As Madonna prepares to reinvent herself (once again) at Slane this weekend, Nick Duerden takes a critical look back through her startling career, evaluating the hits and the misses during her 20 years in the public eye
The pop star
In the past 20 years, Madonna has sold more than 250m records. From the pure pop of her 1983 debut Madonna to the sophisticated majesty of her finest album, Like a Prayer (1989), and with several bizarre diversions – such as 1992’s Erotica, in which she panted, sexually, towards hyperventilation – Madonna has always been music’s most forward-thinking visionary.
But most fans will only ever associate her greatest moment with the point in 1983 when she burst through the celebrity stratosphere as the decade’s quintessential ‘Material Girl’. For all the sophistries of her later incarnations, many remember her most fondly, and with no small amount of nostalgia, for the days in which her sartorial ensemble consisted of nothing more designer than a DIY dye job and a yard or so of tulle.
Others champion 1986’s True Blue as her finest moment: for this, she sheared her frazzled locks and sported a short platinum crop. The album, which included the seminal Papa Don’t Preach, sold 19m copies and made No 1 in 27 countries. And where, artistically, she may have failed to score points for the lyrical poignancy of Erotica, Madonna still managed to win most critics round by judicious disrobing.
In musical terms, it’s hard to pinpoint anything where she got it completely wrong, although most would agree that her decision to record American Pie was perhaps the most misdirected decision of her career so far. Ray of Light would have been a very respectable point at which to retire gracefully from the music scene, but last year’s American Life heralded yet another new beginning for the Material Girl – as white rapper.
While she may not be selling records in the same vast quantities, she remains the most interesting, challenging and innovative artist of her generation. Each album features another cutting- edge producer taking her in new directions. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but whatever she comes up with is worth listening to. That is no small achievement.
The film star
Back in 1985, it seemed as if Madonna could do no wrong. Having performed so seductively in the videos for Like a Virgin and Papa Don’t Preach, she thought she’d do likewise on the big screen. Desperately Seeking Susan, however, suggested that she’d be wiser sticking to pop videos.
But Madonna was never going to be so easily thwarted. She married an actor (Sean Penn) and appeared in a string of films – Shanghai Surprise (ghastly), Body of Evidence (gruesome) and Dick Tracy (grim) – turning in performances that suggested she was no more an actress than a zoologist. But Evita brought a modicum of actorly respect, and dreams of Oscar glory never quite receded.
When she married Guy Ritchie, many feared they would do what married couples should never do: work together. Temptation proved too much. Madonna was apparently convinced that Swept Away, billed by some fool as a “romantic comedy”, would be the role of her life. Instead, it was a gossamer- light tale of a rich socialite’s wife who gets shipwrecked on a desert island with an unctuous but handsome Italian man.
It is difficult to say anything positive about Swept Away, because it’s the worst movie ever made.
The wife and mother
Once pilloried by church and state for her wanton sexuality and evil ways, Madonna’s reinvention in 1996 after the birth of her daughter Lourdes marked one of the most spectacular image transformations ever.
Meanwhile, the role of the child’s father, Madonna’s personal trainer Carlos Leon, was played down by the Madonna team. Her single-parent status culminated in a Vanity Fair spread, in March 1998, in which she resembled Mother Earth made flesh.
Her subsequent marriage to Guy Ritchie, with whom she had a second child, Rocco, effectively sealed her status as the ultimate celebrity family woman, making her the UK’s official spokesperson on motherhood, education, the NHS, child-rearing and shearing (she dictates how children’s hair should be styled).
The religious guru
Madonna Louise Ciccone must be one of the world’s most famous lapsed Catholics. Ever since she pleasured herself on stage in 1990 with a crucifix, the Pope has taken a very dim view of her art. She has since taken her spirituality elsewhere, stopping temporarily at the temple of Buddhism before settling upon the teachings of the kabbalah, as taught by the 4,000-year-old religion’s self-styled “world’s foremost authority”, one Rabbi Philip Berg, a former insurance salesman. Under a headscarf and the pseudonym Ethel, she attends weekly teachings of the kabbalah in London. She is now as recognisable for her faith as she was, 10 years ago, as John Paul Gaultier’s conical-bosomed muse.
Madonna plays Slane on Sunday. Some tickets, GBP61.94, may still be available from Ticketmaster outlets or online. A link bus is also available from Belfast. For details, see ticketmaster.ie
source : belfasttelegraph.co.uk