Madonna: An old favorite reclaims relevance

    It was a meet up. A quick exchange, cash only.

    I had made my way from Evanston to downtown Chicago and, as I waited for my unidentified Craigslist sponsor to show himself, I found myself forgetting the possibility of getting mugged and instead contemplating my life.

    Was I spending too much money in one spot? Would I have enough time to make it to the United Center and back to campus while maintaining my sanity for the three lectures I had the next day? Had I reached the zenith of my experience as a young gay man? Would it be like a baptism from which I would emerge forever changed by Her sultry voice? Would they card? All important queries.

    Thus was the quest for Madonna tickets.

    Madonna released her first, self-titled album in 1983 and her concert attendance certainly reflects that age gap. This is Madge’s thirty third year as a pop star, and she is older than my own mother. As I walked up to the United Center this past Monday to attend the tenth stop of Madonna's The Rebel Heart Tour, I counted how many attendees were my age or younger – one. She appeared to be about nine years old and truly resenting the fact that she was present.

    In the same way, Madonna’s album sales depict this demographic shift. Gone are the days of twenty or fifteen million world wide album sales like that of 1998’s Ray of Light and 2000’s Music, respectively. In its first week her current album, Rebel Heart, sold just 116,000 copies and currently sits at only 650,000 worldwide.

    Of course, this could all be blamed on the rapid changing of the structure of pop culture. Social media magnates dominate the game and success is defined by a viral single drop. Regardless, these realities, as well as the fact that I found myself dancing to Music between two 30-year-olds, lead me to one question: Is Madonna still relevant?

    In a roundabout sense, of course she is. Beyonce, Rihanna, Calvin Harris and Lady Gaga – to name just a few – have all claimed Madonna as an inspiration. When an artist wants to make it big, create a stir or have a defined following, they claim to want to be “the Madonna of something.”

    It’s also important to remember that Madonna was the inaugural queen of controversy. When her music video for Like a Prayer was released in 1989 it was condemned by the Pope, who went as far as to ban her from the Vatican. Imagine a world without Miley Cyrus throwing her naked self around on a wrecking ball or Lady Gaga dressing in drag. I lied, don’t – it’s not pretty.

    Sure, you’re probably not going to have to struggle to hear your friends over her voice at a frat party, but on campus the a cappella group Treblemakers recently performed a compilation of her songs at the President’s Convocation. I personally thought it was magnificent. At the time, I was on the fence about even attending the concert at all, so l felt like Archimedes in his bathtub: “Eureka!”

    Communication sophomore and Treblemakers member Jason Yuan still believes in the power of Madge. "The music she’s been releasing is really, really good, but it is unfortunately ignored by the general public," he said.  "That’s another reason why I wanted to put a lot of her new material into the Treblemakers arrangement."

    On a musical level, she always pushes to be on the forefront of contemporary sound. Her early works continue to be hallmarks of the '80s, while she adapted to the pop and hip hop-inflected sounds of the '90s and early 2000s. Most recently, she has begun experimenting with EDM and working in cahoots with Avicii.

    In life and art, she continues to acknowledge her past while also constantly reinventing herself from album to album, and I think that’s inspiring. The concert was a perfect medley of classic and contemporary. She performed popular songs from her latest album, Rebel Heart, like "Living for Love" and "Bitch I’m Madonna," while also reminding us why her career has been so long and illustrious with generation-defining hits like "Vogue" and "Like a Virgin."

    Was I the best concert of my life? No, I paid almost one hundred dollars to be in the nosebleeds of the United Center. Did I wonder, at points, if she was singing live? Yes, but her acoustic set restored my faith in humanity.

    Are we dealing with the same Madonna that defined the notion of a modern pop-star and shocked the world with her obscenity? No, but what can’t be ignored is that Madonna is a performer. Her love for the stage and her work is clear. Ultimately, after more than three decades in the game, she remains a true master. As Madonna enters into the later years of her career, she is not releasing new music and being obnoxious to simply sell albums. Rather, she’s doing what she loves and – like it or not – in one form or another, we all enjoy watching.


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