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Deconstructing Madonna

By Leanne McRae - posted Friday, 21 April 2006

I tuned in on a recent Saturday night to watch Parkinson on the ABC. Madonna was billed as the only guest for the evening, demonstrating the extraordinary power of the pop culture icon. She spoke for the hour about her career, family and spiritual interest in the Kaballah. As the session came to conclusion, very little information of any interest had been communicated. I was not informed, shocked or enlightened. I was sedated. Madonna has become mundane.

The controversy and critique that have punctuated her career have all but dried up. Instead of being provocative and proactive, Madonna was boring. Her discussion with Parky was prescriptive at best. It was decidedly disappointing compared to the cigar-smoking, swearing suitor she was on Letterman in 2003. The move across the Atlantic has caused her to lose her wit and rebellion.

From the beginning of her career, Madonna was a contradiction. She both challenged and conformed to the status quo. Her dialogue with difference reactivated and revised the conventions of our culture. It is a cliché to say that she pushed boundaries. She made dance culture and pop culture synonymous.


The literacies of movement were measured by her music. She framed fashion trends and fan-based frivolity, all the while writing and recording catchy pop songs that dominated pop, dance, singles and album charts simultaneously.

She buffed up in the 1980s making her feminine physique muscular and sculpted, moving it away from soft curves towards taut. It was a tough body for tough times. It was used for dancing through danger. She was blonde, had ambition and was not afraid to demonstrate her success and sexuality.

Madonna made her underwear outerwear revealing the mesh, lace and bodices of lingerie that fragmented and packaged the female form. Then she took it all off for her sex book. She bought sex back to a post-AIDS population. The fear of fornication was diffused and discussed through Erotica and Human Nature.

We sang loudly with her when she chorused, “I’m not your bitch, don’t hang your shit on me!” Madonna mobilised the music video format and we "vogued" via her vocalism and moved through her incarnations. She was a dancer, musician, poet, producer, filmmaker, actress and pop figure.

In Truth or Dare we went backstage and on the road. We watched her transgress the boundaries of boss, lover, sister, performer and manager. It was fascinating viewing. She dissed Kevin Costner and beguiled Warren Beatty.

But as I watched Madonna on Parkinson, the fickleness of popular culture was confirmed along with the tough times in which we live. In her latest incarnation, Madonna has yet again appropriated and recycled the past.


This is not something foreign to Madonna or other musicians who always draw on previous samples, chord progressions and song structures. Popular culture and music in particular, is always cyclical - forever activating, hailing and harvesting the recent and distant musical memories.

In Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna has returned to the 1970s and to disco. Her blow-waved hair and gloved left hand - Michael Jackson style - the ABBA samples and reactivation of the dance-floor metaphor transports us to a time before AIDS, corporate globalisation, underemployment and war on Iraq.

Her latest film-clip for “Sorry” featuring a disco versus hip hop battle attempts to deconstruct and even diminish the significance of the ghetto and street culture to popular music and champion the histories of shiny white middle-class movers dancing in the discothèque. There is little commentary here.

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About the Author

Leanne McRae is the senior researcher and Creative Industrial Matrix Convenor for the Popular Culture Collective

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