“Madonna: Relax!”

The Western World reaches something of a cultural milestone this weekend when Madonna Louise Ciccone – better known, of course, simply by her first name – reaches the age of 50. This is naturally an appropriate occasion for pundits to produce philosophical reflections upon aging, pop culture, feminism, and what-have-you. Elke Buhr of the Frankfurtehr Rundschau offers one of the better treatments in a piece whose content reflects the cheekiness of its title: Hedonism for all: Why Madonna cannot age in dignity.

The singer known as Madonna faces a problem late in the first decade of the 21st century (the “20-naughts”?), and it has little to do at first with her age. It’s that, as Ms. Buhr sagely observes, these days Western pop culture is now a matter of a fitting yourself into one or more of a big series of musical niches (Boygroups, Alternative-Country, etc., etc.) rather than any big mainstream pop-chart, followed by all.

Unfortunately, Madonna has never been willing to settle for the former, only for the latter. For decades she in fact succeeded in planting her stake in mainstream pop, by putting out a series of what Buhr calls “small moments of worry-free superficiality.” She goes on: “Her craftsmanship lay in her status as a medium of the zeitgeist, breaking down the club-trends to fill the needs of the broader masses, and constantly re-inventing herself.”

But that was all she offered, indeed all that she could ever offer. And when you start to get a little too old, the tableau starts to get jarring with its contradictions: this is an over-40 mother-of-two here, somehow displayed on the cover of her latest CD (“Hard Candy”) as some sort of plastic, wrinkle-free android. And while in the accompanying video she might be boogeying with Justin Timerlake, Elke Buhr declares that all one can really think in the face of such a spectacle is “That must hurt!”

Madonna, it’s time to hang it up – that is ultimately the message of this article, together with its very last word: “Relax!”

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