Madonna Is Pathetic

I freely concede that I am completely out of it when it comes to most facets of current popular culture.  I’m way behind on the new musical acts and popular songs, the hot TV shows, and the latest fads.

I recognize that my opinion therefore doesn’t count for much . . . but I still think Madonna is pathetic.  She’s an act from the ’80s who has fallen out of favor and into modern cultural irrelevancy.  She’s not alone; other ’80s singers like Boy George and Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis aren’t doing much these days, either.  Apparently, however, it is driving Madonna nuts to be out of the limelight, and she will say or do anything to get attention.  At least, that is how I interpret her reported conduct on an overseas tour, where she shows controversial videos, flashes a nipple in one city, and flashes her keister in another.  Anything for a headline!

It’s sad to see the formerly rich and famous scramble to hold on to a glimmer of their celebrity status.  They are so addicted to attention that they will stoop to incredibly demeaning behavior to get another fix.  Madonna’s problem is that she never had much of a voice, can’t transition to singing standards as prior artists have done, and has learned that today’s young people aren’t really interested in buying songs sung by 50-year-olds.   When you want desperately to be a musical and cultural phenomenon and you confront those realities, there’s not much you can do but work out for hours every day, expose a butt cheek now and then, and ponder what form of outrageous behavior you’ll need to participate in tomorrow.

What’s next, Madonna biting the head off a chicken?  It’s pathetic.

American artists, British bands

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

There are eight Americans and two Brits in the top ten of Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest artists of all time

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

(not a definitive list, but useful for illustrating my point). What’s strange is that all the Americans entries are individuals, while the British entries are for bands. Going down the list, it’s pretty much the same, with a few exceptions. Marvin Gaye, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison for the Americans, the Clash and the Who for the British.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra

Elvis

Elvis

It’s not a fluke. Anyone who’s listened to pop music from the past fifty years has probably noticed that America’s best contributions come in the forms of individuals, while British ones come in the form of bands. None of the “best American bands” we’ve discussed so far are as influential, in my opinion, as Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson. Many of America’s best bands have been dominated by a single member – Nirvana by Kurt Cobain, the Beach Boys by Brian Wilson, the Doors by Jim Morrison – while Britain’s best bands traditionally derive their brilliance from collaboration (or compromise) – the Beatles from Lennon and McCartney, the Rolling Stones from Jagger and Richards, etc.

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

The “American artists, British bands” rule applies too consistently to be dismissed as coincidence. Why is it this way?

Maybe it has something to do with America’s culture of individualism. The republican ideal of a man free to work to improve his own life has, perhaps, helped create the image of the American singer-songwriter

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

who blazes his own path through music. This explanation strikes me as too idealistic, however.

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

It could have something to do with America’s celebrity culture. Americans love creating personas for public figures. Maybe individual artists, with songs reflecting their own personality and values, resonate more with the American people. With more popularity, they are more likely to have successful careers that allow them more creativity. In fact, nearly all the great American musicians have personas like this. Sinatra was classy, Elvis wild but respectful, Springsteen working-class, Madonna sexual, etc. We even give them nicknames like “the Boss” and “the King.”

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

Prince

Prince

Another likely explanation is that, for whatever reason, America started a tradition of successful singer-songwriters that musicians imitated throughout the years. The great musicians whose pictures are in this post might have been following the model set by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, jazz greats like Miles Davis, or country legends like Woody Guthrie. In Britain, aspiring musicians would be more likely to follow the example of their country’s legends, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Jay-Z

Jay-Z

In the past thirty years rap has dominated American popular music. More than any other genre, rap is all about individualism. I wonder if this is continuing the same tradition. After all, rappers do tend to have well-known personas (usually involving a huge ego).

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake