Watching the video of Madonna latching her maw onto October’s Very Own during the closing set of Coachella’s opening weekend, I wondered which wizened mythical creature made the best analogy. Vampire was overdone, succubus wasn’t popular enough and leech was too mundane. So it had to be...
Yet as identikit headlines began to dribble in from various news outlets, the joke soured. Every report focused on Drake’s abject horror, but rather than discussing the fifty shades of grey surrounding the act of forcing yourself on another human, the media went straight for the loose skin hanging around Madonna’s jugular because, ew gross, she’s old.
Ageism in the music industry is often overlooked, primarily because it’s been such an effective force that there’s barely any elderly female performers left to whinge about. Of course, you won’t find Pharrell (42), Jay Z (45), David Guetta (47), or even statesmen like Brian Ferry (69) or Keith Richards (71) kicking up a stink about age discrimination in the entertainment world. That’s probably because they’re not subject to constant jibes about "appropriate behaviour" and malicious memes that make references to Grandmas and pensions. That’s because men mature and women decay, and 50 currently seems be the invisible stretch mark that separates "popstars" from "divas".
Once deemed a diva, you’ve been officially put out to pasture. You can still enjoy lucrative Las Vegas residency contracts and being treated with awed reverence from the youths, but you also have to relinquish all rights to artistic creativity or, heavan forbid, sexual provocation. Any attempts to make reference to the heat you’re packing down there will be met by gentle attempts to coax you back into your wheelchair. “Going doolally, the poor thing” the world croons, four nurses implacably holding down your thrashing career while a genial GP empties a syringe into the withered sales numbers of your latest LP. “A few benign ballads and you’ll be right as rain.”
Particularly galling in the case of The Kiss were the immediate stream of comments that claimed “if Drake did that to Madonna, he’d be called a pervert. Disgusting.” That was one Vice reader’s opinion, and it could be found echoed across Twitter and almost every related article's comments section. Let’s be honest, if Drake, 28, had laid a fat one on Madonna the headlines would have been more along the lines of "Drake Steals Sneaky Snog As Sun Sets On Coachella" because Drake’s entire shtick is the acquiring of ass, preferably BBW according to the man himself. To be smooched by the 6 God would have been portrayed by the press as a blessing, particularly if it was magnanimously bestowed upon a lonely and pathetic old woman. Maybe it could count as community service, right?
Interestingly, Madonna’s appearance was staged to mimic the infamous coda of Nicki Minaj’s "Anaconda" video, a set up that saw Drake receive a teasing lap dance from his Barbie before she sauntered off, leaving him with an apparently terminal case of blue balls. In that instance, Nicki was celebrated for the power and sexual control she held over Wheelchair Jimmy. Nobody threw accusations of desperation Nicki’s way and follow up single "Only" went on to tease the pairing further. Lines like "I never fucked Nicki cause she got a man / But when that's over then I'm first in line" made it clear that Drake was fully endorsing the possibility of his oVo entering her Minaj.
Madge’s actions during the Coachella set were pure Nicki. And yet she is prohibited from claiming her artistic property because we cannot handle the concept of an older woman getting off on something. Madonna herself is acutely aware of the looks she’s receiving. Speaking to Rolling Stone in February, she said:
"No one would dare to say a degrading remark about being black or dare to say a degrading remark on Instagram about someone being gay. But my age – anybody and everybody would say something degrading to me. And I always think to myself, why is that accepted? What's the difference between that and racism, or any discrimination? They're judging me by my age. I don't understand. I'm trying to get my head around it. Because women, generally, when they reach a certain age, have accepted that they're not allowed to behave a certain way. But I don't follow the rules. I never did, and I'm not going to start."
Perhaps this distaste for old Madge stems not from her age but because the quality of her music has taken a serious nosedive since her Ray Of Light golden era. The argument is often proffered that she should step back and let a new generation have a go. But the new generation don’t need Madonna to step back, her presence does not park the bus on cultural progression. Popular music has expanded to encompass voices as disparate as Ed Sheeran and Le1f; there’s room for everyone if they have something to shout about. Sure, a lot of what Madge does involves cribbing the ideas of younger more innovative stars, but it shouldn't pass without equal attention to hype new artists like Samantha Urbani and Shura who clearly pull heavy pop references from '84-era Madonna. Listen to "Indecision" below and tell me you don't hear the ghost of "Holiday" grinning through the chords.
Madonna’s certainly not run out of ideas just yet - have you actually listened to Rebel Heart? It's undoubtedly flawed, but shows that Madonna is capable of a few genuinely great moments (how could she not be with credits like Diplo, Kanye West, Nicki and Avicii on the record). Plus, tracks like "Bitch I’m Madonna" evidenced an exciting grasp of contemporary pop, thanks to a sprinkling of PC Music magic courtesy of SOPHIE. When Drake jumps on a monster hit, it’s referred to as ‘co-signing’ and commended for his support of up-and-coming artists. The FADER rightly pointed out the move is just another way to build his own profile as a musician. Is Madonna doing anything different?
Madonna isn't a saint, she's been repeatedly criticised for her crude cultural appropriation and instances of offending her gay fanbase with ill-chosen words. Yet she is a prevalent example of the shelf life we ascribe to our female pop stars. What happened at Coachella could have been a chance to have a quick chat about consent (although Drake's Instagram post that night suggests he didn't feel too victimised), but instead it was hijacked by our sexist and ageist attitudes towards musicians. My Dementor joke revealed that I’m as much as perpetrator of this prejudice as the content elves over at Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail grotto. Go ahead, criticise Madonna, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
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