If this article by Germaine Greer is any indication, business schools would do well to incorporate a study of Madonna’s career into their curricula. Madonna, who many people may think is about music, is really all about marketing. Music is just a small part of her brand, and after more than 20 years in the industry, Madonna’s constant cycles of reinvention encompass so much more than just music:
For years I was on Madonna’s side. I wasn’t exactly a fan, because I am of the opinion, shared by many, that Madonna can neither dance nor sing. What Madonna could do better than any other woman I know of was talk. She might have been a muscle-bound midget on stage, with synchronised squeals and squeaks instead of a voice, but in single combat she was a hero…
Madonna was secure enough then in her sense of herself to pick up a guy in a park and have his baby. Then she got DIY religion, married an Englishman (I could have told her that was a mistake) and crumbled before our eyes. She started telling us that all she wanted to be was a good wife and mother, even though she worked out so strenuously every day that she was honed to breaking point. Huge excitement greeted recent paparazzi shots of Madonna on the beach wrapped in white towelling; she needs the dead-white skin for her current incarnation as the ghost of Marlene Dietrich. Besides, when you’re 48, bruises turn black and green before they fade. As Madonna’s style is all grind and no bounce, she’ll have been getting bruised on the Confessions tour, the European leg of which opens this very night in Cardiff.
People who can sing, dance and act are two a penny. Madonna has the one talent that really matters in the 21st century. The true art form of our time isn’t music or dance or painting or poetry; it’s marketing. Marketing is what makes a rubbish drink of aerated water plus caffeine, sweeteners and synthetic flavourings into a gadzillion-dollar global phenomenon and omnipotent symbol of the good life under capitalism. Dullards can’t do transcendent marketing; it takes genius. It was Madonna’s genius to realise that marketing was where it’s at as long ago as 1979, which was when she registered Madonna as a trademark. Then she had nothing to sell. Now she is reported to be insisting that she be supplied with a brand new toilet seat at every venue on her current tour. The seat, still in its original plastic wrapping, must be unpacked and installed before her eyes, and removed when she leaves the venue so that it can’t be sold on eBay. Now she could sell her used toilet paper…
The entertainment press claims to remain astounded by Madonna’s “uncanny” (that is, very canny) ability to reinvent herself, to rise like a phoenix year on year from her own ashes, but this is what marketing is about. Madonna is like any brand leader, regularly repackaged, constantly “new and improved”. Madonna never wastes time: everything she does is advertising for the Madonna brand. She has always kept an ear out for whatever was happening on the underground; the trick was to recognise what could be commercialised and to go ahead and do it. Better still, find the people who were already doing it and get them to do it for you.
And this, according to Greer, is what really keeps the money rolling in. The music is only a sideshow. We tune in to hear Madonna, not so much to hear what she’s singing, but to witness the metamorphosis du jour. If she keeps using this formula, Madonna will always garner huge amounts of public interest in whatever she is doing, even if she never records another album.
“Germaine Greer: The Genius of Madonna” [Independent]