February 26th, 2015
I turned the television on at around 6 o clock this morning. The first thing I saw was a video clip of Madonna falling over at the Brit awards. The TV has been on for two hours now. I have been busy doing other things but I have now seen that clip no fewer than nine times. This is on national television so this incident is obviously of national importance – isn’t it?
I began to study hypnosis seriously in 1995 (shortly after Madonna released Bedtime Stories) and I quickly realized that during every day of our lives we enter hypnosis-like states. The name usually given to these states is “hypnoidal”. In the broadest sense, a state of hypnosis is a state in which our normal critical or analytic faculties are bypassed. We become more open to suggestion. But the problem is that we don’t realize when or how this is happening.
The repeated showing of the Madonna clip reminded me of this. A pop singer falls over, and this event is deemed not only newsworthy but so important that the incident has to be shown over and over again. It has made the front page of at least one national newspaper. And we accept this without question. It doesn’t even seem absurd to us. Yes, this occurred at a major public event, the Brit Awards, and therefore was unlikely to pass unnoticed. But the singer was totally unharmed and simply carried on as normal. She no doubt suffered some embarrassment but, as I gather, this particular performer has a notoriously thick skin. She probably welcomed the mass publicity.
What suggestion is likely to bypass our critical faculties and lodge itself in our unconscious minds? The suggestion that Madonna is a figure of supreme importance and that everything which happens to her matters to all of us.
Is that really the case?
Madonna is a versatile dancer and singer of pop repertory. There is much to admire in her. You don’t get to be the biggest selling female artist of all time without having some drive and ambition. Her early work presented a very different kind of female performer to the world, not a docile singer of love ballads but a feisty, kick-ass “material girl” who was not afraid to look anyone slap-bang in the eye. I can’t comment on her work as a dancer because I don’t know anything about dance. But Madonna is a little older than me and is considerably more supple, so I am quite happy to give her the benefit of the doubt on this one and assume that her work in contemporary popular dance is first rate.
As a singer, her recorded voice has the advantage of every kind of electronic enhancement known to mankind. Her voice is light and thin, with a pinched, nasal quality which young, female karaoke performers are able to imitate with ease. The range of the voice is clearly very restricted.
But – and here is the real problem – how are we to assess her value as a songwriter, and therefore as a creative artist? I’m not talking about the actual quality of the songs themselves. They are not to my taste but they clearly give great pleasure to millions of consumers so I will leave it to others to evaluate them. What is certain is that Madonna’s songs are not solely written by her. In an interview in Song Talk (Summer 1989, vol 2 no. 11), Madonna actually admits that both melodic lines and harmonic chord structures are provided by one Pat Leonard. It is, I gather, common practice for popular artists to claim writing credits from otherwise unknown songwriters. This is seen as two-way beneficial. The pop star gets his or her hit song and the unknown songwriter gets his or her work performed and, hopefully, earns a lot of money out of it. But this does put a very large question mark over Madonna’s role as a creative artist. A creator of what, exactly?
With the exception of Evita, Madonna’s forays into film have been panned by the critics. Her various book publications likewise. And, whoever she may get to write her songs, it surely cannot be doubted that Madonna’s best work is way behind her. As you will have gathered, I am not a Madonna fan, but I’m prepared to accept that there may be many aspects of her work which I do not perceive. Nevertheless, for me, Madonna is hardly a creative artist at all. She is an executive artist – a performer. A staggering successful one, may be, but still just a performer.
A great creative artist may perhaps deserve adulation. But a performer is just a performer, a medium for the creative genius of someone else. If a performer happens to trip over, it is not an event of major importance.
Madonna is for kids. It is time we grew up. Or woke up.