Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Madonna: Still "the Shit"

I finally caught up with Madonna’s MDNA concert on Epix last night. I didn’t buy Madonna’s last album or see this tour live, so it was a chance to catch up on what she’s been up to lately.
After a somewhat long, vaguely medieval looking intro, the show got off to a dark, foreboding start, with Madonna’s dancers wearing what appeared to be gas masks. A lot of her songs in this section featured auto-tune, a technology which hopefully has died a well-deserved death by now.
Then Madonna switched into drum majorette gear (among other costumes) and, for the rest of the show, it was the good-time Madonna we all know and love.
A lot of the show seemed to be devoted to reinforcing the Madonna “brand” against Johnny-come-latelies like Lady Gaga. In one clever mash-up, Madonna did a medley of “Express Yourself” and “Born This Way,” proving, if you still had any doubt, that Lady Gaga’s song, if not an outright rip-off, at least sounds a lot like Madonna’s.
But there were other times when I thought she came dangerously close to Michael Jackson’s habit of self-aggrandizement. There were a lot of references to Madonna’s name in the songs (“L-U-V Madonna” in “Gimme All Your Love”) and the very title of her album and tour, MDNA, seems to be an anagram for her name. Another time (again, during “Gimme All Your Love”) she chanted “I’m the shit” (which, apparently, is a compliment these days), and in a video segment, Vicki Minaj proclaimed “There’s only one queen, and that’s Madonna.”
Come on, Madonna! You’ve been making music for 30 years! Are you really that threatened by Lady Gaga?
I also found myself taken aback by all the cursing and casual violence in the show. When did “Fuck Yeah!” become Madonna’s slogan? And another song featured Madonna toting a handgun and some rather lurid video of blood being splattered all over the place.
I mean, it’s not like Madonna’s still the 25-year-old precocious upstart who burst upon the world stage in 1983. She’s one of the most successful women in the world and, up until her divorce from Guy Ritchie, was more likely to be found wearing Burberry suits and riding horses on her English country estate!
There was also some controversy about another video segment in which Madonna appeared as Adolph Hitler. I’m not sure what this was supposed to mean, but I suppose casually tossing around images of Adolph Hitler trivializes the real damage that Hitler did. But we’re so overloaded with such images on a daily basis, this should not shock anyone.
For me, one of great things about Madonna’s shows is the way they’re choreographed from beginning to end. I don’t think Madonna receives enough credit for her talent as a dancer. (She did study with Alvin Ailey, after all.)
Although she appeared to be lip-syching during one of her later numbers, for the most part, she seemed to be singing live. And that’s quite an accomplishment for a 54-year-old singer (at the time of this concert) and one reason Madonna is still “the shit.”

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