NPR logo Touched For The Very Last Time

Touched For The Very Last Time

If I had to name the famous person who I find the least interesting, it would have to be Madonna. Yet, strangely, I am about to spend time writing about her. Maybe it's because I am tired of seeing her face everywhere these days, or possibly this blog entry is some form of exorcism.

The first concert I ever saw was Madonna's. It also happened to be the first show of the first US tour Madonna ever embarked on. It was 1985, I was in 5th grade, and Madonna was launching her Virgin Tour in Seattle at the Paramount Theatre. I went to the first of the three shows she played in the city. (Incidentally, the Beastie Boys opened and were booed off stage within ten or fifteen minutes). Similar to a lot of pre-teens in the mid-1980s, I was obsessed with Madonna, with her songs, her fashion, her attitude, and her boldness. But like my youthful enthusiasm towards Duran Duran, Ricky Schroeder, and Kirk Cameron, my affection towards Madonna waned. I soon discovered music with fewer filters and disguises, less affect, greater intensity, and most of all, substance.

I can't say I've thought or cared about Madonna since I was 14. Except for a few early hits, her music has not stuck with me, not even in a nostalgic sense. I never pull out Madonna records to listen to (I'd have to double check that I still have one), nor do I pause when I hear her old songs on the radio. Even her mid-period dance hits ("Ray of Light" for example) struck me as contrived. As I mentioned in another blog entry, I mostly think of Madonna as a brand. She is someone who will do anything to seem current, so much so that everything she does reeks of disingenuousness and desperation.

Madonna goes beyond the usual banality and sterility of contemporary pop. Now and again, I'll hear a pop song on the radio and be able to enjoy it as a guilty pleasure. But I can't say that I am drawn to Madonna in that way, she takes herself too seriously. And even that would be tolerable if she weren't so artistically gutless.

Or maybe it is just the phenomenon of Madonna that perplexes me. I am but one of thousands of people writing about her this month. Madonna inserts herself into the collective imagination every few years and it always feels like some natural disaster from which we have to recover.

On her new album, Hard Candy, (a name which sounds like a parody of a pop album title), Madonna's songs are so Botoxed, so unnervingly seamless, that even if the whole point of the album was to have fun, it's the kind of fun where you have to keep reaffirming its very existence, as in, "this is fun, right?" In other words, it's self conscious and contrived. The fact that Madonna is playing it safe on this record, or "doing what she knows how to do best" should not be cause for celebration. If anything, I wish it were cause for alarm, or at least forced us to ask ourselves why she has yet to be usurped. At this point, however, I think the most I can muster is a huge yawn.

So, I wonder, who is a fan of Madonna's music? Are you? If so, what do you like about it? Will anyone be holding benefits for themselves so that they can afford tickets to her concerts? And why does Madonna still capture the imagination of so many people?