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Why Madonna Still Matters

In Culture, Music
Forever young? Madonna performs at HP Pavilion Oct. 6 and Oct. 7

Forever young? Madonna performs at HP Pavilion Oct. 6 and Oct. 7

Madonna IS, for better or worse, regarded (both high and low) as the Queen of Pop, and, contrary to popular belief, the title does mimic the sound her veiny arms make when stuffed in cheerleading garb, flailing left to right. One gets the very real sense when looking at Madonna in 2k12 that we have in every way reached the endpoint of the 1980s. Where once one was speechless looking at ol’ Madge, a single phrase comes to mind when seeing her now: “It has literally come to this.”

She is, however, still Madonna, and she’s still coming to San Jose for a two-night stand at HP Pavilion, Oct. 6-7, and in the same way that parental advice may not hold the same weight it once did but nevertheless remains at least peripherally relevant, Madonna endures, cementing her place as pop-culture’s slightly enjoyable mosquito bite.

In honor of the queen’s arrival, a moment must be spared (just one) to truly digest what exactly it is that Madonna represents in the vacuum of contemporary culture. Because, as you’re likely to be reminded—often by Madonna herself—she has opened doors for many young people with vaginas and a desire to sing.

The door is also often left ajar for spores of the sincere flattery of imitation (valid or not—here’s looking at you, Lady Gaga, also coming to San Jose, on Jan. 17), but any comparisons seem moot: There will never be a “new Madonna,” because there will never again be a moment like the one when Madonna came into prominence. She is so purely the byproduct of her era that discussions of originality are almost wholly aimless.

For instance, believe it or not, Gen Zers, there was a time in which the ironic appropriation of religious imagery was actually a big deal. As in people actually cared. As in affiliates of the Catholic Church actually protested. Now it’s just this side of yawn-inducing (at least in the West), with everyone flipping a cross upside-down as a way of making a statement.

Even Madonna is still beating her own sacrificed horse to death; her current MDNA Tour features cathedral set design and some holy cooing that may be more the result of bad acoustics than aesthetic intention. Either way, Madonna (whose own name stands as a sort of self-fulfilled prophecy) was one of the first to really push the buttons of all who love that Birkenstock-wearing-long-haired hippie.

True, she wasn’t alone. The 1980s was the time when scorned Catholic kids grew up and started putting their religious resentment in their art (Bruce Springsteen completely; the Cure maybe in part). But Madonna did it first, did it best and literally won’t stop doing it, so some sort of praise must be given as a way of shutting her up.

She’s elsewhere too, namely any heinous “’80s-themed” party that a friend made you attend. Walk in and feast your eyes on the striking binary: vague neon for the men; eclectic mixing for the women. The whole “throw-and-see-what-sticks” fashion style—which ended up turning into “throw-and-everything-sticks”—was at least partially constructed by the pop star.

I’d like to say also that the word “star” in the previous sentence was autocorrected to “store,” and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the current state and inherent nature of pop and music and culture, then I don’t know what does.

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