Sunday, January 01, 2012

Top Ten Madonna Moments of 2011

We Madonna fans got a lot of hackneyed product this year, for sure. We got a perfume named Truth or Dare, a second Hard Candy Fitness Center (this time in Moscow), and of course more Macy's-based Material Girl clothes. What's next, a Ray of Light line of lamps?

We kid! We kid! If the foregoing was all Madonna did this year - and understandable as that may be with such an overstuffed 2012 on deck - we'd hang up our blogger pen and call it a year at that.

So, let's get serious.

"I Love New York" was featured on "Glee". David Guetta won a Grammy for his remix of "Revolver". Madonna has a new boytoy half her age named Brahim Zaibat.

Not enough? Okay, then, how about we get to the REAL Madonna year that was? Coming right up: a turgid twelve months of a woman that doesn't just rest on her laurels and think of goods to name after her famous song titles.

10. Madonna tapes Oprah's finale tribute episode (May 17). When the Queen of Talk said she'd be hanging up her mic, speculation about who her final guest would be was off the charts. How could Oprah possibly choose among all the world-class names she'd be accorded access to? It turns out, she didn't have to. The very final episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" starred only Oprah herself, speaking directly to her audience and viewers about what she had learned and hoped to impart over the show's 25 years on-air. The two penultimate episodes, then, were a staggeringly star-studded four-hour event shot at Chicago's 20,000-seat United Center and hosted by Tom Hanks. One huge surprise guest after another (Beyonce, Michael Jordan) was paraded out. And then, almost lastly, one surprise was introduced by Hanks as "a hard-working mother of four" from New York who considered herself an "ultimate viewer". Ladies and gentlemen, it was Madonna, who showered a visibly stunned Oprah with praise and even named Winfrey as her only living role model. The reunion of these two media giants capped a strong professional relationship dating back to 1996 (for Evita promotion) and carrying through Ray of Light and "The English Roses" eras to the adoption of David in 2006.

9. Madonna wows at Met Gala (May 2). After a disastrous homage to Donnie Darko at the same event two years ago, Madge brought the glamour to the annual Museum of Metropolitan Art's Costume Institute Gala Benefit. In her lovely pale blue Stella McCartney gown, she absolutely radiated stardom. Dubious assertion that she felt "fat" in the dress aside, Madonna kept it classy on the brink of a ton of high-profile red carpet trolling, bracing herself for the impending W.E. promo stroll. Make-up, hair and accessories done to perfection, belying her 52 years, Madonna all but eradicated her (considerable) fashion missteps. In fact, more than one commenter suggested Madonna's appearance here harked back to her youthful, romantic mid-'90s look. Note: that was 15 years ago. Give face! Beauty! Face! Face!

8. Madonna's lawyers go after Spanish fan for "Madonnaleaks" (December 21). Remember during the age of Napster when Madonna sprinkled into file-sharing networks audio files intentionally mislabeled as leaks from the Music album? Remember those files actually just had her saying "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" and then several seconds of silence? Remember how we all shook our heads and laughed? Well, in a time when the recording industry is still suffering, musical artists no longer find piracy a joke. So it was this December when Madonna sicked her lawyers on "one of Madonna's biggest fans", a resident of Zaragoza, Spain, who somehow released a demo of upcoming single "Gimme All Your Luvin" (at the time generally known as "Give Me All Your Love"). Via Guy Oseary, Madonna tweeted, "My true fans wouldn't do this. Whoever is responsible for this leak, we ask that you please stop!" It's difficult to determine when leaks are sanctioned - last year's treasure trove of unreleased tracks had an air of authenticity, and Oseary commenting on the demo's warm reception underscored how commonplace intentional, word-of-mouth-building leaks might be - but, for Pete's sake, when Madonna kindly asks you to cease and desist, you just comply.

Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" is released (February 11). The lead single from the Lady-in-waiting's same-named album was certainly one of 2011's musical success stories: it debuted at Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over three million digital copies. But almost instantly upon release, Madonna was evoked. Specifically, "Express Yourself" was evoked. A lot. Some critics agreed with early listeners and noted the "unintentional" (sayeth Lady Gaga) similarities, suggesting how hard it must be to climb out of the shadow of a pioneer who seemingly did it all, sonically or otherwise. There was no official statement from the Queen (a study in homages - and no stranger to accusations of artistic theft - herself) on this issue, but she did quietly upload the "Express Yourself" video to her YouTube channel. A rumor even quickly spread that a re-release of the 1989 classic was being mulled. High road (mostly) taken, a diva showdown never materialized, but the brief whiff of bitchiness was unmistakable.

Smirnoff announces a Madonna-starring "dance celebration" (August 17). The summer press release declaring that Madonna was participating in Smirnoff's Nightlife Exchange Project at Roseland in the fall wasn't particularly headline-making on its own. To the contrary, it was almost - pardon the pun - dispiriting. (Another endorsement?!). What was most exciting about this partnership announcement was that it, with its mention of a competition for a slot in Madonna's crew, portended a tour in 2012. This was the first official confirmation of a tour (the first new one since 2008), which meant we could back into a first-quarter album release date. The event on November 12 was a velvet-rope night in NYC, with a mostly silent Madonna, who emerged from the stage in typically dramatic, club-thumping fashion, winnowing down twelve pre-selected finalists and choosing Lil' Buck of Memphis for the coveted spot. With album co-producer Martin Solveig teasing out throbbing, lyric-free club music from the DJ booth ("Is this a preview??") and Madonna finally leading the crowd with a few cheers from the recently leaked "Gimme All Your Luvin" ("Y! O! U! You wanna?"), fans were amped up for the new sound ahead.

5. Madonna signs with Interscope (December 15). When Madonna and Warner Bros. Records parted ways after 25 years and bajillions of dollars together, it was hard to imagine the Material Girl going back to the traditional multi-record pact days of old. And though she simultaneously consecrated her lucrative, multi-faceted 360 deal with Live Nation, after she fulfilled her obligations to Warner Bros. with Celebration in 2009, a new means of old-school distribution of the next album was still needed. Ultimately, the Universal Music-owned Interscope locked Madge in for three albums to the tune of a reported $40 million. Live Nation brokered the deal for its marquee talent and Interscope, where she will join the likes of Lady Gaga and WBR-defecting Van Halen. Whatever it takes to get that album out there, please!

Madonna's Super Bowl XLVI halftime performance is confirmed (December 4). On October 5, the website reported that for the first time since 2004, a solo female performer was taking the stage during the 46th Super Bowl halftime show on February 5 in Indianapolis. No stranger to this rumor, Madonna made no comment. Football fans scoffed and Madonna fans scratched their heads. Could it be? After the MTV-produced debacle featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake and the FCC and a nipple piercing, the National Football League erred on the side of "oldies" acts like the Rolling Stones and Prince in recent years. Was Madonna considered "safe" now? Do drunk straight guys want to see this? It all seemed unlikely ... until it wasn't. On December 4, it became official. The NFL broadcasted an announcement during one of its games with a spot that gave any true Madonna fan goosebumps ("One legend is taking the field for the first time ever."). Later on, it was revealed that she was teaming with Cirque de Soleil, ascending pop star Nicki Minaj and raptress M.I.A. for what is always the largest televised event of the year. It will be, by far, Madonna's largest audience ever. The rumored setlist is chock full of her standards (as of now, supposedly "Holiday", "Music", "Ray of Light", "Vogue") with her new single leading off. Good luck, Madge, and, we beseech thee, no wardrobe malfunctions.

3. Boy George tweets that Madonna is in the studio with William Orbit (July 31). We hate to credit the man who once called Madonna "a vile, hideous, horrible human being with no redeeming qualities" with breaking perhaps the biggest Madonna-related news of the year. But being that that she would allegedly be re-teaming with Ray of Light producer William Orbit, we'd have gladly believed even the most pathological of liars; we just needed it to be true. Much of Madonna's late-'90s and early-aughts work with "Billy Bubbles" is indisputably among her best (and certainly her most Grammy-winning) and fans have been clamoring for a return to form after some post-Orbit critical and commercial stumbles perceived in 2003's American Life, 2008's Hard Candy and 2009's Celebration. (Consensus dictates that 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor gets a pass.) While it has become clear Orbit would be sharing producer duties with a few others, anticipation remains exceedingly high. No pressure.

2. Raising Malawi nixes Academy for Girls amid financial woes and management shake-up (March 24). She herself once sang, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Madonna now knows that better than anyone. Raising Malawi, her pet charity, nearly imploded in the wake of a scandal involving serious allegations against some executives. Madge and Guy Oseary briskly stepped in as part of a caretaker board but $3.8 million allocated for the Academy for Girls had already been squandered, killing the project. Was the charity now being investigated by the FBI? Were Raising Malawi employees now suing Madonna personally? Would Madonna abandon the impoverished country from which she adopted two of her children? Madge flack Liz Rosenberg issued a statement on April 5 to dispel some of the rumors, and a settlement was reached with disgruntled ex-employees who sued for wrongful termination and bristled at an onerous proposed confidentiality agreement. These setbacks will not daunt Madonna, who has committed to staying in the country and helping out, suggesting perhaps building many schools throughout the country. But did the drama help to put doubts in Madge's mind about her cherished faith Kabbalah, which has at least some peripheral influence on Raising Malawi? In April, there was talk that Madonna was considering converting to the ultra secretive Catholic sect Opus Dei. To no one's surprise, that wasn't true. Madonna is, for now, staying the course and is likely, due to these tribulations, more committed to her faith than ever.

1(b). The infamous "hydrangea video" goes viral (September 6). While promoting W.E. (see #1(a) below) at a Venice Film Festival press conference, our dear icon, when presented with a bunch of flowers, was captured on camera indelicately making faces and on mic saying the now-classic "I absolutely loathe hydrangeas". Almost instantaneously the video got widely disseminated on the internet, triggering millions of eye rolls and electrifying the haters. To her credit(?), Madonna gamely released an oddly unapologetic response days later. But the damage was done. That the "fan" was later revealed to be an Italian prankster did little to staunch the knee-jerk "Madonna is a thankless witch" vitriol. Hydrangeagate was "gotcha" pop journalism at its finest and, for Madonna fans always on the defense, most cringe-inducing.

1(a). W.E. premieres at the Venice Film Festival (September 1). If for nothing else, the official unveiling of Madonna's second directorial effort was a huge relief in that the film was, after several false starts and bad buzz, finally out in the world, removing any further roadblocks for the star to enter the recording studio. Less cynically, the movie, about the controversial love affair between Wallis Simpson and the Prince of Wales in the 1930s, was hailed as an ambitious, immaculately costumed and sumptuous piece of filmmaking, even if reviews were decidedly mixed-to-negative. Madonna's passion project has garnered magazine covers and a slew of M interviews. It was also nominated for two Golden Globes, including one for the Madonna-penned back-to-soundtrack-form "Masterpiece" (a collaboration with William Orbit), a song that was eliminated for Academy Award consideration due to a music cue technicality. (No possibility of a third amazing Oscar telecast performance? Heads should roll.) The film will officially be released in early 2012, during a period of colossal symbiosis with the Super Bowl, the new album and details about the tour. Happy New Year, indeed!

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