Madonna is one of those gay icons, possibly rivaled only by Kylie Minogue, whose flashy, extravagant lifestyle, floor-filling pop credentials and ability to embrace her iconic status, seemingly makes her practically unassailable. Worship has been passed on from gays who grew up with Like A Virgin, La Isla Bonita and Like A Prayer, to people like me, who came of age (many of us were only in our early teens) to late 1990’s/early 2000’s smashes like Ray Of Light, Music and What It Feels Like For A Girl (even for a gay, ‘You’d love to know what it’s like, wouldn’t you?” still is one of the hottest lines of the decade), and many have taken the mantle with pride. But because I was born to late to have a direct fan relationship with the Madonna of the 1980’s I have always struggled to feel much passion for that part of her career. Her tunes were catchy, sure, but I can’t help but associate her more with the increasingly vulgar presence she has morphed into in recent years.
I hope and suspect that this is more a generational thing, but I also know that any off-word about Madonna could make me out of sync with the gay community. Still I feel that though she has continued to make some delicious pop songs (Hung Up, Sorry, 4 Minutes) even on her recent lesser albums, the whole Madonna brand now seems to be more about her trying to prove she can still be sexy, than about churning world class chart-toppers. Madonna has of course always been about sex appeal, but could anyone watch the Hung Up video without feeling just a teeny bit embarrassed on her behalf? I couldn’t.
So what’s the solution for people like me, who want to enjoy their Madge, but are trying to manage their way between 1980 and 2008? I suggest a return to the late-90’s Madonna, and more specifically one song in particular. I was fortunate to be born late enough to mostly miss out on her early to mid-90’s stuff (think Rain, I’ll Remember, Take A Bow, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina), and that meant that I sort of discovered here when she released Frozen, the first single of the Ray Of Light album, her wildly successful collaboration with producer William Orbit. And what a magnificent introduction! The way the opening beats feels like their sneaking up on you, only to embrace you slowly, never stops to amaze. I know it’s a tired cliche, but the cold, mechanical feel of this song is actually perfectly captured in the title, and still contrasted by Madonna’s warm, yet slightly mysterious vocals. Her sex appeal is clearly present, both in the song itself and in the music video, but for once it’s understated, which makes it all the more interesting. It might be just me being nostalgic here, but I still heard or seen anything from her to top this.
So, she may well be the Queen of Pop, after all. The Ice Queen, that is.