Critical Musicology Journal

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`I'll Never Be an Angel': Stories of Deception in Madonna's Music

Stan Hawkins

`I'll never be an angel
I'll never be a saint, it's true
I'm too busy surviving
Whether it's heaven or hell
I'm gonna be living to tell' [1]

Through a striking display of paganism, Madonna, like the whore of Babylon [1.1], has steadily captured the fascination of our western popular culture at the end of the millennium. The infatuation with idols nowadays is illustrated no better than through the theatricality of pop music out of which a wealth of art has poured and nourished our societies. Madonna has relentlessly manipulated and solicited media response through the flamboyance of her rhetoric. Hard and penetrating, her quest for freedom of expression is manifested in her tireless exchange of one identity for another. In her music, films, and videos, Madonna displays an array of scripts which carry with them a certain ritual significance and intellect. Yet, these scripts are also underpinned by an ardent ambition, a sadomasochistic fascination, and a lewd sense of exhibitionism that recognises no boundaries.

Provocative texts

In this article I will explore a number of features of Madonna's expression that exist at the core of her as a phenomenon.[2] My methods seek to situate her texts[3] within a postmodern context of social signification informed by audience reception and aesthetic function. Within a critical musicological framework, I am keen to consider the impact of gender and identity on pop music in a late postindustrial setting. While it is, in my opinion, the music that constitutes a primary mode of her expression, little enquiry into this aspect of Madonna's output has been undertaken in the field of musicology. Most of Madonna scholarship has taken place in culture, media and film studies, and any musicological attention paid to Madonna has been instigated mainly in the area of feminist music criticism.[4] Even in the 1990s, modernist narratives of mass culture influence much scholarly thought on popular music, and the music ignored by these meta-narratives is primarily the mainstream commercially `successful' pop. Notably, the `popular' styles and genres dealt with most are those which are held up as `oppositional', including genres such as rock, punk and reggae.

As the first female solo artist to gain superstar status in the 1980s, Madonna placed girls back in pop,[5] and by 1985 had achieved more success in the charts than any female artist since Ruby Murray in 1955. While Madonna's appeal was initially to a young female audience, it is interesting that by the late 1980s she had gained a wide fan following amongst teenage boys. Significantly, irony and narcissism played a part in her performance from the outset, as Charlotte Greig describes: was a young woman who exuded sexuality, who was determined to show herself off, but who seemed to be more interested in pleasing herself than in inviting male desire and approval.[6]

Steadily, Madonna has irritated puritanical feminist ideology, and taunted the gendered `gaze' through a sense of autoerotic enjoyment linked directly to her personal notions of empowerment. `Material Girl' (the song Madonna has claimed to dislike the most) was one of the first displays of confrontation expressed through the song's blatantly manipulative narrative. The visual demonstration of parody in the video of `Material Girl', with its direct reference to Marilyn Monroe, became one of Madonna's early trademarks. This paved the way forward for a new generation of female solo acts who made it into the charts, from Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Kylie Minogue, Samantha Fox, Taylor Dane to Elisa Fiorillo. Madonna's songs therefore form part of the discourses that contribute to a specific 1980s and 1990s historical location. More than just signifying the social conditions of their time, these texts construct them. Inherent in her personal discourse are intricate processes of revival that underlie both the music-compositional and iconographic images. Her tough glamour is a blend of Hollywood cinema and everyday American street culture, and from a young age Madonna defied authority (parental, school, religious), cultivating a reputation that set out to subvert and provoke. The force of her impact is captured below by Lisa A. Lewis:

Bleached blonde hair proudly displays its dark roots. Glamour eye make-up and lipstick create a look that is compared to Marilyn Monroe's, but a cocky demeanour exudes a self-assuredness and independence to counter the outdated, naive image. Skin-tight, lacy undergarments and crucifixes add up to blasphemous, `bad girl' affectation, particularly in a woman who, we are told in the promotional press, hated the uniforms at her own Catholic school.[7]

Interestingly, Lewis reveals how celebrities such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper played a key role in shaping the codes of a consumer culture and influencing a generation of adolescent girls. While Madonna created her own style from the glamour of the high fashion world, Lauper shaped hers by drawing on `thrift-store and boutique renditions that recirculate fashions from the past'.[8] This comparison draws our attention to the differences of address within the cultural realms of spectatorship where style and dressing relate directly to the articulation of desire through gender practice. Lewis explains how female fandom in the 1980s contributed to the struggles of female stars for authorship within a cultural setting that was often hostile, and which still privileges male audiences and male musicians:

Fandom proved to be an effective vehicle for girl audiences to organize in support of female musician authors and female address textuality.[9]

Understood this way, Madonna's songs can be interpreted as progressive feminist texts that relate not only directly to her own North American, Italian Catholic origins, but also to changes and developments within the Anglo-American music industry. Her achievements have succeeded for a number of reasons, amongst which, I believe, is her musical creativity. This is based on an economy of style that is compatible with an elaborate, interchangeable array of visual codes. Clearly, Madonna's parody on `instability' and `girliness' contests the quality of gendered representation that has frequently rendered women as insecure, unstable, and emotional. One of my projects here is to raise a number of questions concerned with difference, identity, and deception within a gendered musical discourse. I have also attempted to uncover aspects of Madonna's maverick style of performance that stem from her appropriation and reconstruction of visual and musical styles that link up to the politics of gender identification.

Our pleasure in pop music is located where the energy of the music and the identity of the `artist' interconnect. Furthermore, pop texts hold specific formulae that mediate the affirmation of taste and preference through fan support. However, within the same cultural pools, lines of demarcation often separate artists who convey messages of one kind in polemic opposition to those of another kind.[10] Still perceived by many as phallic mother, `cock-teasing whore', and `sex-crazy bitch', it is hardly surprising that Madonna's musical discourse clashes head on with a certain heteropatriarchal mind. Yet, on the other hand, within the context of the unshockable 1990s Madonna's act can only infuriate those who are unfamiliar with the everyday forms of human expression visible in commercials, films, videos, fashion, literature, art and journalism. She therefore prompts useful readings of the responses to gender and sexuality in pop by offering a critical insight into the ongoing struggles of musicians (not only female) within a patriarchally charged music industry. As I have argued earlier,[11] the task of analysing pop songs from a musicological perspective becomes one of reading musical texts against a set of political categories, including sexuality, religion, and race. Implicit within the search for meaning through identity is also the need to consider the groups and individuals in the real world who find meaning and enjoyment through their associations with pop texts.

Context and Aesthetic Judgements

One of the distinctive qualities of Madonna's albums and videos hitherto has been their transition into different areas of experience. Of all Madonna's albums, the seventh, Bedtime Stories (1994), has been hailed by critics as a significant point of arrival in the artist's maturity by planting her firmly within new realms of production, performance, and songwriting. Generically, this album could be described as a slickly produced blend of `90s hip-hop and crossover dance styles.[12] In contrast to the bold sexual confessions of the album Erotica (1992) and the semi-pornographic illustrations in her picture book, Sex (1992), the narratives on Bedtime Stories, so she claims, concentrate more on romance than sex. This album opens up a world of personal confessions which flow freely from one track to the next. Throughout this collection of songs Madonna continues her crusade of unleashing desire and fantasy via different modes of articulation. As a musicologist, I am especially curious to explore how her desires are projected through the musical sound as much as through the lyrics and iconography. Linked to a personal pursuit of liberation, Madonna's strategies as defiant diva frequently create the knee-jerk reactions they set out to achieve by conflicting with certain ideologies. She accounts for this as follows:

My whole idea about empowering yourself is to use whatever strengths you have. To be in a man's world successfully you don't have to be like a man or dress like a man, or think like a man.[13]

Throughout the past 200 years at least, the inclusion of female musicians in the areas of performance and composition has been problematic.[14] As Critical (or New) Musicology has exposed, to produce and create anything as a female musician within male dominated Western institutions has never been without its difficulties. As to whether or not musical gestures are engrained within gender-based codes is widely debated. In reference to popular music, McClary has pointed out that `the options available to a woman musician in rock music are especially constrictive, for this musical discourse is typically characterized by its phallic upbeat'.[15] On a cautionary note she adds that while it might be possible for female artists to play down such `upbeats', there are dangers in the music becoming stereotypically feminine. While the terms of McClary's debate are clear, I would emphasise that Madonna has never recoiled from incorporating the `phallic beat' within her sound. Conversely, she has revelled in the accenting of this strong beat through a quality of sound that nevertheless conflicts with the musical codes of masculine-based rock and pop. This means that readings of her assume a particular signification when one considers how mechanisms of subversion through musical gesture might be considered feminine.[16] To explore this further we need to recognise that Madonna slots into a dance-based African-American hip-hop influenced culture. Her musical style is embedded within a sensibility quite removed from the patriarchal and aggressive dimension of rock. Moreover, her career launch in the early 1980s coincided with the New York club scene which `was in the midst of its glorious ride along the cusp of the mechanical and the soulful, when old r & b conventions of vocal dirt and desire were being deployed by a new generation of engineers...'.[17] This was a period in pop history, according to Frith, that marked the beginning of a new sense of `temporal order' where the care taken to layer the dance grooves `turned even the most sweaty workout into an intellectual exercise'.[18] All over New York, studios were producing 12" hip hop records as a result of the increasing popularity of dance trends. Containing sophisticated processes of mixing and editing, these records displayed the advances in digital technology that were about to revolutionise the industry.

In contextualising this in more detail, let us consider the role of the female pop artist in the period leading up to Madonna's rise to fame. Acknowledged as one of her main influences is the singer Debbie Harry who `paved the way' forward for her.[19] Through her Bardot-like, peroxide blonde, `glamorous' image coupled with an ironic expression, it was Debbie Harry who was lead vocalist for the group Blondie. Considered a punk group (in the US sense),[20] this group produced intelligent and sophisticated pop songs which became commercially successful during the mid-1970s. Simon Frith explains:

She (Madonna) became a pop diva in the wash of Debbie Harry, who had pioneered the craft of marketing the tough as the tender and turning thrift-store sex appeal into performer art.[21]

In addition to the prominent position Debbie Harry held in the pre-Madonna era, there were numerous key black girl artists and groups from this period, such as the Brides of Funkenstein and Parlet (protégés of George Clinton), the punk-funk group the Mary Jane Girls, and Vanity 6 (produced by Prince), who expressed themselves in an explicitly sexual manner.

For musicians, especially females, the rise to stardom has taken place within an industry that is entrenched in sexism and patriarchy. But the advent of the pop video and the launch of MTV in 1981 changed this forever, and it is to this phenomenon that Madonna arguably owes much of her fame.[22] Using the power of this televisual medium for their promotion, artists were finally able to gain control of their own image and their music. The female musician's traditional relegation to vocalist could now be turned around into a powerful advantage, especially in narrative videos where the soundtrack could `operate like a narrator's omnipotent voice-over to guide the visual action'.[23] Moreover, in terms of performance, the iconography of the videos provided a greater breadth than that of live concerts. This meant that close-up shots of facial expressions, bodily response, costume details, could be more adventurous on video, with pop stars taking advantage of this mode to control all aspects of their performance. In this way music videos became prime outlets for encoding new identities in popular culture. The start of female address on MTV has been traced back to 1983 with the release of Cyndi Lauper's video, `Girls just want to have fun'. Between 1983 and 1984 female stars, such as Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Cyndi Lauper, and Madonna, opened up the field for challenging assumptions on gender and sex-roles by drawing audiences into the narratives on girl culture and female social relationships.[24] Shaped by her distinctive musical sound, as much as by her image, Madonna's authorship surfaced in the pop world during a time when male-oriented rock and pop styles had also started to change. She influenced an entire generation of fans who began imitating her style in their quest for recognition and empowerment.[25] Thus, it is against this historical background - a period that witnessed the launch of music television on the largest scale imaginable - that Madonna's musical texts can be read as testaments to the social, musical, and cultural developments of postmodern pop in the late twentieth century.

With the exception of the work of a handful of scholars, the bulk of analysis on Madonna has not attached much significance to her music. The familiar assertions, such as those made by Reynolds and Press, that Madonna's music lacks any `real grain and swing' and that it is more often than not `totally flat on its own',[26] bypasses any detailed or serious debate. Similarly, Simon Frith has implied that her weakness as a singer is borne out by her `thin' voice and vocal chords. He concludes that through producers, such as Pettibone, her `technical failures' could be `faked' through the production.[27] But, surely the centrality of microphones and the wide range of dynamics and spatial juxtapositioning they control in production renders this evaluation of her voice as problematic. Such observations are connected to precisely the kind of dubious value judgements that define the ideological structuring of pleasure and `taste' in the western canon. In other words, underlying the rejection of Madonna's music by numerous critics is the belief that commercial and capitalist production removes or at least dilutes authentic expression. And this fits into an ideology underpinned by modernist narratives which perceive the role of the mass media (and all its commercial pursuits) as destructive to society rather than constructive. Yet, any in-depth musical discussion is rarely forthcoming in support of the claims that Madonna's music is `empty', `trivial', or `lacking substance', so we never quite learn exactly what might make it `inferior' to other styles. In his exploration of postmodern pop, Jeremy J. Beadle also wavers in his evaluation of Madonna's music by claiming that her achievements as a public icon are remarkable `even if her music is formulaic to the point of cynicism'.[28] However, to his credit, rather than stopping short of any further clarification, Beadle does endeavour to discuss his views on Madonna's music, and, to some extent, revises his initial standpoint by conceding that, `formula or no, several of (Madonna's) singles are, in their way, small classics: `Borderline', `Vogue', `Papa Don't Preach', `Like a Prayer', `Express Yourself' are all good remarkable songs encompassing a variety of styles, and, inevitably, visual images'.[29] Albeit reluctantly, Beadle cautiously approaches an evaluation of his own critical value judgements, and finally in his critique of Madonna (and Michael Jackson) he admits:

And to be fair, both (Madonna and Jackson) are painstaking and particular about the musical quality of their output within the terms they set themselves...[30]

Within a leftist, modernist context (where the more commercial the music is, the more superficial and dubious are the audience experiences) Beadle is prepared to go only so far in discussing Madonna's musical material. Not surprisingly, very little critical analysis of pop in the 1980s has avoided the conflict between commercial music and its aesthetic function, and the explanation for this is best summed up by Richard Middleton who suggests that `we can regard the general subservience of the aesthetic function in popular an example of the `politicization of the aesthetic''.[31] This means that in order to discover more about aesthetic function in Madonna's music we need to search beyond the metanarratives that have politicised aesthetic function, at least within white, middle class, bourgeois, intellectual circles, and consider how pleasure might be assessed on the terms of the music's own communicative value.

Engulfed by the pleasures of jouissance, the erotic permeates Madonna's sound and her own sense of addressing pleasure. Simplicity in musical gesture (especially harmonically, rhythmically, texturally) together with performance delivery, are crucial components for measuring value and meaning in music. As Walser elucidates:

From Stephen Foster to Madonna (not to mention Aaron Copland), many musicians have used great skill to craft musical texts that communicate great simplicity. The musical construction of simplicity plays an important part in many kinds of ideological representations, from the depiction of pastoral refuges from modernity to constructions of race and gender.[32]

Any musicological analysis therefore needs to inspect the signification of the music's function within its own unique context.[33] For example, infusions of Hi-NRG, 1970s disco, Afrocentric hip-hop, house, acid-jazz, rock, and techno styles are just some of the ingredients which blend into the mixes that transport Madonna's songs.[34] Notably, it is both her talking voice and her singing voice that articulate her musical expression in a variety of ways. While the spoken or talking voice corresponds to everyday forms of communication, the singing voice transports with it notions of pleasure. This is because, according to Gino Stefani, the singing voice is less demanding on the listener, and therefore is `an easier message for the brain to decode'.[35] Yet, at the core of Madonna's musical discourse is the question of performance, and it is here that her voice fully regulates an erotic sensibility. To gain insight into the gestural qualities of her music in conjunction with the points I have discussed so far, I will now turn to examining a number of songs from the album Bedtime Stories.

Musical Interpretation

Characterised by a pulsating bass overlaid with strings punctuating and accompanying the riffs in sustained and glissandi gestures, the track `Don't Stop', off Bedtime Stories, revels in sheer disco bliss. Remaining in the same catchy rhythmic mode throughout, the bass line underpins the instrumental and vocal lines with a magnetic pull that makes dance irresistible. The rhetoric of this track is displayed by Madonna's commands: "Don't stop doin' what you're doin' baby, Don't stop - keep movin' - keep groovin'". As with the rhythmic groove, the repetition of the words repudiate closure, and, as Walter Hughes claims in his critique on disco songs, `language is subjugated to the beat, and drained of its pretensions to meaning'.[36] Any syntactical sense therefore becomes subliminal as the listener surrenders herself to the power of the beat. Madonna's insistence to "let the bassline pump you, bring your body over" reinforces her own awareness of the subjugation of words in a musical setting. Rather than words, the music, especially the beat, controls the body, as she sings in the title track, `Bedtime Stories': "Today is the last day that I'm using words, / They've gone out, / Lost their meaning..."

Dominated by a muddy bassline which propels the song forward, the rhythmic pull of `Bedtime Stories' is electrifying as a hardcore jungle, hip-hop dance track. The Herbie Hancock organ stabs, highly reverbed, punch the groove out with anticipated, irregular off-beat vigour. Through its repetition and Ravel-like cumulative build-up (`Bolero'), the rhythms simmer for a while as the textures become more dense and compressed within the mix. Madonna's normally centred subjectivity is absorbed within the swirling torrents of the musical motion with her voice often positioned at different angles in the recording. All the musical features here underlie a discourse of desire, with the repetition of the word `travelling' functioning as lyrical hook and central metaphor. Suspended over one chord, Gm9 (in the mode of G Aeolian throughout), `Bedtime Stories' is held together by its rhythmic fabric. Located mainly in the foreground, the bass, synthesiser parts and percussion tracks are panned about the audio space with carefully regulated dynamic diversity. Quivering with desire and expectation, Madonna enters first with two orgasmic moans followed by the commencement of the first verse in her normal full throat alto register. Merged to the fore of the mix, the jumpy bass and synth riffs swiftly take charge of the rhythmic action. Through the full range of her vocal timbres, the intensification of the instrumental layers of material are gradually heightened. By connecting with the musical bliss, Madonna participates through her performance in the overall production with the song's authors, Nellee Hooper and Bjørk. The sensations created by the trance-inducing musical material construct a text that is centred around affirmation of pleasure and raw sexual energy; there is little romance in this song. With the arrival of the final verse, Madonna reaches a plateau of sheer transcendence. Charged with an overwhelming sense of heated sexual passion, her voice is foregrounded in the mix as the low register parts (bass and synths) and kit drop out. Here she unleashes all her passion: "And inside, we're all still wet, / Longing and yearning. / How can I explain how I feel?" Following this brief moment of respite, the cyclical action of the groove starts up once more, this time with more intense, vicious organ stabs jabbing at the musical current. The whole effect is erotic and physically energising as Madonna strains against the current of the groove.[37] This coda section gradually moves towards closure, as the instruments drop away and the groove grinds to a halt leaving Madonna's voice exposed and vulnerable, with the line: "I'll never explain again"- possibly our last glimpse of her opening her heart through a song that displays the full potential of her solipsistic nature.

Unlike dance tracks where authorship is mainly concealed, the enthronement of Madonna's control over the music prevails in much the same way as is evident in her manipulation of the camera through her displays of autoeroticism in her videos and films. Furthermore, the continuous metamorphosis of her identity constructs a pluralism that fits the agenda of postmodernism. This means that, in one sense, her continuity is assured within a heterogeneous setting which forms part of a wider collective social memory. In this way, her scrambled identity achieves continuity by her turning inwardly and asking herself who she is. By recalling where she comes from we also learn with whom she would like to be through a variety of modes of address. Perhaps then, it is the complexity of Madonna's personal history that affords her a calculated sexual dimension of ambiguity which surfaces as a major problematic in any musical interpretation of her work. Like Barthes's well executed semiotic analyses of photographs,[38] musicological consideration of Madonna can only be undertaken on the basis of how the musical codes appear to be. Through her drag-queen satires, for example, a strategy of deception emerges whereby the sexual is easily confused with the erotic.[39] Thriving on this thrill of uncertainty, Madonna's ambiguity lies in the power of her rhetoric, with the positioning of her sexual personae within a historical space where gender rules are continuously changing.

Another narrative of desire flows through the song, `I'd Rather Be Your Lover', in which Madonna lusts after the unattainable through processes of negotiation: "I could be your sister, / I could be your mother, / We could be friends, / I'd even be your brother...". As erotic signifier, a blurred representation of gender is discernible in a space where the desire to be someone's lover invokes a game of drama. In the guise of intimacy and (in)sincerity, deception is positioned as the main constituent of Madonna's calculated vulnerability and desire. This is encapsulated by the musical features, exemplified by the taunting harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic resistance. The quirky four chord riff which opens the song (Ex.1) consists of a shift between the two chords, F#7 and B9.

Example 1: I'd Rather Be Your Lover - Chord and Bass Riffs

Towards the middle of the song an eight bar rap break is taken by the black female singer and bassist on the track, Me'Shell Ndegé Ocello: "Tell me what you want, / Tell me what you need...". In direct contrast to Madonna's vocal colour, Ocello's timbre has more weight in its low register, the hard accents and specific inflections enhancing the overall levels of tension of the song. To gain control of the narrative once again, Madonna interrupts, her voice foregrounded and juxtaposed in contrapuntal delight over the short interjections of Ocello's rap part. The ending of this song is revealing: closure is resisted throughout the song by numerous means with the lyrics leading to the question, "Aren't you surprised?" Here the chords refuse resolution by F#m7 shifting up a tone to G#m. Furthermore, any anticipation of a slow fade out through the softening of dynamics (a clich é in terms of resolution in pop songs) is short lived as the song ends on a question, posed by a soft unaccompanied vocal fragment, "Are You?" At this point, Madonna subverts any narrative and musical closure by redirecting the flow of traditional expectation, and as McClary explains:

She (Madonna) offers musical structures that promise narrative closure, and at the same time she resists or subverts them. A traditional energy flow is managed - which is why to many ears the whole complex seems always already absorbed - but that flow is subtly redirected.[40]

Above all, the song, `I'd Rather Be Your Lover' is produced to create an overall sense of sentimental introspection. Performed at a moderately slow, grinding tempo, the song displays deceptive simplicity in musical gesture that remains constant throughout. Harmonically, the chordal riff, F#m7 and B9 (Ex.1), anchors most of the song, with the interjections of a G#m chord at cadence points. However, this chord signals little change and rather functions as a substitute chord for B9. All the instrumental strands blend to construct a texturally thickened line cushioned against the luring vocal lines. The bass lines and chords unite through the tightly quantised rhythmic sequence, with a snare drum punctuating the second beat of each bar. Madonna's voice is swept along by the undulating patterns of the groove, with short fragments of vocal lines stacked above the many layers of the sound image. Comprising both Madonna and Ocello's vocal tracks, the song's groove is a blend of all the musical features that craft the pulse that ultimately characterises the musical dimension of the piece. The fantasy, the desire, the dream, to `rather be your lover than your mother, brother, sister or friend' is firmly rooted in the music itself. The tension and release in energy inherent in the groove operates as the single most important feature in the song, and this is regulated through a cyclical pull of motion that constructs a profound climactic moment of romantic transcendence. Most of all, it is this affective current that ultimately discharges pure musical pleasure in Madonna's songs, which ultimately defines its aesthetic function. Contingent on story, myth, metaphor, her musical texts flirt knowingly with traditional practice. And it is at this level of poietic expression that Madonna is able to shape her identity in whatever way she chooses, a point I will return to later.

Hearing the body

Whether the voice possesses its own gender is a question raised by numerous musicologists.[41] In pop music, gender-disguise through voice and image is commonplace. Nonetheless, on the part of the listener, there is a general tendency to associate the voice directly with the `closed' positionings of the body. For the Dutch musicologist, Joke Dame, when we hear music we not only perceive pitches but we also `hear a body'.[42] Rather than existing as `natural' or fixed, femininity and masculinity are historical categories which are socially constructed. In her excellent article, `Unveiled Voices', Dame argues that voice categories can never be permanent but instead are always open to choice. In her examination of the castrato's singing style, she questions numerous descriptions within a musicological discourse, and argues the case for `denaturalization':

Both the denaturalization of sexual difference and the denaturalization of voice difference make it in their own ways possible to sever the link between sex, voice pitch, and timbre.[43]

Dame's analysis of Barthes's intentions to free sexual classification from its binary imprisonment scrutinises the basis of his dreams of plurality. Notably though, Barthes's interest in the castrati as `neuter' denies the issues of sexual difference in males in any in-depth manner. Here, male curiosity in the androgyne is a `one-sided appropriation of the female by men',[44] whereas when women display male qualities they are classified in dominant male discourse as the castrating or phallic mother. Physical desire, erotic insinuation and displays of sexual differences are implicit to varying degrees in all Madonna's voices. The intimacy set up between her and the listener is regulated through the erotic underlay of her `talking voice', with the intimacy of the whispered words, suggestive sighs and moans (on the second beats of `Inside of Me') closely foregrounded within the mix. Most of the tension and excitement is created through Madonna's power to lure us into her world, a world which is captured in the tension of the voice, produced through the stretching and straining of vocal chords, the richness and diversity of vocal colour, as much as through the visual frames of her videos.

Her narratives communicate a certain female desire, a desire that has historically battled against patriarchy through the vocalisation of the powerful female diva bent on striving for success.[45] In the song `Human Nature' Madonna confronts chauvinism head on as she sings, "And I'm not sorry, / I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me", while reassuring herself and the Other in whispered tones to "express yourself don't repress yourself". Again, any tonal identity is obscured by an ambiguous bitonal harmonic structure which is established through the dominance of a D natural within the opening and recurring instrumental riff superimposed over progressions within the unlikely key of B major (or Cb major). Weaving its way around the chord progressions and vocal parts, this ubiquitous synth riff appears deliberately timid and fragile in stark contrast to the rough, muddy, jungle-like bass pedal, which binds the various layers of musical material securely within the overall formal framework of the song. A general sense of ambiguity is heightened by the almost indiscernible whispered vocal hook, "Express yourself..." - a common lyrical hook that runs through a decade of her songs. Like all the rhythmic ideas, the vocal parts are deceptively simple when isolated, yet layered over the other tracks the total effect of the production is complex and tightly controlled. Full punches accent the `phallic' beats with a dry foregrounded compressed snare, reinforced in the chorus by the introduction of a door-slam sample which viciously hits the off-beat as a warning, contributing to the overall level of tension and aggression in the narrative. The range of musical ideas that shape `Human Nature' are thoroughly diverse, with Madonna's voice(s) blending into the instrumental parts through the low register. In keeping with the bitonal harmonic and melodic flavour the vocal parts are split into two distinct strands; one whispered and one sung, which intensify the overall introspective dimension of the narrative. What especially interests me here is how Madonna deconstructs her musical identity through vocal production, and how she positions herself as a subject of difference through her identifying with other subjects and objects of desire. In Bakhtin's work we learn that the creative text exists as a free disclosure of the personality. This means that when we perceive and relate to the author, in this case Madonna, through the channels of the recording (sound and visual) we never actually experience her in the same manner that we perceive the images she has constructed. For Bakhtin, one way forward is to recognise that integral positions and integral personalities can be articulated through voices, and in the search for meaning he argues that we require a sense of confidence in the other's word:

...through the layering of meaning upon meaning, voice upon voice, strengthening through merging (but not identification), the combination of many voices (a corridor of voices) that augments understanding, departure beyond the limits of the understood, and so forth.[46]

In applying these concepts to our analysis of Madonna, we should bear in mind that when experiencing her `corridor of voices' we are, in an intimate sense, drawn into her body. The full extent of vocal sounds emitted can neither be reduced to words or transcribed melodic lines. This is because they include a range of physical sensations and emotional codes that exist outside the limits of description which we only `feel' when listening to music. It is rather the sounds around the definable pitches, the sounds that denote joy, ecstasy, sadness, melancholy, sexiness, the utterances themselves, that express the intensity of feeling that give the voice its erotic charge and meaning. What is at stake, then, is not the psychoanalytical aspect in the relationship between the various utterances, but more a responsiveness within the utterance itself.

Madonna's strategies of confrontation through her texts tend to dislodge normative categories of sexuality in numerous ways, not least of all through the recurrence of homosocial representation.[47] Situated in a distinctly camp aesthetic, Madonna sets out to disrupt nostalgic representations of sexual meaning by often posing as double-agent. The video `Justify My Love' (1992) is the ultimate expression of camp through the range of responses it elicits, from the humorous, to the serious and erotic. Her strategy is visible through the multiplicity of styles she mimics, from sluts to famous film stars to supermodels. By caricaturing `straight', conservative society on a superficial level, Madonna's iconography often appropriates (and sometimes supports) alternative sub-cultures.[48] This is borne out through the `Vogue' video where high-fashion snapshots and poses allude to an array of false dreams and lies. Here her identity is constructed around a specific camp sensibility where narcissism is satirised to the point of ridicule. Yet, as much as it is frivolous, camp signifies a potent statement of defiance which Madonna has appropriated as a vehicle for protest and empowerment. This slots into MTV's display of camp which is evident in its artificial nature of promotion, where a decentredness accounts for its appeal amongst a diversity of spectators, not least of all a sizeable portion of gay culture, through the absence of any monolithic gendered agenda. As Steve Drukman explains:

This relatively new form is an open field for any and all spectatorial positioning, and its symbiotic intersections with the gay community (from the many gay/video bars to Madonna's Vogue video) are already apparent.[49]

As a result of MTV's impact and the new trends in media exposure to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, Madonna has been able to utilise the video as a medium for eliciting a wide variety of gazes. In one sense, a conformist portrayal of `femaleness' is often faked as she masquerades all those fantasies of normative heterosexuality. Whether it be through the drag queen, diva, girl-next-door, or leather-clad dominatrix, the act of impersonation becomes a strategy for her articulating her identity. Madonna deceives knowingly, and I am not sympathetic with Reynolds and Press's assertion that `behind the shimmering surface of make-up and masquerade, there is no authentic identity'.[50] In reinventing herself through masquerade and parodic performance, I would argue that Madonna's disguise is intentionally thin in order that fans and critics are allowed to get close to her. In this regard, E. Ann Kaplan's postmodernist interpretation of Madonna's `real' persona is useful:

Fans clearly long for such revelations! And one might well examine just why the "real" Madonna fascinates. Why do fans and audiences want to know her? Why, even, does the public that resents and scorns Madonna want to know about her? Why is selling the real Madonna - in magazine and TV interviews and now in the documentary film and the much-touted unauthorized biography that followed (C. Anderson 1991) - such a commercial success? Why do groupies need to relate to stars through imagining their offstage lives? What can we learn about Western culture's investment in the construct of the "individual" and of a split between inner and outer selves (the real Madonna is inner, the one she shows merely a mask or outer) through fans' needs?[51]

In addressing these questions, E. Ann Kaplan discovers a range of conflicts underlying our understanding of the construction of Madonna's identity. As she concludes, there is no core to Madonna's authenticity. After `peeling off layer after layer' (ibid.), it is the absence of any core that reveals where the `real' Madonna is located; and this is where we, the listeners, choose to position it.

Performance and Difference

From a male perspective, readings of Madonna's texts provide an insight into the complexities of our gendered identities within the context of postmodern sexualities. As sexual priestess of our late 20th century landscape, Madonna indeed symbolises the Dionysian and Apollonian split. Her displays of promiscuity and Dionysian madness represent the full blown objectification of Apollonian obsessiveness through a voyeuristic demonstration of idolatry. More than any other female pop icon of her generation, Madonna epitomises the empress of deception by playing slave to male lust through her eroding of sexual barriers. Alternatively, she often functions as androgyne through the sheer invention of her masquerade. This reaches a peak in the video, `Justify My Love', in a decadent portrayal of ritualistic transvestism and hypnotic androgyny, which, when first released, positioned her as the ultimate target of misogyny. Aware of this, Madonna has often acknowledged her threat to women as much as to men.[52] Through her boldness of expression through music and image her spectacle is magnified further by her immense wealth and share in the pop industry. In this context, Madonna's position of power is regarded by many as suspicious, thus instantly blocking any chance of serious analysis. Surrounding the debates on postmodernism, the notion of authenticity is continually problematised when considering the rise to fame of stars within a highly commercialised setting. In campaigning for her rights towards freedom of expression, I would suggest that Madonna has largely succeeded to `authenticate' precisely her standing as an artist.[53]

However transparent or petulant her responses are in her interviews with the press, Madonna's play on vulnerability is revealing. Prepared to accept her fluctuations in popularity or not, she is keen to play on her `elevated' status as `artist'. Ultimately, `having a point of view', with all its extended codes and defensive reflections, demarcates her territory. And, aware of the risks involved, she is particularly articulate about the way she perceives her personality through the channels of her music and public image. Like Cleopatra, physically and mentally fierce, Madonna's persona aligns itself to the Dionysian principle of theatricality. She is Dionysian because she is a vandal forever destroying in order to recreate. This is displayed through glimpses of hysteria, promiscuity and euphoria. Interestingly, while she respects and admires `strong' women, such as the singer P. J. Harvey,[54] women who speak their mind, she has nothing short of contempt for female pop stars who do not speak out.[55] While the venerable criticism so characteristic of her interviews might carry with it an air of theatricality, it also discloses a thirst for power based on neurosis. Constructed around fantasy, Madonna's scripts become rooted in her `playing out' her dramas. And, her ego is derived from her own notions of a world consisting of rival performers.

Into the 1990s Madonna has continued to explore and exploit the areas of sexual expression, such as sadomasochism, pornography, and same-sex erotica. Her press interviews are frequently interwoven with the same sense of self-reflexivity as we find in her songs. In the song `Survival' she faces her critics head on: "does your criticism have you caught up in what you cannot see?" Spiced with accusation and pain, Madonna informs us that she has no time to behave properly because she is "too busy surviving", and so will "never be an angel or saint". Contrasting with each other, the verse and chorus sections in `Survival' contain striking musical features. In the verses, Madonna defiantly describes how she is `living to tell' regardless of whether it is `heaven or hell'. Here the rhythmic and harmonic ideas tend to gravitate to the end of each two-bar phrase, with a shift from Gmaj7 to F#m7. Together with the funk-like bass groove, the smooth and easy progression between these two chords helps balance the mode of vocal delivery. Only in the four bar bridge does this tension break with the Gmaj7 moving down to Em9 in preparation for the chorus where the scalic bar by bar ascent in the bass line releases any built up pressure. Marked by a faster, more rhythmic melodic change, the flirtatious vocal melodies imitate the lyrics through musical repetition, "up and down and all around". The arrival of the fresh chord, Bm7, in the chorus is short-lived as the progressions return back to the oscillating bitonal centre of Gmaj7 to F#m7. Pleasure is derived not only from the slickness in quality of the mix, but also from the compelling movement around the melancholy minor Lydian mode. Moreover, a sense of nostalgia is parodied through the choice of instrumentation, such as the `cheap' type 1970s analogue synthesiser riffs, together with the `vinyl' album scratch sample in contrast to the high quality digital production. Culminating in a cyclic coda section, the musical ideas unite together with three of the central lyrical hooks: "up and down and all around", "I'll never be an angel", and "survival". Before gradually fading out, the groove reaches a plateau revelling in sheer disco delight for approximately one minute. As with most of her songs, `Survival' refuses any traditional tonal definition and resolution through a sense of bimodal staticity, and, yet again, we are confronted here with her persistence, her ambition, her determination to survive.[56]

So far I have been arguing that the performance of gender identity becomes a central political issue when attempting to understand the effect of pleasure in music. Gender in Madonna's case might therefore be considered as performative in that it displays a range of `performed' acts that emphasise the complexity of traditional or normative representations. In being performative, gender can also be perceived as melancholic.[57] Drawing on Freud's work on the formulations of the ego, Judith Butler expounds on the concept that gender identification might be the result of a certain `melancholic' identification:

If, in melancholia, a loss is refused, it is not for that reason abolished. Indeed, internalization is the way in which loss is preserved in the psyche... internalization will also be a way to disavow that loss, to keep it at bay, to stay or postpone the recognition and suffering of loss.[58]

While an exploration of gender through an analysis of heterosexuality inevitably problematises various aspects of gendered identity, it also aids our understanding of the vehement reactions of men and women (not least of all music scholars) opposed to Ciccone. And it is the imposition of these fixed forms of sexuality and gender, according to Butler, that lead to states of psychopathological melancholy. When performative, gender is constructed as `a ritualized repetition of conventions' which is forced into a category of `compulsory heterosexuality'.[59] In this context, the workings of gender through drag and masquerade give rise to a number of questions. Given the iconographic coding of drag in Madonna, we might ask whether her performance, in terms of a woman playing out femininity, `allegorises a loss it cannot grieve' in the same way we might associate with a man performing out femininity. In her theorisation of the logic of repudiation, Butler has suggested that drag exposes and `allegorises' a heterosexual melancholy. Importantly though, there are costs attached to the expression of `coherent identities' if such coherence is at the expense of rejecting the `specters that threaten the arbitrarily closed domain of subject-positions'.[60] Only through an `incoherence' of identity does connection become possible. And, it is in this sense that the decentred subject becomes open to desire. Inauthentic representations therefore potentially create a new mode of authenticity which, in turn, challenges, or at least acknowledges, notions of normative heterosexuality.

In opposition to the notion that coherent identities are constructed and developed from one `real' identity, I would prefer to consider identity as quintessentially incoherent and unfixed. In this way, new identities inevitably conflict with conventional concepts by the trading in of the notion of a single, `true' identity with that of a multiplicity of conflicting constructs. Brian Longhurst has argued that in the case of Madonna `there is no real identity, no authentic way of being'[61] as she exchanges so-called reality with a constant flow of deceptive identities.[62] I would suggest that this is not the case as Madonna's self-deconstruction and self awareness of sexuality rather represents a certain transfer point for negotiating power alongside her identity. Analysing Madonna's music therefore takes on many layers of interpretation to the point that it becomes virtually impossible to separate her `real' personality from the play on irony that is always present. How do we, for example, read her live performances in contrast to her videos? In the live stage performance of `Vogue' (from MTV's video music awards 1990) we see Madonna in the role of a Mozartian operatic diva, and, like an opera star, she assumes many different roles while still holding on to the notion of an `authentic' personality, albeit new and displaced.

Ever since the Enlightenment, femininity has been associated with the emotional side and irrationality, while masculinity has been linked to rationality and reason. This perhaps explains why in mainstream heteropatriarchy intimacy is still so feared by many men. And, female displays of achievement, as exhibited by Ciccone, clearly threaten the balance of normative heterosexuality, signifying a potential loss of power. As we have seen so far, her personal rhetoric is politically charged: it is about difference and power. Her individual expression of difference appears to function as an act of resistance to the status of a single, coherent, universal subject. In her critical appraisal of popular culture, Ruth A. Solie cautions us that gender difference can become vulnerable to distortion through various constructions. She poses two pertinent questions:

If differences are constructed, are products of nurture and culture, how and where does the process of construction occur? Conversely, how can we locate the sites at which (as one would expect) cultural forces permit or encourage resistance to the construction of difference?[63]


As I have attempted to demonstrate so far, an analysis of Madonna goes some way towards addressing Solie's questions. However, for musicologists, the constructs of difference in musical expression do create a constant stream of problems. To explore musical codes within our everyday social landscape we need to locate the points at which political and gendered discourse intersect with musical expression. For us to carry out such an analysis, we first have to review and then revise the implications of the fixed associations we have become accustomed to in our characterisation of individuals and groups. And by including the analysis of gender, musical interpretation becomes a complex and tricky activity. Locating our musical readings within fresh critiques, provocative discourses surrounding power and gender inevitably emerge. As John Shepherd claims: "Music's power...rests (like women's?) upon our failure to recognize and understand it".[64] De-essentialising and de-centring the subject therefore exposes the differences inherent in the categories of fixed identity. Earlier in this article, I suggested that it is useful to perceive identity, gender and sexuality as performative. How then might this function as a springboard for interpreting a variety of expressions within a framework that rejects any notions of fixed dualisms and rigid categories of identity? How do Madonna's songs, her videos, her films, offer us pathways into analysing the political, social and cultural narratives of the late twentieth century? Is it indeed at all feasible to question to what extent our responses to Madonna are gendered? And to what degree do the encodings of difference, gender, and sexuality remain implicit within the music itself?

What's at issue here is the formation of musical texts through the differences of experience in countless situations. From this perspective, our personal responses to Madonna Ciccone, be they pleasurable, repugnant, or indifferent, are constructed upon a sense of cultural imagination. And, ultimately, we need to get to grips with our own complex historical, ethnic, and gendered identities to adequately critique the effect of pop music. However broad the generality of such a function might be, there are two critical musicological concerns at stake: first, the task of correlating musical sounds and gender and identity as social circumstances, and, second, the need to shift from stultified pure musical description into the sphere of analysing it in parallel to ideological expression and attitude. What I am suggesting, to conclude, is that we are primarily driven to research through our own musical tastes and preferences. This often results in collective assumptions based around the measurement of value. And when such assertions are made, musicologists all too frequently shy away from accounting for the pleasure and delight derived by the millions who listen and respond to pop artists, such as Madonna, whose opinions and preferences have been kept outside the domain of musicology for far too long.


[1] From the song `Survival' from Bedtime Stories - Words and music by Madonna Ciccone and Dallas Austin (WB Music Corp., 1994)

[1.1] See Camille Paglia, Sex, Art, and American Culture (New York: Vintage, 1992) who coins this term in her analysis of Madonna with biblical reference.

[2] Born in Bay City, Michigan in 1958, Veronica Louise Ciccone grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Her musical influences have been diverse. As a relative late starter, Madonna was already 25 by the time she released her first record. Compared to Prince who signed to Warner in his teens and Michael Jackson who was recording before his teens (both artists were also born in 1958), Madonna has always maintained that she had a longer time to live a `normal' life outside the public spotlight. However celebrity status soon changed this as Madonna emerged in the 1980s a central female icon of the twentieth century. In addition to Motown, in particular The Supremes, amongst Madonna's other influences are classical music (encountered in her ballet classes and piano lessons), Elvis Presley (early), David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Kraftwerk, Bob Dylan and Chrissie Hynde.

[3]My employment of the term `texts' here relates not only to songs, but videos, films, interviews and books.

[4] see, for example Susan McClary, Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minnesota, 1991). I side with McClary's perception of Madonna as the `creator of texts', although at the same time her texts are more the result of collaborative work with others.

[5] see Charlotte Greig, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow: Girl Groups from the 50s on... (London: Virago, 1989)

[6] ibid: p. 181.

[7] Lisa A. Lewis, `Emergence of Female Address on MTV' in Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader, ed. Frith, Goodwin and Grossberg (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 142.

[8] ibid: p. 143.

[9] ibid: p. 145

[10] In his reference to the hardcore misogynist rapper, Ice-T, Andrew Ross has emphasised the genres and conventions that form part of the same cultural movement. For example, those who convey messages of racism, homophobia, and/or sexism for whatever reason are situated in the same cultural and social environment as those who take an opposite standpoint. See Andrew Ross, `This Bridge Called My Pussy' in Madonnarama, ed. Frank and Smith (Pennsylvania: Cleis Press, 1993).

[11] see Stan Hawkins, `Perspectives in popular musicology: music, Lennox and meaning in 1990s pop', Popular Music, Vol. 15/1 (Cambridge, 1996) pp. 17-36.

[12] In Bedtime Stories she draws on a team of well known producers, musicians and writers, including Dallas Austin, Dave Hall, Herbie Hancock, Anne Preven, Scott Cutler, Babyface, Kevin McKenzie, Shawn McKenzie, Michael Deering, Nellee Hooper, NdegOcello, Bjørk Gudmunsdóttir, Marius Devries, Colin Wolfe, Rudolph Isley, Ronald Isley, O'Kelly Isley. Notably, the title track `Bedtime Stories', written by Nellee Hooper with Bjørk, inspired the album's title.

[13] Interview with Madonna by Paul Du Noyer, Q Magazine, December 1994.

[14] Yet, within the home, the domestic space, the bourgeois woman has traditionally been encouraged to learn an instrument and entertain the husband and family. See, for example, Derek Scott's, The Singing Bourgeois: Songs of The Victorian Drawing Room and Parlour (Milton Keynes, 1989)

[15] op.cit., p. 154 (my italics)

[16] Forming a central point of her thesis, Susan McClary discusses this in great detail within her analyses of gender, see Feminine Endings, op. cit.

[17] Simon Frith, `The Sound of Erotica: Pain, Power, and Pop', in Madonnarama: Essays on Sex and Popular Culture, ed. Lisa Frank and Paul Smith (Pennsylvania: Cleis Press, 1993), p. 87.

[18] ibid.

[19] see New Musical Express, December 2, 1995 - `Meanwhile, Back at the Raunch', Barbara Ellen.

[20] see Charlotte Greig, op.cit, p. 185.

[21] Frith, op. cit., p. 87.

[22] Within just fourteen weeks of its release, the album Like a Virgin sold over 3.5 million copies. Before Madonna had even started touring this album became a triple platinum, and by 1985 was the first album by a female artist to be certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for sales of five million units.

[23] Lisa A. Lewis, op.cit., p. 131

[24] A full detailed discussion of videos featuring female musicians from the period 1983 to 1986 can be found in Lisa A. Lewis, Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).

[25] Despite the countless critical critiques of MTV, it is worth stressing that sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and gender inequality have been often vehemently opposed in many of the video narratives of the 1980s by both male and female musicians.

[26] Simon Reynolds and Joy Press, The Sex Revolts (Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 322.

[27] Simon Frith (1993), op.cit., p. 88.

[28] Jeremy J. Beadle, Will Pop Eat Itself? (London: faber and faber, 1993), p. 69.

[29] ibid: p. 70. (my italics)

[30] ibid.

[31] Richard Middleton, Studying Popular Music (Milton Keynes, 1990), p. 257.

[32] Robert Walser, `Forging Masculinity: Heavy-Metal Sounds and Images of Gender' in Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader, ed. Frith, Goodwin and Grossberg (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 171.

[33] Robert Walser, Running With The Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (London: Wesleyan, 1993), p. 31.

[34] Of the eleven tracks off Bedtime Stories, at least six of them, `Survival', `I'd Rather Be Your Lover', `Don't Stop', `Inside Of Me', `Human Nature' and `Bedtime Stories', are the tracks I have chosen to analyse.

[35] By employing the term `message' Stefani presumably refers to the established structuralist code-message assumptions that one frequently encounters in music analysis. While there is a difference between the perception of a listening and spoken voice, that the singing voice is `easier to decode' for the brain is a dubious assumption, which, to the best of my knowledge has not been scientifically proven. See Gino Stefani, `Melody: a popular perspective', Popular Music, 6:1, p. 24.

[36] Walter Hughes, `In the Empire of the Beat: Discipline and Disco', in Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture, ed. Andrew Ross & Tricia Rose (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 149.

[37] Steve Sweeney Turner has described in detail how this track highlights the contrast between Madonna and Bjørk's vocal style. Madonna exerts much effort to pull off the rhythmic irregularity of phrasing which is so characteristic of Bjørk. But, most significantly, within the context of the entire album, this song with all its melismatic jerkiness is a song `not from a native English-speaker', which arguably heightens its appeal. See Steve Sweeney Turner, "Bjoerk and the Figure of the Machine" (paper delivered to the Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Leeds, 24th April 1996).

[38] see Roland Barthes, Image-Music-Text, trans. S. Heath (London, 1977).

[39] In W. Simon's opinion the `erotic is often viewed as the expression of sexual desire, when more appropriately it might be seen as the sexualized representation of desire...'.see William Simon, Postmodern Sexualities (London: Routledge, 1996).

[40] McClary, op.cit., p. 154-155.

[41] cf. Roland Barthes, whose work has influenced much musicological thought. He explores the links between the voice and gendered sexuality where he problematises the binary divides that frequently lead to essentialist assumptions. Classification according to biological sex forms an important part of Barthes' investigation into the transgression of sexual difference. One of his projects is to dismantle stereotype notions of female and male sexuality by concentrating on the neutral centre of the androgyne. Roland Barthes, S/Z (New York: Noonday Press, 1988).

[42] Joke Dame, `Unveiled Voices: Sexual Difference and the Castrato', in Queering the Pitch, eds. Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood and Gary C. Thomas (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 143. Cf. also Simon Frith, Performing Rites (Oxford, 1996) in which he approaches the analysis of the voice under four headings: as a musical instrument, as a body, as a person, and as a character. Like Joke Dame, Frith maintains that by listening to the voice we are listening to the physical sound of the body.

[43] ibid: p. 140.

[44] ibid: p. 142.

[45] Like Strauss's Salome, Berg's Lulu, Wagner's Kundry in Parsifal, as well as Balzac's castrato, Zambinella, from the tale Sarrasine, Madonna is one in a line of strong females who have challenged bourgeois male ideology through blatant displays of power and parody.

[46] M. M. Bakhtin, Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Edited by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, transl. Vern W. McGee. (University of Texas Press, 1986), p. 121.

[47] Such homosocial representations are apparent in many of her videos as well as her book, Sex, and Erotica album.

[48] However, it should be pointed out that numerous gay and lesbian critics have taken issue with Madonna's appropriation of gay culture. Arguably it is precisely her heterosexuality that makes her appropriation of gay culture acceptable.

[49] Steve Drukman, 'The Gay Gaze, Or Why I Want My MTV', in A Queer Romance: Lesbians, gay men and popular culture (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 84. Drukman, in his analysis of Madonna's video Open Your Heart, provides a useful discussion on the different responses of spectators desires.

[50] Reynolds and Press, op.cit., p. 321.

[51] E. Ann Kaplan, `Madonna Politics: Perversion, Repression, or Subversion? Or Masks and/as Master-y', in The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Subcultural Identities, and Cultural Theory, ed. C. Schwichtenberg (Oxford: Westview Press, 1993), p. 150.

[52] For example, in one interview Madonna claims that `powerful women are a threat in any society which is why I am such a target. Even other women are threatened by me. It's disturbing but at the same time it's inspiring because it makes me want to destroy all that, end it'. New Musical Express, December 2, 1995 - `Meanwhile, Back at the Raunch', Barbara Ellen.

[53] Her strategy recently has been to appear oblivious to popularity, insisting that her standing as a musician has increasingly gained more respect from the public:

`I may not be as popular as I once was but people are starting to pay attention to my music and respect me as an artist more'. (ibid)

[54] Interestingly, in contrast to Madonna, P. J. Harvey problematises the properties of female sexuality often with reference to her own personal awkwardness and dislike for self-eroticisation.

[55] Madonna has said that `to remain popular you can't go against the grain. Janis Joplin, at this time, in the world would not be a popular artist. Chrissie Hynde does not sell as many records as somebody like Mariah Carey. And that's because Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston don't have a fucking point of view'. NME (1995), op. cit.

[56] Commenting on the (un)reality of her celebrity status, her identity, and need to survive, Madonna has said:

...and I know I'm a survivor. I have a guardian angel or someone protecting me. I moved to New York when I was 17 and I had nothing until I was 25. If no one fucked with me then, they're not going to fuck with me now...(t)here are ways to deal with it, if I can accept that my celebrity is this other reality, this parallel universe outside of me. It's kind of like this big pet that I carry around with me everywhere - I know it's there and I can laugh about it and try and live as normal a life as possible.(Medio Magazine, Vol. 2/1 (1996), Interview with Madonna by Sheryl Garatt)

[57] see Judith Butler, `Melancholy Gender/Refused Identification' in Constructing Masculinity, ed. Berger, Wallis, and Watson (London: Routledge, 1995)

[58] ibid: p. 23.

[59] ibid: p. 31.

[60] ibid: p. 35.

[61] Brian Longhurst, Popular Music & Society, (Cambridge: Polity, 1995), p. 126.

[62] This idea has been theorised in much detail by Lawrence Grossberg who insists that it is indeed this inauthenticity that produces new orders of authenticity in the context of pop expression. Lawrence Grossberg, `The Media Economy of Rock Culture: Cinema, Postmodernity and Authenticity', in Sound and Vision, eds. S. Frith, A. Goodwin and L. Grossberg (London: Routledge, 1993).

[63] Ruth A. Solie, `Introduction', in Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship (University of California Press), p. 9.

[64] ibid: p. 14.