Madonna on the Trump Inauguration: ‘I Do Believe That Trump Was Elected for a Reason’
The music icon sat down with artist Marilyn Minter at the Brooklyn Museum for a rousing discussion on the election, misogyny, Trump, and more.
On Thursday night, the dulcet tones of 3 Doors Down ushered in a new era of American politics. Meanwhile, in a liberal bubble far, far away—Prospect Heights—a far more famous pop star sat down with a visual artist for a frank conversation about feminism, resistance, and making music in the time of Trump.
While other celebrities have urged patience and leaked platitudes, Madonna hasn’t hidden her disappointment in the American people, or tried to disguise how terrified she is of the next four years. In a post-election Billboard interview, the pop icon concluded that “we’re fucked.”
“[The election] felt like someone died,” she elaborated. “[It] felt like a combination of the heartbreak and betrayal you feel when someone you love more than anything leaves you, and also a death. I feel that way every morning.”
And at the December Billboard Women in Music 2016 event, the highest-grossing female touring artist of all time continued to go off. In a moving speech to a rapt audience, Madonna recalled facing sexism, misogyny, and “constant bullying and relentless abuse” during the over three-decade span of her career. She spoke about being raped on a rooftop with a “knife digging into my throat” when she first moved to New York, an experience she only started speaking publicly about in 2013. Addressing her struggle to keep recording and performing as an older woman, she opined that in the music industry “to age is a sin.”
She went on to recall the various rules of “the game”—gendered norms that she has consistently flouted. “You are allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy, but don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion,” she continued. “You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness and do not—do not, I repeat—share your own sexual fantasies with the world.”
Marilyn Minter, the subject of the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Pretty/Dirty, has forged a parallel career converting sex and sexuality into images that are both arresting and extraordinary. The 68-year-old artist focuses on the female form, playing with the push and pull between private notions of pleasure and public standards of behavior and beauty. Like so many female artists, Minter takes on gendered stereotypes as encountered in the worlds of fashion, advertising, and pornography. But how she does so places the painter in a polarizing league of her own. The artist’s most famous works portray parts of the female body in extreme close-up, the flesh or hair rendered so hyper-real that it becomes alien and abstract. Art lovers are invited to get lost in the many wrinkles and folds of a heavily made-up eye, or to wonder at an alien pair of dark red lips. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Minter was accused of perpetuating the male gaze by feminists who dismissed pornography as inherently degrading. Today, Minter’s work can be read as sex-positive—a celebration of female sexual agency and a commentary on mainstream images of women. Or as Minter has mused, “The porn and fashion industries are engines of the culture—so why not examine them?”
Like Madonna, Minter has survived criticism, been mocked and/or misunderstood by feminists, and lived to tell the tale. Originally planned for February, the Brooklyn Museum-based conversation between these two artists was rescheduled after Madonna suggested holding it before the inauguration. Minter, who will head to Washington, D.C. the next day for the Women’s March on Washington, was more than happy to oblige. She confessed that, “Madonna’s on fire and I just feel like I’m a conduit for her.”
Madonna was certainly fired up. She chose to preface her appearance with two separate, pseudo-introductions: the voice of James Baldwin, and her own 17-minute film, secretprojectrevolution. In the Madonna and Steven Klein-directed project, the pop star cuts images of enacted police brutality with voiceovers about societal ills and contagious apathy. As quotes from Godard and Sartre flash across the screen, she struts in black leather lingerie. In classic Madonna fashion, there are crucifixes, beautiful male dancers, and some girl-on-girl action. There’s also politics, as Madonna rages about the revolution, mocks the misogynistic music business, and addresses her critics. “I know what you’re thinking,” the disembodied voice of Madonna growls. “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. But it’s too late. I’m in the kitchen, and the burner’s at full blaze.”
On stage, in a “feminist” T-shirt and military hat, Madonna is composed and charged. She chronicles the sheer stubbornness that allowed her to stay in New York—a refusal to accept failure or return to her childhood home. She references the sexual assault that she spoke about at the Billboard event, recalling how she almost caved. Instead, “I stayed, and I stuck around, and I just got more abuse.”
When the conversation inevitably turns to Donald Trump, Minter and Madonna bond over the fear they felt on Election Night. Minter goes so far as to say that, “This is the most frightened I’ve ever been,” but admits that “great art comes out of this kind of thing all the time.” Madonna posits that, “In a way, I feel like it had to happen.” She continues, “I do believe that Trump was elected for a reason, to show us how lazy and unified and lackadaisical and taking for granted we’ve become of our freedom and the rights that we have as Americans. I feel like people forgot what was written in the Constitution. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, and I feel like this had to happen to bring people together. So let’s get this party started.” She also notes that she feels as though history is repeating itself, adding, “When we start taking things for granted, we lose appreciation. Everybody knows this. If you don’t appreciate something, you’re going to lose it.”
Madonna’s statement shirt leads to a poll of how many men in the audience identify as feminists, with Madge pledging that, “I’m going to personally slap everybody who didn’t raise their hands.” Minter similarly offers to kill every white woman who voted for Trump. Both artists agree that women have a long way to go. According to Madonna, “We still believe we have to back a man to get the job done. I feel like in many respects we’re still in the Dark Ages.” As a woman working in the music industry, she bemoans the fact that women are constantly being pitted against one another. She jokes that, “I’ve supposedly been in a fight with Lady Gaga since she was born.” On a more serious note, she adds that women must support one another in the arts: “I’ve found throughout my career that my biggest naysayers have been women—I find that astounding that other women don’t support me.” She advises up-and-coming artists to stick together, support one another, “and stop giving a shit about what people say.”
Moving forward, Madonna cautions against specific modes of protest, insisting that, “I don’t believe in cessation of art.” Instead, she tells artists and activists to think outside the box and act outside the box, asking, “What if we embraced the idea that every day we each individually did something revolutionary?” After all, “We don’t really have a choice. We hit the wall.”
On a final note, Madonna urges the audience not to get caught up in their hatred toward Donald Trump: “Don’t get so consumed with what you’re fighting against. Remember what you’re fighting for.” She concludes that, “We need to figure out what we’re going to do that’s going to make it work, that’s going to help us rise up like phoenixes from the ashes. I know this sounds really perverse, but he’s actually doing us a great service. We’ve gone as low as we can go. We can only go up from here, so what are we gonna do to go up? We have two choices: destruction, creation. I’m going down the road of creation and you’re all welcome to join me.”