Pop survivor Madonna knows how to put on a show
She’s the ultimate survivor, a master of reinvention, the Queen of Pop who has seen-off all challengers for her crown. At 53, Madonna, who brings her MDNA world tour to the Capital on Saturday, still reigns supreme.
Tiffany, Britney and Christina, each has laid claim to succeeding her before falling by the wayside, and it remains to be seen if the current pretenders to the throne, Lady Gaga and Rihanna, have sufficient staying power and the requisite regenerative abilities to last the distance.
While male performers can (largely) get away with strutting their stuff on stage well into their second half-century, it’s always been much harder for the ladies, which makes Madonna’s longevity all the more remarkable.
That durability is down to her mental capabilities as much as her musical ones, says Regular Music’s Mark Mackie, who has spent more than 30 years promoting some of the industry’s longest-established stars like Rod Stewart, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Young.
“She’s always one step ahead of the competition,” he says. “Not only is she a talented musician, she’s also very clever and astute. It’s that shrewdness that has enabled her to continue to be a trailblazer throughout her career. Forget all the ‘girl power’ pantomime of the Spice Girls – Madonna is the real deal. She’s a cultural icon.”
Outrageous costumes, risqué videos or daring live performances – whatever the gimmick, the pop stars of today walk on same the ground she broke back when they were still in nappies.
From her earliest days in the business, Madonna was leading from the front. When hit single Holiday charted in 1983, she was already well on her way to becoming a trendsetter, copied by girls around the world, all keen to get ‘the look’, comprising capri pants, fishnet stockings, lacy tops and bracelets galore. The craze was so big that at its height, Macy’s, the famous US department store, even gave over a whole floor to stocking clothes and accessories modelled on her style.
If Holiday made the world stand up and take notice, then it was Like A Virgin that catapulted her into the big time the following year, a combination of both the track’s success and strident criticism from some sections of society making her a household name.
It was the first major controversy in her career (and one she denied causing deliberately), but it wasn’t to be the last. From the Vatican-baiting tours like Blonde Ambition and Confessions to superimposing a swastika over the face of French right-wing politician Marie Le Pen in Paris only last weekend, she has never been one to shy away from provocative actions.
That particular list is almost endless, but her ability to survive scandal also serves to demonstrate Madonna’s ‘adapt or die’ mentality.
In the mid-nineties, when a series of high-profile incidents - including an expletive-filled appearance on the David Letterman Show - looked to have all but killed off her career, the superstar singer changed direction, softening her image by releasing the album Bedtime Stories which had an unexpectedly warm, radio-friendly R&B vibe.
And she soon transformed herself again, motherhood and mysticism inspiring another departure from type in 1997 with electronica-influenced Ray Of Light, a thread that has continued to run through her releases since, earning her recognition by the Guinness Book of World Records as the top-selling female recording artist of all time.
Yet amazingly, despite three decades at the top, this week’s Murrayfield show will be her first-ever performance in Scotland, although she’s certainly no stranger to the country, having married former husband Guy Ritchie at Skibo Castle in 2000.
But if her legions of loyal Scots fans feel starved of action, they can be confident she’ll make up for it because, as Mackie can attest, she really knows how to put on a show.
“I first saw Madonna live on her Who’s That Girl tour at Wembley Stadium back in August 1987,” he recalls. “I was there with Hue & Cry who were opening for her. The plan was to watch her first number, then head off to a party back at the hotel, but 23 songs later, we were still there, up on our chairs. She blew us away that day, and she remains a phenomenal performer.”
• Madonna, Murrayfield Stadium, Roseburn Street, Saturday, 5pm, £45-125, 0131-346 5000
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