Let me preface by saying that I am a huge fan of pop music. I grew up obsessing over everyone from the Spice Girls to Sugar Jones, and while my musical taste has significantly changed since my preteen years, my appreciation for the smart and empowered females in pop has not. Take one look at Ellie Goulding or Lykke Li and you’ll see that there are a lot of amazing things going on in the genre. All that aside, I’ve got a bone to pick with none other than the queen of pop, Madonna.
Thought she was once the most envied woman in music, a slew of recent events has made me realize that Madonna has lost what used to make her special.
First of all, her newest album is called MDNA. I realize that it’s trendy these days to exclude vowels from words (there’s DJ heavyweights MSTRKRFT, and up-and-comer MNDR, to name a few), so it could be her way of trying to connect with a younger audience—but the title ends with an A, so that excuse is out. For most young people, the first thing that comes to mind when this title is spelled out M-D-N-A is the popular drug (often taken before electronic music shows) MDMA. Coincidence? Maybe. But somehow I doubt it.
At Miami’s Ultra Music Festival back in March, Madonna made what DJ/producer Paul van Dyk called “the biggest mistake of her career.” When introducing festival headliner and popular Swedish DJ Avicii, Madonna asked the audience of over 50,000, “How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?” Molly is a slang term for the drug ecstasy, so asking that question made it seem like Madonna was approving drug use at electronic music concerts (which, especially considering the all-ages festival, was pretty dumb). Then, when Canadian DJ/producer Joel Zimmerman, better known as Deadmau5, took to Twitter to call her a “fucking idiot,” she took to her own Twitter account, tweeting, “I don’t support drug use and I never have. I was referring to the song called ‘Have You Seen Molly’ written by my friend Cedric Gervais who I almost worked with on my last album.” Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
At a July concert in Paris, Madonna depicted French right-wing politician Marine Le Pen on a big screen with a swastika across her forehead. Though Le Pen’s father and predecessor at the National Front, Jean-Marie, was a widely known (and convicted) racist and anti-Semite, Marine vowed to reform the party when she took over last year. Showing the politician with a Nazi symbol on her forehead was incredibly distasteful, not to mention misinformed. Madonna pulled the same stunt at a show in Israel, which I—as a Jew who has been to the country multiple times—think is awful. The swastika is not a symbol I take lightly, and seeing it thrown around without much thought or sensitivity is upsetting. Even if someone is anti-Semitic, portraying them as a Nazi is extreme.
Finally, earlier this month at a show in Denver, Colorado, Madonna used fake gunshots during her song “Gang Bang“ (I won’t even touch that title). This is the same state in which The Dark Knight Rises movie theatre shooting happened in July, killing 12. The fake gunshots during “Gang Bang” (a song which includes the line, “shot my lover in the head,”) upset many concertgoers who are still recovering from that tragic shooting. A few months prior to the Denver concert, the 54-year-old released a letter to Billboard explaining that her show is the journey “of a soul from darkness to light” and that while she doesn’t condone guns or violence, she uses them as metaphors for “wanting to appear strong and wanting to find a way to stop feelings that [she finds] hurtful or damaging.” So waving fake guns around with fake shots being fired in the background is Madonna’s way of trying “to stop the lies and hypocrisy of the church.” Okay, then.
There are so many better ways to use one’s celebrity to grab attention for the greater good. Take, for example, this recent video, which features stars like Lena Dunham, Tavi Gevinson, and Alexa Chung. A montage of inspired females lip-syncing to Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” the video stands up to some of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s policies, namely his intention to defund Planned Parenthood. It’s a simple, tasteful, effective way for women in positions of power to use their attention for something good. Take notes, Madge.
Trying to bounce back from the Marine Le Pen swastika fiasco at another Paris concert later the same month (where she reportedly only played for 45 minutes with no encore despite tickets being sold for up to 200 Euros), Madonna said to the crowd, “I have a special affinity with France, and I have for many years. It could go all the way to Napoleon because I think of myself as a revolutionary.” But the thing is, she’s no longer a revolutionary. Everything Madonna once stood for has disappeared; the Like A Virgin sexual empowerment and Like A Prayer religious provocation she used to defend has basically crumbled. The things Madonna did for pop music and for women in the height of her career runs the risk of being forgotten if she doesn’t stop trying so hard to make headlines. Everything she does now seems desperate, a pathetic attempt at staying relevant, staying hip, staying in the spotlight. I am all for stirring the pot and causing a ruckus, but it needs to be done for the right reasons. Madonna calls herself a revolutionary like Napoleon, but the only resemblance I see between the two of them is that she too is a small human trying way too hard to appear mighty.
This article has been edited.