Things I’m Supposed To Hate, But Kinda Like Anyway: Madonna

I can’t stand Madonna.

Madonna the expert player of the media? Forget Madonna, I’m over Lady Gaga, and I’m bored with whatever comes next. Whoever it is. Already.

Her “signficant artist” phase? Her coffee-table photo book “Sex” got all those pretensions sent back to the clubs pronto.

The original Madonna, of “Holiday” and “Like a Virgin” fame?  She came out during my too-good-for-dance-club music phase, and oozed “manufactured pop treacle” to me. 

Nope. Don’t much care about Madonna.

Now about that “manufactured pop treacle” thing; that doesn’t necessarily disqualify music for me.  I’ve said it before; I appreciate music on two levels:

  1. Does the technique involved in playing or producing the music make me go “yeah, someone’s got some chops?”  Even if I don’t care for the song itself, I can nod my head and go “Yeah” for technical merit; Yngwie Malmsteen and Mariah Carey leave me equally cold, but yet their technique on guitar and voice respectively have gotta make a musician go “boom”. 
  2. Does the song grab me in the liver and say “there is something important here”?

Madonna has done either of the two – according to me, and when it comes to music it’s the only standard I really care about – so rarely it barely deserves mention.

Well, OK – with two exceptions:

All About The Technique:  You can listen to “Ray of Light” – Madonna’s nod to the techno boom about ten years back from, yow, 1998 (!) – and think “It’s just a bunch of semiconductors that’ve been programmed to fire off in the right order”. 

And you’d be right.  But all of that programming led to one of the most perfect bits of dance-pop ever.

 To which I say “kudos to the artist”.  In this case, the “artist” is British dance-pop producer William Orbit, who recorded the song (and the entire album) without any actual live band instruments.  It’s a technically ingenious record, and it makes even me wanna dance. 

And that says something. 

The Liver:  But the music I really care about is the stuff that grabs me somewhere south of the frontal cerebral cortex and says “listen up – there’s something in here that’s perilously close to The Truth”. 

What truth?  Whose truth?  I don’t know – but “Oh Father”, from 1989, grabbed me anyway:

There’s a story there – but you don’t have to know the story (as, indeed, I didn’t until 20 solid years after the song came out) to have something somewhere just north of your medulla go “hang on here…”.

And that’s just what that something did. 

Would I cross the street to see a Madonna concert?  No – and the way her last album seems to have tanked, neither it seems would an awful lot of people. 

But while I can take and mostly leave most all of Madonna’s discography, those two songs occupy precious space on my phone, for that very reason.

6 thoughts on “Things I’m Supposed To Hate, But Kinda Like Anyway: Madonna

  1. The one and only thing I LIKE, that she’s ever done: La Isla Bonita. I don’t know why, except for the wide harmonies (vocal and instrumental) and swinging rhythm.

    Everything else is…well…mostly tolerable.

    Harmony is everything for me. It’s why my list of pop songs I love includes La Isla Bonita, Jane Child: I Don’t Wanna Fall In Love, Toto: Africa, Back Street Boys: I Want It That Way and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Rocky Top.

    There are a few others I can hear in my head but I can’t regurgitate enough of them to to get a title and artist.

  2. Madonna’s music has aged better than a lot of other sounds from the 80s, I think. I’m okay with most of it, actually — if you don’t take her too seriously, she’s fun. In some respects, she reminds a bit of David Bowie in the ways she plays with her image and with her willingness to experiment. Pop music is by definition a pretty malleable thing and she’s been able to remake herself enough times to have a 30+ year career, which is a pretty good trick when you think about it.

  3. What is it with these “artistes” and their daddy issues? I think that many times they are imaginary. If you read Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” you would be convinced there was some deep trauma in her daughter-father relationship. The poem’s last stanza is:

    There’s a stake in your fat black heart
    And the villagers never liked you.
    They are dancing and stamping on you.
    They always knew it was you.
    Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

    Yet by all accounts Plath’s relationship with her father was unremarkable, the love-hate obsession with her father was one-sided.

  4. That’s funny. I can’t stand Madonna either, but the lone exception is Ray of Light. I don’t even like techno that much, but that is a good song. The worst thing about Madonna is her legacy and spawning a generation of imitators (the aforementioned Lady Gaga).

  5. She is the product of, or perhaps the producer of, one of the greatest pieces of musical marketing ever. If she is the prime mover behind her decades of success, good for her. She is a marketing genius. Her music is OK; some really good, some really bad, but most, at best, is passable.

    However, the way she was sold, from start to now by far out paces her music. Sex always sells, but she was packaged and repackaged over the decades in ways that I do not understand (or even like), but she was always on the mark for emerging trends.

    Unfortunately, for the past decade or so, she seems to have started believing her own narrative – the packaging is now the package and it’s starting to look a bit embarrassing; young third world dancer/ boyfriends, a bit too much exposure of what is no longer worth exposing anymore, and taking on topics that she doesn’t understand.

    Instead of aging gracefully and with age-appropriate sexuality, she has chosen the path of Nancy Pelosi instead of the much more dignified and alluring Greta Garbo. Can’t knock success, though. I wonder if Penn ever questions the end result of their relationship … ?

  6. Pingback: Garage Band | Shot in the Dark

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