Madonna: Like an Icon – at 60
The music industry has never been kind to the older woman, says Lucy O’Brien. Female artists are expected to disappear gracefully, but Madonna, as ever, continues to buck trends. As she approaches her 60th birthday (on August 16th), she has plans for a new album and tour. ‘I’m not going to be defined by my age,’ she declares. ‘Why should any woman? I’m not going to slow down, get off this ride, and stay home. No way!’
Despite the bravado, the past ten years have been challenging. She has gone through divorce and estrangement from her son, and has to fight for relevance as a pop artist. In updating my biography Madonna: Like An Icon (first published in 2007), I realise how both cosmetic procedures and Photoshopping show the tension of ageing in an unforgiving pop landscape. When asked why she still looks young, Madonna has said, ‘I’m not against plastic surgery, I’m just against discussing it.’
While promoting her 2008 Hard Candy album critics wondered if the 50-year-old Madonna would ditch the sexy leotard for something ‘age-appropriate’. She was in an unrepentant mood, dressing like a boxer-cum-dominatrix in a punishing corset and thigh-high boots. Madonna relished the challenge of defying middle age, working out daily as if she was in competition with herself. A strict diet and relentless workouts were also a way of controlling her personal life and her marriage to Guy Ritchie, which was beginning to fall apart. What emerged was a picture of rock-hard discipline and rigorous control, not just over her body and her work, but also her emotions.
As she approaches 60, though, Madonna has evolved a more relaxed look when she is working in Malawi, away from the limelight. She has also found a new cultural place as a feminist spokeswoman. In December 2016 she anticipated the #MeToo campaign with her speech at the annual Billboard Women in Music Awards. When she went to collect her Woman of the Year award, the room expected a celebratory response. What they got instead was a bitter, tearful speech. ‘I stand before you as a doormat,’ she said awkwardly, admitting to being shocked at the response to her Sex book in the 1990s. ‘Everything I read about myself was damning. I was called a “whore” and a “witch.” I said, “Wait a minute, isn’t Prince running around with fishnets and high heels with his butt hanging out?” Yes, he was. But he was a man. This was the first time I truly understood that women do not have the same freedom as men. It took me a while to put myself together and get on with my creative life.’ Her speech was a truthful examination of what ‘Woman of the Year’ meant for her, and over her career, what that achievement had cost her.
While some of her superstar peers didn’t make it, she has survived – and is still making her own way. That in itself is an inspiration. Whatever you think of Madonna, she has been incredibly successful (for a very long time) in a male-dominated business and that deserves respect. ‘People say I’m controversial. But I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around. Michael is gone. Prince is gone. Whitney is gone. Amy Winehouse…David Bowie. But I’m still standing.’
Described by the Guardian as a ‘capable and intelligent writer’, Lucy O’Brien is a journalist friend of mine. Her biography Madonna; Like An Icon has been revised to celebrate the biggest selling female artist’s 60th birthday. There are two signed copies of the book available to That’s Not My Age readers, on a first come, first served basis. Simply leave a comment below naming your favourite Madonna track, and why.