What’s your favorite era of Madonna? This is a fairly open-ended question, one certain to get about a million different responses. For every fan of the “Material Girl” Maddy, there are just as many who swear by her “Vogue” version, or her spiritual, “Ray of Light” relaunch, or even her recent turns as a political activist, a disco diva or a candy aficionado. Really, there are no wrong answers here.
But, if you really want to raise eyebrows, try telling a Madonna fanatic that you’re a huge fan of her Dark Era, a period that runs roughly from the release of The Immaculate Collection in 1990 to her disastrous appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman” in 1994. This was when she tackled the politics of sexuality head-on — whether it be with the “Justify My Love” video, or the “Sex” book, or the Erotica album — and got down and dirty (the “Deeper and Deeper” video, the “Body of Evidence” movie) and basically wasn’t afraid of offending anyone ever.
Needless to say, this was a period when most didn’t get what Madonna was going for because, well, it usually wasn’t all that clear.
Still, looking back on that Dark Era now, it’s pretty fascinating. Madonna went farther than any pop icon before her (or, somewhat understandably, after) — she pushed the envelope with glee and never looked back for a second. In retrospect, it’s clear she wasn’t being desperate; she was being brilliant. If only we could expect the same from the pop stars of present day.
Anyway, I mention all of that because on Tuesday (September 1), Madonna’s “Celebration” video premiered on the iTunes music store. It is directed by Jonas Åkerlund, who helped shepherd her back to respectability with his hyperkinetic 1998 video for “Ray of Light,” and features cameos by Madge’s boyfriend (model/DJ Jesus Luz) and daughter (Lourdes, who makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance toward the end). It is pretty great, particularly because it is a direct throwback to Madonna’s Dark Era.
We have Madonna popping and locking and pawing at herself, striking a series of provocative (and sometimes even submissive) poses, groping and grinding guiltlessly on her chiseled boytoy … and doing it all in a gynecologically cut dress and knee-high boots. She is 51, twice divorced, a mother of four and she is (quite rightfully) unashamed by any of this. Sexual politics, anyone?
As for the song itself, well, it’s a straightforward lunge for the dark and dirty clubs — the kind she hasn’t really made since “Deeper and Deeper” (and probably hasn’t visited since then, either). Produced by DJ Paul Oakenfold, it’s all pulsing sirens, wobbly bass and four-on-the-floor beat, with an expansive electro chorus that sounds like a truckload of Nintendo Entertainment Systems exploding in unison (only sexier).
I’m not sure if “Celebration” — which is meant to promote her career-spanning greatest-hits package of the same name (due September 29) — signifies Madonna’s return to her Dark Era (the other new song on the album, a collaboration with Lil Wayne called “Revolver,” might hint at other things), but it would be pretty amazing if it did. I’m not certain even Madge has got the stones to try it again, but there’s definitely a void to fill these days if she did. The world could use a good spanking, and we already know Madonna’s got the dominatrix getup.