by P.H.Davies on 22/05/2013
At the Billboard Music Awards on Monday, Madonna was given three awards for her mega successful MDNA Tour of 2012, including Top Touring Artist. The MDNA Tour – the ninth such concert tour by Madonna – played eighty-eight sold-out shows on four continents and grossed a whopping $300 million. The critically-acclaimed tour showcased Madonna’s most recent album, MDNA - itself a critical and commercial success - and a significant selection from her back catalogue in what was a truly spectacular experience and one I got to enjoy in Hyde Park last year. Madonna accepted her award with the grace she is known for, thanking her collaborators for helping her make such an exceptional live experience and genuinely thanking her fans for coming to see her play live. No one can doubt her sincerity. At 54 she is always going to be criticised for what she wears but no could deny that she looked youthful and with legs most people would kill for.
Seeing Madonna on a stage dominated by much younger artists like Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez has been a stark reminder that she is not only one of a kind but also a true pop survivor. Madonna’s career is in its thirtieth year and she is still hughely successful – a no.1 album (her twelfth) and top-selling world tour – is no mean feat. Do her albums sell as much as in her heyday? No, but when these record sales are put into context with what other artists are currently selling then MDNA is very much an international success. The fact that she can pull in $300 million on a tour is a credit to what a great performer is – after thirty years people still want to see her play live. Even as she approaches her mid-fifties she has the energy to perform exhausting two hours shows night after night when most people can’t even walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath and it’s a testament to her incredible fitness and hard work. She looks so amazing because she puts the hours in.
But the stark reminder of seeing Madonna on stage with younger artists is also underlined by the fact that almost all of her contemporaries have disappeared. The eighties and nineties were two decades when pop starts became the equivalent of Greek gods – they were ubiquitous, wealthy, and successful. They had a kind of fame few people truly have today and yet that fame seems to have blighted so many with death, suicide, drugs, and madness. Think about those who shared the stage with Madonna in those two decades and how many of them are still around: Michael Jackson died in 2009 after a decade of pill addiction and artistic inertia. Whitney Houston died last year after a long battle with drugs. George Michael has battled with drugs and become notorious for car crashes and ill-advised cruising. Boy George has also battled drugs and has been in and out of courtrooms and prison. Adam Ant completely lost his mind. Prince is still touring but hasn’t had a commercially successful album in a long time.
These are the high profile casualties of fame but there are so many other artists whose stars have waned over the last decade and whose commercial prospects have almost dried up; Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Janet Jackson, Guns’n’Roses, Sting, Annie Lennox, the list goes on and on. So many of these artists have seen a decline in album sales since the turn of the millennium and only a small number of have been able to sell concert tickets. The money they made in the eighties and nineties has kept some of them in nice houses and private jets but they have lost their cultural currency. The only other artist who has been able to maintain commercial success both in album sales and touring is Bruce Springsteen, another true survivor of the eighties. It’s no coincidence that Springsteen released a critically acclaimed no.1 album, Wrecking Ball, last year and embarked on a major world tour which also drew a Billboard Touring Award for ‘Top Draw’. Why have Madonna and Springsteen survived? Because of their incredible work ethic, because they engage with the contemporary, because they didn’t lose their heads over fame, and because they stayed away from nefarious influences.
People can say what they like about Madonna – she routinely gets a bashing in the press for being old, for dressing in skimpy outfits, for making bad movies – but what they cannot take from her is her success and her ability to remain visible and relevant, something she has done for more than thirty years.