In Salon the great critic and intellectual Camille Paglia rips apart Madonna for being creepy and old and trying to incorrectly recapture her angst and youth instead of blazing a path that matches her temperament and established philosophy of performance:

Even allowing for the fact that she must strenuously maintain her hipness for a busy husband 10 years her junior, Madonna is starting to morph into the mature Joan Crawford of “Torch Song,” still ferociously dancing but with her fascist willpower signaled by brute, staring eyes and fixed jawline. In cannibalizing her disco diva days, Madonna runs the risk of turning into a pasty powdered crumpet like the aging Bette Davis in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” Will she become a whooping Charo shaking her geriatric hoochie-coochie hips on TV talk shows? Or should we expect a sudden, grisly collapse from glowing beauty to dust, like Ursula Andress as the 2000-year-old femme fatale in “She”? Too hungry to connect to the youth market, Madonna goes on childishly using naughty words and flipping the finger (as onstage at Live 8 last summer). Marlene Dietrich, her supreme precursor, knew how to preserve her dignity and glamour.

Paglia’s biggest sword rightly cuts into the meat of modern music as I have repeatedly argued here in your favorite Urban Semiotic blog time and again: Many popular singing artists
no longer care or accept that melody — the part of the song you hum
and sing to yourself all day — is the hallmark of a great song and the
tunefulness of a song is what gives it life beyond the mouth:

Nevertheless, the positive response to “Confessions”
probably signals a thirst on the part of the pop audience for emotional
directness and shaped melody, which have languished in the hip-hop era,
with its aggressive, incantatory rhyming and grinding percussive
effects. Even Madonna’s archrival, Mariah Carey, with her virtuoso
lyricism, is given to long, meandering vocal lines that assert
passionate feeling (stressed in performance by pentecostal hand-waving
and arm swoops) but in fact go nowhere. It’s a crooning, swooning,
melting style that makes too many of Mariah’s songs sound the same.

Melody has been dead
a long while now in popular music and I don’t see a return to standard
melody making any time in the near future. We are currying generations
of young people who think a syncopated rhythm and a thumping bass alone
make a great song.

They do not.

Melody, lyric and true rhyme are the
only vital ingredients to creating a standard song with the innate
ability to stretch across and bring joy to more than a single


  1. I grew sick of Madonna a very long time ago. I think the last time I liked her at all was around Express Yourself because I really liked the lyrics of that song. I think she needs to stop trying to be young and find herself for once.

  2. Hi Robin!
    I thought Madonna was great when she first broke the scene. Then her frequent hair changes and Sex book fogged her talent and direction. She became a mocking image of herself and that was a sad decline to witness.

  3. I never really cared for her techno stuff either. The songs of hers that I really liked were the ones where she was actually singing and there was no thumping bass line.
    I think I still crave music that has melody and especially lyrics.

  4. Hey Carla!
    Madonna’s popularity has always stumped me. She’s more circus than star. She’s always preening for PR and I find her live singing incredibly awful. Her acting talent is painful to witness. She only knows how to track trends and attract attention. Not much substance of spirit there, really.

  5. Don’t forget Frank Sinatra. He chose good songs. Made them standards, right? He changed and grew into himself. Not a nice person, I hear, but he sang good.

  6. Frank is a fine example of a performer who knew who and what he was and he remained secure in that public persona his entire career. He may not have been the best private person, but in the long view that may not matter as much when you consider the joy of performance he still brings to the world.

  7. Madonna should have retired a while back. She peaked in the late ’80s and has been going downhill ever since. She’s reminding more and more of a soccer mom who is trying to remain youthful and sexy, but is losing the battle.
    Tyra Banks had it right when she announced a few days ago she was stepping down from the runway. She wants people to remember her at her peak, instead of her eventual decline.
    Too bad Madonna didn’t walk away while she was at the height of her popularity.
    There’s a lot of money to be made in the recording industry that doesn’t require always being in front of the spotlight.

  8. Chris!
    I agree Madonna has taken an unfortunate turn in refusing to forsake the fortune of her youth as she ages. Her Maverick records label needs stars and money and if she could put her soul into that hub of wanton youth instead of trying to remake her elderly body into a hubbub we all might benefit because she knows what sells — she just needs to stop selling herself.
    I hope Tyra can keep her word to stay away because I think that’s the correct move for long term fan endearment and self-preservation as she gracefully grows old.
    How many times has Elton John retired only to unretire? Didn’t Billy Joel also swear off any new music only to come back with several failures of pale impersonations of his brilliant songwriting youth?

  9. The tune is the melody. That’s why we call them tunes. There aren’t many good tunes being produced in the “music industry”. Back when it was still the “record business” the folks running it understood what made a good song. Incidentally, if you don’t have a melody, you sure as heck don’t have harmony, and harmony is really what makes music music. Anyway, …

  10. Right, J — Tune and melody are similar, but tune today has come to mean, colloquially anyway, the song itself and not the actual melodic line that makes the song a real song.

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