It’s Madonna’s birthday today, and I’m glad to see her trending on Facebook. Although she’s been called the “Queen of Pop” for as long as any of us can remember, and was recently declared the highest-grossing solo touring artist ever, it sometimes feels as though she’s been strangely underestimated. Her recent collaborator Diplo got close to the problem in an interview with Rolling Stone last year, when he said of the artist: “She created the world we live in. It already sucks to be a woman in the music industry, but to be a boss woman is even harder. She sold out her tour in minutes, but no one seems to want her to succeed – ‘Madonna, we’ve been there, done that, now we’re about Kim Kardashian.'”
What Diplo means by Madonna “creating the world we live in”, I think, is that she set the templates by which all of today’s big pop stars – Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Rihanna – now operate. Other artists have made provocative videos, put on spectacular arena shows and turned underground dance trends into mainstream pop hits, but it was Madonna who refined the art from the mid ’80s until the late ’90s. a
Alongside Michael Jackson and Prince, she was the third member of the ‘holy trinity of ’80s pop’. Arguably, Prince and Jackson were more “talented” musicians in the traditional sense, but Madonna made up for it by being bright, hungry, visionary, fearless and inquisitive. “You don’t want to be the smartest person in the room, you want to be the dumbest in the room,” she told Interview magazine in 2014 when discussing her creative process.
With both MJ and Prince gone, now is the right time to start giving Madonna her full dues. She may never make another album as great as Ray Of Light, but her back catalogue is still inspiring everyone from Shura to Lady Gaga. A few months ago, she gave a lovely no-frills performance of her early hit ‘Borderline’ on The Tonight Show because Barack Obama was the guest of honour, and it felt like the sort of thing she should do more often. Madonna wouldn’t be Madonna if she wasn’t pushing forward – sometimes messily, sometimes brilliantly – but at this stage in her remarkable career, she can surely allow herself the odd victory lap.