Print this page
Can we call time on Madonna's position as postmodern, ironic, feminist leader of the free music world? Don't get me wrong, she's fantastic. I love her back catalogue and her Bowie-like reinventions. Nonetheless, as we move into a new decade, the Madonna-as-high-art concept is finished. Done. Kaput. She's moved from Warholian pop genius to victim of the tabloid TMZ culture.
We simply know too much about Madonna. Instead of "Hey, it's Madonna, the reflective zeitgeist and worldwide female superstar", it's "Oh, it's Madonna – the recent divorcee, is she or isn't she dating whoever and will she be allowed to adopt that African baby?". It's tiresome. Of course, after more than 20 years of being an iconoclast, Madonna has nothing to prove anymore. Nonetheless, if we want to find a the next Madonna for a new decade, it's got to be Beyoncé.
But wait, I hear you say. What about Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, or even Courtney Love? Aren't they all obvious choices for the next Madonna-in-waiting? No. Lady Gaga has brilliant pop songs, but her act reeks of a drama student playing at being Madonna. It lacks her substance and force (and she is yet to star in a rubbish flick). Spears is admittedly Madonna's protegee, but the magnificent breakdown electro-pop of Black Out did not reconcile with the meek comeback of Circus, which was as un-Madonna as you could get.
To take on Madonna you have to be more than a blonde imitator. You have to have more than a postmodern knowing wink to sexuality. You have to have more than one Camille Paglia essay written about you. To take on the grand lady of pop you need to be larger than life. Beyoncé has been vying for Madonna's crown and, with her forthcoming fourth solo album in 2010, she's in a position to take it.
When was the last time Madonna recorded a great dancefloor track? In the past, she practically invented "feminist anthems" – Like a Virgin, Material Girl, Erotica and many others. Madonna used the shock and awe of sexuality in pop performance and brought it to stadiums. But has time been kind to 2008's Hard Candy? Does 4 Minutes belong in the Madonna canon?
Contrast this with Beyoncé. For more than 13 years, she's written, produced and performed more than her fair share of hits for independent ladies: Survivor, Independent Women, Irreplaceable, Say My Name and Bills, Bills, Bills. Who else but Beyoncé could deliver So Good from Destiny's Child's The Writing's On the Wall? Funny and genius.
Let's examine further evidence. Both artists have been attempting to break through on screen. Contrary to popular myth, Madonna has had a couple of good films to her credit (Dangerous Game and Desperately Seeking Susan) – and plenty of absolutely terrible ones. Beyoncé? Only one really crap film (Obsessed). But the rest? Pretty good.
Madonna made a party out of exposing society's flaws. Now, she's just Madonna, the celebrity. Beyoncé is also a superstar, but how much do you know about her? She's married to Jay-Z, yet she's kept her private life out of the press. She's subscribed to the Bob Dylan school of propagating myth over reality. With Madonna and Beyoncé both releasing new material this year, the battle is on. Don't get me wrong: Madonna is brilliant, but Madona-as-concept feels like it's coming to an end. But we don't need to worry, because we've got Beyoncé.
Reproduced by Kind Permission of Alan McGee and The Guardian