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Who’s that girl now? Madonna in the UK

It never rains but it pours, Madonna must have thought as she took her MDMA tour to Hyde Park this week. As the rain which has characterised this ‘summer’ pelted the festive right out of the audience, Madge produced a show which provoked a critical downpour all of its own. Reviews universally slammed the poor sound, which was possibly beyond her control. What was more worrying for the material girl were those which questioned her relevance as an artist in 2012.

She can’t really complain, mind you. She seems to be doing the same thing herself.

You see, Madonna is one of those gilded few who achieve a level of genuine super-stardom that transcends simply being a popstar. She’s on that level above, alongside The Beatles, Stones, Michael Jackson and so on. This status does not come easy. You need to sell shitloads of records, over a long, long time. You need to have songs which soundtrack lives from Tokyo to Tottenham. You must be so ridiculously famous that you no longer appear human any more, just a beautiful creature from another planet sent to entertain and dazzle.

Madonna has been that star for so long that, like Alexander the Great, there’s nothing left to conquer. Phillip Larkin said of the Fab Four that when you reach the top, there is nowhere to go but down; but the Beatles couldn’t get down. Madonna’s problem is slightly different. The Queen of re-invention she may be, but no-one can deny that she’s nearer the end of her shelf life than the start. She’s so terrified of being cast out of Olympus that she can’t countenace any shift in her status. So she lies to herself and short-changes her audience by essentially tilting at a very large windmill

The set this week was based around the frankly dull MDMA album. Indeed, her latest, lacklustre, release accounted for half the set. No artist 25 years in should be drawing half their set from any one album, never mind the latest release. It smacks of desperation, a desire to prove that you’re still cranking out unmissable music, despite the aural evidence to the contrary. Unforgivably, the classics she did play, she butchered. ‘Like A Virgin’ was tossed away as a limp torch song, agonisingly slow and utterly devoid of charm. Many others suffered melody changes or pointless engineering designed to ‘refresh’ them. Why? Because she doesn’t want the focus on what she was. But it’s what she was that sold the tickets.

When you are charging high-end ticket prices, it seems fair to give the public what they want. Springsteen does. McCartney does. You can throw the odd curveball, sure, but people still want ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Hey Jude’. Madonna gave people what she wanted them to want. Alas, it doesn’t work like that any more.

Far from consolidating her status as a vital, current artist, all these shows did was prove how far away from the top of her game she is. During ‘Express Yourself’, she sang a snippet of Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ before hollering ‘she’s not me, she’s not me’. No, she isn’t. But clearly she’s in your head, because it was you who felt the need to bring her up.

Madonna needs to think about graceful transition rather than artful re-imagining. She’s not 30 and she never will be again. Disappointing thousands of old fans is not going to gain any new ones.

For years, she’s been the ass-kicking dynamo from New York, but Father Time is a bitch and he always wins. She should maybe get with the programme rather than fighting nature. It’s not a battle she can win.

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