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Every pica of propaganda about Madonna's new album, Hard Candy, like the guilty-as-charged next passage, reminds you that, come August, our former national outrage turns 50. Yow. That's past the age where Sinatra stopped counting on "It Was a Very Good Year." Past the age Anne Archer ceased getting "the other woman" roles and started accepting "the wife you cheat on" parts. Past the age Daisy Duck began resembling Donald in drag.
Thrilled they can recycle all those geriatric Jagger jokes on a woman, the press has permanently dubbed Madonna "Madge," as if age alone could morph the Material Girl into the Palmolive Lady. And if you're old enough to know who the Palmolive Lady is, well, you probably are Madonna.
Yet those poised to write off the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as a museum piece in an antique corset might be surprised to learn there's still plenty of life in the old girl. It's evident throughout Hard Candy but particularly on "She's Not Me," possibly her most irresistible track since her '85 single "Into the Groove." In it Madonna castigates a former lover for replacing her with a carbon copy wannabe, but it sounds as if she's really chewing out her latest stable of producers for having previously slummed it with Madonna spawns like Britney, Ashley, Nelly (Furtado), Robyn and the Pussycat Dolls.
Or maybe it's a throwdown to Mariah Carey, who stole some thunder from what rightly should've been "Madonna Month" by tying Elvis' 18 No. 1 hits with "Touch My Body." And now Mariah's hijacked headlines again by impulsively marrying Nick Cannon (who directed her new "Bye Bye" video), thus plugging her yet-to-be-released single the day after Madonna drops her bag of tough treats (though there's been no mention as to whether Mimi informed her new hubby that she will never have children, as that would "violate" her body; hey, you can't make this stuff up!). Vengeance, thy self-appointed nickname is Mimi!
We do, in fact, know these two women have officially detested each other since 1995 when Mariah told the press, "I really haven't paid attention to Madonna since like seventh or eigth grade when she used to be popular."
As late as 2005, Madonna's disdain for Mariah was such that she gave precise instructions to the Live 8 organizers to keep Mariah and her massive entourage from getting anywhere near her backstage. And Madonna's reported threat to boycott the 2006 Grammys unless she opened the show infuriated Mariah, especially since it worked. So then, what's Hollywood waiting for? All the elements for a credible All About Eve remake are in place.
Mutual deep-seated revulsion? Check. Madonna's resemblance to Margo Channing, a crusty old broad who refuses to be pushed around? Check. Mariah's similarities to Eve Harrington, a calculating snake pretending to be a doe-eyed ingénue? Check. The only thing stopping this project from getting the green light is that, given these stars' respective spotty film careers, there aren't enough Razzie statues in production to fill the demand.Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night. Reeeeooow!
All about sleeves!
To drive home the Hard Candy theme, against a frilly hot pink candy wrapper, you have a rock-hard Madonna in boxing gear. The woman is still capable of taking a great photo, so why'd she pick a shot that looks like a cross between Jake LaMotta and Waylon Flowers' puppet Madame? Because that takes balls, my friend. Hard candy, jawbreaking Man-donna balls.
Mariah, determined to repeat the success of her comeback triumph, 2005's The Emancipation of Mimi, is calling her follow-up E=MC2, scientific shorthand for The Emancipation of Mariah Carey Part 2 or "I'm still following a formula." And to prove it, Mariah stands with legs astride like Beyoncé for her second consecutive cover. It's not known whether this allusion to disgraced former GOP Sen. Larry Craig's "wide stance" is a ploy to steal some of Madonna's, um, long-standing gay fan base.
All about perceive!
Madonna's fans claim her video for "4 Minutes to Save the World" demonstrates how, via her art and dance and undressing, Madonna continues to save the world, just stopping short of foiling that black drop-cloth that eats people's flesh. Meanwhile, Madonna haters see that same video as Boy Scout Justin Timberlake helping an old lady cross the street. Mariah fans maintain her "Touch My Body" video is evidence of a sense of humor because she's letting herself be pawed by a computer geek. Mariah says the video is a send-up of her promiscuous image. "The truth is, I'm a freakin' prude," she said. "I've never had a one-night stand." Mariah haters see this vid as confirmation that without her millions and multi-octave voice, she's really just the chubby chick at the office you could probably get.
All about misconceive!
Leaked versions of Hard Candy's 12 tracks appeared almost a month before release and much missed is the original, more robotic "Give It 2 Me," which sounded like someone hitting Madonna upside the head with a vocoder. Ditto for the original creepy "Voices," the sonic equivalent of every last bit of music being colonically flushed out of her body. Not so missed is the original "Spanish Lesson," which resembled Madonna reciting drills from a Berlitz self-study book and not really caring if "Julio está en la biblioteca hoy" or not. For my money, "4 Minutes to Save the World" is vastly improved with its Japanese DJs back announcing all the way through it. Relegated to a bonus on the deluxe Japanese edition of E=MC2 is "Heat," a playful will.i.am production that probably got voted off during a marketing meeting after someone said "Will.i.am? He's so 2006!"
All about thieves!
"She's Not Me" is a swell electronica rewrite of Donna Summer's 1980 hit "Bad Girls," complete with identical whistle "toot toots." Plus, there's the surprisingly rockin' This Year's Model-ish middle-eight, which gives some weight to Madonna's claim during her Hall of Fame induction speech that she learned to play drums to Elvis Costello records. Mariah's "I'm That Chick" is also a swell rewrite of "Bad Girls," with a bridge that sounds suspiciously like the one in "Off the Wall." This is confirmed when Mariah sings, "There ain't no rules, it's up to you." It's like robbing the local 7-11 and holding a map to your house up to the security camera.
All about age!
Throughout Hard Candy, MCs announce "Ma-don-na!" —a possible effort to reintroduce her to today's young kids who don't buy records anyway and think a Boy Toy is a Wii Playstation. Her most blatant ploy is the opening title track, "Candy Shop." One can imagine the behind-the-scenes hand-wringing when the Queen of Pop informed her subjects: "Hey, if 50 Cent can be a candy store, so can I!" Oldsters will recognize it's a sexy retooling of Rosemary Clooney's "Come-On-A-My House," with Madonna substituting her raw sugar and last remaining ovum for the late Ms. Clooney's "Easta-egg" and pastafazoole. Now I guess we all feel kinda dirty. Throughout E=MC2, Mariah tries to out-Jenny-from-the-block Jennifer Lopez for the teen audience by extolling the simple virtues of making out in cars, hanging out in clubs sipping Grigio slowly, and complaining about people getting in her business "like a Wendy's interview" (as though she ever worked at a Wendy's). The woman is 38, all right? She brags on the album opener "Migrate" about how she sails from the bar to the VIP lounge in the club but fails to mention the 15 hairdressers, bodyguards and personal stylists she doesn't "migrate" anywhere without in real life. Other signs Mariah is showing her age? Singing in a lower register for half the album, using analog terminology like "for the record" and "let's rewind" and still complaining about Tommy Mottola controlling her life like it's 1995.
All about heave!
Fighting the Madonna vs. Mariah fight daily are their warring fans, fueling the acrimony on forums, post comments and in chat rooms like so many Addison DeWitts. Check out this stinging quip on Jossip from ny212. "Madonna is on the cover of Vogue AGAIN this month. Mariah will neeeeeeeeeeeeeverr make it on the cover of Vogue. Fatties aren't allowed....." And this witty retort from spelling-challenged Shawn Penn: MADANNA SUCK! MARIHA HAVE NICE TITTIES!" Truly, could the Algonquin Table have said it any better?
All about grief!
Madonna usually doesn't stoop to using pity to sell records. A rare exception is her YouTube vid where she complains that she has to vacuum the soundstage after all her videos. On "Side Effects," Mariah lets us know that she still has violent nightmares about former husband Tommy Mottola. That was over ten years ago, sweetie. When was the last time you heard Madonna mention getting pistol whipped by Sean Penn? Or mention Sandra Bernhard? Dennis Rodman? Or that Britney chick who left her standing at the alter?
All about achieve!
Even Madonna haters have to admit that she's affected pop culture, inspired trends and turned out some pretty terrific records over the past 25 years, this record included. Her record of 37 Top Ten hits surpassed Elvis Presley, a sign that means her audience is selective in their adulation, especially when you make bad movies. In contrast to Elvis, who scored all 17 chart toppers in seven years as a matter of mass consensus, Mariah's 18 No. 1s stretch across her entire 18-year career and only serve to remind us how fragmented pop audiences are and why a Top 40 radio format will never work again. Once upon a time, a No. 1 song like "Papa Don't Preach" or "Like a Virgin" was virtually inescapable. In contrast, I challenge anyone to remember where they were and what amnesia-inducing pharmaceuticals they were ingesting for all 12 weeks in 1995 and 1996 that "One Sweet Day," her company merger/duet with Boys II Men, sat unchallenged at No. 1. The only trend you can say she's responsible for is giving her albums frilly girlie names like Daydream, Rainbow, Glitter, Charmbracelet, Music Box, etc. (Or, as you'd question-answer in Jeopardy: "What do you need to make a successful Care Bears episode?") And now she's jettisoned that! But the press is going easier on her than Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain. Why? Because she, too, has been through hell, but hers involved not Vietnamese prisons and torture but Glitter, stripping on TRL and handing out popsicles.
Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to email@example.com.