FOD might as well be changed to FOM for all the gay love Madonna receives for just showing up (which is all she does on the beyond-dull Confessions on a Dance Floor, a record so wooden it might as well contain the confessions of a dance floor, but more on that in a sec). What bothers me is not the acceptance, but the seeming blindness of many of the above-linked reviews and reports that comes with the acceptance: they lavish praise without bothering to explain why (the worst culprit is the yeah-yeah-yeah-whatever-of-course-of-course 'tude of the Queerty link -- so much for "useful information" and not feeding into stereotypes). To a large chunk of mostly white, mostly well-off, mostly youngish, mostly tech-savvy gay men, Madonna is great, duh, except for when she's absolutely unbearable (and many a homo still will defend American Life, a record so confused and ultimately stupid that it couldn't even manage to be lucidly hypocritical). The gay default musical taste is Madonna. She is the fail-safe choice, the aural equivalent of shopping at the Gap.
While there, keep in mind that on Wednesdays, we wear pink.
As someone who loves pop music, I can't exclude myself from those who have appreciated Madonna's output. Before 1996's Evita, in fact, I was a huge fan, but then, I was also a teenager. What eventually repelled me was her noxious mixture of triteness and arrogance, two things I wasn't equipped to take issue with or even be aware of at such a young age. When both came to a point most clearly ("I wanted to put a face on it," she said of Ray of Light's take on electronic music, as though people like Donna Summer, Bernard Sumner and Björk never existed or made videos or were somewhat iconic themselves), I'd had enough. What was liking her worth, anyway? She can't really sing (though it's reasonable that you could like her voice the way you like your culinarily untrained mother's cooking). She can't write. She's savvy and sometimes quick-witted, but rarely does she exhibit the kind of intellect she'd love for us to believe that she possesses. I don't care about dancing or mysticism or flashes of contrived modesty. Yes, she supports the gay community, and has forever, but must that come with the cost of punishment through having to endure babble? Despite her practical reservation on at least one rung of the gay gene's helix, Madonna has very little to offer me (in fact, her music that I still enjoy -- mostly that of her debut album, before she created her know-it-all/know-nothing persona -- I enjoy despite her).
The feminist in me applauds Madonna and recognizes her boldness as a pioneer in the mainstream discourse of women's sexuality; the fag in me turns up my nose at the bait she's dangling in front of me (oooh, dance music!). Not that the package is so attractive, anyway -- Confessions on a Dance Floor thumps and thumps but fails to blow the roof off this sucker with its maudlin, clanking and mushy production and default mode of tunelessness (Stuart Price, whose participation had me interested in this album in the first place, bows under the weight of Madonna's whip, no doubt). The notion that Madonna should do anything but turn out mindless dance music is absurd -- I mean, really, these are her confessions? In her lyrics, my friend Sal Cinquemani hears "cliches [turned] into pop slogans," but what I hear is someone who has virtually nothing to say, whose dry, somnambulist delivery (once the charisma-filled redemption to her technical shortcomings) bespeaks motions that are just being gone through because it's been two and a half years and it's time to make a new record. I hear a supposedly intelligent woman who, without a trace of irony, will pepper her lyrics with: "Love at first sight"; "You're not half the man you think you are"; "Save you words because you've gone too far"; "At the point of no return"; "Hearts that intertwine"; "I'm going down my own road"; "The only thing you can depend on is your family." I hear someone butchering the English language just so we can hear her voice.
That isn't generosity, you know.
But then, what can be expected from a woman whose idea of a poem goes like this:
I have a cage
It's called the stage
When I'm let out
I run about
And sing and dance and sweat and yell
I have so many tales to tell
I like to push things to the edge
And inch my way along the ledge
I feel like God, I feel like shit
The paradox, an even split
It's just a job, I always say
I should be grateful everyday
Sometimes I think I just can't do it
But I persist and I get through it
And I console myself each night . . .
This poem is from her tour documentary I'm Going To Tell You a Secret, which I had prepared to tear apart in this very space before I saw it. Instead, though, I found the film oddly moving, despite being marred by an abundance of (live renditions of) her more recent music and her unfailing sense of entitlement. It was actually at this point in the film that I decided I wouldn't be recapping, as it just struck me as too sad and pathetic to laugh at publicly. I pitied her myopic view of poetry, her reliance on the most obvious of rhymes and her trusted cliches (we now know why the caged bird performs). It seems that there's a cage around not just her outer life, but her inner one as well, limiting self-expression that sometimes desperately wants out.
But after viewing the willfully nonobjective "criticism" that emerged in the wake of Confessions on a Dance Floor's Internet leak, I feel the need to expose just how easy it is to point out her creative deficiency. Andy Towle posted his review just a few hours after the album leaked. So quick and unquestioning is the piece that you get the feeling that the record could have sounded like anything any it would have elicited the same praise.
What bothers me the most about Andy's review and the many, many that have popped up in a row like smiling Stepford flowers, is that the vehicle for the gushing is what could be used to stop it: the Internet. One thing I've left out in my criticism of her is Madonna's frequent borrowing from the underground, something that doesn't bother me as much as it's come to bore me. See, at various points in time leading up to the dawn of the Internet's vitalness as a source of information, Madonna's flagrant cultural mining was actually useful in exposing Middle America to sights, sounds and, effectively, cultural experiences it never would bother to access, but more importantly, couldn't access. Technology, though, has come close to deeming this and her irrelevant (lest we're counting on Madonna's interpretive skills, and I hope that I've at least proved why I'm not). You can, for example, open up a P2P that will allow you to download hundreds of Italo disco tracks that "Hung Up" and "Forbidden Love" aspire to sounding like. You can go back with a click and listen to the French filter house that "Get Together" ganks (Andy correctly points to Stardust's "Music Sounds Better With You" as a reference point on that one, and just invoking that bit of musical sunshine is what makes "Get Together" work better than anything else on the record, by the way). Without having to blow off dusty vinyl, you can hear why "Future Lovers" is such a boneheaded effrontery to its infinitely richer sampled source, Donna Summer's "I Feel Love."
(It's important to note here that M.I.A., who similarly puts chutzpah before technique [more honestly than Madonna, even], seems to have the right idea for culturally mining, or as Simon Reynolds somewhat infamously put it, exhibiting "great taste in Other People's Music," as she dines out on cultures that have very little to do with the Internet/digital lifestyle. M.I.A.'s cultural reporting via using sounds like bhangra and favela funk in a pop context is, at the very least, a lot less obvious than the I'm-sure-paid-no-attention-to-electroclash ideal of Confessions.)
This is not to attack anyone's taste (certainly, as someone who's constantly looking for ideas to explore here and who's critical in nature, I benefit from and enjoy a difference of opinion), but to question it and to throw out a rare voice of dissent. Is it really a matter of taste, anyway? When unanimous, knee-jerk praise supersedes the notion of objectivity, we're looking at something that would be so easy to write off as groupthink if this collective obsession with Madonna didn't start in childhood for so many (what came first: Madonna or the gay?). That I don't devour the shit she flings at me doesn't make me better than my fellow homosexuals, probably just bitchier (certainly, there's a host of what you could call "gay music" that I love a lot, starting with house). And (here's my confession), I'm probably doing a bit of overcompensating in the face of all the unconditional love. I can't help it. Like Madge says herself, nobody's perfect.
At least we can all agree on that, right?