You’ve probably seen or heard about it by now. At the most recent Brit Awards, a little-known singer named Madonna gave the night’s closing performance. Less than thirty seconds after she began singing, Madonna was dragged down a flight of stairs due to a cape malfunction. And of course, because this is the age of the internet, people starting talking about it. Some have been supportive, praising Madonna’s ability to pick up where she left off in her act. Others have suggested that she might want to stop wearing capes, or revealing outfits—or just stop performing altogether.
Out of all the criticisms that Madonna has faced throughout her career, the two most repeated ones in the last ten years have to do with what she’s wearing and her age. “She’s old.” “Time to retire.” “Learn to age gracefully.” These comments seem to be less of a reflection of Madonna as an artist, and more of a look into the unspoken rules of society, particularly the rules assigned to females. It seems that the majority of people don’t have a problem when performers like Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop, 71 and 67 respectively, dance around in skintight clothing or go shirtless while singing. And why should there be criticism? Both are giants in the music industry, incredibly fit, and clearly enjoy performing. They shouldn’t need to alter their style just because they are no longer in their twenties. But, as is the case with many things in life, the “rules” for females are different. Yes, women in the media are allowed to be relevant and sexual—but only until a certain age. The exact age at which female performers should “act their age” remains unclear, which is where Madonna fits into all of this.
As anyone who has followed any part of her career knows, being provocative has always been interwoven into Madonna’s artistry. Yes, sexuality is part of this, but it is not the only thing that Madonna has fought for. She’s also been open about her views on safe sex, LGBTQ rights, the flaws in the Catholic church, AIDS awareness, spirituality, and females taking control of their lives. While none of these ideas are really that shocking today, one must remember that at the time Madonna was voicing her beliefs, such views were not only controversial, but potentially damaging to one’s career. Madonna went ahead and said it anyway.
Over thirty years later, she’s still causing controversy. This time, her mission is about changing the way that women are “allowed” to age in the public eye. For those who believe that Madonna’s antics are driven by a need for attention, I disagree—to a point. Madonna has always been a commercial artist. After all, this is the same woman who told Dick Clark in 1984 that she wanted to rule the world. You can’t really rule the world without having people pay attention to you—and you certainly can’t do it by being like everyone else. And while I can’t pretend to know her intention behind every move (only Madonna knows that), it seems clear that she’s starting a conversation about how to be free and express yourself artistically and sexually in your later years. Thirty years from now, my hope is that we won’t even be having this conversation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to hang up the dance shoes, dress more conservatively, and fit into societal norms. If that is how a person wishes to spend their life, they have every right to do so. The flip side of that, however, means that there is also nothing wrong with wanting to remain a powerful force in your chosen industry while pushing buttons and advocating for more progressive ways of thinking and living. For those who want to live on that other side and prove that age is just a number, Madonna is providing the blueprint for how to do it. And yes, just like her most recent performance, she will be pulled down at times, but she will always get back up and fight. For that, I applaud her.
*Photo Courtesy of mashable.com.