Madonna has been dissed, and she is not happy. The 56-year-old proclaimed Queen of Pop, with more record sales than any woman in history, received a distinctly unroyal reception by the British radio station BBC Radio 1, which recently banished her latest single, “Living For Love,” from its playlist.
Every generation has its own music and its own musical royalty, and the British, above all, are especially protective of the royal line of succession. Apparently Madonna’s devoted subjects are too old for BBC 1, which deemed Her Royal Highness “irrelevant” to its audience. Madonna calls the decision “discriminatory and unfair,” a clear case of ageism.
The very proper BBC 1 head programmer admitted: “We’ve got to concentrate on people aged 15-30. 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 30 and frankly, we’ve moved on from Madonna. Whilst around 40 percent of the country’s 15- to 29-year-olds tune into Radio 1 each week, an artist’s age is never a factor.”
Madonna was not amused. “I was like, ‘Wait a second. Shouldn’t it have to do with whether you wrote a good, catchy pop song?’” she told a British newspaper “My manager said to me, ‘If you’re not in your 20s, it’s hard. You might get your record played in your 30s. There’s a handful of people who do – Pharrell (who is 41) got lucky. But if you’re in your 50s, you can forget it.’”
Madonna must wonder how the British can treat a queen this way.
The moving hand, once having writ, moves on. That’s how it works in the kingdom of popular music. One day, you’re singing “Like A Virgin” in your underwear, appearing on MTV on a giant wedding cake and marrying Sean Penn. The next day: Poof! Your music might as well be seventh-century Gregorian chants.
Youth must be served, and youth can always download Madonna on their MP3 players and listen to “Papa Don’t Preach” all day long. The sad truth is that listeners with iPods can always get more Madonna, but without promotional stations like BBC 1, Madonna can’t always get more new listeners. And when the queen loses favor, the day comes when her head goes on the chopping block like one of Henry VIII’s wives.
It wasn’t so long ago that it was good to be the queen. Her royal highness was dating Warren Beatty (Penn proved to be an unworthy suitor), appearing in edgy books and movies, and touring the world with a huge retinue. Madonna was naked when naked was the coin of the realm. She expelled a fair share of musical knights from the kingdom of radio airplay.
Now if she wants to avoid becoming a rock-and-roll dowager, she might have to look at what those banished subjects are doing. She could try the Paul McCartney strategy and, like Sir Paul, duet somewhat uncomfortably with hot young singers.
Maybe the Sir Mick Jagger route and try selling out large venues. However, Madonna has already fallen off the stage at the Super Bowl and in London. There are only so many tumbles a dowager queen and her brittle bones can take.
Finally, there is the Bob Dylan approach (OK, he hasn’t been knighted) and she could take a stab at singing the old standards. Perhaps “Madonna Sings the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook” or “Madonna Sings Billie Holiday.” On second thought, that might not be such a good idea.
Even the Material Girl must eventually go the way of all earth. Far better singers have confronted the inevitability of being banished from playlists; she is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to see her music fade slowly into the mists of time. That’s truth or dare for you.
If her subjects are brave enough to tell Madonna the truth, they should inform her she is not a victim of ageism. She is a victim of life. Besides, true royalty never lets her subjects hear her whine.
Cory Franklin is the author of “Chicago Flashbulbs: A Quarter Century of News, Politics, Sports, and Show Business (1987-2012).” He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.
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