Ken Tucker defends her right to keep cutting a new slice of the American cultural pie
Madonna takes critical abuse, but doesn’t stop creating
Poor Madonna. Her new movie, ”The Next Best Thing,” opened with a flurry of what is by now standard Madonna bashing (”She’s weirdly blank to the camera” — the Washington Post; ”[an] apparent inability to read a line” — the New York Post). She went on MTV’s icon-ratifying ”Total Request Live” last Wednesday and managed to come off like a surly old churl, professing never to have seen a Britney Spears video (”This is very enlightening,” she said dryly to host Carson Daly after the Britney clip was screened) and chastising an adoring studio audience to ask her questions that required ”more than a one-word answer.” In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, her cover of ”American Pie” is described as ”watery” — oh, wait: I wrote that.
OK, so I don’t think her ”American Pie” is very entertaining. Frankly, I don’t think ANYONE could make ”American Pie” — Don McLean’s big piece of great American cheese — very entertaining. But ever since the admiring piece I wrote on Madonna for EW’s Greatest Entertainers issue last year received more negative mail than anything I’ve written for the magazine (the bulk of which, I must admit, had to do with my editors’ ranking her over Frank Sinatra), I’ve been newly fascinated by the degree to which this woman inspires such strong feelings in people ranging from contempt to idolatry.
Fake snooty British accent and all, I still think Madonna is well worth defending. Not in the gaga, ”she’s a goddess” manner of her most over-the-top fans (hence my measured response to ”American Pie”), but rather in observing that, as she moves into middle age, she’s still capable — as a musician, if not as the all-purpose media star her movie career was always intended to secure — of remaining vitally creative (her ballad ”Time Stood Still” on the ”Next Best Thing” soundtrack is that CD’s true treasure).
And if being middle-aged cuts her off from acts like Britney and Korn (”So angst-ridden,” she said sarcastically to Carson on ”TRL”), well, that’s what having a second act to a career is all about: You let the whippersnappers nip at your heels, while you skip merrily along, doing what you damn well please. I’ll say it again: More power to her.