Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Top Ten Madonna Moments of 2013

2013.  This was one of those Madonna years during which not much happened musically; a very small crowd was treated to the only live public performance.  Music aside, there was of course the usual mix of latter-day Madonna tidbits like Hard Candy Fitness center openings, her "feud" with Lady Gaga, and newsflashes about how much she earns (FYI, she's the highest paid musicianlast year's MDNA Tour cracked the all-time top 10 tours list; and the sale of her L.A. compound netted nearly $20M.)

But our favorite 55 (!) year-old, between showing her ass a lot and popping gold into her mouth, seemed to be kicking it old-school and showered us with surprises.  Who'd have foreseen her (finally) diving into social media?  Given - and then stripped of - the titles of both a Mensa-caliber genius and full-fledged billionaire?  Launching an excruciatingly teased and massively promoted art initiative?  Moving on from her boyfriend (fare thee well, Brahim!) while sidling up to a very famous ex?  Or serving us punk goddess, Marlene Dietrich, Bettie Page, and Boy Scout (!!) realness?

Let's just get into that and much, MUCH more.

10. Madonna addresses the crowd at the Sound of Change concert (June 1).  Chime for Change, a global campaign for improved education, health, and justice for females, hosted an event at London's Twickenham Stadium that was streamed worldwide.  There were a scattershot of A-list music performances (including Chime for Change co-founder Beyonce) and a slew of celebrity presenters.  Never one to shy away from a consciousness-building affair (see: Live Aid, Live8, Live Earth, etc.), Madonna gave a rousing speech during her introduction of Pakistani education activist Humaira Bachal, officially starting her call to arms for freedom through education and art.  By shedding all of the accoutrement of her pop star persona in recent months, Madonna in essence kicked off her newest era: that of a spare, self-described revolutionary.

9. Malawi's president calls into question Madonna's motives (April 2).  The megastar Raising Malawi co-founder touched down in the African nation to check in on the progress of the various projects the organization had set into motion.  Nice enough.  This, however, wouldn't be a true Madonna Moment without some controversy, right?  None other than the country's president, Joyce Banda, blasted Madonna for alleged diva demands and inflated claims of her activities' impact on the schools and economic development of Malawi.  Despite M's well-intentioned tours of orphanages (from which, of course, she previously and quite notoriously adopted two children, a scandal in and of itself), hospitals, and schools, she was pilloried by the government for her, as they see it, attention-seeking and ego-boosting glory.  Raising Malawi had already been on shaky ground and was on its way to mending fences so becoming persona non grata in her beloved pet country has got to sting. 

8. Mark Kamins passes away (February 17).  In a year permeated with big anniversaries (American Life turned 10, Ray of Light 15, The Girlie Show 20), perhaps the most notable was the 30th anniversary of the Madonna album.  There wouldn't have been a debut album - and the world quite probably would never have heard of Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone - without Mark Kamins.  Kamins, a DJ-producer mainstay on the Lower East Side nightlife circuit in the '80s, produced a 1982 track with - and dated - a ferocious, struggling little club regular even then going only by her first name.  That song, "Everybody", opened up many doors for the nascent superstar, the biggest being a record deal with Sire Records, initiated by Kamins' introduction of the demo to instantly-smitten honcho Seymour Stein.  Kamins died of a massive heart attack in Mexico at the age of 57.  Madonna immediately released a statement (including the heartfelt "He believed in me before anyone else did."), prompting The Hollywood Reporter to write, "The particular poignancy of his passing is surely the marking of the chronology of those connected to the incipient development of the biggest musical star of our time -- the mortality surrounding the cultural immortal that is the Queen of Pop."  Exquisitely said.

7. Madonna collects three trophies at the Billboard Music Awards (May 19).  As if the MDNA Tour (and to a lesser degree the album) didn't get enough critical and commercial accolades in 2012, Madonna was still reaping the rewards from the smash road show this year.   In a sea of fresh faces like Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Skrillex, the sole representative for the old guard glided onto the stage in shades and a risque skirt reminiscent of her Hall of Fame induction outfit and the pimped out look from 2008's "106 and Park" appearance.  In her acceptance speech for Top Touring Artist - she also nabbed Dance Artist of the Year and Dance Album of the Year - there were characteristically cheeky bits (recalling "ass negotiations") and diva antics (on her lowered mic: "They obviously think I'm shorter than I am.  I'm not happy about that."; handing presenter her sunglasses and award to hold), and a few surprisingly humble comments like "A showgirl needs her fans" and a rare acknowledgement of a career spanning "three decades".  She's old enough to be many of these whippersnappers' mothers, you say?  Sit down, kids.  Madonna still got the biggest round of applause by far and made more money than plenty of those bush league pop stars combined.

6. Madonna debuts her grills (July 2).  The instantly Instagram-adopting star took to the photo-sharing app this summer to display her blingy new dental fixture with the caption "Don't hate me.  Hate my #grilz. @cap_master".  And we, for the most part, did.  But the grills persisted and were flashed at various times for several months.  After a defensive declaration/threat of "grilz" loyalty, the denouement was a much-maligned appearance at the Hard Candy Fitness opening in Rome on August 21.  When assumed retired, however, they were popped again on Madge's bizarre cameo on "Saturday Night Live".  In typical Madonna fashion, it was most likely a ploy for attention and to grab pop star headlines from grills forebears Rihanna and Miley Cyrus.  Mission accomplished.  Otherwise, hashtag no.

5. Madonna wears a Boy Scout uniform at the GLAAD Media Awards (March 16).  The Vito Russo Award is presented by GLAAD (formerly an acronym for Gays & Lesbians Alliance Against Defamation) to an openly LGBT media professional who has made a significant impact on promoting the equality of the LGBT community.  This year, Anderson Cooper was bestowed the honor, and pal Madonna was asked to introduce him.  There was a delay when Madonna was due on stage at the appointed time for Cooper's award, forcing host Sam Champion to vamp a bit as he explained, "Apparently, there's a costume".  The audience giddily anticipated something may-jah.  And, several minutes later, Madonna yet again delivered.  In a long line of outlandish outfits donned for public appearances - from pajamas to breast-baring harnesses - her Boy Scout uniform is high up there.  In a timely protest of the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay scouts, Madonna spoke out against exclusionary practices and touched upon her "revolution".  Who's to say whether her much-publicized appearance helped precipitate the lift of the ban?  Merit badge for balls, Madge!

4. Madonna goes punk for the Met Gala (May 6).  The theme of this year's "costume ball" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual gala was "Punk: Chaos to Couture".  Madonna seized the opportunity and owned the look, daring to go where not many luminaries who showed up dared to go in their pedestrian, safe gowns and tuxedos.  The look, a tartan blazer, fish net, black bangs, and metallic accents galore, referenced Madonna's Breakfast Club days in Manhattan's happening Lower East Side.  She has always said Blondie and the CBGB punk scene inspired her, and she was famously thoroughly embedded in that arty, edgy downtown world, so she knows of what she wears.  What gets more punk than a crucifix dangling from the rear of a pantsless Rock and Roll Hall of Famer?

3. MDNA World Tour premieres at the Paris Theater in NYC (June 18).  On a drizzly summer evening, a couple hundred VIPs and fans crammed into Manhattan's celebrated Paris Theater for the premiere of the MDNA Tour's "concert documentary".  The event was sponsored by Epix (the home of the film's TV debut), The Cinema Society, and Dolce & Gabbana.  The DVD and accompanying CD didn't exactly light up the charts (and even triggered a recall), but that's beside the point.  It allowed Madonna the opportunity to honor Marlene Dietrich (complete with aromatic whiffs of The Girlie Show), who cut the ribbon for that very theater over 60 years ago, and surprise the audience with a live drum line performance after the screening.  The loose (yet apparently scripted) Q&A finale segued into a full preview of the Secret Project, whetting the assembled's appetite for Madonna's next reinvention.

2. Madonna's selfie madness begins (February 9).  Even though Madonna had joined Instagram at the end of 2012, it wasn't until this past year she really took to the photo-sharing app.  While many of her uploads were aphorisms, travelogues, or simply promotional in nature, a sizable percentage of her near-daily posts were of herself, and not necessarily glammed up.  In fact, we haven't had such an unvarnished look at the Queen for what felt like an eternity, whether it be post-workout snapshots, Purim previews, or, yes, flashing those "grillz".  Embracing social media - including a well-regarded "Ask Madonna Almost Anything" session on reddit and partnering up with BitTorrent to distribute content - and going full throttle on warts-and-all exposure has helped wash away the recent memories of a tech-phobic Madonna who (rarely) spoke to fans through manager Guy Oseary's Twitter page, reluctantly chatted on Facebook, or back in the day resisted using iTunes to sell her music.  A defiant and unfiltered risk-taker?  Welcome back, Madonna!

1. Art for Freedom is unveiled (September 24).  The long-awaited "Secret Project" that Madonna had been dropping cryptic hints about - in abstruse trailers, at the MDNA Tour premiere, and on social media - was at last presented in an exclusive premiere event at NYC's Gagosian Gallery, which kicked off the Art for Freedom rubric.  Major cities across the globe were concurrently treated to pop-up projections of the heady 17-minute film  secretprojectrevolution unspooled at Gagosian.  The Steven Klein co-directed movie, the centerpiece of this ambitious "Revolution of Love", is bursting with ideas and themes about coalescing a collective unconscious movement to overcome oppression through expression.  Madonna and appointed celebrity curators are using this platform to inspire artists to contribute pieces and answer Art for Freedom's "defining question", "What does freedom mean to you?" as grants are bestowed on arts organizations throughout the world.  The Gagosian event featured wild dance performances and Madonna unexpectedly singing a cover of Elliott Smith's melancholic "Between the Bars".  Swarms of glitterati attended to check out first-hand what Madonna was up to.  No less than Sean Penn mingled, inspiring a meme of sorts, then-and-now (and often sentimental) juxtapositions that bridge the past and present ...

And they show a young Madonna still hungry, on the cusp of iconic status, decades before now when she basically came full circle in her less guarded "fun Madonna" cycle.  That Madonna of the 1980s sure has come a long way, and the blonde ambition has apparently just begun.

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