Who’s the real Madonna? Don’t ask her
It plays like a diva’s nightmare.
In the video for Britney Spears’ “Me Against the Music“, pop’s blonde du jour pursues her idol, Madonna, through a labyrinthine nightclub.
Just as Britney corners her prey and pushes her to the wall for an alpha-girl kiss, Madonna vanishes.
Phantasmic laughter floats past like ectoplasm as a confused Britney blinks into the klieg lights.
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The video was an extended metaphor for Madonna’s relationship to her pop- idol offspring: No matter how fast Britney and her peers move, they can’t catch up to the kabbalistic material girl.
It’s true that Madonna’s latest album, “American Life“, didn’t match the mega-sales of the House of Britney, but the fact that it went platinum at all is a testament to Madge’s longevity — as is her sold-out “Re-Invention” world tour, which hits San Jose’s HP Pavilion for three nights next week.
The tour’s title explains its star’s staying power. More than 20 years after the release of her debut album, Madonna‘s transgressive cachet has diminished, but she still stands the most durable pop symbol of her generation — and potentially the next — thanks to her talent for creating an identity that’s forever in the process of disassembling itself.
Many have imitated and paid homage to Madonna’s fluid identity politics, and with the “Re-Invention” tour, she pays tribute to herself — or rather her myriad selves.
“Madonna is nothing but masks“, says Georges-Claude Guilbert, author of “Madonna as Postmodern Myth: How One Star’s Self-Construction Rewrites Sex, Gender, Hollywood and the American Dream“. “People who regularly claim they have finally spotted the ‘real’ Madonna make fools of themselves. The ‘real’ Madonna does not exist — or if she does, she does not have tea with journalists“.
The “Re-Invention” tour is less a concert than a greatest-hits revision of an icon who has survived by rewriting the rules as she goes. True to the contradictory nature of a materialist in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, a libertine turned children’s book author, her new show juxtaposes religious scripts with eroticized warfare, an electric chair with an acoustic guitar. Celebrated and reviled for appropriating and reinterpreting the cultures of others, she is now rewriting her own iconography.
For many fans attending her San Jose shows, Madonna’s legacy of cultural poaching is precisely the draw. San Francisco fan Mick Hughes, 40, explains, “She was hitting it big the same time I was coming out, and she spoke to gay men. She embraced us. I remember when she did a show at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, kind of a memorial for Keith Haring, where all the proceeds went to AIDS charities. Besides the fact that the music’s got a good beat, she just connects with gay men.”
“I feel it might be the last gasp before it all becomes embarrassing,” adds Hughes’ partner, Graham Dobson, who discovered Madonna when he saw her perform “Lucky Star” on “Top of the Pops” in 1984. “This might be the last real Madonna concert — or at least the one I want to remember her by.”
But Madonna’s decision to recontextualize her history and musical catalog is more progressive than nostalgic, argues Freya Jarman-Ivens, co-editor of the forthcoming essay collection “Madonna’s Drowned Worlds: New Approaches to Her Cultural Transformations (1983-2003)“.
“I would suggest we consider the reinvention as another strategic move forward, rather than as a change in direction towards the retrospective,” she says. “She seems to have moved on from culture as her object of transformation, and on to herself instead.”
Having been dubbed a reinvention artist by critics throughout her career, Madonna is now taking charge of the label. “Appropriation of this term now is, for me, a typically sarcastic move and a clever way to use the ‘abusive term’ in her favor, to deflate it, as the black and queer movements have been doing for years,” says Jarman-Ivens co-editor, Santiago Fouz-Hernández.
Guilbert agrees. “I believe she embarked 20 years ago on a postmodern cultural cruise, constantly rewriting — with utmost care but always tongue in cheek — past trends and past versions of herself,” he says. “In this tour, Madonna is once more signaling her total control over her own iconic status, possibly making a pause before finding other cultural artifacts to recycle in her usual clever way. Madonna is the Quentin Tarantino of pop music, and I suspect they both have a lot more to say“.
Clever marketing stratagem or reflexive pop art?
The “Re-Invention” tour is both. At once inventive and reinventive, Madonna uses this latest road show to put her many personae on the couch while she plays analyst, interpreting the dreams and fantasies that loaded each with its unique cultural charge. This can be called commercial narcissism, but it still betrays a depth of self- awareness that Britney and company have yet to discover. Madonna as Madonna theorist: It could be her most innovative identity yet.
Article by Eva Chonin, SFGate.com