Now I love a celebrity feud as much as the next man, but there's something distinctly unedifying about the latest attack in the long-running Elton John and Madonna stand-off. For history buffs, you may recall this goes back as far as November 2002 when Elton slammed Madonna's Bond theme for Die Another Day, calling it tuneless and "the worst Bond tune ever". Now I might have room for agreement there with Elton, but I'll save that for my inevitable Bond theme blog. What was strange was why he felt the need to weigh in while proclaiming himself a big Madonna fan, but then Elton has often considered himself one of music's leading critics. The next major spat came two years later at the Q Awards in London during Elton's acceptance speech for the Classic Songwriter Award. Again without apparent provocation he blasted Madonna's nomination in the Best Live Act category claiming she lip-synced her entire show and that "anyone who lip-syncs in public on stage when you pay £75 to see them should be shot". So no over-reaction there then. Madonna's spokesperson retaliated on her behalf, pointing out that "Madonna does not lip-sync nor does she spend her time trashing other artists. She sang every note of her Re-Invention tour live and is not ashamed that she was well paid for her hard work". Elton later backtracked a bit, but then seemed surprised that Madonna refused his invitation to perform at his bachelor party in 2005, prompting him to call her a "miserable cow".
The latest bad blood seems to stem from Madonna's triumph in the 2012 Golden Globe Awards, when her song Masterpiece from her film W.E. won over Elton's ditty from Gnomeo and Juliet. Elton's partner David Furnish took over the attack, claiming Madonna's win showed the awards had nothing to do with merit and calling her acceptance speech narcissistic. Furnish later kind of apologised, but Madonna again kept to the high ground, saying of Elton "he's been known to get mad at me, so I don't know. He's brilliant, and I adore
him, so he'll win another award. I don't feel bad". That brings us to the latest bout, when in an Australian TV interview Elton again issued forth with this charming tirade when Madonna's name was mentioned, "she’s such a nightmare. Her career’s over...and she looks like a f***ing fairground stripper. She’s been so horrible to Gaga". The latter reference no doubt relating to Madonna's recent comments about the similarity between Lady Gaga's Born This Way and her own hit Express Yourself, a controversy I covered in an earlier blog [The New Queen Of Pop?]. Again Madonna has decided not to respond, leaving it to her fans to leap to her defence. Now far be it from me to get in between such a major catfight, but whatever the provocation behind Elton's attacks, there are a couple of his claims that I take issue with. So while not an official Madonna spokesperson, here is how I would respond to Elton's attacks.
"Madonna does not sing live"
I have been lucky enough to witness Madonna live many times and I have only missed two of her world tours. She is without doubt a brilliant live performer and she ensures her shows are chock full of visual delights, while also using the live arena as an opportunity to recreate many of her classic hits in surprising ways. Madonna expends Olympic levels of energy when performing and engages in complex and cutting edge dance routines that would tax any professional dancer. Let's face it, she pretty much invented the template for the stadium age of live pop shows and Kylie, Janet, Beyoncé and co. all follow in her wake. I'm pretty good at spotting a lip-sync, as a fan of vocalists I know when there is actual sound emanating from a mouth or when it's fakery. I have never detected Madonna miming in her live shows, in fact I am often in awe at her breath control and recovery that enables her to sing and dance the way she does, but then I guess that's what daily yoga and gym work gets you. Yes Elton, it is important for stars to sing live when an audience has paid for that experience and I daresay it's a lot easier to achieve sitting behind a piano than it is performing gymnastics on a studded leather S&M carousel horse, but somehow Madonna manages it.
"She looks like a fairground stripper"
Now I don't know what fairgrounds Elton hangs out at, but I've yet to encounter one that offers strippers. That aside we can assume that his issue is that Madonna, as a woman in her fifties, still wears stage outfits that are overtly sexual. Madonna has always used sexuality as a central theme in her work, that is neither new nor particularly surprising. What is unusual is that Madonna has managed to maintain a pop career for three decades and remain relevant and commercially successful, so she is now challenging cultural stereotypes of what a fifty-year old woman should look like. Determining what is attractive is a highly personal matter, but I take issue when Madonna is attacked on her looks and image purely based on chronology. While as a culture we like women to quietly disappear in middle age, Madonna is at the forefront of challenging the boundaries of what is permissible for women as they age. Can Elton seriously criticise Madonna's attire while simultaneously leaping to the defense of Lady Gaga? Why is it acceptable for Gaga to run around in her underwear, but Madonna is called a stripper when she dares to bare any flesh? The fact is that Madonna's stage outfits for her latest tour are not that provocative by her standards, but they are recognisably Madonna, an image and icon she has worked hard to establish. What should she perform in to make Elton happy? A smock? A nice woolly and an A-line skirt? Madonna has earned the right to wear what she damn well pleases and if Elton doesn't like it, he can always take a trip to the fairground instead.
"Her career is over"
This one doesn't really need much of a response. Madonna's latest album MDNA topped the charts in the US and the UK and many other countries. Her half-time show at this year's Super Bowl set a TV audience record, with 114 million tuning in. Madonna is using her current World Tour to raise awareness of a number of issues around freedom and equality, gaining headlines and attention to some of the most serious social concerns facing us as a human race. So Elton, what have you done for me lately?
I'm pleased Madonna has continued to maintain a dignified silence in the face of Elton's frequent taunts. As she said, she doesn't really need to attack fellow artists to get publicity. Perhaps one day Elton will be able to make the same claim.
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