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Madonna will never be over. Deal with it.

Written by gaytourism

As a child of the 90s, I had two gateway album artwork experiences.

The first was Cher’s Greatest Hits: 1965-1992. On the cover, the Believe singer wears a shock of red curly hair and lacy black lingerie. It was, frankly, very confusing for my young gay brain. It still is.

The second concerns Madonna’s first compilation album, The Immaculate Collection from 1990.

In the pantheon of Madonna album covers, this one’s surprisingly nondescript. The images inside, however, are a different story.

Shot in black and white by the late, great gay photographer Herb Ritts, this rather severe series depicts Madonna exuding sexuality.

Who’s that girl?

She doesn’t show much. But whether narrowing her eyes and staring down the camera, or smoking and clutching her breasts, or simply standing next to a urinal in fishnets – as you do – the photographs again inspired conflicting feelings in me.

What was it, exactly? Excitement? An arousal of sorts? Well, it was actually more than that.

These photos, coded with messages by an unapologetically queer photographer and his muse, inspired an awakening in me, both cultural and intellectual.

(Quick reminder: we’re talking about the impact of an album sleeve here. In 2018, static pop culture imagery revolves around tiny streaming thumbnails and ‘viral’ shots by magazines nobody buys.)

Deeper and deeper

My curiosity and respect for Madonna only grew through the decade.

I listened to the music: Like a Prayer through headphones and tears while lying on my living room floor; dancing to Frozen as loud as the stereo would go, like the world’s most depressing disco, before freaking out to Ray of Light.

I studied the music videos: Vogue’s homage to ballroom culture, the queerness only fully contextulized when I finally watched Paris Is Burning years later. The titillating S&M of Human Nature; the haunting, stylized beauty of Rain.

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I also absorbed the lyrics. Some leave me breathless to this day, such as on truly profound Nothing Really Matters. (As you’ve probably guessed, Ray of Light is my favorite Madonna album).

She transmitted so much positivity to me, via her art, before I was ever a teenager, without my even realizing it. It amazes me.

Papa don’t preach

The people around me at the time weren’t thrilled about my burgeoning sexuality. But I found acceptance in Madonna.

And I’m glad I placed my trust in her. After all, this is a woman who has always been vocal of her love of the LGBTI community.

In more recent years, she’s publicly campaigned for marriage equality, spoken out against bullying of LGBTI teens on Ellen and received jail and death threats for condemning Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law while performing there in 2014.

I see, with hindsight, how she held my hand and guided me safely towards a proudly gay identity, towards love and tolerance, as she did many people of various ages and sexualities. For this I am eternally grateful.

Justify my love

Well over 20 later, I’m as compelled by and in awe of Madonna as ever. And it makes me annoyed when people unduly criticize her. Especially when it’s rooted in sexism and ageism – something sadly endemic among (some) gay men.

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I will defend her to the death, but don’t mistake my respect for hyperbole. I don’t possess the irrational fervour of 1D’s ‘My dog is dead!’ Directioners, Beyonce’s Beyhive or Nicki Minaj’s Barbz/The Kingdom/whatever they’re called this week.

Madonna isn’t ‘my queen’. (Although I am going to party dedicated solely to her at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern tonight). She is simply a human being who I greatly admire. As such, I know she isn’t perfect.

Rebel Heart

I’m not afraid to say not everything she does resonates with me. I wish I could un-see some of her Instagram posts and red carpet looks – more for the confounding artistic choices than the amount of flesh on display.

More importantly, I’ve been disappointed with a lot of her music since the Confessions era. (The inanity of Devil Pray and Bitch, I’m Madonna are low points. That said, I adore Rebel Heart, I’m Addicted and Miles Away).

Indeed, I have a lot of opinions about what Madonna should do next. So do a lot of fans. I wish she’d stop chasing trends, collaborating with lesser artists and singing about taking drugs. And I definitely think she should do Glastonbury.

But in reality, the only opinion that matters is hers.

A friend of mine recently said it was sad to see Madonna ‘undo all her amazing work’ with recent misfires, but I disagree. Sure, I long for another Ray of Light-esque era, to be bestowed with wisdom and timeless tunes anew.

But even if Madonna never releases a song of note again – and she will – her place in the pop and LGBTI culture halls of fame, my heart and most of our parents’ dusty record collections is undeniable.

She’s the godmother of gay men, and of the little boy standing next to his parents’ record player I once was.


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