Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Madonna 101: A cheat sheet for the unconverted

Madonna's had some strange bedfellows in her 47 years: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Warren Beatty, that Oscar date with Jacko.

But try this one on for size: President Bush. The two have more in common than you probably imagined.

They both know how to manipulate religion for maximum gain. They’re both unapologetic. They both have Daddy issues.

Most importantly, they both know how to energize their base when the chips are down. Dubya, stung by sinking polls, nominated Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court to appease his Bible-banging supporters. And Madonna, stung by sinking sales, has recorded her gayest album yet … to appease her butt-banging supporters.

Confessions on a Dance Floor is a cutting-edge, nonstop mix of euphoric party music that demands attention from the opening track, “Hung Up,” which makes clever use of a sample from Abba’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” to the shameless but irresistible “I Love New York.”

Madonna’s popularity may be waning among youngsters, but her gay fans are here to stay. Let’s take a look back on the many faces of our beloved spiritual leader.

The Boy Toy (1983-1985)

Shocks the world with her bustier-and-crucifix look. Inspires a flock of “wannabes,” a word that would be added to the American Heritage Dictionary in 2000. Musical achievement: “Into the Groove.” Cinematic achievement: Desperately Seeking Susan. Deep thoughts: “The world is in such bad shape at the moment, who wants to hear about it in songs? They want songs about falling in love and being lonely” (Melody Maker, 1983).

The Wife (1986-1988)

Marries paparazzi-phobic actor Sean Penn. Shocks the world with bad acting. Musical achievement: “Open Your Heart.” Cinematic achievement: Shanghai Surprise, a bomb co-starring her husband. Daddy issues: “Don’t you stop loving me, Daddy / I know, I’m keeping my baby” (“Papa Don’t Preach,” 1986).

The Bisexual Fag Hag (1989-1991)

Shocks the world with Vatican-denounced “Like a Prayer” (costing her a deal with Pepsi) and MTV-banned “Justify My Love.” Hangs out with queers Rosie O’Donnell and Sandra Bernhard (allegedly stealing her lover, Ingrid Casares). Musical achievement: “Vogue.” Cinematic achievement: Truth or Dare, a documentary of backstage bonding with gay dancers on her Blonde Ambition tour. Daddy issues: “You never loved me / You can’t hurt me now / I got away from you” (“Oh Father,” 1989).

The Slut (1992-1994)

Adopts the S/M persona of Dita. Sleeps around with NBA stars. Shocks the world with a profanity-laced appearance on Letterman. Starts her own label, Maverick Records. Musical achievement: Erotica, arguably her best album. Cinematic achievement: Body of Evidence, a supposedly erotic thriller shot in Portland. Literary achievement: Sex, an adults-only photo book. Deep thoughts: “Can you make a fire without using wood?” (“Where Life Begins,” a 1992 ode to cunnilingus).

The Mother (1995-1996)

Shocks the world by cleaning up her act, with a concerted effort to start a family. Hooks up with Carlos Leon and gives birth to Lourdes Maria. Musical achievement: Something to Remember, a compilation of her best ballads. Cinematic achievement: Evita, which earns her a Golden Globe. Deep thoughts: “I don’t think I’ll ever make another selfish decision as long as I have her” (The Associated Press, 1996).

 The Guru (1997-1999)

Embraces yoga and Kabbalah, Judaism’s mystical tradition. Experiments with electronica. Musical achievement: “Beautiful Stranger,” an Oscar-snubbed pop masterpiece from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Deep thoughts: “In the form of a man up to the shoulders / Holding a conch, discus and sword / Thousand headed, white / I bow respectfully / Peace” (English translation of 1997’s “Shanti/Ashtangi”).

The Brit (2000-2005)

Marries Limey filmmaker Guy Ritchie and gives birth to Rocco John. Shocks the world by taking up pheasant hunting in her adopted England. Hangs out with fashion designer/Beatles heiress Stella McCartney and actress/Apple mama Gwyneth Paltrow. Adopts the Hebrew name of Esther. Musical achievement: an acoustic performance of “Don’t Tell Me” on Letterman showing off her new guitar skills. Cinematic achievement: Swept Away, a bomb directed by her husband. Literary achievement: The English Roses, the first in a series of children’s books. Daddy issues: “My father had to go to work / I used to think he was a jerk / I didn’t know his heart was broken / Not another word was spoken” (“Mother and Father,” 2003). Deep thoughts: “I don’t want people to dress like me anymore. Now, I want them to think like me. Dress like Britney Spears and think like me, and everything will be fine” (People, 2003).

The Cougar Philanthropist, 2006-present

Dates men half her age … not that there’s anything wrong with that. Shocks the world while promoting her album MDNA by making a cheeky reference to MDMA. (“How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?”) Signs unprecedented $120M tour deal with Live Nation and $40M record deal with Interscope. Launches the projects Raising Malawi (which has built 10 schools to educate thousands of children) and Art for Freedom (a global digital initiative designed to fuel free speech). Adopts David Banda Mwale and Chifundo “Mercy” James. Cinematic achievement: W.E., a bomb directed by her. Musical achievement: the most-watched Super Bowl halftime show in history, drawing more viewers than the game itself by a 16 percent margin. Deep thoughts: “The ones that said I was talentless, that I was chubby, that I couldn’t sing, that I was a one-hit wonder — they pushed me to be better, and I am grateful for their resistance” (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, 2008). Daddy issues: I was raised in the Midwest, and he is the personification of Midwestern values. He gave me the work ethic that I have. If Im a hard-working girl, that never stops. Its because of him (Detroit Free Press, 2012).

Originally published in Just Out, Nov. 18, 2005 (updated content added Jan. 21, 2014)

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