Madonna is old and washed up. An icon turned has-been. She’s desperate. Thirsty. Gross, even. Certainly irrelevant. Sure, few have contributed more to popular culture, but fairly is enough. She doesn’t get wise anymore. “Madonna is so easy to denigrate that you start to wish she’d make it a little harder, ” Time magazine wrote in 2006 .
That’s a common forbear these days, especially on the internet, where insight of celebrities often tends toward the unforgiving. Age is an arbitrary clout metric, but it characterizes Madonna’s image, much to her dislike. The first popping starring of the MTV era to remain prolific at 60, she is, in her own paroles, “being punished” for continuing to work, something the monstrous who predate her — Elton John, Paul McCartney, Cher, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Carole King — don’t have to worry about. They’ve more or less accepted that they are nostalgia acts, a status Madonna is hellbent on avoiding. Unlike them, she still desires No. 1 hits, having told a Billboard reporter as much last month.
Sometimes the consequences of Madonna’s drive are a collective disinterest: Thirty-seven years into her job, we’ve seen it all before; we’re tolerated, and isn’t there a new Jonas Friend annal to catch instead? Other eras, the result is outright spite. People actively sprung against her, working Madonna’s bygone youth and everlasting doggedness as ammunition. The veritable “queen of pop” now guesses she’s an loser — a narrative that in turn fuels her scoffers’ acrimony. When the world isn’t ignoring her, it’s mocking her. “If you leave like an old lady, then you should just stick to your old-lady incites, ” talk show host Wendy Williams sniped after Madonna’s Billboard Music Awards performance in May.
To get a sense of how Madonna’s reception has collapsed, consider “Medellin, ” the guide single off her eclectic brand-new book, “Madame X.” The song declined the same day as Beyonce’s Netflix documentary and catch live album. Two weeks later, Lizzo secreted her critically sacred major-label debut. The following week, Taylor Swift unveiled a cheesy empowerment hymn about the joys of spelling. Then Pink and Vampire Weekend met the procession. Meanwhile, the country-fried curio “Old Town Road” lurked atop the Billboard Hot 100, which claimed three different Ariana Grande jam-packs and six Billie Eilish trails.
“Medellin, ” a glossy reggaeton daydreaming featuring the Colombian stud Maluma, didn’t stand an opportunity. Two months away, its Spotify comedies total a mere fraction of those belonging to Madonna’s competition, even though her insights target the same audience — a striking reality for the person or persons with more Top 10 hits than any other act in Billboard’s history, as well as an abiding presence on the dance charts.
Anyone can name a handful of Madonna vocals off the priorities in their ability, but most further reduce her pleasure over the past several years to vaguely feuding with Lady Gaga, posting questionable circumstances on Instagram and chasing sonic trends that don’t always set her. It’s all but guaranteed that Madonna will never have another smash, partly as the world is disdainful of her age and partly because her instincts aren’t as clever as they once were.
As the 2010 s left with a radically modified sound scenery, Madonna’s standing reveals a great deal about the half-life of a contemporary music career. That so few care about brand-new Madonna content says as much about us as it does her. It’s hard to think of a pop star — or any notoriety, genuinely — with as numerous singular achievements and such a durable home in Western media who precipitates so much ire and phlegm.
Then again, there’s no one as ruthless. Chief among Madonna’s expertises is perseverance, a determination to remain herself no matter how much the world around her changes and no matter how many times she is labeled the empress of reinvention. It must be hard for someone so calculating and self-mythologizing to accept that she no longer sits at the nucleus of culture. The digital age draws it harder than ever to be a trendsetter with true-blue staying power, but Madonna maintained her throne longer than anyone else from any era, and damn if she won’t try to claw her space back. If the public has been largely ambivalent about Madonna’s 50 s and 60 s, what the hell is Taylor Swift’s, ahem, reputation look like in a few decades? How about Beyonce’s? Are they doomed, as brides, to be labelled elderly try-hards? Or can Madonna be a morality tale in how pa dignitaries age?