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> Madonna at 60 ● The Guardian Celebrates
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liamk97
post Jul 16 2018, 05:21 PM
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Matt Cain on Madonna: ‘She opened up gay culture to the mainstream’



The author and former editor-in-chief of Attitude magazine on how Madonna changed his life

Madonna was a radical, brilliant pop icon who changed so many people’s lives. Mine included. I grew up in Bolton in the 1980s, at a time when no one wanted to say anything positive about gay people. If we were represented in the media, it was as disease-carrying sexual predators who couldn’t be trusted around children. The idea of gay role models didn’t even exist. And then along came Madonna.

I first became aware of her around the time Like a Virgin was released in 1984, and felt myself being drawn in, but I resisted. I’d been conditioned to be mistrustful of transgressive, rebellious women who expressed their sexuality. By the time the True Blue album came out in 1986 – I was 11 – I was starting to realise I was gay. And that made me sexually transgressive too.

Then came the Open Your Heart video. In it, Madonna played a stripper dancing in a venue for an audience that included a lesbian drag king and two gay sailors locked in an affectionate embrace. The thing about her that had been my point of contention suddenly became a point of connection. After that, I didn’t just enjoy Madonna’s work: she became like a spirit guide.

People forget the role Madonna played in opening up gay culture to the mainstream. She wasn’t gay herself, but from the beginning she talked about how gay people were part of her life: her gay mentor, her dance teacher, Christopher Flynn; the artists and photographers she hung around with like Keith Haring and Herb Ritts; the gay dancers she paraded around so proudly in the film In Bed With Madonna. You cannot imagine what it was like to witness her doing that when you were being mercilessly bullied about your sexuality at school, as I was. This was when George Michael, Freddie Mercury and the Pet Shop Boys didn’t dare to come out.

Nowadays, online, it’s easy to know that there are other people like you in the world. But in the 1980s, you existed in your own bubble. This was also the time of Aids emerging. The album Like a Prayer came with a copy of a handwritten note from Madonna – I remember so clearly opening it, and how tenderly it was worded, declaring that everyone with Aids deserved respect and compassion, “regardless of their sexual orientation”. Madonna was accused in TV interviews at the time of being irresponsible because of her support for gay culture – you can still see clips of this on YouTube. But she ripped into homophobic interviewers with such ferocity, like a lioness protecting her cubs. It had an incredible impact on me.

Before Madonna, it felt like all gay icons had been tragic figures. And yes, Madonna had endured great tragedy in her life – her mother died when she was five – but you never saw an ounce of fragility in her. Think of her in that Jean Paul Gaultier basque – it was like a suit of armour. She was all steely defiance and I wanted to channel this to get through the challenges life was throwing at me.

I started to write a novel about growing up gay back in 2006, but it didn’t start working as an idea until I added Madonna. I travelled to Argentina, working as a producer on The South Bank Show. I was recognising so many locations from Evita and couldn’t get the film’s soundtrack out of my head. It dawned on me that Madonna had been with me all my life. There’s a lot that’s different to my own life in my novel, but a chapter about the protagonist, Charlie, going to see Madonna in her first ever UK concert in Leeds in 1987 is one of the most autobiographical. I remember watching in awe as my idol performed a show that was all about self-respect and standing up for your self. I was blown away

Since I started talking publicly about the book I cannot tell you how many messages I’ve had from people saying that they recognise the story, and the place of Madonna in it. When it came to selling the film rights for my book [they were sold recently for a six-figure sum], I was told we could not negotiate a deal until we secured Madonna’s approval. I was so nervous. But her office came back and said yes. The younger me – and the older me – was elated.

When people think about 1980s pop icons, they often think of those who’ve gone: Prince, Whitney, Michael Jackson. They often forget about Madonna, the only one that’s survived – and they continue to mock her, not just for being a sexually confident woman but for one who’s dared to get older and continue to produce work.

But I love how Madonna’s never wanted to be seen as a nostalgia artist and how in recent years she’s become even more politically outspoken. Her speech at the Billboard women in music awards in 2016; she called out the “blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse” she’d experienced as a woman in the music industry. So many people have relied on Madonna’s music for emotional support in their lives and I’m so glad she’s still here, still expressing herself, absolutely on her own terms. Because if she hadn’t been doing that when I was younger, I’m not sure I’d be here now – and I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today.
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liamk97
post Jul 16 2018, 05:21 PM
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Sarah Churchwell on Madonna: ‘She remains the hero of her own story’



As Madonna Ciccone approaches her 60th birthday, the author hails Madonna’s feminist legacy

For me, it was Lucky Star, in 1983. That video is burned into my brain. Not because I loved the song – there were many songs around that time I loved far more: Hungry Like the Wolf, Every Breath You Take, Come on Eileen; I never liked Lucky Star as much and still don’t.

At that point, no one had any idea how Madonna would evolve, how cleverly she would keep shifting her styles – musical, fashion, dance – ahead of trends. I just loved the way she blended post-punk toughness with playful girl power. Madonna projected the older girl that pre-adolescents wanted to be. And that’s why they called her fans “wannabes” – a name that was patronising, but not inaccurate. And then suddenly there was Material Girl: full glamour had entered the picture and she had become someone to watch.

But it was with her 1990 Blond Ambition tour that Madonna catapulted herself into mega stardom, shaping the music industry, taking firm hold of her own business reins and sending a clear message while she was at it. Blond Ambition – blonde without the feminine “e”, presumably to underscore the pun on “blind ambition”, but with the added advantage of rejecting the trappings of normative gender. The Blond Ambition tour, Madonna’s third, is widely acknowledged as the mother of today’s multimedia concert extravaganzas, fusing performance art, theatre, dance, fashion and video with pop songs. It broke box-office records and taboos, mixing themes of female sexuality, power, religion and gender fluidity. It prompted Forbes magazine to ask if she was “America’s smartest businesswoman”; 23 years later, the magazine would identify her as the highest-paid celebrity in the world, earning $125m (£77.4m) in 2012-2013. She has sold more than 300m records worldwide and her singles have made her the most successful solo artist in the history of the American charts.

By 1990, Madonna had already successfully reinvented her image several times although she had been a star for less than a decade, but one of her inspirations was always Marilyn Monroe. As early as 1985, the video for Material Girl offered a playful homage to Monroe’s equally famous performance of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It was clear from early on that she had absorbed an important lesson from Marilyn: Madonna would not be trapped by her own image. She would seize control through change, moving too rapidly through the styles she played with – whether in music, fashion, dance – to be fixed by them. But amid all the changes in style, she remained consistent about one thing: even when she courted controversy, she always did so in the name of liberation, particularly sexual liberation and women’s right to control their own destinies.

Not everyone agrees that she is feminist or empowering (not least because not everyone agrees what it means to be feminist or empowering). But even though some of her artistic ventures have failed – her films, in particular, have come in for more than their fair share of criticism – Madonna is never troped in terms of failure. Even when she is being lambasted, her success remains definitional, unyielding, the adamant fact of her stardom. This makes her very unlike some of the other women associated with blond ambition, including Marilyn, who is routinely pitied in the cultural stories told about her.

It would be frankly bizarre to pity Madonna and that in and of itself is a powerful feminist message to send. Her power and success mean she attracts opprobrium, ire, censure – but never pity. Other women of blond ambition have inspired the same animosity, the same misogynistic pushback. When Hillary Clinton made her ambition too visible, the misogyny was deafening. Clinton remains threatening enough that her enemies still call for her imprisonment (arguably a perverse recognition of her power), but since she lost the election, pity is now also part of her cultural story. However one judges Madonna – as an artist, a feminist, a moral agent – no one denies the power of the success she has achieved, on her terms. She has made people respect her blond ambition, even when that ambition has provoked hostility. And she has never apologised.

That defiance is a recognisably feminist choice, insisting that she has earned her power, and forcing people to take it seriously, whether they like it or not. That will to power always characterised her, according to those who knew her at the beginning of her career. Surely one of the things that marks her as a feminist, whether one judges her as a good feminist or a bad one, is that she foregrounds issues of gender, sexuality, equality and autonomy in her art, her performances and in her public speeches. “If you’re a girl, you have to play the game,” she declared at the 2016 Billboard women in music awards. “You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a $l*t, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world. 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 criticised and vilified and definitely not played on the radio.”

Her early declarations of “girl power” were playful and ironic; her later presentations of controversial sexual politics raised questions about self-commodification. She understood that this was about ownership – owning your own sluttiness, or selfishness, or aggression, or ambition, or anything else about yourself. Madonna’s art is the art of iconoclasm in an age of commodification, updating old images with new meanings. It seems odd to write of Madonna turning 60, but her latest transformation may be her most important, as youth makes way for strength. She remains the hero of her own story, rejecting the pieties of certain versions of feminism and insisting that no one else defines her, and making everyone recognise blond ambition, even if they don’t like it. Especially if they don’t like it.
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liamk97
post Jul 16 2018, 05:22 PM
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Barbara Ellen on Madonna: ‘Popular culture still reeks of her influence’



As the singer’s 60th birthday approaches, the Observer columnist celebrates pop’s greatest survivor

Madonna Louise Ciccone is about to turn 60, a “big birthday” by anybody’s reckoning. I remember her at the time of her breakthrough 1983 single, Holiday, a mischievous mess of bangles and swinging crucifixes, boasting that she was so hot that you could fry an egg on her belly button. From that point on, Madonna was omnipresent – confrontational, audacious, sexual, occasionally annoying and weirdly vulnerable (brought up in a strict Italian-American Catholic family, Madonna’s mother died when she was a child).

She pounded through personas (boy toy, material girl, Hollywood royalty, dancefloor vixen, gangsta momma,), like an all-singing all-dancing one-woman variety show. It was never just about the music. Madonna embodied the devilish voice in your ear, saying: “Why not?” A pop queen with a big dirty rock mouth, she was one of the first great influencers, daring at least a couple of generations of girls and young women (not to mention all her loyal gay fans) to be bolder, stronger and, crucially, a ton less humble and apologetic.

The ironic question “What would Madonna do?” isn’t still doing the rounds for nothing.

No surprise, then, that witch-burners have long been out in force against Madonna. She’s been called everything: ball-breaker, whore, user, crone, narcissist, talent-vampire. Vulgar taste-free zone. While taking criticism is part of the fame gig, it was as though Madonna served as a cautionary tale for women who get too darn uppity.

In truth, popular culture still reeks of Madonna’s influence for a good reason: she’s earned it. Far from being a shallow shape-shifter, she always knew her way around a pop classic (her oeuvre is full of them), and developed a flair for choosing talented collaborators to keep her music fresh. Moreover, back when she could have played it safe, Madonna called herself an artist and acted like one, tirelessly reinventing herself. From plonking a black saint in the Like a Prayer video to putting out a book called Sex, at the peak of her fame, just about everything Madonna did alienated middle America, because she wanted to define the zeitgeist, not merely reflect it.

In recent years, Madonna, also mother to Lourdes (by Carlos Leon) and Rocco (by Guy Ritchie), has been criticised for adopting four Malawian children (perfectly legally), having “work done” (such a shock in celeb circles) and having much younger partners (you mean, like 99% of famous older men?). Every time she tours, there’s gnashing of teeth about her “inappropriate” stage outfits – euphemisms for “too young for her”, as if someone of Madonna’s vintage should crawl on stage in a candlewick dressing gown, begging for forgiveness for not being 25 any more. Burn the witch! Burn her good!

I interviewed Madonna in the mid-90s in her New York apartment. If I was unprepared for her doll-like tininess, I was impressed by her attitude, as we talked about fame, rape, dehumanisation, and everything in between. There was no tiresome stonewalling, bristling at questions or monosyllabic answers. Madonna was friendly, relaxed and engaged. She was also sane and funny, not traits to be taken for granted at her level of stardom.

Not that it’s all been gravy. It’s probably best to politely ignore all that Kabbalah nonsense. It’s astonishing to me that such a clever woman managed to marry beneath her, not once but twice. I suspect that on some secret panel somewhere, Madonna has been voted “The control freak’s control freak”. (Her own brother, Christopher, wrote a memoir about working for her that could have been entitled Sissie Dearest). Her acting has been patchy at best – her personality is so strong, it always seems to seep through her performances like blood through a badly tied bandage. In retrospect, snogging Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on stage looked less like passing on the pop baton and more like sucking their souls out through their mouths.

And perhaps, in the interests of pop sisterhood, Madonna could have been a tad more gracious about Lady Gaga’s (ahem) homages.

However, I’m just not into slating Madonna and not just because I’m heartily sick of everyone else doing so. Most of the things people criticise Madonna for, I tend to find rather funny, including that gigantic, nuclear-strength ego, frying to a cinder all before it. At some point, we have to ask ourselves: what do we want from our stars – humility and jogging bottoms or magic and dynamite? I know which way I’d usually go.

At this stage, perhaps Madonna’s greatest achievement is that she’s a survivor. Of her era of superstars (Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince), she’s the last one left standing, living proof that maturing in music doesn’t just mean the Rolling Stones – it can be a wild, untamed feminine energy too.

Nor has she done it via endless comebacks and the nostalgia trail. Sure, she’d be idiotic (and ungenerous) not to perform songs from her extensive back catalogue, but Madonna has been genuinely active and creative all the way through, always with a new project on the horizon. So, happy birthday to Madonna. She’s sung, danced, acted, yapped, provoked, riled, worked her butt off, kept a sense of humour and taken all the sexist slurs with her head held high. Here’s to an artist who can’t come back because she never went away.
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liamk97
post Jul 16 2018, 05:22 PM
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Thurston Moore on Madonna: ‘She had credibility, she was really ahead of the game’



Ahead of Madonna’s 60th birthday in August, the former Sonic Youth frontman remembers her emergence from New York’s underground scene

We were neighbours. We knew each other, by sight. She would say hi to me and I would say hi to her. She was dating a friend of mine for a millisecond, so we were introduced that way and then, through the years, when we’d cross paths on the street, we’d nod heads and smile. She was very friendly with Jean-Michel [Basquiat], Keith Haring, and these artists who were all our neighbours, and we all hung out at the same places: Danceteria, CBGB, Tier 3 and Club 57 were the main places. When she became super-famous, which was all of a sudden, she disappeared from the New York scene. It was a very strange thing, to be working washing dishes, and making pennies per day, and seeing someone who was in your neighbourhood all of a sudden become a superstar. It was unusual. There was no real model for that, for us. It became kind of exciting.

She was really ahead of the game. She was taking elements of what was cool at that time – punk rock, new wave, dance music, hip-hop and Latino music all clashing in this great non-hierarchical playground of New York. It was all kind of new; everybody was trying different things. Madonna was actually in a couple of no-wave bands that nobody ever talks about. She was in a band with these two twins, Dan and Josh Braun, who were the first members of Swans, Michael Gira’s band. Nobody really knows about that part of her history; she was in a pre-Swans no wave band! There’s all that interconnected history in New York with Madonna and the no wave scene.

She was really able to tap into the sound of what was genuine and the culture at the time, where it was free from any gender or sexual persuasion distinctions. There was no concern about any inequality or [the boundaries of] gender or race – that’s how we felt, it was totally revolutionary. And [there was] this balance between Latino, black and white culture on the scene. She was really significant in giving voice to that and consistently doing it – you never got the sense that she was doing it as a gesture of being hip. She was a person, I think, who was really very loving toward people who were historically disenfranchised by society.

Eventually she started making really amazing dance records. Into the Groove was brilliant to the point where I thought it would be a great song to cover through the prism of Sonic Youth. Instantly fabulous. We took her record and put it on one of the channels in the studio and we would fade it into [our version of] the song once in a while, not thinking about the legalities of such a move. We made a 12-inch with Mike Watt from Minutemen on a label called New Alliance, a sub-label of Black Flag’s SST Records [Into the Groovey by Ciccone Youth, 1986]. We wanted to break down any kind of barrier that was being set up between the underground and the people who had graduated from it to the mainstream.

We actually embraced Madonna’s joie de vivre, her celebrity. We did that record and everybody felt we were crazy, and some people lambasted us for giving her some kind of credibility in the underground. But she already had credibility, as far as I was concerned; she was already a part of the downtown scene. I don’t think she capitalised on it.

When we first came to London, Lee [Ranaldo], Kim [Gordon] and I wore Madonna shirts and I remember kids at the gig coming up to us and saying “Are you taking the piss?” and we would say “No, have you heard this Madonna album? You should listen to it next to your Swell Maps albums, next to your Wire albums, next to your Raincoats albums.” Mix it up. Don’t be stuck in some kind of tunnel. I was all about bringing people together. Plus the T-shirts were really cheap.

Actually, I think she was very dignified in the way she referenced all of these different subcultures. She was a very big part of it. She made a lot of money, and when you make a lot of money and become so famous you have to protect yourself, because everybody wants to claw at you. It’s not like she could just walk into a Tesco and buy milk; she’s going to get hammered. People who bring that in to their lives… it’s a mixed blessing. It does prohibit you from being free in the social world. I think she dealt with it really well, let’s put it that way.
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liamk97
post Jul 16 2018, 05:22 PM
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Sophie on Madonna: ‘Her work is so vast – there’s a reference for any situation’



The electronic music producer, DJ and musician on Madonna’s continuing musical influence

In my mind, Madonna created the blueprint for modern pop stars. Her creativity has gone further, wider and longer than anyone else I can think of; I feel like her songs have been consistently memorable and meaningful. I have loved all of Madonna’s different phases at different points, but I think the Bedtime Stories era [1994] is really intriguing, especially the production – it has a unique feeling. It’s so much more fully formed and sexy than a lot of the trip-hop stuff that was coming out around that time. It’s definitely been an influence on my own music​.

My earliest memories of Madonna are of when my half-sister used to listen to her loads on family holidays. Davina was, and still is, a very fun party girl, so my early impressions of Madonna are merged with my half-sister’s teenage punk energy – I still think of Madonna in that way.

Working with her [on track Bitch I’m Madonna, which Sophie co-wrote and co-produced, the third single from Madonna’s 2015 album Rebel Heart] was really quite a one-off, spontaneous thing – I suppose a happy coincidence. I felt a connection with the title. But you have to prevent yourself from getting too excited about that kind of thing. People still write about that song in every article they write about me, so I guess she still means a lot to everyone operating in music right now.

Madonna’s work is so vast – there’s an appropriate Madonna reference for any situation. But I think the factor that sets her apart from others is that each phase seems to be a byproduct of a genuine journey of self-discovery, and always addresses some prejudice or other.

Whatever is the established, easy‑to-consume current thing, Madonna always seems to push past that. I think anyone who has struggled with having their voice heard can relate to what Madonna stands for and feel empowered by her story and her music. She is not buying into people’s bullshit.

I think what I’ve learned from her is that you can work hard and still be a good person. Anyone who fights so long and so hard deserves to be an important figure in music.

And she looks like she’s having more fun than a lot of people I know at that age, so whatever she’s doing, in my opinion she’s doing it right.
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liamk97
post Jul 16 2018, 05:22 PM
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Nancy Whang on Madonna: ‘She set an example for a lot of women’



The musician, best known for her work with LCD Soundsystem, on the power of Madonna’s persona

There aren’t that many artists like her. That she has the staying power she has is remarkable in itself. She’s influenced a lot of other artists, especially other fellow female artists and she’s remained culturally relevant. Her whole ability to reinvent herself is pretty impressive. She set an example for a lot of women and fellow artists to take on a persona. This idea of a solo female artist being this massive figure and occupying a stage – a musical stage and a cultural stage – there aren’t a lot of examples like that, besides her, for other female artists. And forget about the fact that she’s a woman – just as an artist, full stop.

She’s taken on so many different personas and artistic scenes and she’s able to still capture audiences. She’s taken all of these different genres of music and dived headlong into whatever she decided, whatever album it is, or whatever creative era she’s in, or [she’s] decided to go in a completely different direction. The only through-line is herself. With musical styles, she’s gone all over the place, but there’s cohesion to it because it’ll coming from her. It doesn’t seem necessarily random – that’s what she’s good at. People don’t expect a particular sound [from her], or even a gradual evolution, from album to album.

I feel some sense of solidarity and stand by her and all the choices she made, even though some of them aren’t that good. She’s allowed to make stuff that’s maybe not the most amazing thing that’s ever been made, but I think the fact that she still continues to be very successful goes to show she can withstand mediocrity.
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post Jul 16 2018, 05:22 PM
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Dancer Carlton Wilborn on Madonna: ‘Rehearsal truly was like boot camp’



Madonna’s former backup dancer on performing in the Blond Ambition and Girlie Show tours, as well as the video for Vogue

Iwas 26 and living in Los Angeles when Madonna had a huge open-call audition for the Blond Ambition tour – there were maybe a thousand men there. By the time I got home I had a message: “Come meet me at the club tonight.” It was basically a callback, like, let’s see who these people really are, how they hang with alcohol. She herself being an alpha type, she was looking for very confident people – the best of the best – so I was acutely aware of how I was presenting myself. When I made the cut, I knew it was a huge opportunity.

Touring was different back in the 90s. We really got to do it in the rock’n’roll way people imagine – private jets, two separate chefs, a bowl in the studio lobby stacked with cigarettes. It’s very rare that dancers are given that kind of treatment. And the afterparties – oh my gosh, are you kidding me? We won’t say much about those!

Every single night, the blast-off energy from the crowd was crazy – they were so loud we could hardly hear the music. We had done so much training at this point – the rehearsal process was truly like boot camp – and it was great to finally be in the sweat of it all. When I heard her singing to an audience for the first time: it was like: “Oh shit, she’s f***ing performing now.” And it was a lot of fun working with an artist who had started in dance and who could do all these intricate moves with you.

Madonna was great to work with. I was having this conversation with someone the other day – they were saying, “I bet it was crazy, when she was being really intense in the rehearsals, making people feel bad.” But that’s not what she does, at all. She has [one] personality that she knows makes her money – a bit brash and snappy and in your face – and then she has who she [really] is: just a chill, regular person. It was also a special time because she was single, didn’t have any children, and hadn’t really come against any extreme pushback, so she was very free. It was great to be a part of that.

She started as a street artist in lots of ways – a Lower East Side New Yorker kind of chick – and she likes to pull from where she came from.

When I was booked, I had nothing to do with voguing: I was classically trained – the underground art world was not my thing. At the time, voguing was very exclusive to that [New York black and Latino LGBT] community. Now you have all kinds of people voguing and I think that’s a great thing.

She was able to dive into something that had a strong pulse and felt it was important to get the word out to the consciousness of young gay dancers – it was about helping these people thrive and feel good and powerful.

What’s really great about her as a performer is that she is there to sell a story, however far she has to go. There are artists now who are taking the baton – Lady Gaga is probably the closest to it. But Madonna continues to be special because she’s just balls-out as an artist. At the core of what she represents is the secret longing of every human being: we all have quiet thoughts, we all have hungry thoughts, but most of us have been conditioned to think it’s inappropriate to let this be known. So when you have an example of somebody who is living their life against all the constructs that are blasted through the world and the media, it’s intoxicating.

Madonna has always been a very generous person. There was a particular time in my life [in 1995, when Wilborn was going through a difficult time, Madonna let him live with her for several months] where she really showed me the human side of her – I’m not saying that’s the first time she showed this to me, but it was the degree of it. It was really amazing when she offered me that. After that our paths went in different directions. I auditioned for the Drowned World tour and didn’t get chosen. I started going after different things, she was doing different things. Life happened. What I would say to her now is: happy 60th birthday! And thank you. Thank you for allowing me to let all of my power be seen and expressed
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post Jul 16 2018, 06:40 PM
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Read all of these yesterday !!

Did not know that Carlton auditioned for the drowned world tour .
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post Jul 27 2018, 06:01 PM
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There's a good piece in this month's Attitude about her turinng 60 too. I know this because Dominic Cooper is the cover star and instincts made me buy it

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liamk97
post Aug 13 2018, 10:18 PM
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Really interesting reading people's personal experiences with Madonna and how she's made an impression on their own lives and those around them. I enjoyed the Matt Cain article, I imagine that would resonate with many people, and the Thurston Moore article shows that Madonna's initiative to blend genres and styles without being restrained by social rules and norms was flourishing right from the start.

What I like most is that these articles all seem to recognise how Madonna continues to make an impact today. She's not relying on past glories, she's still got a thriving creative mind, still speaking out on injustices and prejudices and still working tremendously hard to make a difference to people's lives (her work in Malawi is remarkable and deserves more recognition).
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post Aug 14 2018, 04:58 PM
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‘Bigger than any man she ever encountered’: the under-appreciated genius of Madonna



When people say they want Madonna to age gracefully, what they really mean is: shut up. But celebrate her work, rather than her survival.

As we celebrate Madonna turning 60 this week, let us remember that this is a woman who has no interest in nostalgia. In a recent interview with Vogue Italia, she said she would talk only about the present, which, to me, is the key aspect of who Madonna is: resolutely forward-driving. This is why she is so able to manage to a global, decade-spanning career.

When she collected her woman of the year prize at Billboard’s Women in Music awards in 2016, she said she stood before the crowd “as a doormat”. “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.” This is genuine, rightful anger and ferocity. The level of ageism and sexism directed at her is femicidal, even matricidal, visceral loathing. When people say they want Madonna to age gracefully, what they really mean is: become beige, shut up and go into a corner. And she refuses to do that. Instead, she continues to produce brilliant, captivating and thought-provoking work.

We so often do not let women take credit for their own genius. Madonna has resisted that, mainly because she always overshadows the men with whom she chooses to collaborate. Nobody ever says Mirwais or Timbaland or Stuart Price made Madonna. Only Madonna could have made Madonna. But this is also from where the misogyny stems. She is bigger than any man she has ever encountered, professionally or personally. And people hate that.

She has outlived her contemporaries: Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince were the triumvirate of 80s stars. She has outlasted them artistically, too. Her 2015 album Rebel Heart was excellent. Her quality of work has never dropped. Many artists Madonna’s age, particularly male artists, are doing victory tours: people such as Bruce Springsteen. Madonna, instead, is not creating to prove a point about how long she can keep doing so.

It is impossible to talk about Madonna without talking about power. She is an athlete. I once read an interview where her trainer said she is so strong that he has to invent new exercises for her because she can’t feel exercises for mere mortals. Her muscularity is not about appearance; it is an indication of her mental strength and resilience. She is indestructible. But she has survived so long not just because of her talent, and not just because of her physical and mental strength. It is also that she is intelligent, professional and always engaged – she has seen the world, brought up children, worked in multiple fields. She is mentally alive and this is what keeps her searching, moving and creating.

So let us not reward Madonna for continuing to survive; let us appreciate her as an incredibly talented artist: a musician, songwriter, a dancer and a performer, a brilliant film-maker (W.E. is a beautiful, intelligent piece of feminist cinema). She sees herself as a creative artist, and we owe her the respect of seeing her that way, too.
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liamk97
post Aug 15 2018, 01:23 PM
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All hail Madonna, a 60-year-old woman who won’t be quiet



The pop singer turns 60 this week – and she is still defying the critics who tell older women to ‘gracefully’ fade away

Is Madonna dead?” my daughter asked recently, while we danced like idiots in the kіtchen to Vogue. Having spent a good few months inculcating my child with Madonna’s back catalogue, I realised I’d told her nothing about the woman herself. My daughter is still young enough to have no interest in the age of the singers she listens to – living or dead is generally enough information for her. If only we all felt that way.

Pop music is an unforgiving place for the older woman. Few know this better than Madonna, who turns 60 on Thursday, and whose every move in the past 15 years has been accompanied by a grim chorus of “Put it away, grandma”. That the entertainment industry is among the worst culprits when it comes to fading out women – note in comparison the scores of male actors and musicians carrying on into their 60s and 70s unimpeded – is especially depressing since it’s a business that directly influences how we think and live. But we can take heart that, as with so many aspects of the female experience, Madonna is doing her damnedest to put it right.

“Do not age, to age is a sin,” she said in a blunt speech in 2016, after accepting an award at Billboard’s Women in Music event. “You will be criticised, you will be vilified and you will definitely not be played on the radio.” But being criticised and vilified is all in a day’s work for Madonna. So is adjusting expectations and redrawing boundaries, all the while pleasing herself. These are the things she does best. She hasn’t so much smoothed the path for those who have come after her as hacked her way through the undergrowth, and done battle with monsters, in order to make it walkable for the rest of us.

Madonna has been in my life for pretty much as long as I can remember. I have watched her in her various incarnations – gobby, rosary-draped urchin, corset-clad dominatrix, wayward cowgirl, hot yoga mom – with a mixture of curiosity, amusement and awe. As well as her successes, I have observed her failures and humiliations, and admired how she ploughs on regardless, doing what she wants and never apologising, even though her pain is clear. Having had her in my peripheral vision for 35 years, I now look on her like one would an unusually free-spirited relative: unpredictable, occasionally misguided, frequently inspiring, forever up for new adventure. That so many people, from Mary Whitehouse to the pope to Piers Morgan, have wished her to be quiet, or invisible, has made her all the more compelling. Rubbing people up the wrong way is one of her many talents.

You might have thought that all these years in Madonna’s company would have rendered the world impervious to her antics – yet her transgressions apparently continue. Now her mere existence as a woman (almost) in her 60s means, for some, that she has outlived her usefulness. At her age, she should be quiet and amenable. She should stay at home, cut her hair short and keep her upper arms covered. And those hands! “Why do Madonna’s hands look older than her face?” inquired the Daily Mail in 2006 in a particularly venal piece that has been redrafted pretty much every year since.

It’s not just the press that has turned Madonna-shaming into an international sport. In a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter last year, the academic and social critic Camille Paglia derided her for her “pointless provocations” and her “trashy outfit[s]”, and urged her to be more like Marlene Dietrich “who retained her class and style to the end of her public life”. Madonna? Provocative? Where have you been, Camille? Even Elton John has had a pop – “she looks like a fairground stripper”, said the man who once rocked up at a party with an Eiffel Tower on his head. Right now, one of her loudest detractors is that expostulating foghorn Morgan, who believes women should be equal to men just as long their wardrobes meet his exacting age-appropriate standards.

But this is Madonna. She doesn’t do quiet and she doesn’t do amenable. In the face of criticism, she reacts. Well, why wouldn’t she? When she is told that she should slow down, step back and act her age, she protests in the only way that she knows: in the public gaze. So she does a topless photoshoot – rather beautiful, as it happens – in Interview magazine. She gets her arse out at the Met Gala, essentially pulling a massive moony at the world. This month, she put on suspenders for a Vogue photoshoot. You can just imagine her assembling her outfit with her team: “So guys, what can I wear that will given Elton a bloody hernia?” That’s our girl. So all hail to Our Lady, still fighting, still hacking away at the undergrowth, still clearing a path and changing the world for the rest of us.
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