It is no surprise to see that Madonna’s (third!) greatest hits collection, Celebration, has already climbed the top of the UK charts and confirmed that, if we don’t quite love Madonna, we are at least still fascinated by her. But Madonna’s position has changed greatly; she has spent the last 9 years or so as UK tabloid fixture alongside the new wave of celebrities that aspire to much much less; the WAGs and Katie Prices of this world. Her celebrity marriage and UK residence combined with our paparazzi-heavy PR operations and cult of celebrity has acted as a catalyst to remove a lot of the mystique and intrigue which formed so much of what made Madonna Madonna in the first place.
Of course it would be an obscene oversight to suggest Madonna’s success was solely driven by image; it started with great pop songs that captured elements of the changing trends, if not quite the ‘zeitgeist’, of their time and reconfigured it for mainstream consumption, all delivered from (what appeared to be) a unique perspective. She is a postmodern pop artist extraordinaire (for those following the essays on postmodernism); stylistic shifts, picking and choosing her influences, referencing a history of pop cultural imagery. Perhaps Madonna even represents the pinnacle of postmodernism in music, but this compilation reveals more about its current state, from the derivative cover ‘re-working’ of Warhol, to the content itself.
You might assume that a greatest hits collection would open up with one of the definitive early singles that stole, beg and borrowed from the New York club scene, and then turned it into great pop. Maybe even a stone cold classic, like ‘Holiday’. However, the record opens with irreverent Abba tribute ‘Hung Up’ and in doing so reveals the records first challenge; balancing the wish to attract contemporary fans who discovered Madonna post-millennium (surely the only people who would even consider buying this record) and the need to set out, if not save, her legacy when her artistic stock has been plummeting. As a public figure she is being reduced to an ‘ordinary’ celebrity and tabloid fodder, while Lady Gaga is finding fame and success by applying the principles established by Madonna to a fully formed and permanent public character (thus eliminating the troublesome ‘real person’ behind the public figure), and already confident enough to pastiche and trend jump.
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