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Madonna arrives for a news conference for NFL footbal's Super Bowl XLVI's halftime show Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Indianapolis. (Morry Gash/Morry Gash / AP)
Madonna arrives for a news conference for NFL footbal's Super Bowl XLVI's halftime show Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, in Indianapolis. (Morry Gash/Morry Gash / AP)

Leah McLaren

Keep it dirty, Madonna - you know you want to Add to ...

So Madonna’s in the news again, and this time it’s not for something predictable like getting divorced, directing a Hollywood stinker, or hating on hydrangeas. Nope, now that spring has sprung, it seems the old Material Girl is determined to return to form; she’s busting out her old bag of tricks and hogging the spotlight in the best way she knows. In other words, she’s trying to shock us.

In a very careful, choreographed way, of course (this is Madonna we’re talking about, not some hapless pop tart careening her way through a quarter-life crisis), but at least she’s making an effort. I, for one, am hugely relieved. The whole “classy lady” act, which started with Evita and lasted through the transatlantic married-to-Guy-Ritchie years, was starting to grate.

When I say she shocked us, I’m using the term “us” quite liberally. In truth, she may have succeeded in shocking only one reasonably influential person in the electronic-music scene – DJ Deadmau5, a Toronto-based electro house producer also known as Joel Zimmerman. Bracketing for a moment the fact that it’s impossible to take seriously the self-righteous ranting of someone who goes to work in giant, plush mouse ears, let’s take a look at this week’s music industry Twitter spat, shall we?

The whole thing stretches all the way back in history to last weekend when Deadmau5 got all up in the Material Girl’s business about a comment she made to the crowd at a recent electronic-music festival in Miami. In the course of introducing a Swedish DJ, Madonna also took it upon herself to query how many in the crowd had had a chance “to see Molly.”

Now, Molly, as I’m sure those of you up-to-date on your clubbing lingo know, happens to be a well-known euphemism for MDMA (methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine), the Class A drug known as ecstasy. Madonna’s new album, entitled MDNA, is presumably both a play on her name and a cheeky reference to the substance.

Personally, I think that’s just dandy. Not to mention perfectly in keeping with Madonna’s responsibility, as an aging pop star turned dance-music fixture, to assert her cultural relevance by getting a bit, you know, jiggy with da kidz. If she wants to reference – or even indulge in – recreational drugs at this stage of her life, what’s the problem?

Last time I checked, Madonna’s not a preschool teacher, a nun or running for the Republican nomination (though, frankly, there have been worst candidates). So what’s the big deal with a bit of party talk? For heaven’s sake, this is a woman who posed for erotic photos with a German shepherd dog and later went to Malawi and took home a cute kid as a souvenir. Family values are not her strong suit, and that’s just fine.

The whole point of a figure like Madonna is not to teach teenagers how to floss and pay their taxes, but to inject a bit of sex and hedonistic subversion into the culture. All those years spent drinking mineral water and doing yoga were an aberration, a sad distraction from her true calling, which is to make out with a gay black priest while tethered to a flaming cross – obviously.

Well, old Mickey ears disagrees with me, and took it upon himself to lash out at Madge both on Twitter and later in an extended blog post in which he called her rude names and asked, “That’s your big contribution to EDM [electronic dance music]That’s your big message…? hipsterspeak for looking for drugs?”

Madonna responded, I am gutted to say, but denying all naughtiness. “I was referring to the song called Have You Seen Molly? written by my friend Cedric Gervais, who I almost worked with on my album.” Right babes, sure you were, and I suppose the album title is just an acronym for something perfectly respectable like Madonna Deserves National Approval or Men Desire Nefarious Apples, wasn’t it?

No matter how you look at it, Madonna wants it both ways. But if you’re culturally transgressive, you also have to take the heat. Madonna is cheeky and subversive when it suits her, and humourless and defensive when she feels attacked. Well, fine, go ahead and backpedal, but wouldn't it be much cooler just to shrug and go back to shaking your fiftysomething butt in fishnets when a cranky kid in mouse ears calls you a hypocrite?

Wouldn’t it be cooler still to live life to the hilt, regardless of age or fame or public pressure to be a good role model for kids? In a world in which so many male rock stars have hung up their stripes having partied themselves to oblivion (the bassist from Blur now makes artisanal cheese, and Keith Richards can barely talk) Madonna’s subversion – or supposed, perceived subversion – was a refreshing change from the usual “I used to be dirty but now I’m clean” music-industry line.

Whatever she actually meant by it, Madonna’s concert quip certainly got her a bit of the one thing she’s long courted and increasingly found difficult to come by, and that is genuine controversy. If only she’d hadn’t been frightened off in the end, and by a mouse at that.

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