There is an art to constructing an enduring pop persona.
It has to be flamboyant and over the top enough to attract the necessary attention, with a dash of controversy here and hints of scandal there. You need to be able to titillate the voyeurs, and those looking to like you just to upset their parents, or major authority figure. In other words, you need to get noticed, and the louder, glitzier and the more outrageous the better.
Yet you can’t sail too far over the edge or you risk sliding into a parody of yourself before you have even launched the Good Ship Shock the World. It’s a tricky balance and not every one manages it.
Of course assuming you do craft a look, a vibe that attracts the fans, how do you stay relevant? You need to subtly, or not so subtly, tweak the formula from time to time so today’s In-Your-Face-Shocking doesn’t become tomorrow’s Tired-and-Slightly-Sad.
It’s a lesson Madonna learned quite a few years ago and she has successfully re-invented herself over and over till it’s hard to work out where the real Madonna stops and the persona, bristling with anger at the church and desperate toy court controversy at every turn begins. She is now her persona, much like Marilyn Monroe before her.
And while it has worked well for her, I can’t help thinking now that it’s become a noose around her neck. For while she can still attract the best songwriters and producers like Benny Benassi, William Orbit, and French wunderkind, Martin Solveig, and her videos camp it up with the best of them, her schtick, I’m sad to say, is growing old.
That’s not to say that MDNA isn’t cutting edge, fill-the-floor dance music. It is. It is packed with supremely catchy music like “I’m Addicted” that defy you not to start dancing in the middle of the train carriage on the way to work. (For the record, I didn’t; it appears my fear of social censure is greater than the beats that power this enormously funky dance album.) still more songs like “Girl Gone Wild” and “Gang Bang” (voted song most unlikely to be played at a GOP fundraiser) are fueled by dizzying beats and lush melodies that fuse together into a libidinous hedonistic whole.
Yes, this album has a groove so infectious it may yet overpower reticent commuters and convince them to dance in the vestibule. But its lyrics are tired and repetitive, announcing over and over that Madonna wants to be ” a sinner” and “has friends in hell”.
Listening to them, I start to feel like I am stuck in an endless therapy session. It’s like Madonna is still genuinely angry about her religious past, and unable to get over it. Fair enough. But even worse she is still under the impression that sticking it to the big man upstairs is some kind of daring social statement.
It’s really not. Not anymore at least, and probably hasn’t been for quite some time. I get that Madonna is angry with God, and his oppressively conservative minions on Earth and wants to make sure, in the most obvious way possible that everyone knows she is going to live the most sinful life possible just to stick it to them. But it’s an old theme, it’s been run around the track one too many times, and it isn’t even remotely shocking anymore.
Yes, the music on MDNA is beyond catchy. It’s fun, seditious and sounds even a little naughty. And yes I am a fan and I have been looking forward to some more of Madge’s poptastic goodness. But unfortunately her pop fabulousness has been saddled with lyrics that are “been-there-done-that” to such a degree that it mars what is otherwise one of the most wonderful pop music experiences of the year.
Here’s a great article from The Village Voice that says much the same thing but elaborates on it beautifully.
And another from flavorwire.com which is definitely worth a read.