To celebrate LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari is publishing a daily series of LGBT Heroes, selected by the magazine’s team of writers and special contributors.
Madonna – Musician
by Nick Smith
My love affair with Madonna began in 1985 when I bought ‘Holiday’ on 7″ vinyl. I was immediately drawn in by the sound and the persona of an ambitious, unique and cocky young woman.
Arriving in New York City with $35 in her pocket in 1978, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone started on a journey that would revolutionize the music industry and catalyze debates about the changing nature of sexuality.
Madonna finally broke into the mainstream during a vibrant time in New York City with Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf at the fore of the creative and political spirit. Such verve was cruelly juxtaposed with the peak of the AIDS epidemic. She saw how it ravaged many of her friends and how the gay community became ostracized because of it.
As the ‘80s rolled on and people became more educated concerning HIV and AIDS, Madonna harnessed her influence to bring these issues to the forefront. In 1989 she orchestrated an AIDS Dance-A-Thon. Following that, the first New York date of her Blond Ambition World Tour was a benefit concert in Keith Haring’s memory, and she donated all proceeds to AmFAR and AIDS Project Los Angeles. The tour courted controversy and in Rome, the Vatican was outraged at her line, “Hey you don’t be silly, put a rubber on your willy!” during a spoken part of ‘Into The Groove’. She addressed the Vatican by stating “The tour in no way hurts anybody’s sentiments. It’s for open minds and gets them to see sexuality in a different way. Their own and others.” This speech was also featured in her film In Bed With Madonna which also documented a gay pride march and in which where she gives “Keith Haring” a heartfelt tribute.
At her peak, Madonna used sexually charged imagery in her music videos, such as ‘Vogue’ and ‘Justify My Love’. She famously had a spat with music producer David Foster concerning her use of two men kissing in an image: “Two men kissing should be looked at as normal! You represent everything I’m trying to change!” Her much maligned Sex book contains much homoerotic imagery and sexual ambiguity. The savagely underrated album Erotica features some of Madonna’s most sincere and heartbreaking lyrics, including the championing-equality stomper ‘Why’s It So Hard?’ as well as a sincere tribute to her gay founding fathers on ‘In This Life’.
Madonna is a trailblazer, and made it possible for artists such as Lady Gaga to follow in her path. She has always been an advocate for our views, our society and our right to be ourselves. Her critics disdain the use of homoerotic imagery or starving children at her concerts, but lap up her ideas like her “Rock The Vote” campaign. On their terms, such controversy is palatable. Yet for me, her message remains the same: believe in yourself and fight for what you believe in.
Throughout her career, Madonna has always challenged convention and she continues to highlight and challenge injustice. Last year, she was the first major artist to challenge homophobic Russian legislation by providing all concertgoers with pink wristbands to wear at her gig in St. Petersburg to show support for gay rights. She further fanned the flames by championing the Pussy Riot cause and calling for the incarcerated members to be released. This lady is not for turning.