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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

September 28, 2012 at 11:08 AM

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Madonna is still the Queen of Pop, after all these years

Pop megastar Madonna spoke on a panel of musicians at a conference in 1984 about the importance of staying up with the times, specifically with the then new art form of music videos.

In response, John Oates of Hall & Oates said he resented the fact that an aspiring musician/songwriter had to worry about being an actor now.

Madonna was unsympathetic: "When you're on stage, you're acting. That's a performance. So what's the difference?"

That all-encompassing viewpoint is why she is the Queen of Pop. Madonna brings her "MDNA" tour to KeyArena Tuesday and Wednesday. The New York Times called it an "extravaganza," counting tightropes, stripteases and a (virtual) blood bath among its delights.

Perhaps overcompensating for not having a very good singing voice, Madonna has used every bit of camera attention she's gotten since the 1980s to her advantage. She quickly acted in movies, and continues to act and direct (most recently directing the feature film "W.E." in 2011). All the while, she courted controversy in the name of freedom, with her risque "Sex" coffee table book, with her antagonistic relationship with the Catholic Church and by adopting an African baby. Most recently, she stood up to the Russian government and publicly defended jailed punk rockers Pussy Riot on stage.

She was and always is pushing her brand (her name and personality) into new media, never letting music just be music. That blitz strategy and the soundtrack to it all, teenage dance jams mixed with adult themes — the essence of rock 'n' roll — make her a grandmother figure to Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, M.I.A. and Britney Spears, the current fleet dominating pop music.

When we talk about sexy stuff and film/music pieces of the 1980s and '90s, Prince and Michael Jackson are the big names. But Madonna did what they did with the stigma of being female, which meant she was supposed to play nice. She never did.

Her new album "MDNA" finds the 54-year-old still not playing nice. But she's also not dictating musical trends anymore. The music channels the body-slam bass and face-slapping snare drums of today's club scene, which revolves around the drug Ecstasy (scientific name MDMA). The album is so-so. But her lyrics are good ("I tried to be your wife / diminish myself / and swallow my life") and her live performances are reportedly great.

And they better be. Because tickets aren't cheap. And her music doesn't seem to be improving. And household name songwriters like Hall & Oates aren't coming back in vogue. Can you name the people in Stargate, a team which makes songs for Beyoncé? Not likely.

Now we don't know songwriters' names. We have pop stars. And they have arena shows.

And Madonna, since she's the Queen, ought to have the best one.

Madonna plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at KeyArena, 305 Harrison Street; $45-355 (1-800-745-3000, www.keyarena.com).


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