On May 3 2019, British Vogue revealed that Madonna would be gracing their June cover, with photos by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott.
Vogue also published a fantastic article about Madonna’s fight against ageism:
With her new album Madame X, out June 14th, Madonna stages another reinvention in her revolutionary career. But in a new era of self-expression, individual freedom and all-encompassing diversity, it’s perplexing that her age remains her biggest barrier, argues Anders Christian Madsen.
The morning after Madonna’s red-blooded performance at the Billboard Awards on Wednesday evening, entertainment websites quoted the court of Twitter. It was the same old story: granny emojis, ageist slurs and chauvinist memes. At the release of Madame X, her fourteenth studio album, 60-year-old rebel Madonna is still facing the toughest of all her revolutions: making the world accept that women at sixty can create, perform and make an impact with the same freedom of expression as a thirty-year-old. Regardless of her artistic merit, age and ageism have formed the background noise to every album Madonna has released since she turned fifty; perhaps even forty. What seems to be society’s issue with her is that she refuses to abide by the unwritten rules of age pertaining to everything from behaviour to dress codes and humour. The implication is that Madonna is in denial of her age; that she wants to trick us into thinking she’s young. The nerve!
Yet, on the contrary, Madonna’s music and performances in recent years have owned and celebrated her age and legacy, from the way she proudly references every reinvention of her career on her every tour, to her nostalgically reflective lyrics and samples of her own evergreens on her last album Rebel Heart, and her new single Medellín, which opens with verses that entirely embrace where she’s at in life: “I took a pill and had a dream, I went back to my seventeenth year. Allowed myself to be naïve, to be someone I’ve never been.” At sixty, Madonna is anything but old news. Medellín, a duet with Maluma, is the most experimental work she’s written since Ray of Light: a multi-layered, mostly Spanish-language song that breaks all the conventions of pop music, yet echoes in your ear like the catchiest of Generation Z radio hits. So why is BBC’s Radio 1 – home to all the pop stars for whom Madonna paved the way – not adding Medellín to its playlist?
Their actions echo the statement made by the station’s head of music, George Ergatoudis, when Madonna released Rebel Heart in 2015: “The BBC Trust have asked us to go after a young audience. We’ve got to concentrate on [people aged] fifteen to thirty. We have to bring our average age down. That’s something we’re very conscious of. The vast majority of people who like Madonna, who like her music now, are over thirty and frankly, we’ve moved on from Madonna.” It was a sad message to stand by in a time when all the things Madonna has spent her life fighting for finally seem to be materialising in our shared mentality. Madame X is the first album Madonna has released since Time’s Up changed the world in 2017. Those waves made a lot of the causes she has worked for throughout her career come true. But they also brought with them a heightened sense of the witch-hunts Madonna has been subjected to since she hit the scene in the 1980s.
Her fearless tackling of sex as a topic in the public forum, refusal of sexual and gender-specific categorisation, and inexhaustible fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, religious suppression and ageism in the post-modern world should have made her the most celebrated pop star alive. And yet, by denying Madonna the same platform to promote her music as Rihanna, Beyoncé and Ariana Grande, we seem to forget the invaluable part she has played in creating the culture of individuality and diversity so attributed to the new generations. The destruction of icons has never been more practised than in this moment in time. There’s no knowing when the next accusations will hit the people you admire most, dead or alive, and tarnish their legacies with the indefinite effect that deems public defence temporarily unadvisable.
It’s why the opening scene in Madonna’s video for Medellín is so pertinent. “How could I trust anyone after years of disappointment and betrayal? How could I not want to run away?” she asks, confiding in her god the way she’s done it publicly so many times in her career. “I will never be what society expects me to be. I have been kidnapped, tortured, humiliated and abused. In the end I still have hope. I still believe in the goodness of humans.” Cynics will say her words are self-pitying and conceited, but for those of us to whom Madonna has served as an inspiration, an educator and a revolutionary for three or four decades, her prayer is as haunting as it is relevant. After all, it’s hard to think of a living person with a continuous platform as big as hers, who has persistently used it to inspire and improve the world around her. The provocative nature of Madonna’s behaviour is a very small part of her total sum as a freedom fighter.
But perhaps she’s met her match in what we all fear more than the battles she won in the past, which revolved around sexual and cultural differences and views different to our own. Age is the threat that hits us all, a fact that explains the existence of ageism. It’s why it’s such a towering barrier to climb, even for Madonna and her age-defying racehorse physique. But shouldn’t the #MeToo era, with all its morals and ethics, inevitably result in a better climate for a woman like Madonna? At the end of the day, she’s putting her 60-year-old, scanty-clad ass on the line for future generations to experience less societal limits than she did once she passed the 40-year mark. Rather than pointing out her age, every person on social media – young or old – should be celebrating it, thanking Madonna for continuously going where no one else dares to go. Because while all of Madonna’s revolutions have gained her attention, it’s nothing compared to what she’s done for the rest of us.