In a moment of reflection, I find myself owing a profound apology to Ms. Madonna Louise Ciccone. I confess that I had once dismissed her, labeling her as irrelevant, even a traitor. How wrong I was. Having adored her during my twenties and thirties, attending her iconic performance at Wembley in 1987, my interest had waned over the years. The prospect of spending a significant sum to witness the now 65-year-old "Queen of Pop" on her "Celebration Tour" held no appeal.
My skepticism deepened as I encountered videos of her tripping on a cloak, struggling with corsets reminiscent of her prime, and adopting gloves to conceal wrinkled hands. The Wildenstein plastic surgery images were particularly jarring, and I took it personally. Madonna, born just a year before me, had been a trailblazer, showcasing how a woman could own and control her success in an industry fraught with exploitation and manipulation.
Despite the passage of time, Madonna consistently maintained a tight grip on her creative and management processes, emerging as a boundary-pushing artistic genius. I had anticipated that she would exemplify how to gracefully embrace aging with cool style, providing a beacon for my generation of women. However, the Hollywood Boulevard route she seemed to be traversing, especially evident in her pursuit of a seemingly youthful appearance, left me feeling betrayed.
The bewildering transformation, characterized by lip implants and a seemingly desperate grasp at retaining the male gaze, clashed with my perception of Madonna as a sister in arms within the nuanced second-wave resistance to the patriarchy. This sense of betrayal was profound, particularly considering our shared journey through the challenges posed by societal expectations.
Yet, on a Tuesday night, almost inadvertently, I found myself at Madonna's show at the O2, courtesy of a friend with a spare ticket. What unfolded was nothing short of transformative. The experience left me questioning whether the plastic surgery images that had once upset me were, in fact, distorted through the lens of photo manipulation.
In the end, Madonna's performance became a testament to the enduring power of reinvention and resilience. As the curtain fell, I was compelled to reconsider the narrative, recognizing that redemption in the spotlight may be the ultimate triumph in a narrative that is far from over.
Observing Madonna in the flesh, with a forehead and cheeks seemingly as smooth as a crash helmet, dispels the illusion created by infamous shots that portray an American plastic flange face. In reality, she remains undeniably Madonna, albeit with a slightly Barbie-doll finish. Contrary to the initial jarring perception of surgically and chemically adjusted features, in the context of her live show, Madonna's appearance seamlessly blends into the spectacle of showbiz—a crucial component of the razzle-dazzle.
Beyond her role as a creator of timeless pop songs, a role validated by their enduring brilliance on a recent Tuesday night, Madonna shines as a performer. Drawing on her 40-year oeuvre of iconic music videos, her stage presence transforms into that of a creator and curator of visual astonishments. The Celebration show, hosted by the larger-than-life drag queen Bob the Drag Queen, attired in an oversized version of Madonna's Marie-Antoinette costume, revolves around chimeric artifice.
Every element on her stage exudes fluidity, from expressions of sexuality to the gender of her dancers. Nakedness becomes a canvas for challenging preconceptions, with gender mutable and irrelevant— a captivating exploration that transcends norms. Madonna's audacious commitment extends to a point where she passionately kisses a dancer, illustrating that in her artistic realm, everything is more interesting when freed from conventional constraints.
As the show progresses, Madonna seamlessly transforms into an alien, donning a skintight faceted metallic Versace-does-Barbarella catsuit. Her image is projected onto a fantastical Avatar-esque distant planet landscape on the giant back screen. Singing an entire song lying down on a raised platform, she showcases pure genius, catering to her own comfort while delivering an unforgettable performance.
Dancing alongside a company young enough to be her grandchildren, Madonna ingeniously factors in rest periods, acknowledging the realities of age with refreshing pragmatism. A knee support, worn prominently throughout the show, becomes a symbol of her authenticity— a declaration of a lifetime of dancing and the occasional ailment that accompanies it. At 65, Madonna unapologetically embraces her journey, challenging societal expectations with strength, fearlessness, and a remarkable blend of style and artistry. This combination evokes admiration, fostering an enduring appreciation that spans four decades and counting.
In the concluding moments of the show, phrases illuminate the big screen in a style reminiscent of Jenny Holzer. "NO FEAR" boldly declares one, a sentiment palpable to all witnessing the spectacle. Another poignant message emerges: "TO AGE IS A SIN." As these five words loom large, they resonate deeply, eliciting tears in the eyes of a 64-year-old viewer, grateful for the legible print. In those moments, Madonna's message encapsulates a profound truth—within our culture, despite legal strides and milestones like MeToo, aging remains unfairly stigmatized, especially for women.
Even as women secure equal rights in law and ascend to significant senior roles, the weight of societal judgment persists. The truth echoes through Madonna's unapologetic declaration: "TO AGE IS A SIN." Standing amidst a crowd of 20,000, the vast majority considerably younger, the realization dawns—Madonna, once again, is challenging norms, rewriting the script through sheer talent, bravura, and a resounding absence of fear.
In this electrifying moment, dancing alongside younger women, the misconception unravels. The traitor wasn't Madonna, who chose facial adjustments for her reasons alone—it was the viewer, swayed by societal propaganda that painted her choices as ridiculous, laughable, and irrelevant. The epiphany unfolds: Madonna Louise Ciccone remains an unyielding trailblazer, not just relevant but essential for all women unwilling to succumb to societal dictates.
She stands as a living testament to autonomy and defiance, a Queen of Pop who lives by her rules, continuing to inspire those who refuse to be dictated to. In this realization, the connection is reignited, and Madonna reclaims her position as a sister in arms— a beacon for those who refuse to conform. In this narrative of empowerment, she remains not just a cultural icon but a force challenging perceptions and demonstrating that age, when embraced on one's terms, is a testament to strength and authenticity.
As the final notes echoed in the air, Madonna's performance proved more than a celebration of her music—it became a powerful testament to resilience, defiance, and the unyielding spirit that defines her legacy. The phrases on the big screen, reminiscent of Jenny Holzer's artistry, conveyed not just messages but profound truths. "NO FEAR" illuminated the arena, a mantra embodied in every move, every note, and every expression of Madonna's performance.
To age is a sin," those bold words, embraced by tears in the eyes of a 64-year-old viewer, encapsulated the societal judgment that persists against women as they navigate the passage of time. Madonna, however, stood as a living contradiction to this narrative, defying norms with grace and unapologetic strength.
In that pulsating moment, surrounded by a sea of faces predominantly younger, Madonna emerged not as a traitor to her age but as a resolute pioneer, challenging preconceptions and redefining the status quo. The revelation struck deep—the true betrayal was not Madonna's choice for facial adjustments, but the belief in societal propaganda that painted her as ridiculous and irrelevant.
Madonna Louise Ciccone's enduring relevance lies not just in her music but in her unwavering commitment to living life on her terms. She remains a trailblazer, a sister in arms for those who refuse to conform, an icon challenging the notion that age diminishes worth. As the applause lingered and the crowd dispersed, Madonna's legacy soared higher, a beacon for generations to come, reminding us that true empowerment lies in embracing one's journey with audacity, authenticity, and an unapologetic spirit.