Madonna: Truth or Dare

May 10, 1991

There were several movies in the summer of ’91 that were major pop culture events, widely discussed, referenced, parodied. One of them, surprisingly, was a music documentary shot mostly in 16mm black and white.

Or really more of a tour documentary than a music documentary. One thing that’s unusual about MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE is that it’s entirely about its subject being a performer, a troupe leader, and a celebrity, and not at all about her music, or even the creation of her show.

The Blond Ambition World Tour was not a normal concert – it was more like an extravagant stage musical. On the four month, 57-show tour from Chiba, Japan to Nice, France, Madonna promoted her 1989 album Like a Prayer and 1990 DICK TRACY tie-in I’m Breathless, backed by seven dancers, two backup singers, an eight-piece band and a $2 million, 80 x 70 foot stage set that was hauled in 18 trucks and set up by over 100 crew members. Every song we see in the movie has its own backdrop, wardrobe (by the fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier – or, as we know him, the guy who did the costumes for THE FIFTH ELEMENT – who Madonna recruited in 1989 by sending him a nice letter) and complex choreography. When the movie begins they already seem like old pros at performing it. If there’s drama about something going wrong it’s not any of them messing up. It’s the sound system or the weather.

We don’t even see much rehearsing, and so little attention is paid to the people playing the music that pretty late in the movie there was a clear shot of them with their instruments and I thought, “Oh, that’s who those guys were.” The people we see most of are the dancers – who Madonna likes to consider herself a mother figure to – plus the hair and makeup people and a guy I assume is the road manager.

Though not explained in the movie, the show (art directed by Madonna’s brother Christopher Ciccone) was divided into five thematic segments, one of them inspired by Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS, another by Warren Beatty’s DICK TRACY. The latter, as far as I could tell, is left out of this movie – we don’t get to see the part where she had a dancer in the Dick Tracy yellow hat and overcoat. We do see Beatty himself in a few backstage scenes, because Madonna was dating him during part of the tour.

Those scenes were among the most famous, not just because of the gossipy appeal of two ultra-famous co-stars of different generations being together, but because Beatty is the only person who seems to question his girlfriend asking a camera crew to intrude in her life. In his first scene he hangs out backstage, awkwardly standing around with his hands in his pockets or sitting on a couch with a glass of wine while she holds court in her makeup chair, trying to get him to come over. He seems bemused by the whole thing, which he confirms in a later scene when he asks her whether anyone has told her that “this” (the movie) is crazy. No, no one has told her that.

“She doesn’t want to live off camera, much less talk,” he says. “There’s nothing to say off camera, why would you say something, if it’s not on camera?”

So this pretty much marks the beginning of the time when we as a culture were fascinated with the fact that we as a culture were fascinated with voyeurism and exhibitionism. The first season of The Real World aired on MTV about a year later, and we’ve yet to turn back. (After screening an early cut in his home theater, Beatty got her to remove some of his scenes by threatening to sue.)

There are a few other celebrity cameos – she hates Kevin Costner because he dorkily tells her the show was “neat” – but the biggest one is late in the movie after her pal Sandra Bernhard asks her if there are any celebrities she still wants to meet, and all she can think of is “the guy who’s in all of Pedro Almodovar’s movies.” In Spain she gets to go to an event held by Almodovar, where she indeed meets Antonio Banderas. He’s very nice to her and also very uncomfortable since she makes it clear to everyone including his wife that she didn’t know he was married and is bummed that she won’t get to fuck him.

After the scene she says in voiceover, “I never heard from Antonio again.” Of course, five years later they starred in EVITA together. By that time Banderas had already met Melanie Griffith, who he left his first wife for, so I’m not sure Madonna was able to get in there. You can’t have it all, material girl.

Throughout the movie it will switch to 35mm color and smooth crane shots for the performances, the camera always close to the front of the stage or on stage looking out, so that we feel more the perspective of the performers than the audience. But anything off stage – most of the movie – is 16mm black and white, shot more guerrilla style. Both formats look stunning on the blu-ray. There are six directors of photography credited, different people in different stretches of the tour, but for the documentary stuff shot in Houston it was Daniel Pearl. Makes sense, because he had been one of the top guys for music videos for about a decade, but this handheld stuff must’ve brought him back to his TEXAS CHAIN SAW days a little bit.

The French New Wave sort of look and some of the situations they show Madonna in work together to humanize her. Yes, she is the MADONNA, the same one being worshipped on that enormous stage in full color, and when she’s not there or backstage being waited on by her loyal staff we mostly see her living a privileged life lounging in her bathrobe in fancy hotel suites, having cocktails, sometimes wanting to be alone(ish). (We don’t see her in public being mobbed by fans until she gets to Europe, giving the impression of a reverse-Beatlemania.)

But we also get a glimpse of the regular-person-turned-superstar – she slurps on a bowl of soup while calling her dad to try to find out if he’s coming to the show or not; she seems wary about seeing her just-out-of-rehab brother, but then very hurt when he fucks around and doesn’t come to the hotel to see her when he’s supposed to. So she goes to bed and we see the sad sight of him timidly tapping on her hotel door, not getting an answer, then slinking away in an elevator-ride-of-shame with all his hangers-on who didn’t get to meet Madonna.

In another scene she’s really excited to see a neighborhood friend from childhood, but only has a minute to say hi to her, and the friend tries to fit into that window a request to be godmother to her child. I felt so bad for both people in this conversation – it’s so inappropriate in the moment, but there’s this power imbalance there and that poor lady’s trying to take her shot with someone who was important to her youth who she probly can’t just call on the phone.

There are many instances when Madonna comes off looking badly. Right at the beginning she has a problem with a monitor during a sound check and without even first trying to ask politely she says, “I’m waiting.” That’s normal brat behavior though – a weirder one is when she uses her traditional pre-show group prayer with the dancers to lecture them about their “behavior,” also invoking the memory of a recently deceased friend she’s dedicating the show to (who turns out to be Keith Haring) to make them feel bad. I mean it’s a perfectly appropriate airing of grievances/pep talk, but don’t put it in the form of a prayer! That’s unethical! “Oh, I’m sorry, did you overhear what I said and know I was criticizing you? I was talking to God.”

But I still ended up liking her. Despite what is clearly a superhuman discipline in creating this performance, she seems fun, and genuinely loving to her crew. There’s a scene where they have a birthday party for her assistant and she reads a poem she wrote about her. It’s long and funny, seems to absolutely delight everybody crammed into the room, and obviously required alot of time and thought. I can’t imagine how it would feel to be in a room full of friends and family and someone is paying tribute to you like that and it’s 1991 and that person is Madonna! I mean, she was Breathless Mahoney. Admit one.

The moves in “Express Yourself” really reminded me of Michael Jackson. I looked it up and sure enough the tour’s choreographer/director Vincent Patterson was one of the two fighting dancers in the “Beat It” video, and a zombie in “Thriller,” and he choreographed “Smooth Criminal,” “Black or White,” ”The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Dirty Diana,” “Speed Demon,” the Bad tour and MJ’s performances at the Super Bowl and Grammys. So yeah, you could say he knew a little bit about Michael’s moves. Including lots of crotch rubbing and ground humping.

But it’s “Like a Virgin,” where she rolls around on a red velvet bed wearing Gautier’s famous corset with conical bra, that raised the most eyebrows. I forgot all about this, but the “simulated masturbation” of caressing her crotch and humping the bed was a major controversy back then, and within the movie. Cops in Toronto warn that she might be arrested afterwards if she does it. There’s a bunch of excitement and feelings of mischievous rebellion as word gets around backstage and she says to tell them she won’t change her show because “I am an artist and this is how I choose to express myself.”

I like when her road manager or whoever tells the cops that Madonna has already performed this show to acclaim all around the world and “I’m sure it will be an international scandal” if they arrest her. And when the movie shows her performing the song (likely not even shot that same night, I imagine) her hand keeps hovering near her crotch suspensefully – is she gonna do it? Of course she is.

But in the end nothing happens. The cops say there was a complaint about the show but they checked it out and it was nothing. I wonder if they just couldn’t get tickets?

This is a theme throughout – the idea of people being uptight about the sexy stuff and Madonna and company taking umbrage that it violates the ol’ freedom of speech and what not. When she warns her dad “It gets pretty racy” and he asks if she could tone it down for him she says, “No, because I would be compromising my artistic integrity.” It seems rote, just a thing she says. But when she’s in Italy there’s some kind of brouhaha with the Vatican, so she has a huge press conference and code-switches to her Very Serious Orator voice to read an impassioned statement about being proud to be an Italian-American and believing in free speech and how the show “asks questions” and “the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments.” All this stuff comes off as silly and pretentious, and also completely correct. I was never a big Madonna fan, I chuckled at the golden pointy bras like everybody, but looking at it now, this shit is cool! It’s a great performance. She knows what she’s doing. This must have been an amazing thing to witness.

As an older person I’m more keenly aware of how hot she is in the movie, but many of the things that were considered so provocative back then seem like not much. I mean, sure, the title-explaining scene where she happily accepts a dare to demonstrate her b.j. skills on a bottle is a little much, but her dancing around in shiny lingerie, it honestly seems natural. What’s she gonna do, wear pants the whole time? That would be stupid. She seems much more powerful in the underwear than when she wears that polka dot outfit with the flares, I’ll tell you that.

Okay, to be fair, I guess she is wearing pants at that point.

This film was also ahead of its time in presenting the lives of gay men in a widely seen movie. There’s certainly a bit of a patronizing vibe to how she presents herself as their champion/mom, but also

1) I think it’s safe to say that her work did help to push aspects of gay culture into the mainstream and

2) they clearly adore her.

Come to think of it, Bernhard’s scene also has her talking about the women she’s dating, so there’s some visibility for lesbians in there too.

But it actually spends the most time with a dancer named Oliver who (although I didn’t realize it at first) is the only straight one on the tour. He’s definitely dealing with some homophobia (he makes a show of leaving during the titular game, when men kiss and a dick is exposed). But he has the most interesting drama in his life: he reunites with his estranged father, who accepts that he can be a dancer now that fucking Madonna hired him; a tabloid claims that he’s Madonna’s new lover, and he seems to fear that he only got the job because she thought he was hot.

There’s actually one part of the movie that I did find genuinely shocking, and that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even remember. In a quick little segment, we hear that one of the makeup artists, Sharon Gault, went out dancing without anyone else from the tour, and then woke up in her room. I won’t repeat the details, but it’s indicated that she was drugged, raped and robbed. When Madonna hears the story from someone else she doesn’t react the way you’d wish she would, and when Gault tells the story herself she downplays it, turns it into self deprecation, like “silly me, can you believe I put myself in that situation?” Says she learned her lesson not to go out without somebody else from the tour. As far as we’re shown in the movie nobody really treats it more seriously than that, or offers her much support, or talks about going to the police or anything like that. And then it moves on to the next thing. It’s very upsetting.

(Gault went on to a long career doing makeup for Michael Jackson, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, but has had alot of hardship in recent years, according to a fundraiser that said she was homeless.)

MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE was distributed by Miramax, but produced by Propaganda Films, and funded by Madonna herself so that she could, you know, express herself. According to Vulture’s recent oral history of the movie, when Harvey Weinstein started to talk to her after a test screening she told him that she didn’t care what he thought and never wanted to hear another one of his ideas about it again.

Propaganda was a production company founded in 1986 by producers Steve Golin and Sigurjon Sighvatsson and music video directors David Fincher and Dominic Sena. Though the intent was always to produce movies, they ended up putting much of their focus into videos and commercials, and acting as a talent management company for their directors. They helped launch the careers of future filmmakers including Michael Bay, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Mark Romanek, Antoine Fuqua, Gore Verbinski, Alex Proyas, Simon West and Zack Snyder.

By 1991 the company had produced several movies, including John Dahl’s KILL ME AGAIN and Todd Solondz’s FEAR, ANXIETY & DEPRESSION. They had recently worked with David Lynch on Twin Peaks and WILD AT HEART.

Fincher – who had directed Madonna’s videos “Express Yourself,” “Oh Father” and “Vogue” – was originally set to direct what was planned as an HBO concert special, but dropped out shortly before the tour began. (That would’ve been pretty much exactly when he replaced Vincent Ward on ALIEN 3.) So instead they got 26-year-old Alek Keshishian, who had directed videos for Vanessa Williams, Bobby Brown, Taylor Dayne and Elton John, plus a student film that Madonna loved. Brought to Japan for the first show, he was curious about the lives of the dancers, so he shot some interviews. He showed the resulting footage to Madonna, arguing that a feature film showing her relationship with the dancers backstage would be better than an HBO concert special. To the horror of her manager and publicist, she agreed.

It’s kind of hard to explain what a big deal this movie was at the time. I guess I was at a prime MTV-watching/magazine-reading age around then, but it seemed like you just heard about it constantly. Obviously some of the attention came from such a major star being openly sexual in a time before celebrity sex video leaks and unlimited porn access at the push of a button, but that doesn’t account for all of it. It was one of the most mainstream, universal pop stars in the world, but it seemed genuinely edgy, arty and controversial. I knew Madonna’s hits and I think I respected her, but I was never really into her, never bought an album or anything. Still, I saw this. On video, but when it was new. You had to see it for yourself. It seemed like something important.

In the U.S., TRUTH OR DARE opened in limited release on May 10th, making it to #13 on the box office charts while only playing 51 screens. On the 11th, Madonna appeared on Saturday Night Live, parodying the movie (and the “Justify My Love” video) in a black-and-white Wayne’s World segment. I feel this is important to mention because my dad thought it was hilarious and frequently quoted the line, “Wow, look at the unit on that guy!”

SNL Short Wayne’s World & Madonna – Justify My Love from His Dudeness on Vimeo.

When the movie went wide on the 24th it moved up to #3, which is pretty impressive for a mostly black and white documentary. Not adjusted for inflation it outgrossed WOODSTOCK. It played for 33 weeks and held the record as the highest grossing documentary of all time for more than a decade (it was surpassed by BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE in 2002).

I remember there being lots of hype in movie magazines and stuff about Keshishian being the hot new director, kinda like Steven Soderbergh was a little before that. He says he was offered every musician documentary in the world, but didn’t want to repeat himself or feel it was possible for anyone else to make “their TRUTH OR DARE.” After the Brendan Fraser movie WITH HONORS (1994), Keshishian stuck to directing commercials for more than a decade. His only film as a writer director to date is LOVE AND OTHER DISASTERS (2006) starring Brittany Murphy, but he did reunite with Madonna in 2011 to co-write W.E., her second movie as a director. (She’s only directed one less than he has.)

Unfortunately, three of the dancers sued over the film. They said they weren’t paid what they were owed, and that they were told they could request to have anything they wanted cut out, then were bullied out of it when they tried to. It was ultimately settled out of court. Keshishian and Madonna seemed to think the suit was opportunistic and a betrayal, that the dancers had signed waivers and knew what they were getting into. But clearly this was an unusual request sprung on them well into a gig they’d have to be crazy to give up (remember, the behind-the-scenes idea wasn’t even conceived until the tour was already in progress) and it’s not like they could’ve fully understood what the movie would be like or how many people would see and hear about it.

In recent years Madonna has said she’s afraid to watch the movie, that she thinks she was a brat. Which is true. But I think it holds up really well as an entertaining look at an unusual life at a particular moment in time. And it’s only one of the movies this summer that will strike a chord by portraying women as powerful in ways we weren’t used to.

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31 Responses to “Madonna: Truth or Dare”

  1. Kevin Pollak did a spoof of the prayer circle scene on an HBO special, where during the prayer he fired someone.

    I remember seeing Harvey Weinstein on television for the first time on her BEHIND THE MUSIC, when they talked about the scene where she said Sean Penn was the love of her life. She wanted it taken out but Weinstein basically said over his dead body. I came away from it almost jokingly thinking to myself what a creep this guy is.

  2. This movie made me a man. I’m pretty sure I sprouted my first pube right in the middle of her out-of-nowhere nude scene. Even at 13, I thought that was gratuitous but I was not complaining.

    And thus began my brief but powerful Madonna infatuation. The next summer, I would not rest until I had secured a copy of her SEX book. Which, since I was very, very broke, meant shoplifting it. And since the thing is about two-feet tall and made of metal, that took some planning. I eventually pulled it off though.

    The things we used to do for boobs before the internet.

  3. when Harvey Weinstein started to talk to her after a test screening she told him that she didn’t care what he thought and never wanted to hear another one of his ideas about it again

    thank you madonna

  4. Mr. M: an entire generation or two probably got into BDSM because of her during this time. Me included.

  5. It feels weird to say that about one of the biggest popstars of the 80s, 90s and early 00s, but Madonna is underrated. These days she seems near forgotten, which admittedly is also a bit of her fault, thanks to not exactly being a good person* and delivering subpar material on her last three or or four albums, even if they sold well. But she used to be a fearless innovator or at least someone who could spot trends and drag them into the mainstream before anybody else did it. But her recent output was less her being ahead of everybody else and more “Hey kids, I can sound just like the other artists on the radio!”

    *Although from what we hear, more of a general arrogant asshole instead of a downright criminal, but I wouldn’t be surprised about worse accusations.

  6. This was sort of the turning point for big M. Once and for all, the public could finally see that she was not the provocateur she claimed herself to be, and was infinitely more interested in puff PR that gave the impression of provocation. I remember people who seriously loved her walking out of this flick just heartbroken over how toothless it was. In a couple months the dancefloors would empty and the mosh-pits would fill. And here’s the exact moment the spotlight moved on (even if she did manage to leap back into it a few more times, she was never again it’s focus)

  7. Great review! I’m pretty sure I remember watching that Justify My Love parody at my friend’s house when it first aired. This friend had a rich, 70s-horndog kind of dad who owned a copy of the SEX book, which I remember being disappointed and confused by when I saw it. I recall my friend saying with relish “Ahh, that Madonna– she’s got an ass like a virgin cherry” in an ‘old man’ voice as we looked at it and being very sure that it was something he’d heard his father say, because what 12 year old says that on his own? I don’t care how many cherries you’ve eaten. Or asses you’ve seen. Or vice versa.

    Pretty interesting that more hasn’t been made in recent years of Gault’s horrible experience. Especially considering that Madonna’s horrible reaction is caught on camera. Googling “madonna gault” brings up a Pitchfork article from last year that’s a lot more critical of the film (I lack the requisite points in my hacking skill to embed a link, sorry) — if you can stomach Pitchfork, I’d recommend it as a counterpoint to Vern’s take. Still quite surprised and a bit bummed that Madonna hasn’t felt compelled to make a public statement about it. Either from external sources or those dwelling within.

    All that said, my coming-of-age absolutely coincided with Madonna’s megastardom, so I can’t help but feel almost programmed towards affection for her even if it’s easier than ever to appreciate how ridiculously extravagant she was, and is. I doubt Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman would have been quite the same without Madonna, and that’s a world I don’t want to imagine.

    And beyond sexual awakenings, this phase of Madonna’s career might also have been an early introduction to cultural iconography for me— since, if I remember right, this was right around the time Marilyn Monroe was being culturally re-evaluated/re-appreciated, and Madonna was all too happy to embrace those comparisons. Maybe she even encouraged them with Breathless Mahoney?

    She might even have been my intro to the idea that American culture sees women and their sexuality as disposable and interchangeable— as well as the general notion of progressiveness, a bit paradoxically. Like, by 1991 I’d heard Candle In The Wind, so I knew how Marilyn Monroe’s story ended, but I could tell that Madonna was different, even if I was too young to articulate how. And yet I could also tell that both were embodying the same kind of living fantasy, one that went beyond physical similarities.

    So, yeah, thanks for all the food for thought, Madonna. Your early stuff’s never sounded better, btw.

  8. CJ Holden – That seems to be a common problem with popstars (no matter how big or versatile or influential) tend to have as they go into middle age. Even David Bowie in the mid 90s or so, a joke from that era was his brand new persona was “dad Trent Reznor.”

    Fun Fact: only 3 people have Top 40 hits in the 80s/90s/2000s/2010s: Madonna, Michael Jackson…and Weird Al.

  9. I was deep into punk, metal and industrial in 1991, but I saw this tour and it was amazing. A huge, theatrical production, wall to wall hit songs, and conceptually fascinating. (OK, the Dick Tracy interlude kinda sucked.) The movie was good, too — I think there’s even some footage from the concert I was at in NJ.

  10. I always thought it would have been good if Madge kept shoehorning long, boring showcases for her recent acting ventures into every tour’s stage show, like the Girlie Show tour could have had The A League of Their Own Epic Stunt Spectacular!, featuring blandly-generic dancers dressed up as Jon Lovitz and Betty Spaghetti twirling around and shit while she sang “This Used To Be My Playground”. Also, Swept Away’s Rockin’ Graveyard Review, The Next Best Thing: Coming Out of Their Shells Tour, etc, etc.

    Also, her weird, recent Madame X character for totally looks like something out of SKY CAPTIAN or BRENDA STARR, and seemed like the result of Madonna having fun with her art in order to entertain Madonna in a way she had not done as much during the more serious, statement-y and poised eras.

    Please forgive my straying off-topic yet again, but in musing on this subject I realized the most excellent aspect of DICK TRACY is that Madonna’s kid Dave probably grew up watching a nice and positive movie about adoption (and having a busy parent), a movie starring his Ma-donna.

  11. RRA: I do remember Bowie’s EARTHLING album (1997) being greeted with “Oh, now he is making Techno too, yawn”, but I always thought it was a bit unfair, considering how it still sounded pretty much like its own thing, instead of him just pretending to be The Prodigy now.

    Talking about The Prodigy, Madonna actually asked Liam Howlett to produce one of her albums, but he declined, so she went with Mirwais, which was another pretty out of the box pick from her. At that time he was mostly known for DISCO SCIENCE, aka the track from the rabbit chase scene in SNATCH, but I can imagine its video, which was one of those “We can’t show it during daytime” things, appealed to her. And that resulted in one of her most liked albums (MUSIC) and most hated ones (AMERICAN LIFE, which by the way I like a lot, although I still cringe at her rap during the title track.).

    Also no, I’m not really THAT much of a Madonna fan, but it’s hard to deny that she did lots of cool shit through the decades.

  12. CJ, my main man for getting off-topic in interesting ways, I just wanted to ask if you knew about (and if so, talk to you about) the genuine band friendship between Bananarama and The Prodigy, it is such a nice thought. Bananarama are cool ladies, they are also friends with Paul Cook from The Sex Pistols, The Professionals and Subway Sect.

    There is a moving interview with Bananarama where they talk about Keith Flint here:

    Bananarama: "We once caught a lift on a bin lorry with Noel Gallagher"

    Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward are quizzed on their friendship with Keith Flint, dancing with The Cure and riding on a bin lorry with Noel Gallagher.

  13. Honestly, no, I never heard of that. Thanks!

  14. Even David Bowie in the mid 90s or so, a joke from that era was his brand new persona was “dad Trent Reznor.”

    I saw Bowie during that period, and it’s a REALLY rough memory. Nine Inch Nails were the “co-headliners” in that NIN played first, but there was no break between the acts in attempts to keep people from clearing out once NIN was finished. It didn’t really work, so Bowie performed his new NIN sounding stuff and techno-ized classics to an arena that was 3/4 empty.

  15. psychic-hits – Madonna wanted to me the modern day Marilyn Monroe right from the beginning of her career. The Material Girl video is a straight rebootequel of Monroe’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. I never saw this movie. I like Madonna’s music, but I was never one of those girls that went nutso about her as a person. Some of my friends wanted to be Madonna; I always wanted to be Cyndi Lauper.

  16. In the UK this was called IN BED WITH MADONNA, a title which caught the imagination of the British public enough to inspire the name of a fairly long-running late night comedy/chat show, IN BED WITH ME DINNER.

  17. That was the late night show with Bob Mills right? I often used to catch that when three quarters pissed after getting back from the pub. Either that or The Word.

  18. Jesus, you guys make me feel like a fossil! I had started college, was sexually active and on my 3rd serious relationship when this came out. So I pegged onto it’s Shock Jock, Poser Provocateur antics straight off.

    But having said that, regarding charges of Madonna being an arrogant asshole, I have to resort to a tired but apt cliche here: If Madge was a dude, tags like “Arrogant Asshole” would quickly be replaced with “Takes Zero Shit”, “Gives Zero Fucks” and “Suffers No Fucking Fools”.
    Prodigiously Talented, Amazingly Prolific, Awe-Inspiringly Focused, Aggressively Sexual: Shiiiiit, slap on a penis and testicles on her and she’d be Prince.

    But she has unfortunately become one of those uber-successful celebrities, cocooned inside their privilege with their heads shoved so far up their ass all they can hear is their voices bouncing around the echo chambers of their asshole. Her “Milk Bath” video last year is neck to neck with Gal Gadot’s misguided “Imagine” sing a long in the Cringe Factor Scales.

    Having said that, I will agree Madonna is cosmically underrated. The history of popular music should absolutely acknowledge her as one of the Colossuses of Pop Music. Scorching the charts across 4 decades is no mean feat. I maintain that works like LIKE A VIRGIN and TRUE BLUE are perfectly crafted masterpieces bristling with gorgeous Pop nuggets. I owned all Madonna Albums up to RAY OF LIGHT (hell, I even have EVITA because my wife’s such a big fan of the movie) after which my interest tapered off as her veer into more techno and dance oriented music wasn’t my thing. And for someone with such a dismal track record in movies, her contributions to many soundtracks were stellar. LIVE TO TELL, I’LL REMEMBER, WHO’S THAT GIRL, INTO THE GROOVE (still a scorcher in any decade). Hell, I even liked her Bond song, so sue me!

  19. KayKay: Counterpoint: Because she is NOT a dude she was able to ride on her arrogant behaviour for so long and have it shrugged off as “Oh well, divas will be divas, haha.”

    And let’s be honest, if a man would’ve shamelessly flaunted her sexuality like she did, with the talent to back it up and make it artistically valuable or without it, he would’ve been boycotted and labelled a pig to the point where his career would’ve had ended as soon as we saw his dick? (And to go into a darker tangent, when I mentioned “even worse accusations” earlier, I meant that I suspect dozens of sexual harrassment lawsuits that only never happened because the victims were male, but that’s of course pure speculation from my side.)

    That said, I love her Bond song too. Sadly the public expected something more Bond-like. (I’m still a bit pissed that just one movie earlier Garbage were robbed of their identity to make a paint-by-numbers 007 song, but hey, that’s what was expected.)

  20. If seeing a movie star’s dick was a problem, then enjoy the career destructions of David Bowie (Man Who Fell to Earth), Iggy Pop who posed full frontal for a magazine, and John Lennon on an album cover. Prince famously performed in assless chaps, they can get away with some shit. Prince was the male Madonna (or she was the female Prince).

  21. Beans- That’s the one. I have a soft spot for Mills, originating from his stint hosting the early UK satellite TV video-games based game show GAMES WORLD, which I watched as a video games-obsessed young child who did not have access to any (non-LCD) video games.

  22. Muh, but you gotta admit, what Madonna did, basically building a huge part of her career about an image as shameless sex goddess who is only a few steps away from shooting hardcore porn (I mean, how many of her male counterparts would’ve done something like BODY OF EVIDENCE?), is a bit above and beyond appearing naked in an arthouse movie, a punk icon doing punk things for a photoshoot or showing some cheeks.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to slut shame Madonna here. I love that she found a way to turn even the most provocative stuff into an art project and sell it as some kind of feminist “My body belongs to me” statement (Which I agree with), even if she might have only done it because controversy sells records (Although her music was great enough to stand on its own). Also she most like did with her schtick more for the sexual freedom of women than society is willing to admit. But even Prince at his horniest never came close to Madonna’s “sex sells” persona. He was more “I’m hot, I’m sexy, every woman wants me” while Madonna would’ve said: “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the BDSM orgy that I have in front of a sold-out stadium right now.”

    I’m not trying to pretend that there never was any controversy around her open sexuality, but let’s be honest, a gender-switched Madonna would probably be more likely put in the same bucket as Andrew Dice Clay or 2 Live Crew, especially in restrospect today.

  23. CJ, a little out of the Madonna Goss Mill, so am not sure about these accusations? You mean there was stuff about Madonna and sexual harassments?

    I know Asia Argento, after spearheading the #metoo movement was then found to have had sex with an underage boy, but didn’t hear anything about the Queen of Pop.

  24. No no, like I said, it’s pure speculation and I kinda regretted it randomly dropping it like that as soon as I hit “submit”, but I think at this point it’s hard to believe that any rich and powerful person, especially those who were so openly sexual, never said or did anything to their underlings that would’ve been the base for a big lawsuit. I mean, just the way how she reacts to the rape story in this documentary shows that she had at some point some weird views about what is acceptable and what not.

    But as far as we know, nothing happened. Just saying that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if suddenly someone would at some point come out about that. Hard to not be cynical about that stuff these days.

  25. CJ I just don’t know that I buy that theory. I mean, maybe. But honestly we have NO other star to even compare her to…that’s what happens when you’re one of a kind, you get to do a lot of shit a lot of others wouldn’t. But sure Prince wasn’t AS hardcore as Madonna, but I think they were quite similar in most ways and he was fine. I think males can get away with a lot of shit (as long as it wasn’t too gay back then).

  26. Also, the examples you give…2 Live Crew was hip hop so especially back then that ain’t a good place to start. Clay was just an unfunny asshole. Madonna was pop and Prince was pop…and huge. If she had STARTED that way with the sex stuff who knows…but also don’t forget the times, you couldn’t see something like a simple Charlie Sheen comedy without a tacked on love story and then at least one sex scene to get the actress naked. I mean it was considered outrageous when Van Damme DIDN’T get naked in a movie. Who does that today?

  27. As someone who had both feet firmly placed in punk and rock’n roll when Madonna came along, I saw her as someone who tried hard to be an alternative artist within the pop machinery, but very quickly sold out and became very boring. And the sex thing was old already when she tried to tease us into believing she was edgy. Bette Midler for one had done it to death several years earlier. And every other punk rocker got completely naked on stage each night. I think the look on Warren Beatty’s face, when he came backstage at that concert and looked bored of the whole thing, said what needed to be said.

  28. Like a lot of other people, I was dismissive of Madonna as a kid, but looking back on it, she definitely had an eye for performance and a set of great songs at her peak. A lot of the backlash to her was absolutely the result of sexism. Unfortunately, I think she’s spent way too long floating around in her own celebrity world. I’m pretty sure she recently posted some dumb anti-vax stuff.

    I always come back to one particularly cool story about Madonna. The band Sonic Youth put out an album where they changed their name to Ciccone Youth in honor of Madonna. The album cover’s a somewhat blown out black and white copy of Madonna’s face, and included covers of “Bunin’ Up” and “Into the Groove.” It’s a cool Andy Warhol meets no wave album, if you’ve never hear it.

    Anyway, they sampled Madonna’s singing on “Into the Groove” without her permission. The record label was going to sue them and get the song removed, but I guess Madonna stepped in and stopped them. To her credit, she didn’t want to shut down their freedom of expression, so you can’t call her a hypocrite on that front.

  29. Well pegsman, I have to say if you’re coming from the world of punk, by that nature you’re probably not going to see her as edgy. It’s like dudes who mostly watch extreme horror will yawn at some PG-13 mainstream thing cause it’s not hardcore. Well, isn’t that the nature of it? For a superstar, which she was, Madonna was pushing a lot of boundaries. Not to say they were all great or anything, but she was.

  30. grimgrinningchris

    May 13th, 2021 at 4:13 pm


    My sister and I have been quoting that line from the SNL skit this whole thirty years now.

    Your pops knew funny.

  31. Madonna’s prime was basically my teenage years, and as a cynical and annoying youth I dismissed her music and her attention-seeking persona. Despite my “too cool” attitude I really liked a couple of her songs — “Like a Prayer” (and brunette Madonna is actually pretty hot), and “Live to Tell” which I have always thought to be an anomaly from her, a stroke of mysterious genius coming from an otherwise bland and predictable artist.

    I always felt the shameless self-promotion through poking at sex taboos that seem tame nowadays was just a way to dress up what would have been a pretty mediocre career. The thing is, the sex stuff was not really controversial to most people back then either. It was mostly just stuff that you weren’t supposed to discuss on TV because the prudes of the world were just beginning to lose their grip on the media monopoly. The 80s were not that far removed from the late 60s when it all started unravelling, but the fact of the matter is that this stuff was always there, it was just hidden under every rock you looked under. But we were all supposed to pretend it didn’t exist and not talk about it for the sake of the children, or whatever. There have always been gays, and BDSM, and drag queens, and all that stuff, you just didn’t see it on TV and a sheltered kid like me didn’t even know it existed until I was in my mid-teens.

    Ok I think I have talked myself into some more appreciation of Madonna.

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