Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Ten Madonna Moments of 2012

Madonna left quite the impression this year.

In every meaning of the word. 

First, "a notion or belief"?  Nearly 5,000 kids will be served by schools co-built by Raising Malawi, with more schools on the way.  Those kids will get the impression that there is good in the world and they could be summoned to a higher calling

Second, "the effect produced by an agency or influence"?  The Material Girl label thrived.  Hard Candy fitness centers expanded.  A workout tape arrived.  Even without Madonna pressing the flesh and pushing product herself, her influence was pervasive.  Joe Francis, the entrepreneur behind the low-brow "Girls Gone Wild" video franchise, decided, in a stroke of premature publicity-mindedness, to pick a battle with Madge over the preliminary title of "Girl Gone Wild" even though dozens of other songs share the title.  Lame move but telling of Madonna's dominion.

Third, in ad-speak, an "impression" is the measure of the number of eyeballs (or eardrums) garnered.  Consider that more than 14 million people had been exposed to "Give Me All Your Luvin'" before it had its debut at the Super Bowl a few days later.  That historic game, by the way, was the most-watched U.S. television event everMadonna's performance in the middle of that show saw a spike of two million more viewers, making her 12-minute set the most-watched TV segment in history.  One hundred fourteen million impressions.  (She also set a tweet-per-second record, if we're drilling down into numbers.)

Fourth, "a strong effect produced on the intellect, feelings, conscience, etc."?  Why, yes, the media blitzkrieg this year resulted in Madonna's placement as the sixth-most discussed public figure on Facebook and the highest ranking female.

All in a year's work for VH1's "Greatest Woman in Music." 

Here are the top ten ways she impressed us in 2012, an astonishing 30 years since her breakout single "Everybody" was released:

10. Truth or Dare fragrance debuts with a Q&A session (April 12).  At Macy's in New York to promote the launch of her signature perfume hot on the heels of a banned "racy" commercial, Madonna sat for a 15-minute journo-and-fan-filled presser.  She led with token nods to shilling her newest product ("Smelling good has always been an important part of my life," etc.), which consists of essences of tuberose and gardenia (not hydrangea, of course!).  Then PR maven Liz Rosenberg ran through randomly submitted questions that veered from Madge's ersatz birthmark ("It just faded over time, sorry.  I can make it come back!") to the age-old "cut or uncut" debate ("That is a scandalous question!  I refuse to answer it.  Are you talking about my sandwiches?  I like my sandwiches cut!").  Do you get the impression that Madonna is finally relaxing a bit and letting the looser Madonna of yesteryear shine through?  A Jimmy Fallon-hosted Facebook livechat in March and an incredibly breezy, already-classic interview with Brazilian interviewer Luciano Huck in November (dubbed "In the Bathroom with Madonna" by fans) are providing a peek back behind the armor understandably constructed over the years.  Not all is perfect in interview world, however: an hourlong appearance on Ellen in October - in full-on "Vogue" drag, no less - felt like a wasted opportunity.

9. "Give Me All Your Luvin'" becomes Madonna's 38th Top 10 hit (February 16).  Widening her lead over The Beatles by four, Madonna found herself in Billboard's Hot 100 Top 10 for the first time since 2008's "4 Minutes," resulting in her record-smashing 38th trip to the list and her 55th time in the Hot 100 overall.  The Martin Solveig-produced lead single off of MDNA also became her 41st dance chart-topper, extending her record by over 20 (Janet Jackson trails far behind with 19) ... which she further continued with two later singles off of MDNA.  "GMAYL" got intense promotion leading up to the Super Bowl, the biggest premiere any song could ever get, with a free album pre-sale download and a polished, football-themed video.  Sales and airplay naturally followed.  But while the song entered the Hot 100 at #13 and tied for Madge's fourth-highest debut ever, the peppy tune that features bits from Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. peaked at exactly tenth and then quickly dropped off.  New era, new rules.

8. Dick Clark passes away (April 18).  "The World's Oldest Teenager" succumbed to a heart attack at 82, ending an unparalleled career in American radio and television.  He was perhaps most famous for both his annual "New Year's Rockin' Eve" specials and the quintessential "American Bandstand" program.  The latter started in 1954 as a Philadelphia-based showcase for emerging musical artists to sing to a teenage audience of generic in-studio dancers and huge television viewership across the country.  Clark helped engender "safe" feelings about theretofore controversial "rock and roll" and introduced a slew of soon-to-become household names to the country, from Tina Turner to the Talking Heads.  In early 1984, a 25-year-old Madonna, riding high on "Holiday" in the months before the earth-shattering Like a Virgin era, performed on the show and delivered one of her most famous quotes.  When an obviously-charmed Clark asked her after the song, "We are a couple of weeks into the New Year.  What do you hope will happen, not only in 1984 but for the rest of your professional life?  What are your dreams?  What's left?", the brazen young starlet, without missing a beat, exclaimed with a huge grin, "To rule the world."  Obviously she wasn't kidding.  Upon Clark's passing, Madonna posted this starmaking clip on her Facebook page and wrote, "Even though I told him in 1984 that I wanted to rule the world, it's Dick Clark who has ruled the world."

7. Electronic dance music community feud erupts over Madonna's remarks at the Ultra Music Festival (March 24).  Madonna committed a big no-no at Miami's EDM-heavy Ultra Music Festival: her surprise cameo to introduce DJ-producer Avicii, two scant days before her EDM-imbued album dropped, included a not-so-subtle reference to the street name for pure MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy.  "Have any of you seen molly?" she asked to uproarious cheers before Avicii launched into his brand new remix of "Girl Gone Wild."  EDM champion Deadmau5 immediately took to Facebook to decry Madonna's glorification of the drug and association of the EDM world to illicit substances (Madge's discretion aside, "hur dur" right back at you, Mousy, because really?!).  But instead of letting things lie, Madonna tried to backpedal and tweeted an "innocent" explanation - that she was only referencing a friend's song that employed that line in its title.  But, wait, Madonna, that song to which you were supposedly referring is probably - nay, definitely - about molly the drug.  And didn't you already tell Jay Leno on his show that your album name is a "triple entendre" and, in addition to meaning the "DNA of M" and a hyper-modern, abbreviated take on your name, alludes to MDMA (which is directly called out in "I'm Addicted")?  Cue the backlash from EDM acolytes and beyond.  Madonna had painted herself into a corner.  Yeah, Madge, we're not buying it either.  To borrow a phrase from the kids, "Mollygate fail."  But these gloriously messy foot-in-mouth moments are part of why we love you.

6. L'Olympia Theatre mini-show in Paris devolves into chaos (July 26).  Madonna followers excitedly and quickly snatched up full-priced tickets to her unexpectedly-announced "intimate" mid-tour date wedged between Dublin and Vienna, nearly two weeks after her big stadium show in the City of Lights.  The Olympia Theatre show got its own YouTube promotion as a major event that was going to be streamed live globally.  The 2,500+ ticketholders, including those who queued up for hours for access, did not, however, get a full-length show, as some griped they were led to expect.  While the set featured some unique moments (a standout "Beautiful Killer" mash-up with "Die Another Day" tops the list, and Madonna gave an irony-free tribute to the creative and tolerant nature of Paris and France as a whole), many complained the show's brevity (a brisk 45 minutes) was flatly unacceptable and not in keeping with the hype and pricing.  Chants of "slut" and "boo" rang out throughout the venue and bottles were thrown onto the stage when it was clear the show was over. Madonna released a  statement blaming non-fan "thugs" on the melee.  M-apologist rumors swirled that sympathizers of Marine Le Pen, the French National Front leader whose forehead was emblazoned with a swastika during the tour's "Nobody Knows Me" video interlude (which was edited after the European leg), were to blame, as if they purchased tickets and waited out an entire mini-concert simply to hurl things at the stage and call the superstar mean names.  Demands for fan refunds went ignored and Liz Rosenberg went into overdrive defending the well-intentioned reasons behind - and cost of - the special event.  No good deed goes unpunished?

5. Elton John says Madonna has "no fucking chance"of winning the Best Original Song Golden Globe (January 15).  Most people understand that most of these cartoonish celebrity feuds are pure PR stunts, right?  Like a couple of tween siblings, Madonna and Elton John have traded barbs over the years, even though it's not a tremendous secret the two are probably quite fond of each other, even spotted sharing a laugh in France this summer.  He's called her a "miserable cow," a "fairground stripper," and an unrepentant mimer, giving her one bit of advice before the Super Bowl: "Make sure you lip-synch good."  The most egregious example of this churlishness was on the live red carpet telecast for the Golden Globes and was as juicy as anything water-cooler award show gossip could get.  John was interviewed by Carson Daly about his chances of beating the likes of Mary J. Blige and Chris Cornell for the Best Original Song trophy.  John waved off any likelihood of Madonna winning, stating she "has no fucking chance" and declaring to Daly that those were "accurate words."  As Madonna delivered her (lengthy) acceptance speech for W.E.'s "Masterpiece" a few hours later, the camera cut to a smug John.  How did that crow taste, Sir Elton?  Maybe he did get the last laugh after all.  W.E. officially premiered a week later and grossed less than a million dollars and lost the costume Academy Award for which it was nominated.

4. MDNA becomes Madonna's eighth number one album (March 26).  Madonna's fifth consecutive number one album, a streak begun with 2001's Music, plants her only one pole position album behind Barbra Streisand's record nine career number ones.  Contributions from lead producers William Orbit, Martin Solveig, and Benny Benassi helped the club-friendly danceathon, Madge's twelfth studio album and her first under her LiveNation deal, boast a huge headstart with the biggest iTunes pre-sale day ever.  While it opened strong with 359,000 copies sold its first week, any success was dimmed by both a controversy surrounding the concert ticket CD giveaway and, more tellingly, the steepest second-week drop-off in history.  Critical reception was warmer than 2008's Hard Candy, and fans tended to compare the disc (favorably) to 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor.  "Give Me All Your Luvin'," most agree, didn't quite represent the album, and eventual tour opener "Girl Gone Wild," complete with clubby singalong chorus and button-pushing video, should have been that choice.  As for the album itself: divorce-bruised "Love Spent" will enter the pantheon of Great Madonna Ballads; Lourdes-assisted "Superstar" got heavy play in promos for the Bravo network; nearly each track, from failed upbeat single "Turn Up the Radio" and techno-crunchy "Some Girls" to the contrite "I Fucked Up" and alternately defiant "I Don't Give A" had a strong contingency of fans rallying behind it; and, say what you will, but there has never been another Madonna song quite like "Gang Bang."

3. Madonna throws shade at Lady Gaga on Nightline (January 13).  The Lady Gaga-Madonna tinderbox that had been simmering since the release of "Born This Way" got some gasoline dumped on it this year.  Madonna, in a sit-down with Cynthia McFadden that was spread across several of ABC's news programs, responded to McFadden's question "that almost blew up the internet": what does she think of Lady Gaga?  Forget the high road.  "It feels ... reductive," our Queen said.  When McFadden followed up with, "Is that good?", Madonna reached for her teacup and puckishly replied, "Look it up" before taking a perfectly-timed sip and glancing off-camera.  Meow.  When the MDNA Tour setlist was leaked, it was clear Madonna was going full-throttle: "Express Yourself" included a few bars from "Born This Way."  Word from early rehearsals then reported that Madonna completed the seamless Gaga mash-up with a repetitious "She's Not Me" (from Hard Candy) thrown in for good measure.  Would Madonna really go that far on the actual tour?  Turns out, yes.  The passive-aggressive performance was permanently incorporated into each and every show during Madonna's majorette segment.  So juvenile and yet so delicious.

2. MDNA Tour ends as the highest-grossing tour of the year (December 22).  At $296.1 million, Madonna's ninth tour, the biggest of the year, became the tenth highest-grossing of all-time and the highest-grossing solo female tour ever, second only to Madge's own Sticky & Sweet Tour at #4.  The usual complaints about (very) late starts, not enough classics in the setlist, skipping Australia, and political preaching were to be expected.  Also expected as Madonna criss-crossed the globe doing 88 shows in 67 cities was plenty of tried-and-true controversy: Gay rights (necessitating defiance and triumph).  Gun violence (necessitating a manifesto).  Nudity (necessitating more nudity).  Fostering peace in the Middle East.  That whole swastika thing.  She told a gay Republican "I still love you" with a wink in San Francisco and heckled a smoker in Chile.  She stumped for Hurricane Sandy victims, President Obama, Russian dissidents Pussy Riot, and Pakistani martyr Malala Yousafzai.  Gratuitous headlines and mini-firestorms aside, this tour felt designed expressly for hard-core fans.  Billboard readers agreed, naming MDNA the best tour of the year.  Sure, she did "Like a Prayer" and "Open Your Heart" pretty earnestly, but almost everything felt tweaked to surprise and appease long-time followers: reviving the staling "Human Nature," "Candy Shop," and "Hung Up"; sliding "Cyber-Raga" into "I'm a Sinner"; bravely re-working "Like a Virgin" so sublimely and divisively.  Fans were rewarded with plenty more, including selective performances of "Music," "Holiday," "Everybody," and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" at just the right times; unprecedented access with generous Golden Triangle proximity; and, um, flash-in-the-pan Psy?

1. Madonna performs the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show (February 5).  We heard Madonna would be "bringing gay to the Super Bowl."  Boy, did she ever.  Within the first few seconds after the "Bridgestone Halftime Show" logo disappeared, the spectacle commenced with a rainbow-unicorn vengeance: dozens of shirtless gladiators tugging a ship carting a black-clad, Cleopatra-esque Madonna mouthing the opening lines of "Vogue."  After she disembarked from her royal perch and sword-slashed her way through the song with a well-timed harp strike and crazy one-legged leg extensions, her crown was removed and the stage became a DJ soundboard.  A holy shit! wobble on top of the stage bleachers was her only misstep of the evening as "Music" blended a coterie of M-flipping B-boy dancers, a 'froed slackliner, LMFAO, and a violent, planned tug at Madge's skirt.  Cheerleaders then descended onto the scene, as did Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.'s middle finger (zzzz!), for a pom-pom-filled "Give Me All Your Luvin'," Madonna's polarizing new tune.  After Madge put those divas-in-waiting in their supporting-player places, like Britney and Christina Aguilera before them, Cee-Lo Green joined the Queen - now adorned in a shiny black robe - for a rousing, marching band- and choir-backed "Like a Prayer" with "Open Your Heart" intro.  After she and Green were lifted into the air on a platform to ecstatically bring it all home, she was left alone and then gone, in a literal flash, swallowed up by the bleachers in a puff of smoke.  It really was all too good to be true for a Madonna fan.  To top it all off, the extravaganza was generally praised and, again, the most-watched television event in U.S. history. 

And that brings us back to another definition of impression: "a mark left by pressure."  In 2012, Madonna surely left hers in our collective psyche.  Score one for our lady.  Touchdown!

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