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Everything we owe to Madonna

The queen of pop sets off again for a celebratory and powerful tour, against all odds

Everything we owe to Madonna The queen of pop sets off again for a celebratory and powerful tour, against all odds

On October 15th, Madonna officially kicked off her Celebration Tour. Her London show, the first after her illness forced her to postpone the U.S. leg, was described by attendees as an explosion of fun, joy, and resilience, against all odds. It was like a musical journey through her life and career, complete with archival family photos. During the concert at the O2 Arena, Madonna also dedicated a powerful moment to AIDS victims. This is just the latest instance of a woman who has been provoking, deciding, inspiring, and making us reflect for decades.

The First Controversy: the Clash with the Catholic Church

One of the most famous controversies, ongoing since her debut (just think of her stage name), involves the Catholic Church or rather its earthly representatives. Starting from "Like a Virgin" (1984), Madonna frequently uses religious imagery to convey messages of free sexuality and female body liberation. Needless to say, this didn't sit well with cardinals and Catholic organizations. In 2006, for instance, Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, on the eve of the Rome leg of the Confessions Tour (where the star was lifted on a cross and wore a crown of thorns), stated, "The time will come when this lady will understand that Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood for her too. I feel pity for her. It really means she has hit rock bottom if, to beg for media attention, she has resorted to the extreme provocation of exploiting Christ's suffering."

Madonna: Urban Legend

Apparently a really effective publicity stunt, as Madonna is still considered a music icon, even a legend. To reinforce this status, over the years, fantastical rumors about her have circulated, and some even claim she has been excommunicated. It's as if she were the Loch Ness Monster or some kind of cryptid from popular belief, to be told to children on stormy nights. However, the message is the opposite: we shares stories about Madonna for liberation, not to imprison in fear and apprehension.

An Artist Propelled Forward from the Start

Further evidence of her foresight? The Pepsi case tied to "Like a Prayer," a single from her second studio album. On September 13, 2023, the soft drink giant released, during the MTV Video Music Awards, a commercial featuring Madonna shot 34 years earlier and never aired due, once again, to its religious references. At this event, Madonna wryly commented on Instagram: "So began my illustrious career as an artist who refuses to compromise her integrity. Thank you Pepsi for finally realizing the brilliance of our collaboration. Artists are here to disrupt the status quo." And those who say Pepsi should apologize aren't entirely wrong.

The Other Causes 

Not just religion. The pop star has personally taken a stand on issues like feminism, sexism, abortion, peace, and only in recent years she has done so through speeches and Instagram posts. We can say her entire career, from the very beginning, has been marked by breaking norms, and she can be considered a bastion of values conveyed implicitly, with a far-sighted view of the future. Should it surprise us that she's still the most referenced, reinterpreted, and used as inspiration by her younger counterparts? After all, she paved the way for contemporary pop, and even today—perhaps precisely because she remains relevant even as many of the things she fought against at the start of her career have become mainstream—there's a way to challenge her vision.

Too Old for a Popstar

Recent gossip headlines about Madonna have mainly focused on her age, her nudity (especially scandalous for a woman considered old), and the cosmetic procedures she's undergone. Doubts about the pop star's mental health and physical stamina arise, insinuating that with time, she's losing her clarity. In short, Madonna still unsettles a certain type of person, and it couldn't be otherwise for an artist who has dedicated her life to being herself and certainly won't start now doing what the public would want her to do, for better or worse.

A Legacy Yet to be Fully Quantified

When Madonna retires (and given her spirit, it might still be years), perhaps we'll be able to fully quantify her contribution and, consequently, the apologies society owes her. Apologies for tending to put female artists back in their place through invasive questions about their private lives, through attacks and censorship. Maybe we'll come to understand that in music and pop culture, there's a before Madonna and an after Madonna, and it will exist forever. In the meantime, we can get a taste of her disruptive power on November 25th at the Mediolanum Forum in Milan.