, Guy comes to Madonna's defence, arguing that her musical strategy of the last decade, excepting the mid-nineties ballad phase, has always been one of working against the current of the commercial norm. I agree. So why do I still hesitate to champion her completely? I don't think it's the music itself, because I love so much of it, from "Justify My Love" right through to "American Pie". Indeed, most of the recent criticism towards Madonna ignores her music and focuses on her sudden, incongruous transformations in image. Criticising Madonna for inauthenticity is a pointless and thankless task (she's a pop star, geddit?) but maybe critics are unintentionally hitting upon Madonna's weak point.
I have to admit that I find her personas to have less and less impact with each new unveiling, but it's not due to the speed and incongruity so much as the fact that Madonna is slowly drifting away from her traditional position at the center of pop culture. Madonna as goth, Madonna as Indo-mystic, Madonna as geisha, Madonna as sixties-siren... they're all very photogenic concepts, but they're not achieving paradigm shifts comparable to Madonna-in-lace or Madonna-in-bondage, or in contemporary terms, TLC or Britney. I haven't heard "Music" yet, but even the title feels awkward (even more so than for LTJ Bukem's stab), a "subtle" foreshadowing of this year's model: the creative-but-less-emotional-studio-auteur-girl. Which is a nice, respectable image for Madonna, but only really meaningful if she had plans to keep it, which I suspect she won't six months down the track. Will we remember studio-girl in two years like we remember bondage-girl? The "Erotica" period has been Madonna's most widely renounced career move, but it still yielded, for me, her most enduring image, and her best music.
Given her new, anticeptic feel, I wonder how much Madonna can really tell us about ourselves now, rather than merely the idealised form of ourselves that critics feel more comfortable espousing. It's a quandary quite separate to the question of whether Orbit and Mirwais can come up with nice music for the new album, but ultimately it is just as important. If Madonna has "sold out", it's certainly not to the pop world but rather to artistic immortality, and although I suspect that here it is a case of too little too late, it does mean that she is seemingly stuck in a half-world between iconic stature and critical acceptance. Whether this can be resolved will be discovered soon enough, I guess, but meanwhile I'll be sticking with "Erotica".