This week Madonna’s 12th studio album and dive into the deep end of the EDM pool, MDNA, came out. I didn’t like it very much. But what I like even less is the sexism-tinged age-baiting that the record seems to be inspiring in so many critics. Forbes was likely the worst offender of the bunch, going so far as to call MDNA “Madonna’s Mighty Menopausal Comeback.” (Uh, was that claim fact-checked, “straight woman half her age” who wrote that piece?)
Unsurprisingly, the pick-a-little-talk-a-lot gossipsphere is the worst aggregate offender in this case, with VH1-clip-show-cutting-room-floor “jokes” about her looks and extreme-to-the-max close-ups of her imperfections. (I count the always-ready-for-linkbaiting Daily Mail, which mocked Madonna’s fishnets-and-shorts outfit at Ultra by reminiscing about the days when “she had a dancer’s buttocks and thighs but, most importantly, she was only 32 years old,” among the offenders here.) But the regular press has been just as disappointing. Take the National Post, which engaged in a little bit of meta-enabling by putting down gossip bloggers and agreeing with them in the same breath:
It’s easy to take carping about an old woman acting young as snide dismissal, but the problems with Madonna’s attempt here go well beyond some Perez Hilton snickering. For starters, it is just an affront to the few comforts we can take in getting older for someone who so thoroughly captured the thrill of youth’s transgressions to just straight-up deny that it’s happening. Madonna could have brought some kind of no-nonsense perspective to her maturation. In fact, that kind of seems what she’s trying to do on a song like ‘I Don’t Give A,’ when she sings “I’m gonna be okay / I don’t care what the people say / I’m gonna be alright / Gonna live fast, gonna gonna live right.” Screw you, hater: I am owning who I am.
Except, of course, she’s not.
Nice trick, there. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, meanwhile, sneers:
On the single ‘Give Me All Your Luvin”—which is nowhere near as good as the ZZ Top song and which you surely heard during her gaudy Super Bowl halftime spectacle—she sings, “Don’t play the stupid game, ’cause I’m a different kind of girl/ Every record sounds the same, you gotta step into my world.”
And that would be … what exactly? A 53-year-old sophisticate sounding like Avril Lavigne doing Toni Basil?
And the Tampa Bay Times chimes in:
Madonna is no longer the belle of the pop ball, but the 53-year-old giddily believes she can still hang with all the Cinderellas. That’s where the trouble starts on the new MDNA, an awkward midlife-crisis album. Madge makes like the Fairy Godmother of clubland, and guess who’s up for a bibbidi-bobbidi-booty call.
Cute Cinderella imagery there, but I hope that 53-year-old men who believe that they can “hang with the Cinderellas” get the same scrutiny from this writer. Or is that okay because that relationship reinforces the traditional power norms?
Even the positive reviews got a little cringeworthy at times. “After all, what other 53-year-old woman could launch her 12th studio album by wearing its title emblazoned on a shirt and commandeering a stage at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival Saturday night—two days before the disc’s official release—and set the Twittersphere aglow?” mused Howard Cohen in a positive MDNA review over the Miami Herald. Well, I don’t know, not many, because there aren’t many pop stars period who could do that?
Pop music fetishizes youth as a manner of course, thanks to the carefree attitudes and dewy looks that come along with being young. But there’s something in the reaction to older women trying to make their own way (and not going the Susan Boyle route) that is particularly egregious, particularly now, when the utility of females with any notoreity—from politicians to pop stars to paramours of other celebrities—seems to be reduced to how hot they look in wire-service shots collected by gossip blogs’ tireless gallerists. And I’m not even talking about women over 50 here; I’m talking about women over, say, 35. The reaction to Madonna’s album is of a piece with Chuck Klosterman’s musings on the potential “weird 40-year-old existence” of tUnE-yArDs’s Merrill Garbus—making her washed up a mere seven albums after her victory in the Voice‘s Pazz & Jop poll. Reactions like these make the artistic output subordinate to the fact that the artist has celebrated more than 25 birthdays. (Watch out, Lady Gaga—you turn 26 today, so that clock is ticking.)
When Mick Jagger was flailing around like an idiot with Jennifer Lopez and will.i.am last year, did people call him old? No, they just called the music bad. MDNA is enough of a lousy record, with its mashed-together roster of producers and obfuscation of Madonna’s voice, to let its badness stand on its own, without snickering about whether or not she still has to send her assistants on tampon runs once a month.