Saturday, January 01, 2011

Top Ten Madonna Moments of 2010

The Madonna brand, in both the literal and figurative senses, seemed to be this year's dominant theme, from a passive investment in coconut water to more aggressive marketing in apparel and fitness clubs, to the expected musical accomplishment: tying with Bob Dylan with 19 Top Ten albums (by way of Sticky & Sweet Tour CD/DVD, released in March), 11 albums shy of Barbra Streisand's perch.

True, a majority of 2010 found Madonna toiling away on her second feature film as director, set for release in 2011. But our London and New York-minded gal still bookended a typically crammed year by extending her presence (and presents) on other continents like South America (a sojourn to Carnival in Rio, the final throes of the Jesus Luz Affair) and Africa (laying the foundation for the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls, snagging a VH1 Do Something Award, playing Santa - and presumably not "Santa Baby" - for needy orphans).
With Madonna nearly everywhere, it's quaint knowing that there is at least one place, for now, that you definitely won't permanently see her name. This summer's delicious gossip upped the ante on the evergreen Vegas rumor by alleging Madge turned down a staggering $1 billion, five-year residency gig in Sin City.

Fat chance of "Madonna at Caesars" in the foreseeable future, but, hey, you never know, especially after skimming her wild year in the rearview mirror:

10. Hard Candy Fitness opens in Mexico City (November 29). For at least the past 14 years, since Madonna entered her Ray of Light-era yoga phase, talk of her body has nearly eclipsed her body of work. So it's only natural that Madonna, in a branding-heavy year, would link up with New Evolution Ventures to launch a chain of high-end, state-of-the-art fitness centers. First stop: Mexico City. Next stop: Moscow. At the Mexico City launch, Madonna walked the red carpet, cut the ribbon and then changed into workout clothes and led a dance class for inaugural members. While you may never get into as good as shape as Madge, you may be inspired to your utmost by the watchful gaze of the artful Madonna likenesses festooned about.

9 . Liz Rosenberg leaves Warner Bros. (February 23). Ain't no other flack like Liz. And so when one of the most well-known publicists in the biz parted ways with her record label home after several decades of service (as Madonna herself did in 2007) to form Liz Rosenberg Media, it was a no-brainer that one of her top clients would remain the walking newsmaker that is Madonna. Liz fields nearly every press inquiry, dispels rumors left and right, and has been a confidante of the megastar for longer than Lady Gaga has been alive. At times understandably prickly, but always efficient and humorous, the ever-busy Liz, nearly a single-monikered industry personality in her own right, was perhaps best put to somber use for M this March with the announcement that Madonna's former manager, Caresse Henry, had died in an apparent suicide. We look forward to plenty of happier news next year, Liz.

8. Madonna rides the NYC subway (September 8). And now for the year's biggest "Madonna WTF?" moment: Some New York commuters - and intrepid paparazzi - were taken aback to see Madonna herself on an actual Brooklyn-bound subway train filled with actual people. Had the Great Recession finally stung M's bank account? Had she fully committed to eco-friendly travel practices? No, don't worry about her economic well-being - or credit her with going totally green. She was doing prep for her feature film and scouting locations and eyeballing potential shots. Biggest clue that this was an anomaly and the Material Girl does not, in fact, regularly use mass transit: she grasped the subway pole with her bare hand. Ew.

7. Madonna appears on "The Marriage Ref" (March 11). Madonna did buddy Jerry Seinfeld a solid with a winning performance on his execrable show, a novelty throwback featuring a rotating celebrity panel dissecting "real people's" marital issues. Madonna's fellow judges were comedians Larry David and Ricky Gervais, and the trio - who were bemused as to how they found themselves in such an odd format show - lobbed biting bon mots at the via-satellite contestants ... and each other. Madonna, an uncharacteristically relaxed good sport, held her ground against the formidable quipsters and delivered some of the hour's sassiest zingers. Best line that made the broadcast: To Larry David with hand on hip, "You can't handle a woman who stands up to you." Best line that didn't make air: To host Tom Papa regarding an emasculated husband contestant of dubious sexuality, "Ask him if he's ever been to one of my shows."

6. Eight leaked outtakes and demo tracks hit the internet (September 7). Madonna fans didn't get any official new music this year but could console themselves with nearly an album's worth of previously unheard tracks, recorded over the span of several years and ostensibly intended for albums ranging from Ray of Light to last year's Celebration. Late summer proved a veritable breeding ground of leaked goods, providing download-happy Madonnaphiles a cornucopia of tunes (an ABBA cover here, a Justin Timberlake techno-ballad there). While we won't lavish praise on any particular tracks like we (prematurely?) did with "Revolver" last year, standouts include the "Sorry"-esque banger "Broken" (reportedly discarded from Celebration) and urgent, playful "Animal" (Hard Candy), and "Pala Tute" (Hard Candy) demonstrated Madge could still effectively exploit the Romani refrain she mined for Live Earth and Sticky & Sweet's "La Isla Bonita" reinterpretation. Now how about an official one-off single to tide us over until the next album is recorded?

5. Material Girl fashion line debuts (August 3). Forget the luxe sunglasses collection spawned by Madge and D&G in May. The real noteworthy joint venture involved Madonna and Iconix, which licensed her name and, with the creative aid of a 13(!)-year-old Lourdes, traded on her considerable fashion awareness to create and sell exclusively through Macy's a teen-targeted line of clothing and accessories. No shock, then, when Macy's, the second-largest department store chain in the U.S., reported third quarter earnings that exceeded analysts' predictions by a whopping 6.6%. Obligatory controversy footnote: Madonna was sued over use of the "Material Girl" name by rival manufacturer LA Triumph. Regardless of whether or not this is a valid claim, expect a settlement; not for nothing did Madonna re-embrace a 25-year-old nickname she had famously eschewed.

4. Madonna speaks out against bullying on "Ellen" (November 9). There was such a tragic critical mass of teen and young adult suicides this past year that many big names took the initiative to condemn violence against perceived LGBT youth. For her part, self-described "outsider" Madonna did a remote sitdown with Ellen Degeneres for the latter's eponymous gabfest. In a compelling interview that mercifully skirted any of the usual ham-fisted talk show self-promotion, Madonna tipped her hat to the gay community (without whom, she confessed, she'd have no career) and expressed her agitation not just through her eloquent words on the celebration of differences and curbing gossip but by her body language, looking genuinely devastated and torturing a rolled piece of paper with actual hand-wringing. For critics who felt her May statement against the imprisonment of an engaged gay couple in her beloved Malawi was too little too late, perhaps this was ample balm in a watershed year for gay rights.

3. Madonna is named one of Time magazine's 25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century (November 18). Eleanor Roosevelt. Indira Gandhi. Marie Curie. Coco Chanel. Margaret Sanger. Corazon Aquino. Golda Meir. Angela Merkel. Rosa Parks. Margaret Mead. Julia Child. Martha Stewart. Jane Addams. Oprah Winfrey. Hillary Clinton. Gloria Steinem. Rachel Carson. Aretha Franklin. Sandra Day O'Connor. Jiang Qing. Margaret Thatcher. Virginia Woolf. Estee Lauder. Mother freaking Teresa. And ... Madonna? According to Time, these important female figures "most influenced our world." Amen.

2. Madonna performs "Like a Prayer" during "Help For Haiti Now" telethon (January 21). Madonna watchers are forgiven for feeling anxious about their girl singing on the global stage. After all, we got a well-intentioned but wobbly rendition of "Imagine" on the telethon held for victims of 2004's catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami. Subsequent sets at 2005's Live 8 (combating poverty) and 2007's Live Earth (eco-awareness) got increasingly better and yielded some classic performances. With only one song slot in this crowded multi-network fundraiser for earthquake-crippled Haiti, Madonna had to knock it out of the park. Going acoustic and, as required of "Prayer" performances, backed by a choir, Madonna acquitted herself more than adequately. She pared down the showmanship and delivered an earnest and affectingly imperfect three and a half minutes. Maybe Alicia Keys or Mary J. Blige garnered most raves of the 19 musical performances, but that Madonna X Factor on display was decidedly critic-proof and proved a strong iTunes performer (i.e., it made money for the charity, the reason for the whole shebang in the first place).

1. "The Power of Madonna" episode of "Glee" airs (April 20). A synergistic blend of music and television turned out to be Madonna's greatest triumph of 2010 ... and she didn't even have to do anything but authorize use of some of her songs. One of the buzziest shows of the 2009-2010 season was created by Madonna fan Ryan Murphy. Murphy built an entire episode of the high school-set musical dramedy around Madonna, integrating many well-known songs under the guise of a threadbare M-as-empowerment theme. A pre-release of Emmy winner Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester replicating the "Vogue" video shot-by-shot went viral before the premiere of the highly-touted "Power of Madonna" episode. Predictably a Nielsen bonanza for Fox, "Glee" and its first-ever exclusive tribute was watched by millions of viewers. Those viewers, again predictably, then ran to buy the EP of the episode, which rocketed to #1 on Billboard with over 100,000 units sold in its first week. Collateral effects included a triple-digit sales increase of the Madonna catalog and a resurgence of greatest-hits package Celebration. None of this was just a happy accident, of course. It was a brilliantly calculated scheme to extend the brand (here we go again!) for youngsters not normally steeped in Madonna. "Glee" later used the template of single-artist episodes (e.g., a Britney Spears focus) but Madonna was first out of the gate with this pop culture phenom, setting the bar high yet again for those that dare follow.

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