless of whether we the people want recognize it or appreciate it, Madonna has not only come to embody the grit of independence; when examining her drive and ambition through a lens 30 years deep, it becomes increasingly evident…
Madonna is a star, arguably the most famous woman in the world, because Madonna is the manifestation of the great American experiment – Lady Liberty in the nude on a bearskin rug: raw, horny, and unapologetic.
Being outspoken alone doesn’t qualify Madonna to be President of the United States; there are already enough politicians to meet those qualifications. While Madonna champions of freedom of speech and I applaud her tenacity, I rally for Madonna because of what she says. Her words resonate with me personally, because I share her hopes for humanity. I too want America on the dance floor, inspired and dreaming again.
Supporting Madonna for President will likely be a leap too vast and daunting for most. Should you be up to the challenge, however, close your eyes and listen to Lady Liberty with an open heart. When you do, you may begin to realize – Madonna has been campaigning for the soul of America for the past 30 years. Each album a platform, each song a stump speech; Madonna has been inviting us all to be a little less judgmental and intolerant, a bit more optimistic, inclusive, and kind.
In the end, to be a member of the LUV Party, you need not be politically savvy. The platform is simple and qualifications are few. Membership starts with a perspective, a willingness to accept that America should be an inclusive nation, a celebration of cultures, colors, and views. As a member, you reject extremism, forsake judgement, and embrace those who are different from you. Because at its heart, the LUV Party has but one political adversary – Hate.
The signs are everywhere. The LUV Party’s political adversary has infiltrated America from within. The United States is no longer a government of the people, by the people, or for the people, so much as we are a people beholden to a wounded democracy that feeds on our fears and insecurities.
Politicians today openly incite intolerance and troll their opposition. Instead of serving the will of the people, it is far more lucrative for them to pit Americans against each other. As a result, while we vilify one another, adopt a “party first / country be damned” mentality, the working class has been systematically auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Further fueling the heated rhetoric is, of course, the news entertainment industry, which ultimately profits off viewer angst and distrust. The bottom lines of these six media empires are powered on American fears and biases. Challenging politicians to a “group hug” isn’t necessarily good for ratings, after all. So viewership is best when news is BREAKING, when Americans are provoked and feeling under attack.
Alarmist coercion aside, our adversary’s biggest contributor is, of course, apathy. Like many Americans, I am guilty of turning a blind eye to government dysfunction. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the ineptitude of Washington DC, so other than writing essays like this, what can I do to bolster American democracy?
For starters, I can research elections and turn off the TV, which is to say: I can value facts and ignore opinions. While I can’t stop ignorance in its tracks, I can vote against fear mongers at the ballot box and support candidates and news outlets that reinforce the LUV Party’s platform.
I can change the narrative. The United States, after all, is not a nation of prisoners shackled by boogeymen. We are a nation of individuals striving to be citizens of a more perfect union. As such, it would serve me well to remind others: the key to freedom, the very essence of American democracy, rests in the hands of our political opposition, our willingness to comprise for the sake of national interests.
The United States government is in need of a love profusion, and I suspect a majority of Americans are like me, in that I’m tired of the disrespectful tenor and hyperbole of our politics. The 113th Congress is set to be least effective in US history, and for a country touting Democracy abroad, I find the tone and incompetence of our elected officials as unforgivable as I do embarrassing.
Whether you’ve voted Republican, Independent, or Democratic in the past, most of us recognize the corruption in politics. But seldom is the corruption so blatant and insulting.
We do still have a choice, however. We can continue to be apathetic and reward government malpractice, or we can dream again and celebrate Democracy. If elected officials refuse to fight for the will of the people, then it’s time to explore our options, however implausible…
While the thought of Madonna as President of the United States will likely humor most, I nonetheless applaud her efforts to start a revolution of love. What America needs now more than ever is a holiday, a moment to regain a sense of purpose and worth, and who better to lead the charge than Lady Liberty herself?
Should American Democracy collapse, it will be because we ignored the likes of Madonna and sided with fear. Ours will prove to be one of the bleakest chapters in American history: the generation that sacrificed the pursuit of happiness in order to be citizens of a less perfect union.
In the end, if the singing Senator has taught me anything, it’s that the fall of our adversary comes with a reckoning…
Should you deny freedom to another, freedom was never yours to deny. A healthy Democracy requires the courage to dream out loud, the heart to inspire others to be free. Keeping it, however, requires discipline and forgiveness, the wherewithal to emancipate those shackled by intolerance.
Come join the party. When voting at the ballot box, remember to choose LUV over Hate.
Vote Madonna. If nothing else, maybe we can terrify government into action.
The videos featured throughout this essay are taken from Madonna’s video manifesto, #SecretProject (to view the short film in its entirety click here).
The manifesto was released in September 2013 in response to a series of events that took place during Madonna’s 2012 MDNA World Tour, which included:
In support of her manifesto, Madonna launched the Art for Freedom initiative, which encourages people to contribute works expressing their personal interpretation of freedom and the revolution of love. Every month, Madonna chooses a winning entry and awards $10,000 to a nonprofit organization that supports individuals and organizations working to advance social justice.
To join the revolution or view submissions, visit www.ArtForFreedom.com.
Posted by Damon Wallace on May 26, 2014