Open your heart
Anyone that knows me knows that I am a great Madonna fan. I never met her and she would most likely never want to meet me or even be a friend, but that does not matter. I have been a fan since her first album. I was a fan before her first hit. Decades later, this has not become less. I confess Madonna is an important part of my life.
What I found out about Madonna, is that people love her, love to hate her or hate to love her. Some people think she has talent while other people think she has none. The fact is that Madonna is the best selling female of all time, and this is amazing when you consider her competition! There are so many female artists with a better voice and yet Madonna is the most successful. She is on the same level as Elvis or the Beatles. It makes no difference what you think of Madonna or her music, you would have to accept that she has the throne as the Queen of Pop.
There are many that say she no longer is relevant. The youth of 2019 does not have her as their favorite. Her last few albums have flopped and it is a long time since she had a hit in the charts. It would be too early to write off Madonna. She has had comebacks before and she can sell more tickets for concerts than anyone else. The fact is that if Madonna never had a hit again, she does not need to. It is estimated that her net worth is 590 million dollars while she grossed more than 1 billion dollars in her career.
Just as I was about to enter my teenage years, my brother moved to the USA. He sent me a Christmas present (the only one I ever got from him!). It was a Madonna tape of her first album. I lived in Ireland and Madonna was not even known at this stage. This tape and Madonna was new for me. I listened to the tape and thought it was good. It was not great, but it was good. I did like the song “holiday”, but otherwise I suspected it would be a tape I soon would forget. I was not a Madonna fan yet. In fact, I still consider Madonna’s first album to be her worse. Yes, I know so many disagree with me about this!
Then one day in late 1984, a new Madonna song came on the radio. I saved it to a blank tape I had. The song was called “Like a Virgin”. Coming from a conservative Catholic country, my first reaction was can she sing about that? This song changed my life. There was something about it that touched me. I listened to it over and over, and this got me in trouble, as I was late at school. I was now a Madonna fan. The sound of the Like a Virgin album was so happy. It was so fresh at that time, and I loved the way her voice was. It had a charming weakness to it, and at times it was pushed to its limits.
“True Blue” was the album that cemented me as a Madonna fan. This was Madonna at her best and the music was outstanding. Songs like “Papa don’t Preach” and “Open your heart” are still classics. It was also when Madonna changed her image. She was now a modern version of Marilyn Monroe. This must be the one album in my life that I heard the most. I listened to it over and over. Even my Dad liked it!
I knew I was a Madonna fan, but I also quickly realized that no one else was. My brother was like most other boys that I knew. He was a U2 fan. I did not feel lonely because no one would admit they liked Madonna, it made me feel special. I knew that some people must have liked her, as she was having so many hits! While my brother played his U2 tapes as high as he could and criticized Madonna saying she would be forgotten in a year. I stood up for her insisting that the quality of her music was better. I would turn my tape recorder up, so it would drown his U2 music.
It was not only Madonna’s music. It was also her personality or what she shown through her videos. My childhood was not easy and many would consider it a nightmare. I was the victim of abuse and I kept this a secret from my family. It was like I was two people. The good Catholic son and on the other hand, the cute boy that let men abuse him. I wonder why I did not go insane. Looking back, it was the music of Madonna that cheered me up and it was the music of Madonna that gave me the courage to survive.
Later when I went to a boarding school, I was teased a lot because I looked so feminine. I did my best to fit in, but life in the first few months was hell. One weekend, when I came home and was listening to Madonna, I decided to “control” the way people thought of me. So when I was home for the weekend, I bought a denim coat that my secret self earned and went through my mom’s old jewelry box and “loaned” all the chains and some of the crosses she had. Then I used some safety pins to cover the denim coat with chains and crosses.
Everyone was surprised at the image change. It didn’t stop the teasing or the bullying, but it showed other people I would not hide in a hole and be a victim. I tried being a victim in other areas of my life. Now I wanted to take control of my life and decide who I was. This was the influence of Madonna. People tried telling her she was a one-hit-wonder, slept her way to fame and whatnot. Madonna did not listen to them and did what she wanted.
When I left school, I wanted to be a monk. However, they told me that I would have to give up all my material goods and this included my Madonna collection. I was not going to do this, so I studied to be a priest, where I could keep my collection.
Studying to be a priest and being a Madonna fan was not easy. The older priests could not see how much I identified myself with Madonna and how much her music helped me through the abusive years. They considered her as a sexual provocateur that used her body to sell music. The funny thing is my spiritual leader loved Elvis, so I had to remind him that Elvis was censored on TV once for shaking his hips.
I have no excuse when I entered a talent show with others that studied to be a priest. I mimed along to “Like a Virgin” while dancing in a provocative way. It got me in a whole lot of better. I did it to provoke the older priests. They lived a sorrowful life. Some drank too much while some ate too much. Others even tried to get me in their bed! I wanted to tell them to enjoy life and basically not be stuck up. What can I say? I was young and naïve.
The fact is that Madonna’s music has followed me through my life. At times it helped me. It helped me survive abuse and bullying and when I got married, it would help me listen to one of her ballads which made me calm down after we had a fight.
It’s funny to think that when I hear a Madonna song, it can remind me of a time in my life.
So why does Madonna mean so much to so many? If we were honest with ourselves, we must admit that she does not have the best voice. Madonna does not have the vocal range such as singers like Mariah Carey or Whitney. Another thing about Madonna is that she is beautiful, but again nothing special. Maybe it is this that makes Madonna so popular. She used what she had and although it had limitations, she made the best out of it. Madonna is as normal as anyone and achieved what she wanted.
One cannot just pin Madonna’s success on her ability to cause controversy and her sexuality. One must also admit that Madonna has had great music. This generally why I am a fan. If you peel everything away and just listen to her music, you will hear some classics. Songs like Like a Virgin, Into the groove, Material Girl, Dress you up, Live to tell, Papa don’t preach, Open your heart... The list can go on and on. Madonnas music has always been happy music and music you can dance to. It is music that puts you in a great mood.
When you ask people, they admit that they like Madonna’s music from the 80s. This is understandable. Madonna was at her height in the late 80s and 90s. She had hits in other decades, but her earlier hits are the ones that people remember. One reason for this is Madonna had some great hits with two men called Bray and Leonard. These two men wrote songs that were groundbreaking and top quality. They were new and had a special Madonna sound.
Madonna tried to follow the times, and she slowly used other producers that gave her music a new modern touch. This kept her relevant as she explored more types of music. It also resulted in what many consider her best albums, Ray of Light and Confessions on a dance floor.
Then Madonna made what many consider a mistake. Madonna hired the most popular and most expensive producers. Maybe she thought that they made hits for others, so why not her. Maybe she just admired them and wanted to work with them. The result backfired and people thought she was buying her way to keep at the top. The fact is that the songs sounded like most other songs on the radio. Madonna was no longer showing the way she did earlier in her career. She was following trends.
One reason why Madonna was such a success is that she was good at seeing what was happening in the clubs and underground. An example of this was Vogue. Madonna did not invent this dance. It was popular in the gay club scene at the time. Madonna borrowed this and made it her own and made it mainstream. One reason why many musicians fade away is their music never develops. Madonna has done her best to try new things and surprise her fans.
Madonna’s personality also has a good deal to do with her success. She has huge ambitions and is a hard worker. Madonna also controlled her career, which is unlike others. This control has meant she could decide in which way her career went, One thing that Madonna hates doing is not to repeat a success. I am not sure record company executives would have agreed with this. We have seen many examples of popstars that try to repeat a success only to fade away.
One thing that impresses me is one can follow Madonna’s progress as a human being. At the start, Madonna was a party girl that liked having fun and provoking people. Things really changed when Madonna had her first child. She admitted herself that she could no longer just think of herself. As the years went on, we saw Madonna become more political. It upset her when she has seen human rights infringements. Madonna used her concerts to preach tolerance and respect. It is interesting to see how Madonna grew as a person.
I remember once that I was driving with my father. He was listening to Madonna’s True Blue album. His only comment was that Madonna was a good businesswoman. This must be true. The fact that she was in total control of her career meant that she had some business knowledge. When Madonna released her “Music” album, record company executives did not want her to release “don’t tell me” as a single. It was a pop-country song and they thought it would flop. The song was a huge hit.
Madonna also re-invented herself so many times. It was like she was a new person with every album she released. She was always fashionable and knew what would work and what would not work.
Let’s face it, Madonna also caused controversy. It is like at times, she knew how to use the press to bring attention to her latest project. Mostly this provocation helped her, but at times Madonna went too far. When she released a book called “Sex” which was full of erotic pictures, Madonna went too far. It didn’t help that she cursed several times on the Letterman show. Madonna’s career was in danger and most thought she could not survive it. Madonna did not apologize. She even wrote a song that said she would not apologize. “Human Nature” remains a favorite song with the fans.
So the question is what now. Madonna is getting old. She is 61. I do not think she likes getting old. Most likely she has had some operations and what not to try to stay young. She blames her falling album sales in the fact that she has become old. This could be true. She cannot blame teenagers or young people. They are fans of the artists that have recently had success. They follow the younger ones.
If you ask me, if Madonna wants to have some success and glory, she must accept that she is now over 60 and age with grace. Annie Lennox has managed to do this with a huge success. I think that many young people are disgusted when they see a 60-year-old woman dress in leotards and trying to be sexual. This means that Madonna is seen by many now as being desperate.
As I said, Madonna has nothing else to prove. She has done what she set out to do. Her largest problem now is that she is a living legend, and it must be hard for her to know that her new albums do not sell as they once did. She still releases great songs, but as I said the young people are fans of younger artists.
I sometimes think that Madonna has bad advisors. Her performance in the 2019 Eurovision song contest was a good example. She really failed to impress there as she sang all the wrong notes at the show. When she released the first single from “Madam X”, fans were disappointed. It was not anything they could dance to.
So after all this writing, we can see that Madonna is a legend. However, she has shown her human side. Her success and failures are public, so we continue to follow her as she is like a big sister for us.
I get asked two questions as a Madonna fan
What is my favorite Madonna song? The answer is “Borderline”
Do I think she should retire? The answer is of course not. Fans should not expect that Madonna tops the charts and sells millions of albums. Let her have fun in what she does.
That is something we can learn. We should all use our lives to be better people and have fun at what we do.
In the next part of “Open your Heart”. I will tell my thoughts about Christmas
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