LIVE VIDEO: WTLV Live Video_1    Watch
 
 
 

With 2012 tour, Madonna's critics grow louder

5:58 AM, Nov 7, 2012   |    comments
Madonna performs during her concert in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo: Alexander Demianchuk, AP)
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +
  • FILED UNDER

First Coast News Apps

Get the FCN APPS

- Weather: Android | iPhoneiPad
- News: AndroidiPhone | Mobile Web
- Political Florida: Android | iPhone/iPad
  Windows Phone | Mobile Web

- Deal Chicken: Android | iPhone | Mobile Web

 

Can Madonna still command pop culture?

As the Michigan native winds into the final stretch of her world tour this week in Detroit, the question has begun to linger. The occasional whispers have turned into regular chatter: Are we starting to see cracks in Madonna's power, her judgment, her -- GASP! -- relevance?

That charge isn't new. When you spend decades on the pop-music throne, queen of the style-setters, you get used to the haters around the corner and the target on your back. Longtime fans will note that critics have been cranking out boneheaded Madonna-is-finished stories since her second album.

But 2012 does seem to be the year the doubts -- coupled with a series of odd stumbles by Madonna herself -- have converged into a new sort of cloud. And if it's not quite overshadowing her public persona, it's certainly been lurking nearby.
On this there is no doubt: When it comes to moving albums and concert tickets, Madonna is no spent force. MDNA, released in March, was her fifth consecutive U.S. chart-topper, selling nearly 360,000 copies for her best opening week in 12 years.
It followed a much-hyped Super Bowl performance in February watched by 116 million Americans, according to Nielsen -- more viewers than the game itself.

When the media began buzzing in the spring that her upcoming MDNA Tour was underperforming at the box office, a LiveNation bigwig hit Billboard with a litany of supersized stats to refute the claim. Strong ticket sales -- now 1.9 million worldwide, the company said Friday -- have put MDNA on track to join Madonna's 2008 tour among history's top 10.
Most shows on the tour have sold out, with average attendance of 33,200, according to Pollstar.

And reports from the road have been solid: At 54, reviewers say, Madonna is in stunningly good shape, limber and lithe as she delivers a two-hour performance with sizzle and poise. She's loyal to her latest music, loading up the set with "MDNA" songs and avoiding a routine greatest-hits show.

Still, it's been hard to miss the discontent. The MDNA Tour has been accompanied by a steady drumbeat of negative reports -- and not the standard schoolmarm scolding that has always come Madonna's way. This time she's felt the wrath of diehard backers.

Some had already been disappointed by the new album, particularly the fluffy leadoff single Give Me All Your Luvin'. Now they were getting vocal. At an exclusive Paris theater show in July, Madonna angered French fan-club members -- some who had waited 30 hours -- when she ducked out after a quick 49-minute set. One French paper summed up fan sentiment: "An Evening in Hell," read the Le Figaro headline.

Some in France already had a beef with Madonna, who had plastered a swastika onto a photo of right-wing politician Marine Le Pen during a Paris stadium show.

That move drew charges of clunkiness from one of Madonna's biggest champions: culture scholar Camille Paglia, who two decades earlier helped elevate Madonna's name in intellectual circles.

"Why impose ideology in an artistic setting? I think it's gimmicky," Paglia told Joy Behar in October. "I wish Madonna could age as gracefully as Marlene (Dietrich) did. ... There was a dignity to the aging Dietrich that Madonna unfortunately lacks."
Madonna, once celebrated by Paglia as a paragon of female empowerment and cultural savvy, had now "lost the instinct for performance," Paglia said. "I think she's straining for effect."

Days later came reports from Madonna's concert in New Orleans, where she endured boos and walkouts after urging fans to vote for President Barack Obama on Election Day. She'd already had to clarify a September comment describing him as "a black Muslim," which she defended as irony.

Artists join backlash. That Madonna has endured this long is a feat in itself. In modern pop culture, it's rare for anyone to enjoy three decades of staying power, let alone well into middle age. Just being part of the 2012 conversation is a testament to Madonna's sharp cultural sensors, which have helped her seamlessly navigate trends while nudging them in new directions, reinventing herself along the way. But perhaps the signal is getting a little fuzzy.

When her tour debuted in the spring with a medley of Express Yourself and Lady Gaga's Born This Way -- a song Madonna had already labeled "reductive" -- many figured she was trying to pick a fight with the young star. Gaga's response? Picking fights is passe: "We're in a new place in society now, aren't we?" she said. "Things are really different now than they were 25 years ago."

Call it passive-aggressive if you want, but the dig is clear: Gaga is the new breed, and the new breed has no time for old customs.

There have been other missteps. When Madonna touted a street term for ecstasy during her March set at Miami's Ultra Music Festival, she was publicly blasted by some in the dance-music community for linking the scene to drug use.
A sardonic tweet from popular DJ Deadmau5 -- "hey, at least yer HIP AND TRENDY!" -- came with an implicit message: Madonna was an interloper in someone else's territory, clumsily stumbling around, unable to accurately read its cultural signposts.

Of course, Madonna has long been a lightning rod for criticism, and playing the provocateur is in her bone marrow. But it's one thing to get harangued by Tipper Gore for sexual imagery. It's something else altogether to be slated as out of touch by a fashionable young artist.

In the '80s and '90s, Madonna's detractors only supplied her with fuel: Each high-profile lashing was like a bullet scar on a rapper's chest -- a wound that helped sell subversion, with controversy as the calling card.
But the recent outcries mark a different sort of backlash, a shift in the playing field. The attacks from diehard fans, public boosters and fellow artists reveal a new perception: Going after Madonna comes with less risk. She no longer dictates the terms of the game.

What they shouldn't do, however, is count her out. Thirty years as pop music's alpha female weren't an accident, and the last time Madonna was accused of slumping -- back in the mid-1990s -- she came roaring back with the game-changing albums Ray of Light and Music.

After all, there are few things pop culture loves more than a good comeback story. And there are few who understand pop culture more than Madonna.

Detroit Free Press

Most Watched Videos