Madonna was in the headlines days before she accepted her Golden Globe (for her song Masterpiece) and snapped at host Ricky Gervais Sunday night.
On Friday, Madonna made a comment about Lady Gaga on a Nightline appearance, a comment that lit up the Internet and was widely reported as worthy of the term "cat fight" a year after the two stars mock-battled each other in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Having refrained, politely, for almost a year, the Queen of Pop finally weighed in on the question of whether Gaga's song Born This Way has similarities to her own 1989 song Express Yourself. Listeners have been comparing the two songs since Born This Way was released last February.
Madonna's savoir faire as a marketer is unfailing: Her comment – she called Gaga's song "reductive"– has everyone talking about her again. But not so nicely. Madonna is being described as, let's say, an unpleasant woman, for having used a refined word that even her interlocutor had to look up in a dictionary.
Worse, Gaga's legion of fans, her Little Monsters, have staged an attack, lacerating Madonna for being "old," and using crass, sexually derogatory language. When Madonna was expressing herself, she was making a clear, powerful call to women: Her song is a political anthem about our sexuality, autonomy and freedom. To see this message rejected by a younger audience, so many years later, is a bleak commentary on contemporary women's reductive sense of each other.
Still, having sat down to talk with the staid ABC anchor Cynthia McFadden to promote W.E., her film about the scandalous love affair between Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward; her new album coming out in March (the first single is due this month), courtesy of her three-record, multimillion-dollar deal with Interscope and Live Nation; and her upcoming half-time show at the Super Bowl Feb. 5, Madonna managed once again to secure our interest in her, one of the biggest brands in show business.
That is, she again piqued our interest in the woman we have long loved to hate: the artistic powerhouse and trend-riffing genius who always manages to come across as stiff, cold and unlikable.
Gaga, the modern Madonna (with regard to her style, sound and fame) has our attention as well, but she is warm and affable – never imperious.
In a Vanity Fair story last month, Lady Gaga cooked spaghetti from scratch at her parents' place for a besotted interviewer. Madonna, in dowager couture and with her legs indifferently spread, talked to McFadden as if she were a customs official. It's easy to see why her words are not being warmly received.
Madonna's backstabbing brother Christopher Ciccone has joined the fray, Perez Hilton has revealed, saying on Facebook, that "fyi … M. wasn't being rude ... she was trying to be funny, and of all the things she can do, funny isn't one of them … kinda like acting ... "
Ciccone, the weasel, is, unfortunately, right: Madonna cannot execute a joke and never could. But why should she joke about the song? Lady Gaga has said, not without rancour, that Born This Way merely follows the "chord progression" of 50 years of disco.
If listening to a harrowing hour of the Trammps, the Bee Gees and Donna Summer disproves this theory, a side-by-side comparison of Born this Way and Express Yourself (this sort of mashup has been available on YouTube since the Gaga song was released) certainly makes the songs seem awfully similar. .
Madonna said in the Nightline interview that she likes and respects Gaga. Buried in her very slight dismissal of the song is the desire to be acknowledged by her vividly obvious protégée.
Instead of pretending to have simply stood in line with the stalwarts of disco, Gaga should acknowledge her great and visible debt to Madonna's style and music.
But that's not how we treat Madonna, is it?
Ever since she tore her way into our consciousness, so many of us have listened to and despised her, without ever conceding there must be something phenomenal about her if she warrants such passionate responses.
In the last few years, she has presented a kinder version of herself to the world. In interviews, she has spoken of her formerly rapacious ego; of having been, perhaps, an exhibitionist without a cause.
Meanwhile, on the fan blog The Lady Gaga Project, shockingly racist, even sexual, remarks are being posted about Madonna's adopted son, David (who was born in Malawi, where the singer does humanitarian work).
Do these rabid fans actually believe Mother Monster (Gaga's name, in her fan manifesto) is a genuine family member? If she were their mother, one hopes she would severely punish them for their appalling conduct around this matter.
Madonna's message to her fans has always been at once democratizing ("C'mon girls!") and aloof – she does not sign autographs; she keeps a cool distance offstage. She is, in other words, a true star, and a woman wise enough to know love and hate are sharp dual blades churning in the heads of fans. The great Gaga should learn this too, for her own stature, and safety.