new CD drops this week and it feels like old times. In fact,
there’s such a palpable vibe that the release of
Confessions on a Dance Floor has all the festive
energy of an event. It feels familiar and celebratory.
It feels like—go ahead and gag now because you knew
this was coming—a holiday, albeit one we
haven’t observed in a long time.
In the beginning,
back in the 1980s and even the early 1990s, the release
of a new Madonna video or single was akin to a national
holiday, at least among her gay fans. The devotion,
the urgency, and the fervor with which we rushed to
buy her music, set the VCRs to record her every appearance,
and raced to the newsstand to pour over the Vogue and
Vanity Fair spreads became nearly
ritualistic. Whether documented by Herb Ritts or
Steven Meisel, we anticipated each new incarnation of our
Madonna like pilgrims waiting for a vision.
couldn’t get enough. We had it bad for the Material
Girl—and she gave it to us good.
enjoined, “Everybody, come on, dance and
sing,” we got up and did our thing. When she
coaxed us to “Live out your fantasies here with
me,” we let the music set us free, and we partied
with abandon. When she admonished us,
“Don’t go for second best,” we put our
lovers to the test and stood our ground.
Madonna was a new
kind of heroine for the diva-adoring gay masses. The
tone of the torch songs that characterized the pre-disco era
was long on suffering, short on self-worth. Madonna
gave us a new kind of anthem, one in which we no
longer had to be held hostage emotionally by anyone who
spurned our advances. She went beyond telling us that we
would we survive; she told us we could do so without
compromising ourselves or our desires. The
“respect/ express yourself” message in
Madonna’s lyrics, when teamed with her own
unabashed sexuality and walloping down beats, was the
new kind of kick we’d been looking for.
We were smitten,
and Madonna justified our love for her by always lifting
us out of the realm of the day-to-day. Her music could
transform an ordinary minute into an immortal club
moment, complete with a shimmering disco ball and
dizzying flecks of light. Madonna’s dance tracks
offered a necessary escape that was nearly
transcendental during an era when our community was
seeing more than its share of heartbreak and horror.
Off the dance
floor, she was just as supportive, becoming an outspoken
AIDS activist and promoting education and compassion over
ignorance and intolerance. At a time when other
artists tried to distance themselves from the very
audience that helped their stars to rise, Madonna only
turned the light back on her gay fans and made it burn all
the brighter. After “Vogue”—and
its obvious debt to to the gay drag artists depicted in
Jennie Livingston’s documentary, Paris Is
Burning—some critics would say her sidling
up to the gay community had always been in her best
relationship between Madonna and her gay fans over the years
was one of mutual adoration at best, symbiosis at
worst. We understood the impulses that led to some of
her less-than-stellar moments and we looked the other
way. She had Dennis Rodman. We had Rod and Bob
Paris-Jackson. As long as she delivered what we came
to expect—a soundtrack that gave us hope and
allowed us, in our more somber moments, to believe that
there was a place where we could be better than we
were today—we continued our devotion.
By the end of the
1990s things had started to change, though, and it was
Madonna herself who foreshadowed the shift. When she covered
Don McLean’s folk epic “American
Pie” in 2000 for The Next Best Thing sound
track, hearing her sing the lines “I knew if I had my
chance / that I could make those people dance / and
maybe they’d be happy for a while,” it
was hard not to be struck by the earnestness of her
delivery. As she did with everything else, she made
the lyrics her own. As a listener, not to mention a
fan, you almost wanted to put any doubts she might have had
to rest. Yes, Madonna you did make those people dance. And
yes, you certainly did make us happy, and for more
than just awhile. You made us downright ecstatic for
many, many years. Your music continued to transport us
out of this world and into another.
But for some fans
the moment Madonna began talking about another type of
transcendence—through the teachings of
Kabbalah—was the day the music died.
In the mid to
late 1990s, there was still plenty of life in
Madonna’s work, depending on who was taking the
pulse. The problem, as some devotees saw it, was the
message that accompanied the medium. Both the CD and
the title song of 1997’s Ray of Light could
easily have been sub-titled Meditations on a Dance
Floor. The song’s lyrics contained a
different kind of spiritual exploration than that to which
Madonna’s fans were accustomed. Whereas she had
previously questioned religious authority—in
Gaultier-designed frocks, no less—she was now
turning inward and searching for answers.
didn’t care, as long as she still brought the beats
to the dance floor, and Music, released in
2000, delivered some block-rockers. Still, the lyrics
and attitude that had earlier in her career made the
press label her a “stainless steel sexual
icon” were not the focus of this later work.
Eventually the spirituality-cum–social message
that culminated in her American Life release and last
summer’s Reinvention Tour left part of her audience
feeling abandoned. Madonna may have only wanted to
take her fans higher with her musings on the
immaterial world. But as an escape it just wasn’t
where some of them wanted to go.
reaching Nirvana, becoming born again, seeking a balanced
center—whichever way you choose to label it, a
spiritual search is an individual thing. But getting
dumped? Now that’s universal. After we spent
hours waiting for the call that never came, it was Madonna
who told us to use that dejection to our advantage.
Rejection, we learned, was a powerful aphrodisiac, and
looking good was the best revenge.
probably part of the reason her new single, “Hung
Up,” has created such excitement: Madonna is
back on message. Madonna is once again singing from a
place where we’ve all been, with attitude and beats
most definitely included.
Up” had barely had its legal release when my in-box
began filling with the effusive ravings of the
faithful. What struck me the most wasn’t just
the adoration and excitement that the new single had stirred
among my friends; it was the song’s uncanny
ability to allow these people to forget the very real
problems they had to face each day.
D, who said
he’d “nearly swerved off the road” when
he’d heard “Hung Up” while
driving, has been tending to the health of a gravely ill
family member for most of the year.
excitement over Madonna’s new single was displayed in
exclamation points and gasp-filled messages, has been
diagnosed with a cardiac condition generally
associated with people twice his age.
And M, who had
just undergone yet another surgery for a chronic
autoimmune disorder, was particularly happy; “Hung
Up,” with its revved-up ABBA sample and
bone-crushing beats, took him back to the dance floor
and distracted him from his post-op pain.
The appearance of
Madonna on MTV’s European Music Video Awards show
caused another volley of e-mails and phone calls as the
reverent frantically programmed their TiVos. After
repeated viewings, we gushed about the boots, the
body, and the magnetic presence. We might as well have
been worlds away.
The problems we
have today are different than those we faced 20 or so
years ago but regardless of the issue currently laying us
low, Madonna still lifts us up the most whenever
she’s throwing down. One day we might be ready
to sit and listen more attentively to what the Kabbalah can
bring to our lives, but with one version of Confessions
on a Dance Floor offering seamless mixes from
one track to the next it doesn’t look like
we’ll be getting off the dance floor anytime soon.
So, Happy Madonna
Day. It’s time for the good times. Forget about
the—never mind, I think you know the rest.