Madonna has again been criticised on her world tour, this time for endorsing Obama at New Orleans concert and imploring fans to vote for him.
After a string of stories that involve Madonna causing controversy on tour, some have accused the singer of using politically motivated comments and controversial moves just to stay in the press.
But is her current MDNA tour any different from her others? Does the singer seem desperate to stay in the headlines? David Newbury and Charlie Alderwick debate.
Yes: Madonna is divisive in the name of outrage
“You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France? Royale with Cheese.”
The subtle differences in cultures must be catered for to sell an idea. Whether it is reconstituted meat, or artistic endeavour, its sales push needs to be flexible, especially when the product being peddled is throwaway pop music.
Madonna, once the skilled princess in manipulating perceptions to shock and enthral, has lost the skilled tweaking of self-reinvention and turned her MDNA tour into a folly of troubling naivety.
Rock stars are meant to shock, they revel in metaphor and imagination while deploying a deep irony. Marilyn Manson always came across as an emo-satanic fascist, but this was merely edgy titillation.
Being a pop-star, Madge has no conception of such subtleties. Superimposing the image of French National Front leader Marine Le Pen with a swastika, in Tel Aviv of all places, serves one purpose, to provoke.
When Madonna is divisive in the name of outrage, she quickly sacrifices any notion of sincerity. This weekend she told fans in New Orleans to vote for Barack Obama only to back-track and cushion herself on the fence when greeted by a barrage of boos. This wavering support comes off the back her bizarrely calling Obama a “black Muslim in the White House.”
As a pop singer from the 80s being abreast of politics of religion may not be her forté, but working with an audience should be. With millions of dollars spent on a stage show, the crowd should be amazed throughout. However, in Istanbul she resorted to flashing her breasts to energise the crowd without deliberating the country's strong religious leaning. It is desperate times when 54-year-old woman needs to resort to soft porn.
Unforgivable though, is Madonna’s absence of decency and compassion. Her live show utilises guns and shootings with shock and gore blood splatterings on the screen. It is the kind if imagery fans were subject to in Colorado, a city reeling from spate of shootings including the unsolved murder of a 10-year-old-girl.
A genuine pop show needs to be flexible to avoid such tastelessness, otherwise giving everyone the same identikit show indicates a blatant disregard for legacy her fans cling to.
Madonna’s insistence in making provocative moves is indicative of her deluded place in the world. A pop-star of Madonna’s reputation should be seeking attention, but they should command it through brilliant pop songs which evolve with the fans.
David Newbury is a freelance music and arts journalist.
No: It's all part of her job
Asking if Madonna is attention seeking is like asking if George Osborne is an economist - highly debatable, but either way it ought to be part of the job description. ‘Attention seeking’ is just a negative rephrasing of the pushing of people’s buttons that a quality pop career always involves. It's part of her job. Sexually explicit book of photography, black Jesus, masturbating on stage, throwing a grenade at a Bush look-a-like, self-crucifixion on a mirror-ball cross, kissing Britney Spears. Ring any bells? Madonna has never shirked her attention seeking duties in the past.
Now, the use of guns the Colorado show must have struck people as an unfortunate reminder of very real and very recent events. Of the things Madonna has been criticised for lately, this slips lower on the defensibility scale than a cheeky nipple-flash. The trouble is, apart from a few spontaneous performances, a high-production pop show like MDNA is so tightly choreographed that there is little room for tinkering, let alone cutting the two fan favourites Revolver (a top 10 hit in some of the countries Madonna visits) and Gang Bang which are lyrically themed around guns. The violent staging of these numbers is not just to seek attention - it’s the obvious way to present material that has been written about dark and violent emotions, or in Madonna’s words “the pain I have felt from having my heart broken.” Should Madonna apologise? Possibly.
Another story which attracted adverse attention was when Madonna expressed her appreciation for Obama thus: “We have a black Muslim in the white-house.” Her excuse was that she was being facetious, presumably poking fun at the ignorance of many Americans who do seem to believe that you’re either a cowboy or a Muslim. I see no compelling reason to doubt this, given that Madonna is a long-term Obama supporter, going out with a Muslim man, and basically not an idiot. But it’s true her voice didn’t exactly ring with sarcasm at that moment. Perhaps Madonna called Obama a Muslim for the same reason she said “We love you, Poland,” half way through her Hyde Park show. Perhaps she is going mad. I mean, we’ll just never know. Should Madonna apologise? Given her apparent reasons, probably not.
Then there is the branding of Marine Le Pen’s face with a swastika in a video montage. Le Pen is a woman who has made little attempt to publicly distance herself from her racist and anti-Semitic father. She heads a political party with a not-too-distant history rife with Islamophobia and Holocaust denial. Should Madonna apologise for implying a link with Nazism? Absolutely not.
And as she sings every other night in her song Human Nature, she probably isn’t sorry. This tour is no more controversial than those in Madonna’s past. Perhaps people’s resentment of her continued success is what drives her critics, but if you ask me there is nothing new here. Madonna is doing now what she has always done better than anyone - however, as I recently argued, while Madonna grows older the combined curses of ageism and misogyny increasingly blind people to her talent.
‘Attention seeking’ has bought Madonna both her death threats and her colossal fame, it’s the reason people love and hate her. As attention seeking goes Madonna is a complete pro. Why stop when you’re on a roll?
Charlie Alderwick is a freelance writer and musician living in London