In case you’re above following these sorts of things, Her Madgesty has been all over the news, the blogs, and the tabloids again lately. There was September’s much-disparaged hydrangeas incident. Critics’ chilly reception to her new movie, “W.E.” The “narcissistic” acceptance speech she gave upon receiving a Golden Globe award for best original song (beating out rival Elton John, who later snarked that she’d better “lip-sync good” at her upcoming Super Bowl performance).
As a devout Madonna fan since age six, as far as I’m concerned, she’s worked hard enough to earn every blip of press she gets. Say what you want about her — and you will — but if there’s one thing M knows how to do, it’s bust her ass to get something she wants. And if the recent onslaught of press is any indication, what she wants right now is to build buzz for her upcoming studio album, “MDNA” (to be released on March 26). What better way to do that than by performing at America’s most center-stage stage of all, the Super Bowl’s halftime show? Here’s why Mads is the perfect pick for such an exclusive gig — which, in classic overachiever form, she’s striving to make “the greatest show on earth.”1. Women will watch. In hiring Madge as its half-time act, the Super Bowl producers are all but guaranteeing that a massive — seriously massive – number of women will tune in to catch the performance. Why? Because lots of women love her. And lots of women loathe her. And lots of women love to loathe her. (Check out my forthcoming anthology,Madonna & Me, for 39 women writers’ super-honest perspectives on where they stand on the Madonna-love/loathe scale). We ladies have had a tumultuous relationship with the material girl since she first flounced into our lives back in 1984. We may not buy her music anymore (maybe it’s just me, but I jumped ship around the time of “American Life,” her lowest-selling album to date). We may find some of M’s recent antics obnoxious (ahem — hydrangeas). But she’ll never stop reminding us of being young and carefree, “touched for the very first time.” And her occasional episodes of genuine humanness — like when she burst into tears while introducing her directorial movie effort, “W.E.” — just make us want to watch her even more.
2. And men will watch, too (albeit through half-covered eyes). Men, of course, have a different relationship with Madonna. Straight guys liked to look at her, especially in her late-’80s/early ‘90s physical prime, but many of them were freaked out by what she turned into as she grew older (and grew into a legend). In November 2011, Mads admitted as much to Harper’s Bazaar, saying that when she was younger, “straight men did not find me attractive…I think they were scared of me because I was different.”
Different, indeed — for many hetero guys, she’s just too confident and unpredictable, too sexually aggressive and, well, hard. (Remember when ex-husband Guy Ritchie reportedly described sleeping with Madonna as like “cuddling up to a piece of gristle”? Ouch.) That doesn’t mean dudes aren’t drawn to her, though — now in her fifties, she’s as magnetic as ever, just in a different way from the punky-ragamuffin sexiness that defined her early days.
Gay guys, of course, comprise a sizable portion of her fan base. For them, she could show up makeup-free, Botox-less, and wearing a Hefty bag — she’d still be revered. (Except by Domenick Scudera, a gay professor from Pennsylvania who, in January, penned a disapproving letter to Madge titled “A Letter To Madonna From A Concerned Gay.” Her crimes? Deeming Lady Gaga’s music “reductive,” calling funnyman host Ricky Gervais a “girl” at the Golden Globes, and making that damned movie, “W.E.”)
3. She still matters (i.e. she’s still interesting). She’s been around for nearly 30 years, that Madonna, and she’s still coming up with addictive pop hooks. She’s also getting paid insane amounts of money for them. In 2007, Live Nation signed M to a 10-year deal worth a reported $100 million – as part of that contract, her upcoming album “MDNA” is worth $40 million.
And that’s not all she’s doing. Our favorite go-getter is still selling out tour dates, writing children’s books, making movies, adopting orphans, producing a fashion line with her daughter, building schools in Malawi, being “the queen” of questionable spiritual practices, and sprouting sudden faux accents. In short, at 53 years old, Madonna’s still keeping really really busy, and she’s still selling us tons of stuff we don’t need (but keep buying). Can you think of another entertainer doing, well, so goddamn much? (Not that all of what Madonna does is good, but hey, as Mads herself sang, “nobody’s perfect.”)
4. She’d kill us for saying this, but she’s a living piece of history. Whatever nasty names you throw her way, there’s no denying the numbers: Madonna is the most successful female entertainer of all time. Sometimes we forget just how huge she is — because it feels like she’s always been around, hovering on the sidelines of our consciousness, growing and changing and reinventing as we, too, grow and change and reinvent. But because she’s been such a constant part of our lives since 1984, it’s easy to take for granted all the milestones she’s achieved. Chew on this: Madonna has sold more than 300 million records around the world. In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked Madonna at number two (only behind The Beatles,) on the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists; this made her the most successful solo artist in the history of the Billboard chart.
All this goes to show: Madonna’s still got that undefinable “it” — she’s as strong, dynamic, fresh, and controversial as ever, and she still has the talent and gumption to draw oodles of fans to whatever creative outlet she chooses. I, for one, can’t wait to see her draw millions upon millions of viewers at the Super Bowl. Even if she lip-syncs (sorry, Elton).
Laura Barcella is the editor of Madonna & Me, an anthology of women-penned essays about (you guessed it) Her Madgesty. The book comes out in March from Soft Skull Press. Pre-order it here, follow it on Twitter, and share your own Madonna memories via our Tumblr! You can find out more about Laura on her website.