Like most hetero sons of the '80s, I'm a closet Madonna fan. Once, on a whim, I asked a burly hot dog vendor to name his favourite Madonna album; he shifted uncomfortably and started wiping his grill. Then, after an eternity of pretending he didn't hear the question, he nodded in agreement with himself and said: "True Blue". There's really no getting around the fact that she's the contemporary Elvis, having surpassed iconic status to become a pop-cultural default setting; and she's as pointless to hate as bad weather. (Cue the "Twilight Zone" theme: Madonna's birthday and the anniversary of Elvis' death are one and the same, August 16th.)
Being a moviehead, though, the main reason I like Madonna is that she's made some incredible videos with some incredible directors--videos, moreover, that have avoided translating her music into images, choosing instead to call its bluff. My personal favourite is David Fincher's "Bad Girl," which interprets the seemingly endless refrain of "Bad girl drunk by six/Kissing someone else's lips/Smoked too many cigarettes today/I'm not happy when I act this way" as a death wish. Instead of imposing moralistic change on Madonna's glamorous businesswoman, Fincher rewards her self-destructive behaviour by perching Madonna next to the Angel of Death (Christopher Walken, natch) on a one-way crane to Heaven. Heck, I even prefer Mary Lambert's sticky video for "Material Girl" to the sequence it purloins from Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes--and before you cry blasphemy, remember that Hawks left that film's musical numbers to second unit to clean up. You can, for what it's worth, watch virtually all of Madonna's videos by going here.
Unfortunately, her latest video--for "Hung Up," the first single from Madonna's forthcoming "Confessions on a Dance Floor"--is another in a recent line of disingenuous attempts (see: "American Pie," "Music," "Ray of Light") to turn untouchable Madonna into a woman of the people. As Madonna does warm-ups in a deserted, '70s-era dance studio to the beat of her new, ABBA-infused track, director Johan Renck (who previously helmed Madonna's kabuki-inspired "Nothing Really Matters" clip) intersperses footage of everyday folk--street performers, the busboys and patrons of a Chinatown greasy spoon--overcome with a desire to breakdance. (Or prove they're double-jointed.) Three minutes in, Madonna hits the night scene, but that doesn't change the fact that this is largely a Kuleshovian exercise in ghetto-by-association: she struts down a street, and Renck cuts to a contretemps inside a subway car; in other words, Madonna + proletariat = Madonna's keepin' it real. Not. Madge is then seen literally bending over backwards in a dance club to avoid intimate contact with anybody but the giant boombox playing her song, which she rides like a mechanical bull. By carefully quarantining Madonna from her newest fascination (krumping), all this video succeeds in doing is casting her, perhaps unfairly, in a paternalistic (or, at least, anthropological) light.
Of course, as a showcase for Madonna's absurdly well-preserved physique (in the highlight of the video, she peels off a baggy jumpsuit to reveal Jamie Lee Curtis in Perfect), "Hung Up" passes with flying colours.