Madonna's Sex book turned 20 years old this week. The literary capstone on pop music's most frankly sexual career (sorry, Prince), the glossy collection of softcore smut managed to shock even the Material Girl's most ardent fans, crossing a few lines that many weren't entirely aware existed.
Gay sex, interracial threesomes, lesbian bondage and public nudity were nowhere near mainstream novelties back in 1992, and they ain't much closer now. Madonna didn't care -- she was determined to live out a personal fantasy of exhibitionism and creative control that continues to this day.
That's right: Even in her fifties, Madonna continues to gleefully push the buttons of people prone to shock and outrage. On her current MDNA world tour, threats of boycotts, lawsuits and even criminal charges still follow her wherever she goes, nearly as reliable as the prospect of another sold-out show.
Some of you planning to attend one of her Toyota Center performances tonight and Thursday may prefer to go in unspoiled, ready to be surprised and titillated by Mistress Madge's machinations. To our more voyeuristically inclined readers, however, Rocks Off is pleased to present the Top 5 transgressions perpetrated on the tour so far.
5. Packing Heat In Denver
In the wake of the terrifying Dark Knight Rises mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., it's understandable that people might be a tad uneasy about gun violence in the Mile-High City. Naturally, that didn't stop Madonna from busting a few theatrical caps onstage as part of her routine for MDMA's "Gang Bang," a semi-danceable jumble of ham-fisted metaphors.
Though some Colorado concertgoers were left queasy and outraged when Ms. Ciccone aimed a prop weapon at the crowd and "shot" a masked burglar onstage, the sequence has been a staple of Madonna's current world tour since the very beginning. Though it would have probably been more conscientious of her to drop that number from her set for a night or two, if there's one thing Madonna has proven over the years, it's that she doesn't change her show for anybody.
Although some fans reportedly walked out and later complained mightily to local media outlets, the vast majority of the Denver crowd took the routine in stride and enjoyed the rest of the show.
4. The "Black Muslim" Incident
Madonna's no stranger to poking fun at the religious beliefs of powerful people, particularly her reliable frienemies in the Catholic Church. During her latest Washington, D.C., performance, she added a startling new jab toward the faith-obsessed:
"We have a black Muslim in the White House," she said. "Now that's some amazing shit! It means there is hope in this country."
Was Madonna endorsing Islam? Embracing the batshit view that the President is secretly a Muslim sleeper agent? Or simply praising America's choice in leaders with tongue planted firmly in cheek?
With a well-practiced eye-roll, Madge confirmed after the fact that she was, in fact, joking. She told The Washington Post, "Yes, I know Obama is not a Muslim -- though I know that plenty of people in this country think he is. And what if he were? The point I was making is that a good man is a good man, no matter who he prays to."
No word yet on her official views regarding his birth certificate.
3. The Face of French Fascism?
In the prime of her career, Madonna was more interested in gender politics than politics politics. As war and right-wing politics became more pressing concerns in the years after 9/11, however, that began to change. Today, world leaders and political candidates are as apt to face her wrath as the Pope himself.
Her most provocative political statement this year has come at the expense of Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front Party. In a characteristically subtle video montage during Madge's current show, Le Pen's image briefly appears alongside some of Madonna's other least favorite people (Sarah Palin, Pope Benedict) with a big, fat swastika superimposed on her face. As if that were unclear, her visage then dissolves into Hitler's.
Predictably, the ultra-nationalist Le Pen didn't take kindly to this treatment, threatening to sue the pop star for "public insult." Unsurprisingly, Madonna has shown little concern over the threat, and with good reason. Can't say we're super-familiar with France's free speech laws, but it's no stretch to predict that any lawsuit over the political message is headed nowhere fast.
Unfair though the comparison to Hitler may be, it most certainly provided both ladies for a brief moment with the global attention they clearly crave.
2. Rainbows in Russia
Gay rights are a dicey proposition in Russia. While homosexuality isn't technically illegal there (high-five!), it's fair to say that anti-gay attitudes in many government quarters remain somewhere between "quite strong" and "excruciatingly virulent."
Case in point: A law passed in St. Petersburg earlier this year making it illegal to promote homosexuality to minors. We assume this means that the gays were forced to pull their cartoon advertisements featuring Joe Camel suavely boofing dromedaries of the same gender.
While most visiting artists are content to get the hell out of Russia without jabbing a thumb in Putin's eye, nothing sticks in Madonna's craw like institutionalized anti-gay discrimination. She had already pissed off the Russian regime by publicly supporting the jailed anti-Putin protesters in Pussy Riot, and there was little chance she'd leave St. Petersburg without addressing the struggle for gay rights.
During her concert there on August 9, Madonna told fans that "the gay community and gay people here and all around the world have the same rights to be treated with dignity, with respect, with tolerance, with compassion, with love." Russian anti-gay groups disagreed, suing the singer for more than $10 million for "moral damage suffered by St. Petersburg residents" due to her little speech. Good luck collecting, Boris.
1. Out Comes the Titty
So yeah, it's been 20 years since the release of Sex. It's been almost as long since anybody particularly wanted to see Madonna naked. But at 54 years old, there still ain't an ounce of shame in her game. As if to prove it, the star went right on ahead a flashed a nipple at a recent concert overseas.
Did we mention that she was in Turkey at the time? Feels like that bears mentioning. A deliberate wardrobe malfunction in Rio de Janeiro is cheeky. Flopping your boob out in a solidly Muslim 'burg like Istanbul is a tad more scandalous.
While the move made headlines around the world (much to Madonna's total chagrin, we're sure), for once no one threatened to sue her or tried to score cheap political points. Though most easily dismissed the quick peek as the stunt it was, more than a few in the audience and on the Web couldn't help but notice that Madonna's breast looks pretty darn good for 54.
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And maybe that's the next button that Madonna's determined to push: Society's refusal to see older women as sexually appealing or desirable. Are we ready for that? Possibly. Helen Mirren's been receiving a lot of love these past few years, and she can't even roger rabbit.
In any case, don't put it past Madonna to flash a little skin at Toyota Center this week. After all, she can't be thrilled with the idea of Janet freakin' Jackson being Houston's most famous nipple flasher, can she?