2015: “The Year of Madonna”

madonna_rebel_heart“I’ve fallen apart. I was lost, now I’m found.

I picked up my crown, put it back on my head.

I can forgive, but I will never forget.”

~ Madonna

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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.

Go to any online Madonna article and peruse the comments section. Below is a sampling of the feedback you’ll find:   hater3

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.

rebelheart1Madonna is most relevant when she is most irrelevant.

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:

  1. “Like a Prayer” released in 1989
  2. “Ray of Light” released in 1998
  3. “Confessions on a Dance Floor” released in 2005

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.

  • Madonna has sold more than 300 million albums worldwide.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Madonna is the most successful female recording artist of all time.
  • Madonna has the most Top 10 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart (38), surpassing Elvis.
  • Madonna has 43 #1 singles on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Club Play Singles Chart, more than twice the number of her nearest rival, Janet Jackson.
  • Madonna’s 2012 “MDNA” World Tour is the 2nd highest grossing tour for a female solo artist of all time. 1st place was achieved by Madonna in 2008 with her “Sticky and Sweet” tour.

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.

madonnas-rebel-heart-reviewed-1419255170Madonna is a Rebel Heart

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.

 

 

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