What happens when iconoclasm becomes numbing orthodoxy? You get “Bitch I’m Madonna,” a terrible new song and ghastly video by Madonna, the fifty-something crypt keeper of pop.
Madonna is still capable of triggering a Pavlovian response in people, and “Bitch I’m Madonna” has over sixteen million views on YouTube. Lyrically the song resembles the chirping of a slow third grader—“We ride the elevator straight up to the rooftop/The bass is pumpin’ make me wanna screw the roof off.”
Madonna is now a modern Pat Boone. Boone (for readers of a younger age who haven’t encountered him) was an extremely successful singer, second only to Elvis in the 1950s in record sales. He was also almost metaphysically bland. Boone specialized in taking electrifying rhythm and blues songs and neutering them. Many people considered him the enemy of genuine rock and roll, a reverse alchemist who transformed soul music into cotton candy.
Madonna is every bit as bad for rock and roll as Boone ever was. Rock and roll is supposed to be about creativity and pushing your limits, not only to break rules but also to discover ancient truths. As Pete Townshend of The Who once put it, it’s an art form in which you can sing about absolutely anything you want. This is the kind of freedom that has enabled the inspired performances of women like Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, and St. Vincent. This is not to say that rock and roll can’t be simple or crude or confrontational. But if you’re going to take that route, you better do it with some style, and you better be able to play.
You also need to give some indication that you can grow and evolve as an artist. If you don’t, people will stop coming back.
Unless, that is, you scandalize the audience. Madonna, who is not adept at any musical instrument and has a weak voice, has been doing this for over three decades. Like Pat Boone, Madonna takes music based on African-American rhythms and dices it into digestible bites. Yet whereas Boone transitioned to gospel music when his pop star began to fade (and even, God help us, made a heavy metal album), Madonna’s formula has been unchanged since Reagan’s first term: She hires the hottest producers of dance music, writes some lyrics about self-empowerment and clubbing, adds some nudity or other obnoxious antinomian element, and cashes in.
Without her rosary wearing, her sex book, cussing on TV, or putting profanity in the mouths of children—which is tastefully featured in the first few seconds of “Bitch I’m Madonna”—Madonna Louise Ciccone would be playing the Howard Johnson’s in Paduka. What’s truly scandalous is that people are still buying it. She has been pushing these same buttons for so long that it has gone past repetitive and into a kind of altered consciousness of catatonic sameness. Madonna’s stunts are now like Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, where a person is fated to live the exact same life not for eternity, but multiple eternities. Everything changes but the avant-garde.
The tragedy is that musicians, particularly young female singers, have fallen for Madonna’s shtick. Instead of following more complex and gifted artists, they’ve adopted the material girl’s bad example. They’re like Pat Boone fans who never “got” the Beatles. Lacking any real musical chops or psychological or spiritual introspection, they fall back on the same tropes: I’m empowered, I’m hitting the dance floor, my man’s a bum but it don’t matter, cause Bitch I’m Madonna/Britney/Katy/Miley.
Does anyone have any doubt what Katy Perry or Pink’s next record will sound like? They’re cool, they like to party, they like sex and clubbing, what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger, and they’re angry at men. She’s Madonna, bitch. And In 2015 she is every bit the enemy of real rock and roll as Pat Boone was in 1955.