Pop seismologists have been having an uneasy time of it lately, for there have been clear and ominous signs that Madonna is about to become active once more – dark tremors in the bowels of the earth, venting of hot gases, plumes of ash and the launch of a handbag and perfume lifestyle brand called “Truth or Dare”. Yup, it’s the Big One. We must be prepared.
Christ only knows how though. When your favourite pop star has spent more time in the last few years making orphanages than she has good records it’s a bit hard to work out what to expect. The problem is – and feel free to disagree – is that Madonna is entering uncharted pop territory. Like Elizabeth I towards the end of her reign (only with whiter teeth), she has nothing left to prove – her contemporaries lie defeated on the battlefield and her court is a simpering crowd of cowering sycophants too afraid to voice their concerns that opening a chain of gyms in Brazil might not be a good idea. The only thing she can pick a fight with these days is a hydrangea.
So, by continuing to make albums is she extending her legacy or diminishing it? 2008’s “Hard Candy” would support the latter viewpoint, but it’s not so long since the career-high of “Confessions on a Dancefloor” either. Another problem – the more time goes on, the less historical goodwill there is to fall back on. People my age, who still think of “Like a Prayer” as late-era Madonna, are no longer the tastemakers of today. 2011’s in-crowd, whose earliest memory of Madge is likely to be something from “Bedtime Stories” (eek) are probably wondering what all the fuss was about, and that’s if they think of her at all.
There’s still hope, though it is barely a glimmer. The wisest thing Madonna’s done in the last few years is to sit out the GaGa era entirely. I just hope it was a conscious decision. It must have been seat-of-your-hot-pants entertaining to watch this particular rise and fall – for a while it looked like she was the Anointed One – the thief in the temple of pop who would finally steal the crown and slay the regnant Queen of Pop. And it might have happened, but for two factors – one, she made a crap second album, and, two, by anointing us as her little monsters and deciding to become the saviour of the gays, she crowned herself – something that was not her decision to make. This makes Lady GaGa the Richard III of pop music. He only lasted two years too.
Madonna is therefore perfectly positioned to return in gleaming fashion, having skilfully avoided a head on collision. Full marks – but only if the record’s good. And what, then, do we know about this record? Well, we know that the first single is called “Give Me All Your Love”. We know that it features flavour of the moment Nicki Minaj and flavour of 2007 M.I.A. OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD. As my friend Sam so rightly put it, “when has sharing the limelight ever worked for you before?” NEVER, that’s when. In 2008 Justin Timberlake mumbled at the start of “Dance 2Night” that he was going to take Madge to “the club”, a pronouncement that I had a major issue with. Madonna is not TAKEN anywhere, Madonna TAKES people places. The only image this particular lyric succeeded in bringing to mind was that of Justin pushing his ageing ward in an NHS-issue wheelchair, gamely attempting to hoist her up a fire exit in order to avoid the bouncers. Yes, Madonna works best when the spotlight is solely upon her – none of us need reminding that other, younger pop stars are available. They end up looking like what they essentially are: carers.
I’ve just had a scour of the internet and have apparently scared up the lyrics to “Give Me All Your Love” – and if they prove to be genuine, it would appear we have vacuous, fun-loving Madonna on our hands:
Don’t play the stupid game
Cause I’m a different kind of girl
Every record sounds the same
You’ve got to step into my world
Give me all your love and give me your love
Give me all your love today
Give me all your love and give me your love
Let’s forget about time
And dance our lives away
If you ask me it’s getting towards the time that Madonna stopped singing about dancing and started singing about hedge funds and stain removal, but I’ll allow it one last time. But these lyrics do highlight the difficulty inherent in loving a pop star who’s been relevant for nearly thirty years and is now getting on a bit. The carefree girl who showed up dancing to “Holiday” on Top of the Pops is long gone, but we want her back. Yet when she tries to do just that we’re all “shut it, grandma. Act your age”.
Ultimately though, this is our problem, not hers. Madonna doesn’t care. Madonna doesn’t give a fuck – and maybe that’s why so many of us have loved her the most for the longest. But if Madonna is the last one to leave the party does that make her brilliant or tragic? Maybe 2012 will finally tell.