Sunday, December 6, 2009

Madonna: Feminist Icon, or Desperate Superstar?

Despite the slight tardiness of this blog post, in which I will attempt a brief analysis of Madonna’s last album from 2008, Hard Candy, I feel it necessary nonetheless to expound upon the album in the present moment. I’ll preface this analysis with an anecdote, concerning my purchase of the album. I admit, the incarnations of Madonna  I love more fervently and feel nostalgia towards fall within the time span between 1995 and 2003, when I believe the industry may have been more allowing for female pop singers to “get political,” but for tradition’s sake I bought the the 2008 album. My step-mother, who I’d gone shopping with, asked to take a closer inspection of it in the car, so I handed it to her and awaited any criticism. She looked at it with an unbelieving smile that said, “I can’t believe how sexual this is, and even worse is the fact that she’s displaying her sexuality at 50, with two children at home.” Songs like “Give it 2 Me” and “Candy Shop,” the titles of which she read aloud, indeed did seem to support her critical review (given that “Candy Shop” may serve as a metaphorical companion to “Hard Candy,” which… well I’m sure your imagination can fathom a sexual innuendo behind it). But upon listening to the entire album, I realized the album was hardly sexual at all. Yes, there are aspects of the lyrics that seem sexual, but I see them as metaphors for things non-sexual; and while Madonna is part of a music genre that thrives off of the exploitation of women’s sexuality, (at the moment I’m thinking of a magazine cover I came across about a month ago featuring the popular Lady Gaga in a giant champagne glass clothed in nothing but what was, I’m assuming, an attempt to wittily make use of  champagne foam) I believe her employment of sexual metaphors to satisfy the pop-music consumer while  simultaneously to mask any meaninfull expression of herself is quite brilliant. Thus, here is my polemic against all who regard Madonna as a sex-crazed desperate superstar.

“Hard Candy” – No, it’s not about penises. An i-Tunes review had done a rather good job at relating the title’s significance, but the review seems to have been shortened to exclude that part. I interpret the album title as reflecting Madonna’s position in the pop industry. She’s 50, she looks amazing, and she’s hanging on for her career in a particularly ageist industry, especially when concerning women. Her career is indeed similar to “hard candy,” when she’s continuing to do what she loves while bearing the difficulties of surviving in such an industry at the age of 50. Hence her boxing attire on the front cover: she’s battling against social norms, one might say. “Hard candy” is almost like an oxymoron expressing the simultaneous coexistence of hardship and enjoyment. Not exactly complete opposite concepts, but close.

“Candy Shop” – Perhaps, I admit, the most sexually seeming song on the album. Nonetheless, cloaked behind sexual innuendo’s such as, “my sugar is raw, sticky and sweet,” are assertions regarding Madonna’s capabilities as an entertainer.  “Don’t pretend you’re not hungry, I’ve seen it before… Get up out of your seat, come on up to the dance floor.” Yes, she’s old, but what she’s saying is, “I can still entertain the hell out of you, and my music will still make you move your feet.” Her sugar is indeed “raw,” but she’s not referring to any sugar you might think of as being a bodily fluid down under. She has “every flavor;” with Madonna performing at your party, you can’t get anything better. As a performer, she can and will satiate your hunger. That is what this song implies: Music industry, I’ve got everything you want!

“Give it 2 Me” – By far my favorite song on the album, and I confess I haven’t been a pop enthusiast for some time now. “If you can handle it, undress me.” Of course there’s a sexual line thrown in there to appease the masses, going along with a title that is almost synonymous with sex, but what this song actually expresses is the will to get what one desires out of life, and not letting anyone stop you. Thus, “Give it to me, yeah, no one’s gonna stop me, now!” My favorite part of the song is during the repetition of “get stupid.” In high school, there was a popular expression, based on a dance move expressed in a song, I’m guessing, regarding “going dumb” or “dummy.” “Get stupid” is Madonna’s equivalent. If you listen closely, you can also hear a “me” after “don’t stop.” It becomes then, “Get stupid, don’t stop me.” Madonna is not encouraging one to dance idiotically, as with “go dummy.” She’s literally saying “get stupid,” because you won’t be able to stop her career, or stop her from getting what she wants from life.

I admit that my step-mother’s criticism of Madonna’s open sexuality wasn’t the particular thing that vexed me. What disturbed me the most was her disbelief in the possibility that a mother at 50 could express her sexuality in such a manner. Like I said, it’s a sex-based industry, but I also don’t believe a woman must hide her sexuality in the closet once she becomes a mother, especially when its an inherent characteristic of humanity. As Madonna rightly sang, or rather strongly asserted with a satisfying degree of anger in her voice that many misinterpreted for poor singing during her recent “Sticky and Sweet” tour, “No I’m not sorry; it’s human nature.” I suppose some individuals simply cannot refrain from maintaining the dichotomy used to classify women for ages: you’re either the virgin, or the whore.

During the 90’s, Camille Paglia praised Madonna for being a feminist icon, for expressing that very same sexuality. I would now like to turn to a recent piece in which Paglia takes on a cynical perspective:

And now Madonna is trying to resuscitate herself, body and mind, by taking transfusions from Brazil! The poverty-ridden favelas of Rio de Janeiro are her latest charity — presumably because dusty, distant Malawi is too bare of the hordes of paparazzi required to record the latest feats of Our Lady Bountiful. How convenient that the best hotels of Ipanema are only minutes away from the Rio slums! Oh, that girl — always thinking, ain’t she?

Is it true, according to press rumors, that Madonna is vacationing with her boy toy Jesus Luz in a house in Bahia in the far northeast of Brazil? And that she is contemplating buying a house there?

Since when does engaging in charity work merit an admonition? Paglia also seems to have forgotten that “Madonna last month launched the construction of a multimillion dollar girls’ school she is funding in Malawi” (source: As for Jesus Luz, my personal approval or disapproval of any match with Madonna is irrelevant, but if the genders were reversed, there would be no scandal. Rather, the younger of the pair would be appropriated their very own reality TV special (Yes, I am referring to you, Anna Nicole Smith).


mid 90's Madonna


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