I’ve always liked Madonna. That’s not really a deep admission or anything, but amid her increasingly poor reputation, failed ventures into Hollywood, and just generally embarrassing behavior, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of the obvious that Madonna’s music is just good on its own merits. And who better to remind us of that than Thurston Moore….. wait wut?
Okay, so to understand why one of the most uncommercial, prestigious, and pretentious indie rock bands is giving interviews to The Guardian simping for Madonna, it helps to look at where Madonna comes from artistically. Unfortunately, I can’t do that because Madonna has repeatedly maintained her legal right to “tell her own story,” as it were. Yes, any biopic about her life is going to be written and directed by one woman only, and that woman is Madonna. On the one hand, it seems a little narcissistic, on the other hand, she’s been an aspiring director for years, and there is a big trend of musician biopics right now about so fair enough. However, the censure on high-profile accounts of Madonna’s life means that there is very little information on her artistic beginnings that hasn’t been run through this very narrow filter of “A Star is Born,” style romanticization.
Okay, so why care about that? The world is hardly aching for more information about Madonna’s personal affairs, she leads one of the most well-documented lives in human history. Well, despite the public obsession with nearly every aspect of Madonna’s life, I don’t really think we consider her music in much detail. Music critics practically fall over themselves to declare every new pop album is high art, but there are some musical figures that are a little too larger than life. What value is there in analyzing Madonna? You might as well critically review the hamburger or the idea of the social media, it’s just a de facto part of our culture, with no positive or negative value attached to it. However, our impressions of these things (and yes in this context Madonna has unfortunately become a thing) may not be accurate, and this is where that Thurston Moore interview comes in.
According to Moore, Madonna did not appear from the void into stardom, she was an active member of the New York City art scene for years before mainstream success hit her. Her name was Madonna Ciccone, she lived a normal insufferable starving artist lifestyle, and she was in a band with the original backing members of Swans. Swans, if your unfamiliar, at the time were a band of angry noise bros growling about sexual assault atop two chords. This contradicts Madonna’s public image in a way that is both flattering and unhelpful. Her career has been based on a tightly controlled perception that she is the new Marylyn Monroe, a woman catapulted to fame from humble origins on beauty and star power alone. Many people might see Madonna more sympathetically knowing that she created a variety of music and chose to make dance-pop intentionally, but being sympathetic and being sellable are two different things, and it can often benefit someone more to play an unsympathetic archetype. I can’t predict the future, but based on the BBC article, I’d be surprised if these details make it into her new picture.
So why did I bring all this up, was it just a long-winded excuse to talk about a personal diva of mine for five hundred words? Yes. Yes, it was, but to leave you with my ill-considered and probably incorrect thoughts on the world around us. I think it’s important to remember that celebrities maintain intense control over their public image. This is a rare case when a celebrity might, in some small way, be covering up something endearing about themselves, but obviously, this is not the norm. A biopic about Madonna, Freddie Mercury, or Elton John will only represent a very narrow window into that person’s life, and an even narrower window into their art. Celebrities, even dead ones, maintain very tight controls on their own personal stories.