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Madonna’s Demons, the President’s PSA and Other Grammy Oddities

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John Shearer/Invision/AP

Susan E. Wills - published on 02/10/15 - updated on 06/08/17

A strangely discordant evening all around

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Smack in the middle of the Grammy Awards Sunday night, viewers were treated to a public service announcement from the President of the United States. The topic — violence against women, rape and domestic abuse — is serious and important, but the setting was rich with irony. Here’s an excerpt from the President’s message:

Tonight, we celebrate artists whose music message helps shape our culture and together, we can change our culture for the better by ending violence against women and girls. Right now, nearly one in five women in America has been a victim of rape or attempted rape. And more than one in four women has experienced some form of domestic violence. It’s not okay. And it has to stop. Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes and get us thinking and talking about what matters. And all of us, in our own lives, have the power to set an example.

For Grammy Award nominees Chris Brown and R. Kelly, the message was not likely to have made them squirm in their seats. Jessica Goldstein had this to say about the Grammys’ going easy on Brown:

Given the opportunity to “send a message,” as the Grammys are so eager and desperate to do, the Grammys went with this: should a person leave his girlfriend in such a bloodied, battered state that she needs to be hospitalized, and should he be arrested and charged with felony assault and ultimately be sentenced to five years probation and 180 hours of community service after pleading guilty to that felony assault charge, and should he go on to demonstrate approximately zero remorse, he should definitely be forgiven and come back to the Grammys before his probation is even up.

And R. Kelly? If you don’t know his history, Ms. Goldstein sums it up nicely:

None of the Grammys powers-that-be has commented on the fact that R. Kelly, an alleged serial rapist of underage girls, has been nominated for 25 Grammys, three of which he’s won. His wins came in 1998, two years before Jim DeRogatis’s Chicago Sun-Times story that first accused Kelly of “us[ing] his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet girls as young as 15 and have sex with them.” Even after news of Kelly’s predatory behavior became public, the Grammys saw fit to recognize him with fourteen more nominations, including this year’s nod for “It’s Your World” with Jennifer Hudson.

So much for treating unrepentant serial abusers and rapists as pariahs.

But that’s not the end of the irony. The President also noted that “Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes and get us thinking and talking about what matters. And all of us, in our own lives, have the power to set an example.”

If AC/DC and Madonna wanted to get us thinking and talking about anything that matters, they failed utterly.

One can only hope that the aging AC/DC was powerless to “change minds and attitudes” in the TV-viewing audience with their rendition of “Highway to Hell.” The live Grammy audience, including Katy Perry, went along with AC/DC’s silly gimmick like so many sheep — wearing light-up devil horns during the performance.

Perhaps they needed audience participation (and teleprompters) to do their best without drummer Phil Rudd. He was indisposed (meaning not allowed to leave New Zealand pending his upcoming trial on charges of threatening to kill a man and his daughter and possession of methamphetamines). He’d also been charged with an attempt to hire a hitman, but prosecutors felt the evidence was not strong enough to proceed on that count.

For all that, Madonna, 56, gets the prize for the most tasteless performances of the night on the red carpet and on stage. She arrived at the Grammy’s in a black leather get-up on a “matador” theme. The bodice was designed to act like a pushup-bra, exposing more 56-year-old flesh than anyone would care to see. Leather boots ended above her knees, exposing fishnet stockings and her entire butt when she flipped up the back of her “dress” in a saucy gesture. What a class act.

And her onstage performance of “Living for Love” was so last century. Again with the matador theme, Madonna assumed yoga poses (it can’t be called dancing) in a one-piece red outfit that covered about as much as a bathing suit. I suppose the presence of a dozen or more writhing, bare-chested male dancers with horns on their heads — your pick, bulls or demons — was meant to distract the audience so no one would notice the sophomoric lyrics, mediocre singing, unimaginative melody and, my goodness, her age.

The lyrics could have been a cautionary tale of jilted love, heartache and spiritual growth. The object of her love “took [her] to heaven and let [her] fall down,” but she failed to learn any lesson from being used and tossed away apart from recognizing him to be a jerk and asserting that she values herself (an assertion contradicted by her performance). Madonna will continue to “live for love” and it’s fairly certain she means the erotic kind of love because she and the horned dancers engaged in sexually provocative moves. Somehow, the three belated appeals of “God forgive me” rang false. There’s no evidence of the persona seeking forgiveness. The song ends with Madonna being hoisted up on a sling while the demon bulls continue to writhe below her to these words:

Come on, come on, come on
I need you to
Lift me up up up
Come on
Lift me up lord

If you’re interested in hearing a truly original female composer who knows a lot about love and lyrics and gorgeous melodic lines, may I suggest St. Hildegard von Bingen, a Doctor of the Church. The banality and trashiness of Madonna’s music is all the more evident by comparing it to what St. Hildegard has to say about love in “Ordo Virtutum” (The Play of Virtues). Text and tracks are available online. Her reputation and fan base continue to grow eight centuries after her death. Does anyone think that will be the case with Madonna?

Susan Wills is a senior writer for Aleteia’s English language edition.

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