People to watch this month: Ma-freaking-donna
“If you’d ever seen me perform, you could see that I can’t do this when I’m 40. It would be ridiculous.” A film exec’s office, a pop starlet begging for the chance to act, 1984.
Only a non-actor would think that would offer improved job security. Madonna won the lead role in Desperately Seeking Susan, and so brilliantly played the part of Madonna playing Madonna playing Susan that whether it counts as acting is debatable.
It may not surprise critics of Madonna’s acting, or indeed voice, that she started out as a dancer. A good dancer — she won a dance scholarship to Michigan University. Encouraged by her ballet teacher, who introduced her to the transgressive glamour of Detroit’s gay club culture that would influence so much of her later work, she bailed in 1978 to move to New York.
Working at Dunkin’ Donuts by day and dancing by night, she eventually landed a backup spot on the world tour of someone called Patrick Hernández, who hopefully enjoyed his brief time being more famous than Madonna.
Synonymous with reinvention, her aesthetic has seen more dramatic changes than the Labour leadership.
A club act with her brother led to her first singles, and the rest is pop history. She’s the highest-selling female artist ever, has featured in 21 films and had more top-10 hits than Elvis, although, to be fair, she’s had a few more years to do it in. Unlike Elvis, she writes her own songs. Her impact on pop culture was studied at universities as early as the 90s; now you can major in Madonna, although what you’d then do for a job is uncertain.
Synonymous with reinvention, her aesthetic has seen more dramatic changes than the Labour leadership. From fishnet gloves to conical bras and various incarnations of Marilyn Monroe, she was also influenced by legendary shapeshifter David Bowie; his was the first concert she ever saw, and she sang “Rebel Rebel” in tribute when he died. Like Bowie, she is a scandalous rebel by trade; she burnt the crosses of her Catholic childhood, was uncompromisingly hairy of armpit 30 years before Miley, and now simply refuses to grow old.
Take the pink leotard of 2005’s “Hung Up”. In defiance of her then 47 years, she danced the video like a teenager. With trademark tenacity, she did it in agony, with eight broken bones from a horseriding accident a few weeks before. It was worth it: “Hung Up” is one of the highest-selling singles of all time.
When the controversial “Like A Prayer” topped the charts in New Zealand, youth show 3:45 Live ran a competition to win a replica of Madonna’s dress from the video, presumably the only time a brown frock has sent a nation’s parents into conniptions. If the dress ever turns up on Trade Me there will be a battle. The iconic jacket from Desperately Seeking Susan recently sold for a quarter of a million dollars; someone somewhere has finally nailed their Madonna outfit.
She may have once desperately sought to be Susan, but the part Madonna felt born to play was Evita, dictatrix of Argentina and tragic pseudo-saint. It was the role that finally won her critical success as an actress.
Eva Péron’s rise to fame echoes Madonna’s — a determined girl working her way up through the light- entertainment circuit, doing whatever or whoever it takes to succeed, finally getting to watch the grovelling of every sneering critic who called her a talentless tart. Madonna has not yet managed to helm a country and become its pet saint, but then, she’s only 57 — and far from ridiculous.
Madonna, Rebel Heart Tour, Vector Arena, March 5 & 6. ticketmaster.co.nz
Main image: Getty.