Tidal is the Regina George of music streaming services. With a “You can’t sit with us” mentality—even when you do make it to the table, it taxes you immensely. No wonder it’s where the “cool kids” sit: Jay Z, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Arcade Fire, Jack White et al. And wherever the cool kids are these days, that’s exactly where you’ll find Madonna. Even though Madonna was a pop culture trendsetter in her prime, she’s now a needy tag along, cloyingly keen to assert her relevance by the company she keeps. At least that’s how I saw it, until she released the video for “Bitch I’m Madonna.”
When I heard she had a song called “Bitch I’m Madonna,” my first thought thought was “of course she does.” My second was that the title of the track needed a comma after the “Bitch”—which I still think is necessary—but that’s just me being pedantic about commas. When I heard the song featured vocals by Nicki Minaj, and cameo appearances by Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Rita Ora and Beyoncé, I was even more convinced that this would be one more misstep in the saga that is Madonna’s attempt to be forever 21. And for the most part, it is, but it works—which is was the last thing I expected.
Even though the basic premise of video is pretty much a straight rip-off of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” I’m not even mad. Mostly because Madonna’s cameo-heavy, montage-y video is better. It’s more fun, more self aware, and weirdly, less try-hard. Although, that’s generally the number one criticism I’ll level at Madonna in this latter part of her career: that she’s posing as something she’s intrinsically not. Here, she’s Taylor Swift, surrounded by a gaggle of high profile, rich, powerful women. Except that she’s not Taylor Swift. She’s Madonna. For the most part, I’ve never really understood the militant offense people take to the adaptation of ideas. Intellectual property theft is one thing (a criminal act), but seeing something good, emulating and updating it, is pop culture in a nutshell.
Meanwhile, I’ve got no beef with a model of music video that gets groups of women together for the same end. We sincerely need to see less competition and more women supporting one another, and when women like Madonna and Beyoncé, who are among pop's true immortals, hold the door open to their Goddess-like legacies, embracing those who are only just starting to build empires, it’s a real power play for the fierce female-driven direction pop has been trending towards. For women, using one’s iconography to perpetuate it in others is just as important as being an icon. It’s the “tide rises, all boats float” principle of feminism, and pop-feminism’s trickle down effect into a broader cultural reality becomes far more powerful if we can get all the boats floating.
Madonna dressed like she’s a 20-something emotional trainwreck looking to snort coke with her gay friends and bang musicians with chiseled jawlines in leather jackets is nothing new. What is new is Madonna actually pulling it off. And she might not have if it weren’t for three little magic words: “Bitch I’m Madonna.” The last time we had a clarion call like this in a pop song was when Beyonce declared herself “Flawless,” which was almost universally embraced as being a one word manifesto for self-confidence. Beyoncé let us say, “Hey, I’m perfect.” That’s Beyoncé’s schtick—perfection—and she does it perfectly. It seems that Madonna only just now realized what her shtick is. It’s not being subversive or pioneering anymore: It’s simply being Madonna.
Even though she didn’t manage to get Katy, Bey, or Miley in the same room as her to shoot the video, she still got them in her video. And she got them to mime “Bitch I’m Madonna,” along with Rita Ora, Alexander Wang, Chris Rock, Calvin Harris, and even Kanye West. That’s monumental. And I happen to think it’s a more powerful call to arms than “Flawless.” I don’t mean to pit Madonna against Beyoncé—as obviously the two are allies—rather, I think it takes the message in a more easily attainable, and indeed, positive direction.
Sure, proclaiming “I’m Madonna” seems incredibly specific, except that it’s not. Coming out of the mouth of Madonna it means one thing. It means: Yeah I’m going to dress like it’s 1982 and I’m going to dance badly and you’re going to think I’m far too old for this shit, but who are you anyway? Because I’m Madonna; I’ll do as I please. She’s putting this latter half of her career’s age-shamers in their place. And coming out of Miley, Katy and everyone else's mouths it goes further than that. It says: We are who we are because of Madonna. And also that we are individuals, so when we sing it in the club, or into the mirror as we dance about our bedrooms, we’re saying “Bitch I’m Kat” or Amy, or Heather, or Leah. We’re not flawless anymore. We are who we are, and by virtue of being that person we have an implicit mandate to present ourselves how we want without judgment. It’s an anthem for individualism and acceptance—more than even Gaga’s “Born This Way." Rather, it's “I am this way.”
“Bitch I’m Madonna” helps to perpetuate the notion that we are all Madonna—that is to say, a bunch of weirdos aging under near-constant scrutiny, but that doesn’t mean we should stop doing as we do. And the song itself, after all Madonna’s horrible attempted dance floor anthems in this, what she refuses to let be the twilight of her career, is oddly catchy. Even pleasantly catchy. Meanwhile, shout out to Nicki Minaj’s verse, which is a reminder that when Nicki raps, Nicki raps.
So what does it mean to be Madonna? Being Madonna means you can be whatever you want. We must never forget: Madonna made it possible for all the “bitches” in pop to be able to say “Bitch I’m Miley,” “Bitch I’m Beyoncé,” “Bitch I’m Nicki,” “Bitch I’m Katy,” Madonna did that. Madonna gave women in pop sexuality, but more than that, she pioneered the way for women in pop to say, nay, demand: “This is how you will see my sex.” Miley wears nipple pasties and awkwardly humps things and surrounds herself with “alternative” sex because Madonna made that world for her. So when we ask, “What does it mean to be Madonna?” the answer is simple: It means whatever Madonna says it means.
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