Talking about yourself as an entity or brand is the first sign of self-delusion, or too many assistants making sure there are only blue M&Ms in the bowl. “Real Housewives’ tend to do it. Now, depressingly, so does Madonna, as the song “Bitch I’m Madonna” amply demonstrates.
Madonna, as fully fantastic and controversy-generating as she is, once just made mischief as Madonna. Her Madonna-ness, whether it was cavorting with crucifixes, lesbian-kissing, or publishing an over-hyped book all about sex with naughty pictures, was intrinsically hers.
She Madonna’d all over the place without the need to tell us this was the kind of thing Madonna did.
But, in the surest sign that her critics in this ravenous social media age have gotten to her, she has released a song, which restates over and over again that she can do as she pleases, because “Bitch, I’m Madonna.” If this is to become a gay catchphrase of any kind, I will wear giant earmuffs to the bars.
Being Madonna should be enough, and we know who she is, but Madonna herself clearly feels the need to re-emphasize her point, relevance, and importance. Maybe she tried to jump the line at Duane Reade, and an assistant didn’t recognize her or something.
She isn’t the first pop star to refer to herself in the third person (Britney Spears did it in “Piece of Me,” for example), but Madonna should just be Madonna, not be reduced to insisting to the world who she is—all spelt out in a song. Next, she’ll be handing out business cards at American Girl.
Perhaps she’s worried, suddenly, young people don’t know who she is, and care even less. She has a new album out, Rebel Heart, which—sensibly—she has furnished with the talent of today’s pop world. But to devote a whole song telling the teen ingrates of today who the darn hell she is, is supremely sad.
The song and its intent sounds like a repudiation to any passing millennial and post-millennial—who weren’t around for the glory years of “Material Girl,” “Vogue,” and even “Ray of Light,” and the fury of flashbulbs that surrounded her back then—and who may be daring to question her position as the all-time Queen of Pop, a position she clearly intends to lay claim to even from beyond the grave.
“‘Bitch I’m Madonna” is the 2015 version of “Don’t you know who I am?” and tellingly—again, depressingly—she has acolyte Nicki Minaj to sing along on it, presumably because the imprimatur of Minaj gives her another way to engage with a younger audience.
Madonna’s defensiveness, as emblemized by this embarrassingly egocentric song, is understandable. These pop-cultural times are tough for old-school famous people, even ones with an unerring knack of drinking deep from the cup of the zeitgeist as Madonna always has.
The media cycle is fast. Where once mystique was prized, and only select interviews granted, now you have to do late-night chat shows and Instagram your toenail clippings.
Madonna is one of the all-time great pop stars, and yet now she must get down among the mud and muck of a fragmented media universe, so fast and hungry its spits out whatever genius her supreme outrage-generator comes up with in seconds.
The foundation of the “Bitch, I’m Madonna” sentiment is understandable. Now Madonna must contend with online leaks of Rebel Heart, which she called “a living hell” in The Huffington Post. Critics could kiss her ass, she added—but then that party line hasn’t changed much in 30 years.
The issue of Madonna’s age—a hardly-that-old 56—has become an unpleasant joke. It was crystallized most brutally by the online reaction to her being dragged backwards off the stage by her cape at the Brit Awards in London in February, which actually looked really unpleasant—and all props to her for carrying on singing.
Madonna cleverly confronted her ageist naysayers in her stilted stand-up set on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where she joked about her attraction to younger men. But the routine itself was so tonally off she had to nudge the audience to laugh over what was supposed to be funny.
And, of course, there was the fuss over her tongue-assaulting Drake at Coachella.
These brushfires Madonna either stoked or extinguished with the innate sass that makes her fantastic. She has always been excellent at staring her detractors down in whatever era they have come after her. She was so ahead of various sexual and cultural curves, she created the curves. When there’s a new album to promote, Madonna is the first to oil the wheels of the outrage bus. She’s the best mechanic in the music business for it.
But the assertion of ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ suggests a frustration she is not getting the respect she deserves. The lyrics sound like a riot of an evening night out: there is to be lots of drinking and kissing—hurrah—even bottle service.
It sounds like a fun time, unapologetically licentious. It’s either “go hard or go home,” we learn. “We do it like this, you’re gonna love this, you can’t touch this,” Madonna sings. “Who you do think you are?” alternates with “I’m a bad bitch.”
And then, occasionally, at the end of a line: “Bitch, I’m Madonna.” To which one can only reply, “Good for you,” and “Yes we know—so what?”
“Bitch I’m Madonna” treads the same nobody-gets-me-like-me path as Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” with its jaded musings on “haters gonna hate,” which itself became a catchphrase for people warding off criticism of any kind or tone, hateful or not.
Madonna’s collaborator Diplo told The Huffington Post that the song is intended to address Madonna’s detractors who say she’s been in the business for a long time.
And it’s meant to be for us: “Anyone who maintains his or her cool in the face of boundless criticism is, in effect, a Madonna.”
Or, as Diplo puts it, “We made this record about, ‘Fuck it, bitch, we’re all Madonna.’”
Are we really? For one, Madonna has not faced “boundless criticism.” A few ageist morons, who like to make jokes about creaking bones and say “Who does she think she is?,” hardly warrants “boundless criticism.”
Given she has faced down the Catholic Church in the past, one somehow doubts that Madonna is that freaked out by rude Internet nerds. And for all the criticism she has received, there have been many fans buying her music, and celebrating her virtuosity, and boundary-breaking inventiveness.
But even if she has been criticized, what line in the sand does “Bitch I’m Madonna” mark? That just because she is Madonna means an automatic erasure of any criticism—that she is inured from it just because she’s a really big star?
And if we are all to be Madonna, and if we are all asked questions we don’t really like, our default position should be—what?—“Well, I’m me, and I felt like it, so there.”
The world run to “Bitch I’m Madonna” rules is going to be conflict-strewn at every level, and obnoxiously selfish too; everyone dashing about doing as they please without regard for others, but that’s OK, because “Bitch, We’re Madonna.”
Far from being empowering or assertive, or even funny, “Bitch I’m Madonna” speaks to a generation so totally self-involved and in love with themselves that they believe this inoculates themselves from any kind of inquiry, criticism, or questioning.
From being a star that, through her music, questioned the status quo—questioned religion and sexuality, asserted women’s sexuality challengingly into the mainstream—now Madonna has formed her own glacial, self-referential and celebratory kingdom of Madonna. “Bitch I’m Madonna” doesn’t sound fun or powerful, just sealed-up and airless.
If “Bitch I’m Madonna” is for all of us, as Diplo says, then a more sad, depressing, individualistic, selfish catchphrase for our times one cannot imagine. It says: I don’t care to engage with you, answer you, think about what you might be saying, hear another opinion, or open up my view of the world.
Instead, “Bitch I’m Madonna” is like the worst, most obnoxious kind of drunken person: not to be argued with, always in the right, their own island of me, me, me. Follow its dictum to the letter and we shall march around the world, our own one-person armies—mini, self-interested, self-glorifying dictators, convinced of our divine right to be right.
So no bitch, I’m not Madonna, and I’m glad it took “Bitch I’m Madonna” to make me realize that.