To recap: 2009 was The Year Kanye Interrupted Taylor Swift. 2012 was The Year of Tupac’s Hologram. And while we’re only a couple of months into 2015, it’s already looking like Madonna sucking down Drake’s upturned, turkey-in-the-rain face is how we’ll remember 2015.
Let’s flash back, to Coachella, week one. Drake’s actual set was his first L (ever, apparently), but there was hope that things would get elevated when Drake announced Madonna as his special guest for the night. Madge performed a few songs before finding Drake in her crosshairs. She approached, sized up her prey, and pulled back Drake’s head to dive in tongue-first.
The audience was stunned, and shortly afterwards the digital community joined in. GIFs and memes of the kiss sprung up instantly and the whole internet was in uproar. Madonna got exactly what she wanted: exposure. After Coachella, Madonna’s Google searches peaked and her newest album saw an uptick in sales. Madonna had once again forcibly interjected herself into the mass-consciousness.
After making-out with Drake, The Queen of Pop announced “I’m Madonna” and then strutted away. To many, her actions seemed calculated and contrived. Her premeditated strut off of the stage approached Michael Scott levels of awkward—it was hard to watch.
But anyone who even mildly familiar with Madonna, it came as no surprise. Shocking the public has been Madonna’s M.O. since day one. From the “Like a Virgin” wedding dress to her scuffles with David Letterman to being hung off of a crucifix, this has been and will be a part of Madonna’s brand. And while the Coachella tongue attack seemed to come out of nowhere (it was just THAT ridiculous), the how was the only real surprise. An attention-seeking stunt on Madonna’s part is to be expected.
The trouble is, Drake’s generation of fans didn’t seem super impressed. Madonna is no longer the cutting edge of pop music, and she hasn’t been for some time. People seem tired of her schtick, going so far as to call her a dementor, sucking the livelihood of younger artists.
But while Madonna has been ridiculed for her past stunts and is most certainly going to get flack for anything she does from here on out, she should by no means stop now.
Frankly, Madonna could have taken the easy way out a while ago. She certainly has enough money to retire comfortably (she was the highest earning musician of 2013, raking in $125 million). And even if she never made another song, Madonna could easily make another fortune off her past hits. But whether it’s pride, a genuine love for music, or a decades-long addiction to fame and cultural relevance, Madonna is not going to quit.
But whether it’s pride, a genuine love for music, or a decades-long addiction to fame and cultural relevance, Madonna is not going to quit.
It’s easy to portray Madonna as an aging artist using any tool at her disposal in the name of relevance. It’s even easier to think of her as out of touch. But don’t be fooled: Madonna recognizes all of this. She knows that people hate her gimmicks. As she said herself, “it pisses everybody off when I wear my grill, so that’s why I wear it.“
Most of the criticism that Madonna receives today is predicated on her age. Many of the reactions to her Drake kiss dealt with their considerable age difference. It’s the same old ageism: people get uncomfortable that a 50 year old is wearing revealing clothing or acting “younger” than she really is.
Ageism in the music industry is rampant and insidious. Not only does it result in structural bias against aging musicians in the industry but it also leads to resentment or squeamishness when being confronted by aging artists, regardless of the music. Morrissey, one of Madonna’s greatest foes, (he once said Madonna was “closer to organized prostitution than anything else”) is on her side, agreeing with her contention that ageism affects the radio airtime of her songs.
With this Coachella appearance, Madonna just forcibly introduced herself to a whole new audience. A group of listeners who worships Drake and thought that Madonna was that artist their parents liked whose videos sometimes popped up on MTV. Now, she’s the artist that their parents liked who also made out with Drake. Back in the conversation, this time with a whole new
Madonna’s long-standing strategy to stay relevant seems to be based around determining which artists are currently relevant and using their star-power to bolster her own. It’s quid-pro-quo; Madonna gets to stay in the limelight while the artist gets to work with an industry icon. In 2008, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake were hot, so Madonna collaborated with them for her single “Four Minutes.” In addition to being in the Billboard Top 10, “Four Minutes” received two Grammy nominations.
Now in 2015, the new roster includes Diplo, Avicii, and Kanye West who all helped produce Rebel Heart. The album also features Nicki Minaj, Nas, and Chance the Rapper. The peak of Madonna’s cultural relevance may have passed, but she’s not out of touch. She may, however, have forgotten the difference between the two.