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Last Updated: Friday, 18 April, 2003, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Madonna fights to keep pop crown

By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Madonna's American Life cover
Madonna struck a Che Guevara pose for American Life
Madonna has released her latest album, American Life.

Twenty years is a long time to stay at the top of the world's pop charts, but - through phases as a Material Girl to Erotica-obsessed seductress to Music maestro - Madonna has managed it.

With record sales topping 130 million and more UK top 10 hits than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones put together, she is the most successful female performer in history.

Her ability to follow the latest trends and adapt her style has often been credited with preserving her appeal.

Throughout those 20 years, other stars have followed in her wake - and younger artists like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Pink and Kylie Minogue still do.

But with American Life, questions have been raised about her songwriting, her ability to keep up with the kids - and her grip on the title of queen of pop.

Madonna with a Kylie Minogue T-shirt
She knows she has influenced stars like Kylie Minogue
She has always been known as an artist who could always pull a good pop tune out of the bag, no matter which producer was giving it a cutting-edge gloss.

But her influence on others has come as much from her image as her music, with her no-nonsense, boundary-pushing persona showing other artists what could be achieved.

In Britney, Christina and Pink, it seems that more young stars are following in her footsteps than ever.

Britney has the pop sensibility, Christina the sex appeal and Pink the attitude.

Madonna is aware of the influence she has on the heirs to her crown, but does not rate them highly, according to Paul Rees, editor of Q magazine.

Rees recently interviewed the star in Beverly Hills for the magazine's May issue.

"She maintains... that they are very much moulded and may or may not develop their own style, whereas she insists she called her own shots from the start," Rees said.

I asked her what kept her making records, and she simply said that she enjoyed it
Paul Rees
Q magazine
She also saw herself as unique in the music world, Rees said.

"In stark contrast to her acting career, she doesn't seem to feel the need to hard sell her music or talk it up," he said.

"She keeps in touch with what's going on musically, and pretty much does what she wants.

"I asked her what kept her making records, and she simply said that she enjoyed it."

The electro-pop of American Life has been compared to her last album, Music, with French dance producer Mirwais at the controls again.

But she says everything she does is a progression - and would hate to stand still.

Madonna in 1990
She is renowned as the queen of reinvention
"It is another step on, but I've never wanted to repeat myself," she told Q.

"I don't ever want to make the same record or do the same thing twice. Yuck."

One critic, The Guardian's Alexis Petridis, said her attitude and image have always been more important than her music.

"Over her 20-year career she has been visually original, a provocative stylist, an intelligent lyricist and a sublime melodist, but she has never been a ground-breaking musician," he wrote.

Musically, the new album suffers because she is still on the dance music bandwagon but dance music has become "creatively moribund", Petridis said.

Opinion may be divided on whether her music has moved on, but her image certainly has.

For American Life, she has left the cowgirl with luscious curls of Music behind and toughened up.

She sported combat trousers in the latest video and is seen in a Che Guevera revolutionary beret on the album cover.

But she withdrew the video for the American Life single because it showed her tossing a hand grenade into the lap of a George Bush lookalike - and she decided it was too sensitive while the US was at war in Iraq.

She's simply done everything there is to do
Johnny Davis
NME
But she has taken criticism because the withdrawal has led many to conclude that she is not as revolutionary as she would have us think, and the Che Guevara look has been done many times before.

Another critic, NME's Johnny Davis, said American Life felt like an "unnecessary sequel".

"She's simply done everything there is to do, done more than any other pop star will ever be able to achieve," he wrote. "Surely that's enough?"

The American Life single was expected to go to number one in the UK on Sunday, beating new releases by Robbie Williams and Blur.

'Pop queen mother'

But it only reached number two and there were reports that sales for all three were far from impressive.

At the age of 44, she has been dubbed the "pop queen mother" rather than the pop queen by some in the music industry.

And Michael Jackson, the other megastar of the 1980s, has shown that what goes up must come down.

She may make music for the love of it - but to retain her pop crown, she also needs to be loved by those that are now in her daughter's generation rather than her own.


What did you think? Is Madonna's music still relevant, or is she a relic of the past? This discussion is now closed.

Madonna is still good. Just listen to the new album, especially songs like Nothing Fails or Easy Ride, and you'll understand that the woman, despite her age and all the marketing, is still a great pop artist. And don't say "Madonna's music is crap", say "I don't like Madonna's music". And don't compare Madonna to Britney or Christina, who will be gone in a few years. Madonna has been ruling for 20 years.
CÚdric, France

Madonna is a media product, who doesn't write her songs and changes persona every few years or so. Remember her with the trendy cigar? Everything she does is a copy of some past theme.

Good management, but give me a break! Young kids don't listen to her. Can you remember more than one tune she has sung. Her popularity is an afront to originality and progressive music.Last year she was English with a contrived accent. Now she's back being American Light. Poor sole needs to go to lyrical a confessional booth.
Scott Coen, usa

Music is art and does not have to be 'relevant', this is like saying that Rembrant's art is irrelevant just because it was painted hundreds of years ago. Why can't people jsut give Madonna a break and enjoy her music?!!
Phil, United Kingdom

Relic. It goes to show what good marketing can do but all things must end, eventually. Here's to the new generation and I don't mean Britney.
Hughie, Brit in The Netherlands

Yes, Madonna is still relevant. At least she still has a direct input on her music, lyrics and look. She isn't just a part of some big songwriting and image making team. She doesn't just sing prissy love songs. She sings about her life, our lives and comments on current events. She will be around for quite a while yet. Remember "big" stars about to take her crown like Whitney and Mariah? Where are they now?
David Armstrong, United Knigdom

I admire Madonna for all the hard work she has done, not just for the music and entertainment, but for herself and others. Her lyrics are emotional, strong and have a point. In my eyes, she is still the Queen of Pop.
Harri

As a long standing Madonna fan... I have to say, retire now love, will you?
Nadia, UK

Why is everyone having a go at Maddona just because she can reinvent herself? Unfortunately today's music is rarely about the music, its about image. The reason Michael Jackson isn't big anymore is simply because he hasn't changed. Don't knock someone who can stay afloat for so long in such a confusing & difficult industry.
Nelson Sa, Oxford

Madonna may like to think she's an influence on the styles of others, but she herself basically stole Debbie Harry's clothes, who herself copied Janis Joplin, and so on and so on, ad infinitum. And forgive me for being impertinent, but has the "queen of pop" ever sat down and written a "pop song"?
Kenny, UK

While some groups fall apart, some superstars fall from grace, Madonna has retained an edge over the rest by not believing the hype. She remains creative, remains a cultural barometer, and retains the edge over the factory produced pop of today.
Daniel, UK

Why must everyone still get so excited about this ageing relic of 80's pop culture? Her new music is simply dire and it was a shame that she had to taint the 007 legacy with her morose electro pop rubbish. If you want someone who can really change their image and stay cool over 40, then lets pay hommage to Bowie - atleast he has a little musical intellect and doesn't just ride the manufactured pop wagon. Go home Madonna, you really are getting tiresome, and please, please don't make another movie...
Leo Dawkins, UK

Music is universal, not just the preserve of the young. Why should Madonna stop making music just because we live in an ageist society obsessed with youth? Madonna loves making music, it's her life so let her live it. News flash; we all get old. Madonna is still making decent tunes; the stuff on her new album is refreshingly different and better in my opinion than anything in the charts at the moment. I hope she's still making music in her eighties.
Andrew, England

I thought Madonna was known for always being ahead of the game and knew all the little underground happenings...but what with her new rap style (remmeber Blondie?) and flooding Kazaa-style sharing networks with fake MP3s - she's proved she is now very out of date.
James King, UK

As a long standing Madonna fan and someone who travelled to Barcelona to attend the first concert of the Drowned World Tour and a fervent buyer of all Madonna records, I can honestly say that her new single is a waste of time. More of the same old, same old. I have to say, retire now love, will you? You've done your thing, you'll always be remembered, but you really don't have any more new tricks up your sleeve - do you?
Nadia, Manchester, UK

If people did not find Madonna's music still relevant then they wouldn't buy it and it wouldnt be going to number one this week. People buy a song not necessarily because it is a stunning piece of music but because moreover they can relate to it in someway.

Music is all about empathy and Madonna has known that from the very beginning - that is why she is the most successful female artist of all time. It is unfair to compare her career to Michael Jackson. Although she has caused her fair share of controversy, what Jackson may or may not have done and his actions over the last couple of months meant that he was nailing his own pop coffin shut. Madonna is yet to be so stupid. She pushes boundaries and always has done.

Madonna only remains in the charts becuase she's part of the establishment
Chris W, UK

If Madonna was a relic of the past then she would have been discarded by the record buying public a long time ago. She has always made sure that her music has something to say about the situation right here, right now. Whether it was teen pregnancy, virginity, sexual promiscuity or just simply music, this technique has alway made sure that she has remained relevant.
Roderick McInnes, UK

She is the Queen and no one takes her place. Madonna is the symbol that past or present Her music is reinventing and tells the pop world "here's something new", a possible hit! She is Super!
David, England

Madonna's achievement has been to take the idea of packaged pop and packaged image and give it an intelligent twist - bridging the divide between the vanguard and the mainstream that so disected music before her. But I doubt she'll be much played in 50 years. Instead she'll be remembered as an important chapter in the commercialisation of innovative music ideas rather than their creation, and as a first-rate performer.
James Bridge, UK

Who cares if Madonna's music is still relevant or not? She makes great music that millions of fans worldwide can enjoy. Here's to you, Madonna!
Anna, UK

I refer the jury to the case of Relevance vs. David Bowie.
Steve B, Scotland

At 44 - more like the Queen Mum of pop.
Mark Jones, UK

She's a decent enough performer and singer but I don't think creating music has ever really been at the forefront of her mind - after all she didn't start off that way in her quest for fame. She has also jumped on many a bandwagon when it comes to trends (eg vogueing). I don't think she has anything significant to contribute anymore, both in terms of her tired shockvalues nor musically. Seen and heard it all before.
Wendy, Scotland

To the cynics, I say listen to the whole album and you'll be very surprised
Scott, England

Madonna only remains in the charts becuase she's part of the establishment - being able to get the best DJ's and writers means you can't lose! Only her money ensures her continued popularity. Her real musical talent is negligable, but her skills as a businesswoman are exceptional.
Chris W, UK

I went off Madonna not long after watching her tour movie. She came across as really, totally "thick" .. for her to be dictating stores with a moral for children .. well, the mind boggles! What next? Idi Amin to run kindergarten class?
Jane Wilson, San Antonio, TX, USA

Madonna is the queen of knowing her own self-worth and capitalizing on marketing herself for her successful career in entertainment. I find this latest project to be another attempt at shock and to seem hip. She emulates other pop musical artist of today. This BBC interview reminded me of recent Christina Aguilera and Lisa Marie Presley's successes. Madonna seems to be a carbon copy instead of the original nowadays.
Kay, US

Madonna's new album is way ahead of anything on the charts. People have been saying "she's over" for the last 20 years and she's still around making number 1 singles. No female artists can outdo Madonna as an influential cultural icon. None. She's the Queen of Pop Culture.
Chase, Hong Kong

Madonna is just great. She may make some mistakes, everyone does. But whatever people say about, her songs are always popular. Madonna's earlier songs like "La Isla Bonita" or "You'll see" or "Like a prayer" or "Live to tell".... dozens of them! They are still popular though they were written long time ago. Madonna cannot be out of music fashion, because she creates the fashion.
Denis, Ukraine

Madonna remains a bit of the rebel she was when she was younger, and still very much commands attention. If she didn't command attention, why was there a controversy about the American Life video?
Rashaad Jorden, United States

Madonna is still very much at the forefront of musical innovation. the very fact that she is still having number ones singles 20 years after her debut proves this. American Life is definitely a grower. It surpasses any of the manufactured crap in the charts at the moment. I dont see why people must slag off such a positive role model for everyone. she has achieved so much in her lifetime. Why can't people just be happy for her, instead of using everything she does as ammunition against her? I'm sure anyone would like to have achieved what she has in 20 years.
Craig Sanders, UK

Madonna is still at number one because people buy her music. Her fan are of all ages and her appeal is universal. American Life is set to make her 11th number one in the UK, evenn without a video or press hype. Thoroughout her 20 years she has done little British TV or radio.
Neil Chase, Uk

To the cynics, I say listen to the whole album and you'll be very surprised.
Scott , UK

No other artist in history has ever been able to have their hand on the pulse of culture like Madonna. By the way Madonna has written most of her songs as well. I think she is brilliant.
Stephen Ellenwood, America

The pop-music industry and the press are very unforgiving. When a pop-star remains popular for more than the pre-requisite 3 albums, these industries routinely begin to destroy what they created. Stars that hold on are regarded as arrogant and stale, no matter what they do. In these times, where the Dixie Chicks are black-balled for making constitutionally protected comments against the President of the United States, I am increasingly in favor of women like Madonna who seem to actively defy the system and remain successful. I am only sorry that Madonna decided to pull her video for American Life, but it sheds even more light on the fact that we have entered a frightening new era. One that even Madonna will have trouble defying.
Bobby Abate, USA

If only I looked that good in a Gaultier bustier!
Jonathan Granato, United States

Don't get me wrong, I love me some Madonna. But, this American Life song is totally unnecessary. Hasn't she already come to this conclusion on Ray of Light? He whole introspective idea that having everything can mean having nothing. And still she is not satisfied. And that rap, give me a break. Its absolutely horrendous and makes me laugh everytime I hear it. She does yoga and pillates and checks out all the hotties. Usually Madonna is known to come back with the sophistication and ease that makes everyone even grandmothers woo over her newest single. This one, however, makes me wanna be a grandmother.
DJ Payne, Texas, USA

If you don't like her, fine, but there's no need to knock her just because she'd not doing what YOU want her to do.
Marek Zlodzi, Poland

I think Madonna's music is relevant in any and all time. With her ability to adapt, she shapes her image and her music to the ever changing sound of the music industry. Her music reflects her life's experiences which everyone can relate to one way or another. That makes her music relevant. Kudos to you Maddie, keep em' coming
Ryan B., Pittsburgh, USA

There's a reason for her continued musical success where other pop icons of the 80s have faded (Prince, MJ, etc). She knows how to bring fresh ideas and talent from the fringes into mainstream pop culture.
Bgod, USA

it strikes me that the album is a progression musically for Madonna. Many of the songs are clearly another Cathartic expression of herself and her history, there is a clear move away from dance and the whole experience is more reflective. I figure that it could be a 'matures with time' album, unlike the forgettable 'Bedtime Stories' nearly a decade ago!
James, USA

Everybody should just stop criticising celebrities. Let them do whatever it is that they want and just let them be. Madonna, is obviously very talented to still be around and on the charts. People are just bored and feel the need to always say something.
Elizabeth Valencia, USA

Relic. Why does everyone get so excited about her? I'm not a fan of any of her "reinventions". All that tells me is that she's never happy with herself, which is a pretty sad statement. Her music went downhill in the mid-90s. It is laughable that she is still producing records! Her status in the recording industry is the only reason she's able to do that- not because her music is still worth anything. Same with George Michael. These were household names in my teenage years, but are artists I can't be bothered to listen to on the radio anymore (thankfully, GM doesn't even get airplay in the US!).
Eleissia, California, US

Oh lord! Another Madonna release. Along with an art gallery opening and a guest appearance on Will and Grace and every talk show from New York to Sidney. What Madonna is good at - very good at - is selling herself. The fact that she's still around is testimony to the fact that she's a damn good business woman not a damn good singer. And for that she should be admired. She knows what sells - controversy and sex. And as far as influencing a new generation of singers? Well, she has alot to answer for is all I can say. We now have a generation of female singers where music is secondary (and mostly bad) to the selling of oneself as a sex symbol. It's like Deborah Harry gone wrong.
Mary, USA

I have always loved Madonna and will continue to listen to her regardless. She has shaped the world of pop and I fancy the way her music is getting more mature and constantly changing. She's successful because she knows how to market herself and to hit a 'sore spot' with people. Which in turn, draws attention, controversy, and more popularity on her part. I would say she's definitely among the smartest artists. And heck, if she has made it this far and is still popular, I don't see that diminishing anytime soon.
Susan Long, USA




VOTE RESULTS
Is Madonna still the queen of pop?
Yes
 69.29% 
No
 30.68% 
4921 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

SEE ALSO:
Madonna's dull Life story
21 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Madonna sings for late mother
10 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Madonna pulls 'war' video
01 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Madonna blasts manufactured pop
27 Mar 03  |  Entertainment
Madonna voted greatest female artist
27 Sep 02  |  Entertainment
Madonna, queen of reinvention
28 Feb 02  |  Entertainment


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