I’m not a football fan. Tonight’s Super Bowl game was mostly background noise for me, as it was my 14-year-old who had been given control of the remote control and satellite feed. (What can I say? I do try to be a cool mom.) I did perk up, however, at half-time because I wanted to see what Madonna would do to get our collective attention that wouldn’t, in her words, involve flashing her nipples or some other form of “wardrobe malfunction.”
Throughout Madonna’s nearly 13-minute set, during which she was joined on stage by LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., and Cee-Lo Green, as well as a team of dancers and an acrobat who looked like the love-child of Richard Simmons and Will Ferrell; she kept her promise: no nipples were on display (though M.I.A. whipped out her itchy middle finger, an act of immaturity and lack of professionalism that almost bypassed the censors), and her clothes stayed on. In fact, the only element of her costume that appeared to cause Madonna any kind of difficulty were her spike-heeled, thigh-high designer boots. Can I justifiably criticize her inability to dance, so much as totter around the stage with the occasional full-leg kick and knee squats with pelvic thrusting thrown in to remind us that even at age 53, Madonna still has not lost her edge?
Nor am I jealous of her “yoga arms” or her super-optimal cholesterol level or anything else about her that is supposed to relay the message loud and clear that, Lady Gaga and Britney be damned, Madonna will always be “the Queen of Pop” and “forever young.”
I didn’t watch last year’s Super Bowl game or its half-time show with the Black-Eyed Peas, a performance that has been excoriated both online and off, even to this very day. Tonight, however, a performer I have genuinely admired for her drive, ambition, and grit for more than 25 years; really looked as though she was in the fight of her life to avoid slipping into Norma Desmond territory, to keep herself top of mind in a cultural landscape now dominated by the type of acts she has been aligning herself with (2008′s Hard Candy, with Timbaland and Timberlake, anyone?).
Here’s the thing: why is Madonna trying so hard, when in fact at this stage of her career she shouldn’t have to try at all? She needs to dump the rappers; she doesn’t need them. Her disdain of the new generation of singers, and particularly the reductive Gaga, is all but spelled out in the chorus of “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” her newest single:
Don’t play the stupid game
Cause I’m a different kind of girl
Every record sounds the same
You’ve got to step into my world.
It’s obviously unclear from everything Madonna does if she has ever given any thought to retiring from the entertainment industry. I’m not saying she should, just yet. But it has to mean something when an organization like AARP is calling her out on Twitter. Nothing negative was posted publicly, but it’s just that, well, it was AARP, for land’s sakes. It left me thinking that the slope for Madonna between tonight’s half-time show and eventually being written off as an aging caricature along the lines of Barry Manilow’s Lola, is sadly not that steep.
And, frankly, for me as someone who grew up with Madonna and her music as integral pieces of the “soundtrack” of my life; the sight of this icon tottering around on stage at the age of 53, all cougar and cartwheels and (covered) crotch; is not how I want to think of her, or even how she should be remembered. Her legacy, on so many levels, is far more important than that.