Friday, September 19, 2008

Rhianna rings like a bell through the night.

Watching Rhianna do Madonna's seminal pop hit, "Vogue", at "Fashion Rocks" prompts several trains of thought doesn't it? It's fascinating how when a performer pays homage to a more powerful icon, it confers legitimacy to their own legend. Madonna doing Marilyn is a good example, and before that Marilyn doing Clara Bow for Avedon. On one hand it's a humble, "She's my inspiration" on the other it's a sly announcement that there's a new queen in town. "The new Madonna" - every female pop star who has been landed with that moniker has, since 1988, limped into cultural obscurity; Paula Abdul through Gwen Stefani.

Do you remember when Gwen Stefani was all anybody could think about? I never even bought her records, but all those hipster faggots were pissing their pants over her, and little girls the world over sang the refrain, "Take a chance you stupid ho," like a hymn, at recess.

Rhianna however, has managed more than one successful album, and seems bizarrely to only grow in popularity. She was smelted from the forge of perfect pop perfection thus her every move is both, well, perfect and entirely unsurprising. She's a hip Beyonce (which is to say she doesn't wear her Mother's dresses, looks emo and probably totally loves The Ramones) just as she's a square Britney/Winehouse (which is to say she keeps her sex life to herself and doesn't throw up at award ceremonies). She is not reckless, but her skirts are always short enough; her deeply unsexy career satisfies everyone. She is responsible, but she can be naughty, but she's not a drunk, and she's beautiful but in no way provocative and has a hairdo that makes fashion people think she's stylish.

She is proficiency personified and as such her performance of "Vogue" was a marvellous example of Madonna-by-numbers. Every theme of the elder stateswoman's career was there. She threw the Hollywood sexpot look in with some vaguely avant garde silk dancing and the traditional, confused post-feminist boys-drool-girls-rule attitude, garnished it with a few baroque gestures, and lip-synched flawlessly from behind the iconic headset microphone as she recreated the choreography from the original video. She was even dressed like Kylie Minogue on her last tour; and if that is not conclusive proof of robbery from Madonna's tomb then I must surely surrender my case.

I am not averse to a bit of appropriation, obviously Madge yanked the whole scene from some broke uptown queens and laughed all the way to the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. On one of her previous tours though ("Re-Invention" I think) Our Lady of Perpetual Cultural Aggrevation in fact re-created her famous Eighteenth Century powdered wigs and frilly drawers "Vogue" performance, but ladies and gentlemen, she updated it. Yes, new choreography, backbends and headstands, and video screens that merged Antoinette and Hitchcock. Madonna doing Madonna, fifteen years later so to speak, whereas Rhianna gave us a bootleg Madonna karaoke dvd filtered through "High School: The Musical 3". Her attempt was less of an homage and more of a not terribly special recreation, which in fact revealed that, like it or not, Madonna is the new Madonna.

But it's also kind of sad because Madonna's previous work in the popular musical genre set the bar so high for pop stars (qua pop stars, not 'musicians', 'artists' or any of those other elusive mythical creatures) that it's pretty near impossible for anyone else to match it. Even herself. So, wildly, since the standard has been set we must bear witness to every other pop star aping Madonna, until someone presents a better version of Madonna than Madonna - who as previously concluded is still the best Madonna impersonator around. As my dear Mother would say; "It's political correctness gone mad."


thejakeman said...

I'd lover to say I knew a whole lot about this, but I don't really. I'm consistently surprised by Madonna's continued existence on the forefront of the pop scene. I would have figured that she would quit by the time 40 rolled around, but no. If she breaks a hip doing what she does I won't feel too bad. I guess that's a bit harsh, considering I'm a closet Madonna fan. Still, these people ought to have expiration dates. Just like the rolling stones or aerosmith. said...

Obviously I think this is geniuns and I have much to say about it and instead of leaving it as a comment on your blog i may just blog about it myself. You are an inspiration. Alto I think it's important to note that Rhianna's voice is awful. That's the point, she can't sing. I mean, the songs are good and she hits the notes, but she doesn't have some remarkable timbre or anything. No soul, just kind of chirpy and almost sprechtseng (what's that german word for "talk-singing"?). When "Vogue" came out in the early 90s, it was during a point in Madonna's career where she thought of herself as something of a soul singer. This was the beginning of Madonna as black woman, remmber?

MargOH! Channing said...

Oh, you've got the madonna in ya girl...C'mon Vogue...