Katy Perry, Water Rats, London
Madonna, Wembley Stadium, London

As this year's controversialist sparked mayhem at a pub gig, across town the original material girl was sounding, dare we say it, old

As any progressive-minded linguist will agree, meaning follows usage, not the other way around.

For example, I'm old enough to remember even older people saying "Gay used to mean happy...", and always blithely dismissed their objections. But, for a number of years, American youth has been using "gay" to mean "lame" or "weak", drawing a direct connection between those qualities and homosexuality. I'm standing in the way of this tide with a big "No Pasaran" placard, blocking the path of its latest instigator, Katy Perry.

Perry is a 23-year-old from California whose parents were pastors, and whose first album at the age of 16 was a Christian gospel record. It's worth holding this in mind when pondering the intentions behind her breakthrough song, "UR So Gay". The clumsy chorus goes "You're so gay and you don't even like boys", so it isn't directly an attack on homosexuality – but it is certainly a rancid piece of work, reinforcing a conservative ideal of masculinity with its attack on an indie/emo guy whose sins include not eating meat, being pale and skinny, listening to Mozart and reading Hemingway and, lord help us, wearing make-up.

Perry is in the UK to honour a tiny pub gig that was presumably booked before she went mega. It's surely the first time a tour bus this big has been parked on Gray's Inn Road, and the local chav kids have gathered outside the Water Rats to peer at the live feed on the television monitor inside.

She works a crowd that's 50 per cent fan club, 50 per cent cynical hacks like me, conducting the overhead handclaps. Capitol have wheeled out the big guns to hone the commercial viability of Perry's sound, which mainly consists of mainstream pop-rock in a Pink meets Kelly Clarkson meets the Go-Go's vein.

Her worldwide smash hit "I Kissed a Girl" is the inevitable finale. One doesn't know whether to be insulted by the idea that girl-on-girl action is still considered shocking, or irritated by the spectacle of faux-lez girls who are just, to borrow a phrase from Culture Club, kissing to be clever. On the other hand, Perry is addressing a culture (Middle America) whose idea of a woman gone a little wild is Shania Twain wearing men's shirts, so even baby-steps have to be applauded.

It's the cause for mild mayhem tonight, and the TV camera is ripped from the ceiling midway through, meaning that the chavs' free show is over. They aren't missing much. Ultimately, Katy Perry is Sarah Silverman with a guitar around her neck: a purported controversialist who, at the end of the day, is merely doing the dirty work of the Right.

Over at Wembley, another controversialist – returning to the scene of her cone-breasted prime – is cashing in. A nifty hydraulic video screen spells out C-A-N-D-Y against a backdrop of swirling sweets, a steel staircase is wheeled forward, and at the top, sprawled on a high-backed throne with one leg slung over the chair-arm, is Madonna.

Now, there was a time when having Madonna's crotch thrust in your face was many a young man's fantasy. In 2008, however, the spectacle has gone beyond Mrs Robinson and is nudging towards the wrongness level of the granny in Little Britain who gets snogged by David Walliams. But whatever your opinion of Madonna as a human being, as a pop star respect is due. Even if it's largely for things she did when Reagan was still in power.

The show is expensive enough. She rides a vintage white Rolls-Royce on to a catwalk, flanked by dancers dressed as anything from boxers to Da Vinci Code monks. Overhead, a cylindrical video screen is used to show Kanye West's duet parts, footage of starving peasants in Rajasthan, and a film of Madonna trapped inside a lift.

But money can't buy you charm. If there's one thing you'd expect Madonna to have learned after 25 years in showbusiness it's how to rouse an audience, but aside from feeble appeals like, "Alright London, are you ready to rock the house with DJ Eric Jao?", she barely bothers. Clearly, the dazzling wow-it's-Madonna factor is supposed to be enough.

Much of the show involves showing off her gym-hardened physique, as she Cossack-dances, humps the floor, and flails her hair around like a Pan's Person. There's a boxing ring for "Die Another Day" and skipping ropes for "Into the Groove". All of which renders her already-hackneyed 20th-century clichés of erotica (leather, lace, boots, canes) even less attractive.

Down on Bobby Moore Way, drunken women with northern accents, all of them £70 lighter, trickle towards the Tube, singing the unperformed "Material Girl". They didn't get what they want. Somewhere inside the stadium, the Material Girl herself, several thousand £70s heavier, rests her biceps. She, as always, gets what she wants.

Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices