This week, in a beautiful generational symmetry, EO and I went to Madonna’s Rebel Heart concert here in Hong Kong. My one and only Madonna show prior to this was a floor seat at Austin’s Frank Erwin Center on the Like a Virgin tour, May 1985, a few weeks before I graduated from high school. This spring, EO will attend her first formal dance and ‘graduate’ Y11 before beginning her school’s two-year IB program. Over thirty years between our rites of passage and yet here was Madonna – in fearsome form and wicked wit, middle-aged, twice-divorced, sex-obsessed, foul-mouthed – here was fucking Madonna.
The fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Superseded only by The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.
The most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles charts. Let that sink right in while I say her name one more time.
Screw the haters. To hell with the ageist TMZ brigade. Go home if her show starts too late for you. I don’t care how old she is or who shares her bed or even what kind of person she is behind the scenes. All that matters is what she brings to the stage, and in that arena Madonna reigns. Unrivaled. Matchless. Supreme.
She transported her full show to Hong Kong – not always the case with touring artists in Asia – and played for over two hours, joined by her band, back-up singers and about 20 dancers. The concert was a button-pushing visual feast of multimedia images, lights, poles, ramps, stairs, hydraulics and dance. Lots of dance. Throughout the show, Madonna moved seamlessly from one cultural theme to another: Samurais to start; Catholicism (of course) to heat things up; Matadors, Greasers and Flappers to express love and more sex, sex, sex; and then “Holiday” fun to finish. I expected the button-pushing and restless cultural curiosity; Madonna has always championed the unusual and the underground, the more provocative the better. She’s a human synthesizer, and I say that as a compliment. What surprised me, however, was the lightness and vulnerability she showed. She chatted, joked, queried and proclaimed to the audience: don’t ask questions, there is no answer. She wore the mantle of Queen both proudly and irreverently.
But if I could distill her performance, nay her entire artistic existence, down to one point, I would say very simply that Madonna is about the body. All shaking ass, thrusting bosom, beating heart. Her hand on a thigh and a head in her crotch. As a dancer first and foremost, she understands the visual power of motion, of open legs and intertwined limbs. Or as her concert showcased, the stunning impact of one shirtless, muscular man moving on an empty stage with only a billowing scarf for company.
Her raison d’être, if I dare to speculate, has always been about celebrating the amazing, ecstatic things we can do with our bodies, alone and in company. She made that statement with her very first single, “Everybody”, which was released in 1982. Every / Body / Come on / Dance and Sing. And she continued that manifesto by shining a light on how others try to stop us from said ecstasy, whether it’s an overbearing patriarchy, Catholic constraints on sexuality or our very own hang-ups. Every / Body / Get Up And / Do Your Thing. Madonna’s body electric is both personal and political, and she makes her stand not only with music and lyrics but movement as well. As if Martha Graham were a pop star…
After the show, EO and I speculated as to what Madonna would do between her two shows in Hong Kong. (If you see her hiking The Peak, tell her I said Hi!) I figured after 2+ hours on stage, in heels, she probably needed some serious physio, or at least a massage. The thought made me a little sad. Madonna’s getting older, her knees must be killing her.
I know a lot of people reckon she’s well past her prime, that the best she can do these days is hitch her wagon to Nicki Minaj or Drake. But I disagree. Though I hadn’t seen her in concert for decades, her Rebel Heart show was indisputable proof that her creative vigor and taste for provocation is alive and well. She still owns the stage, whether she’s alone and singing “La Vie En Rose” or leading her dancers down the catwalk in a fantastic rendition of “Deeper and Deeper”, everyone strutting and vogueing. Even EO said she didn’t think Madonna was trying to be a teenager. The Queen was dancing, singing, doing her thing, and we were lucky to be a part of it.
How many musical icons not only survive but prosper as they head gently in to that good night? How many still have something to say? The list is short. Prince, Jagger, McCartney, Aretha, Bruce? Maybe. Bowie we just lost, Streisand barely sings anymore, Diana Ross has been MIA for years. Sinatra got it right, but then who else? Who changed pop music forever? Who’s left?
*All Hong Kong concert photos courtesy of a lovely and talented friend who had way better seats than I did! 😉
So I was walking through the IFC mall in Central (Hong Kong’s business district), and I couldn’t help but notice this good-looking guy walking by. Just noticing, mind you! He was nicely dressed, well-groomed, good hair but his entire neck was covered in a tattoo. A huge tattoo! And all I could think was: thank God I’m married! Because, if I were in my ‘20s, dating, that would be my worst fear: to fall in love with a guy with a neck tattoo.
(With all due respect to anyone with a neck tattoo reading this: I’m sure you’re a nice person but, ahem, why? Why that body part? Because, to me, it says ‘ill-conceived and stupid’ more than it says ‘bold and audacious’.)
Later, sitting in traffic, I wondered: if I were truly, say, 26 years old in 2013 and not some time-traveling 40something, would a neck tattoo even be a deal breaker? Would I care? You know, maybe I’d find it attractive, like cropped trousers on guys, Twilight fan fiction or those baggy-ass jeans that Justin Bieber wears. Hey, I’ve been to water parks in the U.S. and Australia, I watch the NBA. I appreciate that ink – big ink – is not just for Navy Dads or yakuza. Preppy boys and girls in twin sets go for it! But just how much tat is too much tat?
Luckily, I had the opportunity to pose this existential question to an entire group of women – ladies in their ‘20s and ‘30s, all young professional types – after many glasses of wine on a night out with my (field) hockey team.
And, it turns out, neck tattoos are pretty much deal-breakers for most generations! Loads worse than a pierced lip or eyebrow, ranking slightly above full-sleeve tattoos but not quite as bad as an internet porn addiction. Whew. That does make me feel a lot better about the younger generations’ taste in body art and men.
Speaking of tattoos, porn addiction and dating, let’s talk about Girls. This month the HBO show that everybody wants to award and applaud released its first volume of music from the series. Note that they’ve labeled it ‘Vol. 1’ in anticipation of many more compilations to come. Because they’re just so cool, I suppose. I’m curious about the music on offer, but I have my doubts. In the world of TV soundtracks, how can these selections be as awesomely fun as the tunes that came out of that great guilty Fox pleasure – The OC. A show that introduced me to Benjamin McKenzie, the bagel cutter and Death Cab For Cutie.
The bar has been set high. You’ve got to compete with all those funky show compilations coming out of New Orleans – True Blood, Treme, etc. You’ve got to evoke a lovelorn wistfulness without being as cloying as Grey’s Anatomy. And you’ve got to capture that cool New York vibe even better than Gossip Girl.
So what kind of music, you ask, goes with narcissistic twenty-somethings who talk a lot and engage in cringe-worthy sex? No, there’s no Drake on the album, sorry. I don’t think they could afford Kanye either. Except for Santigold, the music here is white, white, white: Fun., Belle and Sebastian, Tegan and Sara, Grouplove, Sleigh Bells and, not surprisingly, White Sea. It’s a whole loaf of sliced white!
I’ll give them credit for including – super yeah! – Fleet Foxes’ ‘Montezuma’ as well as an old favorite, Michael Penn. I haven’t heard from him in ages! His ‘On Your Way’ is a gorgeous piano ballad that closes the album and sounds like a father’s bittersweet words of wisdom to his daughter.
The rest of the album is, unfortunately, severely underwhelming. There’s the ubiquitous hipster cover tune – Tegan and Sara’s take on the Stones’ ‘Fool to Cry’, which is, well, meh. And a shout out to the New York singer-songwriter legacy, with the inclusion of Harper Simon, son to Paul and pretty much a carbon copy of his Dad’s sensitive longing. The Vaccines make an appearance, but they’ve chosen one of their absolute shortest songs – Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra). The tight pop punk tune is great, but it gives only a slight edge to the proceedings. For a show that’s supposed to be groundbreaking and revelatory, they really could have used more of that attitude. Where’s the angry girl confessional music? You know, a Liz Phair number or something like Meg Myers’ ‘Curbstomp’ to match Jessa’s perpetually pissed-off scowl?
And some soul, please! Santigold is alright but she’s no Mrs. Carter. You can’t tell me that one of those girls doesn’t bust out the Beyonce or Andre 3000 every once in awhile. Mix it up, Girls! You name-checked Missy Elliott in a recent episode, so let’s get some Misdemeanor fo’ sure. Something groovy, something feisty. Something more than what I’d call MOR alternative. But, hey, I’m not a millennial looking for work in NYC in 2013. What do I know?
Speaking of, it’s always interesting to watch a show when you know you’re not the target audience. Whether it’s Girls late at night with my husband, or Drake & Josh in the afternoon with YO, I can’t help but deconstruct and analyze the characters and the message. It’s an annoying film school holdover I realize. Just ask EO, who says she can’t watch anything with me.
For us older women watching Girls, we’re either going to pine for our younger years (Oh, to be single and experimental again) or we’re going to count our blessings – like the nurse Hannah talks to in the clinic – that we’re beyond it all (Thank Christ I got through that weird boyfriend phase without an STD).
Definitely more of the latter I’d say, less of the former. But what the show ultimately tells me is that there’s a fine line between being a fearless artist (as Lena Dunham fancies herself) and just, ahem, over-sharing for attention. It’s a battle, I confess, that I often fight on Twitter.
Kind of like a big ol’ tattoo on your neck. Seemed like a good idea at the time.