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Posts Tagged ‘Madonna’

Highs in the Mideighties

June 25, 2014 | by

Recalling the heyday of Prince and Madonna on the thirtieth anniversary of Purple Rain.

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Twenty-four-hour music television, the brainchild of a TV-spawned pop star, the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith, began broadcasting in August 1981 with the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” MTV was everywhere within eighteen months. If new pop and postpunk had gleefully and rapidly rewritten rules, taking music forward in a constant revolution of purpose and invention, their aftermath was an era of momentum for its own sake. Things got ever shinier, greed and need replaced innovation: conservatism was a force and a problem both outside and within eighties pop.

Two new names appeared in this froth of newness. Both stood out from the crowd, both clearly demanded attention, worship, devotion: Prince and Madonna. These were names that couldn’t have existed at the dawn of modern pop, names that baited royalty and religion.

Both based their sound on electronically processed dance music, allowing them the opportunity to change style from record to record in a way that seemed innovative, one step ahead of the pack, like Dylan or Bowie before them. Both had egos the size of mansions. Both had a new hunger for success, for money. Both used MTV to become stars, and both used movies (Desperately Seeking Susan, Purple Rain) to make the jump from stardom to superstardom. Sex! Religion! Gigolo! Whore! Purple! Cone bra! No one could accuse Prince or Madonna of underplaying their hands. And, eventually, both challenged Michael Jackson’s place at the very top of the pop empire; by the eighties’ end Madonna had (arguably) toppled him in the popularity stakes, and Prince had (certainly) creatively eased past Jackson with the most streamlined, silver-finned R&B of the decade. These were their similarities. In other respects they were quite different.

Prince had first appeared with the itchy falsetto disco of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (no. 11, ’79) and was presented—not least by himself—as a teenage prodigy. He grew up in the largely white city of Minneapolis: “The radio was dead, the discos was dead, the ladies was kind of dead. If I wanted to make some noise, if I wanted to turn anything out, I was gonna have to get something together. Which was what we did. We put together a few bands and turned it into Uptown.”

He wanted to be everybody’s lover and—unlike most disco acts—was quite at home with lyrics about oral sex, incest, and Dorothy Parker. This set him apart. By 1983 he was channeling Sly Stone and the Beach Boys on “Little Red Corvette,” and a year later Newsweek was calling him “the Prince of Hollywood” as Purple Rain—starring Prince as the Kid—grossed $80 million. Read More »

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The Most-Wanted Books of 2012

August 23, 2012 | by

  • Madonna’s Sex is the most sought-after out-of-print book on Bookfinder’s 2012 report.
  • And a signed Where the Wild Things Are is the year’s most expensive. A video on it here.
  • Are women underrepresented in poetry criticism? Sina Queyras, Elisa Gabbert, Shanna Compton, Juliana Spahr, Vanessa Place, and Danielle Pafunda tackle the question.
  • “In 1840, the skull of Sir Thomas Browne was removed from the St. Peter Mancroft church, where it had reposed since 1682.” Alexander Nazaryan on the life of the polymath.
  • Where writers are rock stars: author David Mitchell is mobbed in Shanghai.
  • What fun, fearless female will be the voice of the Sex and the Single Girl audiobook?
  • “The true distinction, however, is not between novels and poems, but between poems and storytelling. The novel is a specific but not fixed form of storytelling, in the same way as the romantic lyric, or the sonnet, is a form of poetry.”
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    Browbeaten: The Eyebrow

    June 7, 2012 | by

    My first “boyfriend” broke up with me at camp in a letter that read, “You look like the girl from Planet of the Apes—I mean the ape she played, not the girl who played her.” He meant Helena Bonham Carter in the Tim Burton version that had come out that summer. More specifically, he meant that for an eleven-year-old, I had very unruly and freakishly thick eyebrows.

    Having kempt mine since that summer (on a necessarily frequent basis), I notice eyebrows more often than is normal; they bear special significance to me. Midway through Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Charlie confronts her uncle about his awful secret life as a woman strangler. Sitting across from him at a seedy bar, she watches his hands painfully wringing a napkin, then she tells him all that she knows: wordlessly, she raises a single eyebrow. The plot hinges on that one thin line of hair. Read More »

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    On the Shelf

    August 31, 2011 | by

    A cultural news roundup.

  • Novelist and poet Susan Fromberg Schaeffer has died at seventy-one.
  • Ruth Rendell speaks out on health cuts.
  • Snape, the dark-horse winner of a Harry Potter popularity contest. This is controversial.
  • What to read when you’re sick.
  • P. G. Wodehouse: the movie.
  • Javier Cercas: “I respect music too much—if I write I write, if I listen I listen.”
  • Tweeting from beyond the grave?
  • Samples of Obama’s summer reading.
  • The most-wanted out-of-print title? Madonna’s Sex.
  • The first Kashmir Book Festival has been canceled amid fears of violence.
  • She Loves You: the Beatles and pronoun use.
  • A. S. Byatt: “I am a profound pessimist both about life and about human relations and about politics and ecology. Humans are inadequate and stupid creatures who sooner or later make a mess, and those who are trying to do good do a lot more damage than those who are muddling along.”
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    Her Voice in My Head

    May 3, 2011 | by

    When I was old enough to know better, I ate a bar of soap in the shape of the Muppets’ Fozzie Bear, because I loved him so much I wanted to consume him, even if doing so made me ill. I didn’t yet know the word foreshadowing. Fozzie was the only first of many pop-culture icons I feel shaped by. I’ve held longest to Kate Bush, the singer-songwriter who conjures Millais’s 1852 painting of Ophelia come to life, a beautiful young girl, singing to herself as she drowns, her pure, high upper register both childlike and demented. I was nine, in 1985, when Bush’s Hounds of Love unseated Madonna’s Like a Virgin from the top of the UK pop charts, presenting a different kind of sexuality. Hopping across New York in a Day-Glo tank top, Madonna was livin’ for the city, fueled by wolf whistles. Bush was fueled by dreamscapes, by her inner emotional life. That’s a good option, I thought. I could just live inside my head forever.

    Bush emerged at the same time as Debbie Harry, but your punk-rock Grace Kelly was nothing like our prog-rock Ophelia. Never had one felt so worried for a pop star.

    “Hold me down! It’s coming for me through the trees!” she sang on Hounds of Love’s title track. In “Running Up That Hill” she was ready to “make a deal with God.” I memorized the accompanying dramatic dance moves (to the lay observer they look like Martha Graham, but they’re actually Lindsay Kemp, whose interpretive dance classes Bush spent her original record advance on).

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