Sunday, April 27, 2008

Who’s That Girl?

Alongside whatever she has offered her audience through the years — sex, glamour, dancing, defiance, blasphemy, spirituality — Madonna has never pretended to be anything but diligent. She’s disciplined, hard-working and determined to sell. For Madonna as a pop archetype, the truest pleasure isn’t momentary physical ecstasy or divine rapture but success. She labeled that impulse too in an early tour: “Blonde Ambition.”

Presenting herself not only as an object of desire but as a material girl with her eye on the profits was one of the many smart moves she made from the beginning. By flaunting her control and her triumphs, Madonna gave fans a stake in her long-term prospects, something that loyalists should be able to appreciate as her sex appeal inevitably fades — although Madonna is still svelte, toned and dressing in lingerie as often as she pleases. On another of the new album’s little manifestoes, “Give It 2 Me,” she insists, “Don’t need to catch my breath/I can go on and on and on.”...

Madonna might be singing to all her wannabes through the decades in “She’s Not Me,” a branding statement — “She doesn’t have my name” — couched as a warning to a lover. It’s about a girl who tries to steal a man by copying everything from the singer’s perfume to her reading list. As if to remind the guy that he and the singer have a shared past, the track reaches way back to revive disco — scrubbing guitar, canned hand claps, brief touches of (synthetic) strings — while Madonna sings, “She’ll never have what I have/It won’t be the same.”

Which is true. No one since Madonna (including the Neptunes’ client Britney Spears, whom Madonna once smooched as an equal) has come close to achieving the same alchemy of flirtation, pop proficiency, concert spectacle and self-guided tenacity. But she still has to watch her back.

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