Friday, December 21, 2007

Top Ten Madonna Moments of 2007

For a relatively lower-profile year, Madonna sure had an active twelve months.

By measure of music, yes, she was quiet. 2007 was the first year in a quarter-century in which Madonna didn't release a Billboard-charting
single. (The Live Earth-inspired "Hey You" never quite busted out of its promotional box.) Instead of a mammoth tour, there was exactly one live performance. And those "leaked" songs everyone heard from the upcoming album? Yeah, we didn't feel 'em either and, really, maybe we weren't supposed to yet.

2007 was indeed the calm before what promises to be the giant media storm of 2008, what with an album, a tour, her film directorial debut, more charity work, and a certain career-defining industry acknowledgement all in the offing.But, oh, what calm it was! When she wasn't busy assembling a Malawian orphan security detail or running around with gag-gift sex toys or shilling for a Japanese apartment building (um, really), Madonna handily maintained her rightful place at the top of the pop culture heap. No one lays low quite like Madge.Here are the most sterling examples of how she did it in 2007:

10. Madonna attends Vanity Fair's Academy Awards after-party (February 25). For the second year in a row, this harmless - and remarkably silent - cameo makes the list because it was again so unexpected ... and yielded another sensational M look. The dark Dolce & Gabbana satin gown, $10 million worth of Neil Lane diamonds, and a glam old-Hollywood coif all screamed "Movie star!" (Don't mention Swept Away, and we won't either.) Effortlessly hobnobbing with the industry elite, including a memorably champagne-swigging Penelope Cruz, is in just another day's work. Evidence you don't need to have been a multiplex draw or Oscar contender - just a marquee name will do, thanks - to waltz through the Hollywood prom.

9. Madonna arrives late to "Today" interview (January 11). Rumors about diva behavior are one thing; capturing said antics on live television is quite another. So it went when Madge nearly missed her interview with Meredith Vieiria to promote animated stinker Arthur and the Invisibles. An NBC camera captured the tardy entrance, and as the footage aired, Vieiria ribbed Madge and asked what held up the star. Madonna's reason for her lack of punctuality? "Hair." And then, as the show cut to commercial, she muttered, "Angie's fault," a faux-amused jab at manager Angela Becker. Obviously, you still can't spell "prima donna" without you-know-who.

8. Crown Publishing retracts purchase of Melissa Dumas' nanny tell-all (March 15). It's one of the major unwritten rules among celebrities: Do not mess with the rich and famous. They can buy and sell you. Or at least destroy your literary ambitions, as Melissa Dumas learned when her lit agent started shopping around an expose detailing Dumas' time with Madge and family, a proposal brilliantly entitled Live to Tell: My Life as Madonna's Nanny. Within a few days of the announcement of a deal, breathlessly juicy tidbits from the tome - Madonna makes Mommie Dearest look like "The Brady Bunch"! Her marriage is bunk! - started trickling in. Shortly thereafter, Dumas (ahem, suspiciously?) lost her publishing deal. Ever since, it's been all quiet on the nanny front. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dumas and her family.

7. The Confessions Tour CD/DVD is released (January 30). The whole was greater than the sum of its parts: exhumed cutting-room content from the lackluster NBC Thanksgiving '06 broadcast, including the controversial "Live To Tell" segment; a lovingly mastered (read: unmistakably sweetened) live CD; some piddly extras. Most exciting about this popular release - which sold 40,000 units in its first U.S. week alone - was that Madonna was offering an uncut concert video, the first of its kind since 2001, perhaps a harbinger of hope for the other, more-clamored-for archived shows like 1990's Blond Ambition. As for the incredible Confessions show itself, "Future Lovers/I Feel Love" remains one of Madonna's most inspired openers, and "Lucky Star" bleeding into "Hung Up" is shamelessly orgiastic fun.

6. H&M launches M by Madonna (March 22). Swedish clothing chain H&M craved another mass-market fashion mob scene. Madonna had been seeking a business partner to release a comprehensive, affordable clothing line reflective of her "timeless, unique and always glamorous style." This match in sartorial heaven netted $15 million its first week, a 17% spike in first-month sales, and a bevy of promotion that ensured we'd never again fail to link Madonna with blacks, whites, and creams. The coolest design and most memorable by-product associated with this era, however, by far wasn't the chunky sunglasses or shiny tracksuits, but rather the appearance of a "weeping Madonna." On April 3, a huge H&M billboard in Britain was defaced by an unknown graffiti artist, who poured neon paint out of a slit beneath Madge's eye. No doubt to signify the economic miracle the woman begot.

5. Word leaks that Madonna is in the studio with Justin Timberlake (April 11). The last time we saw these two together, Madge had just made out with Timberlake's ex in front of millions. But it's been four years and a Britney Spears meltdown since those VMAs. With confirmations that uber-producers Pharrell Williams and Timbaland were collaborating on the upcoming Madonna album, it was only a matter of time before news surfaced that Timberlake was lending himself to the party. Photos of J.T.'s clandestine comings and goings from the London studio in which this album was being crafted - and paparazzi snapshots of his after-work outings with Madge and her coterie - became an Internet mainstay, creating a media frenzy regarding the hottest musical May-December teaming since Jack White and Loretta Lynn. Clearly Madonna is not taking any chances in "hipping up" her highly-anticipated next record, now set to debut in second quarter '08, by hiring the Grammy wunderkind and tabloid staple.

4. Confessions on a Dance Floor wins Best Electronic/Dance Album Grammy (February 11). Madonna racked up three Grammy nominations this year, icing on the cake after worldwide success and uniform praise of the Confessions on a Dance Floor album. Gratification for the November '05-released Confessions had arguably come and gone by the time the trophies were handed out in February. Competition in the three categories for which she was up for a Grammy (Best Electronic/Dance Album, Best Dance Recording for Confessions standout "Get Together," and Best Long Form Music Video for I'm Going To Tell You a Secret) was fierce, with names like the Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Bruce Springsteen, and, why, Justin Timberlake dotting the lists. To underscore the lack of focus on these races, event organizers relegated them to a sidebar during the telecast, and Madonna was a no-show, having performed the year before. Anyway, would all this award talk be old hat for Madonna, who had been nominated 22 times previously? Never. The highly-regarded prize for Confessions was a welcome addition to Madge's mantel, marking her sixth Grammy and a nice shot in the arm from her peers. Thanks to the powers-that-be at the Recording Academy for keeping Timberlake's juggernaut, Future Sex/Love Sounds, off the Dance Album short list!

3. "Everybody" celebrates its 25th anniversary (April 24). Fudging only a minor date, Madonna's reps trumpeted the birthday of M's first single, the post-disco club hit "Everybody." While never cracking the Billboard Top 100, the tune ushered in the new pop singer, a singer whom early listeners had presumed was African-American. Her image was clarified in the rudimentary "Everybody" video (her first), shot at Paradise Garage, the New York City dancehall that Madonna frequented and, in fact, had been the first venue to play the "Everybody" demo, part of a small compilation that secured her a recording deal. A true breakout for the 24 year old was yet to come (most consider "Holiday" in 1983 that breakout, "Like a Virgin" in 1984 the slingshot), but Madonna was finally on the map. And she has always recognized the significance of the song; she has recycled the refrain "Dance and sing / Get up and do your thing" several times over her career, most recently in an aural homage during the Confessions Tour. As for historical relevance, the milestone anniversary of "Everybody" augurs eligibility for an upcoming honorific not lost on Madonna's camp: induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, slated for March of '08. Of course.

2. Madonna performs at Live Earth (July 7). When the line-up for this series of simultaneous eco-awareness concerts was officially announced, we wondered, why would Madonna try to top her triumphant Live 8 performance from two years ago? Apparently because she had something even better in store. After a marathon day of musical acts, there was a planned minute blackout to draw awareness to energy conservation. Then Madonna took the London stage ... and the light, it done shine! Clad in a short black dress and debuting her late-'07 wavy blond 'do, Madonna broke into the ho-hum event anthem "Hey You," replete with kids' choir. Then came a serviceable rendition of the rock-tinged "Ray of Light," now familiar to Confessions Tour audiences, though the new juxtaposition between M's prissy outfit and guitar was pretty darn sexy. The most revelatory piece of this gig, surprisingly enough, was a refreshing, truly reinvented "La Isla Bonita." Accompanied by Gogol Bordello, a Gypsy punk band (!) from New York, Madonna mashed up the 1987 standard with a Gypsy folk song and elevated the material into sublime transcendence. Repeated viewings accentuate how whimsical and daring the performance was, and the smile on Madonna's face and the giddy exuberance of her dancers let viewers in on the fact they knew they were creating something like high art. Madonna closed her Live Earth set by segueing into a boisterous, truncated "Hung Up" that ... but ... er, wait ... Gypsies?!? Sheer genius.

1. Madonna leaves Warner Bros. and signs with Live Nation (October 11). Madonna's been just as famous for being a video trailblazer, a female pop pioneer, and a fashion trendsetter as for her music. Even though she's traditionally regarded as being at the forefront of the industry in many capacities, it's tempting to write her off recently as having stumbled by being a bit more reactive than proactive, in, for example, recycling producers, latching on to passe sonic trends, or getting late into the iTunes game. That misconception of Madonna as laggard was irrevocably shattered this year with her newest innovation: Redefining nothing less than the entire music industry business model. Madonna's decision to walk away from the Warner Bros. music label after twenty-five successful years and to sign with Live Nation represented a seismic shift in the business. Not only because it signals the ebbing reliance on big music label distribution but because it heralds the paradigm-changing concept of "360 degree" deals, in which one company - in this case, Live Nation - handles all facets of a talent's career, from management and merchandising to touring and album distribution. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. demonstrated sour grapes for its major loss by releasing the finance memo entitled "For $120 million, She's All Yours" (ouch) even though there is still one album and a greatest hits compilation remaining on Madge's pre-existing agreement, mandating at least another year of cooperation. Meanwhile, concurrent with the consensus that the alt-rock group Radiohead became the game-changer with respect to pay-as-you-wish downloading, Madonna has been credited with spearheading the charge into the new frontier with the all-inclusive Live Nation contract. Madonna's ten-year commitment to Live Nation (which reportedly contemplates at least three albums, four tours, and a film shingle) set the tone for how deals will be made in the years to come. As labels scramble to turn a profit in the ever-evolving new media world, artists will embrace hands-on content distribution, multimedia promotion, and unprecedented fan access. This free agent shuffle was one part "Bye Bye Baby" and ten parts "Ray of Light."

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