It’s been approximately ten hours and thirty-eight days since he took his love away, but Prince still makes the headlines. If not himself, than the people who cared for him and honor him. Last week Sunday, during the 2016 BBMA Madonna paid tribute to the iconic singer who so tragically died at age 57. A performance which might turn out to be the most controversial of her decades long career. Because, when BBMA announced Madonna was chosen to do the honors, the world turned against her. The question of course is why.
Let’s put some facts together, shall we? Spring and summer 1958 brought the births of three babies within a mere two months of each other. Prince Rogers Nelson was born on June 7 in Minneapolis, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone on August 6 in Detroit, and Michael Joseph Jackson on August 29 in Gary, Indiana. Three babies that grew up, each in their own ways and values, to become musical innovators, whose young, developing minds and their ultimate sense of self and world view have influenced more than three decades of music history and the generations that came along. And are still coming. Madonna and Prince have been friends since the early 1980’s. They’ve had their ups and downs, but then again, who hasn’t in a friendship that has lasted more then three decades. Prince apparently respected Madonna so much as an artist he even appeared on her Like A Prayer album. Yes indeed, that album that is considered to be one of the best pop albums of the 80’s if not of all time.
Madonna has been around for some time, worked with some of the biggest names in the industry (no few of them became big thanks to working with her) and has left many artists falter in her immensely powerful shadow. Just like Michael Jackson and Prince, she has made her marks, which we recognize in the styles of todays entertainers. She has re-invented herself, and shocked the world (read: awoken the world) with many provocative performances and actions. Maybe not all original, but she sure as hell knows how to direct the publics attention where it needs to be directed to. Maybe many of you are too young to remember, but for sure you’ve heard about how she dedicated her song Why’s It So Hard (Erotica, 1996) to a friend who died of AIDS… in her arms. Or how she was nearly arrested in Canada for simulating masturbation during her concert. Or how close she was to artists such as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. Maybe you have heard about her charity work for AIDS advocacy and support organizations, or her MTV campaigns to encourage young people to vote. She spoke out openly in support of the LGBT community during a time when such association was political and social suicide and unprecedented, and yes, Madonna was there from the beginning. Maybe you’ve heard of the good work she has done, and still does, with her Raising Malawi organization, a similar cause Angelina Jolie seems to get all the credits for. If all that is new for you, maybe her sexual assault at knifepoint in a New York City back alley rings a few bells?
Ok let’s try something else. Borderline: one of the first videos aired on MTV showing an interracial relationship. Papa Don’t Preach: a song encouraging female reproductive autonomy, which received praise from people on both sides of the abortion debate. Like A Prayer: which lost her a Pepsi deal because of her decision to include a black actor in a Jesus-esque role. Her latest album Rebel Heart leaked on the Internet but still managed to become a very respectable number one album worldwide. Talking about Rebel Heart, her tour grossed over US$170 million, making her the highest grossing solo tour artist. She stood up for human rights, including women’s rights, years before Beyoncé could even spell Formation let alone sing about it. So what the hell happened. What is it about Madonna that all of a sudden we are supposed to stop admiring her.
Is it because she’s (only) 57 years old and looks better than many female artists half her age (and yes, she’s not ashamed to flaunt it in her own created Madonna right). Is it because she doesn’t do drugs, lives a healthy lifestyle as much as possible for someone in her profession and therefor healthier than probably 90% of the world population. Is it because she refuses to retire because, even though there are plenty of men in the entertainment industry older than her, women her age shouldn’t be performing. Or is it, in this particular case, simply the fact that Prince fans cannot accept Madonna to bring tribute to their lost idol. And her lost friend. So if that’s the case, who would have been a better choice. A black artist of course. That would have made sense. Aretha Franklin maybe? She has the soul, but the woman is 74, so age can’t be the issue. Diana Ross? At 72 also not one of the youngest and I fail the see the relevance to Prince. So Beyoncé than? Again?! No, whether you like it or not, Madonna was the perfect candidate. We all know she’s not the worlds best singer, including herself, which makes her choice of performing Nothing Compares To You to a life orchestra a courageous one. Bringing Stevie Wonder on stage to sing Purple Rain together was brilliant. Did the tribute lack the pep Prince would have given it? Maybe, but than again only Prince would have been able to do that, and that would have been too bizarre. Much like that Whitney Houston hologram catastrophe. Michael Jackson could have done it but from the magical three he was the first to go. So maybe, just maybe, the anti-Madonna emotions come from the fact that she, Madonna, music icon and legend, is actually still alive?
Let me finish with some lyrics (with a little twist) she sang herself, in the well received but again so undervalued movie Evita: Bad moments come but they go. Some days are fine, some a little bit harder. But that doesn't mean she should give up her dream. Have you ever seen her defeated? Don't you forget what she’s been through and yet, she’s still standing. –BM-
Cover photography by Ryan Colford.
This letter holds extracts from Huffingtonpost: Madonna’s only wrongdoing is that she is still alive, and Huffingtonpost: Leave Madonna Alone.
BEAUTIFULMAG | Everything That Is