Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
Madonna‘s tackled countless points of social contention throughout her over thirty year-long career as the Queen of Pop™ – religion, racial injustice, gender inequality, sexuality, war, power, greed, corruption. You name it, Madonna’s probably sung and danced around on stage about it at some point.
“God Control,” which I consider to be the true centerpiece of her worldly, political Madame X, tackles the super breezy subject of gun control. Nothing divisive about that issue at all here in America! Nope, not at all…
And in the accompanying Jonas Akerlund-directed music video released on Wednesday (June 26), she – as with anything – doesn’t shy away from illustrating the issue in vibrant and gory detail, complete with a much-needed trigger warning. Literally.
Admittedly, I – and many people in and around the entertainment industry, I’m sure – had a general idea of what was coming with this music video in advance because, well: squeeze a bunch of Drag Race girls, YouTubers and creatives into a room, and the tea is bound to spill. The descriptions I was given varied in intensity – from “it’s like a classic, old-school Madonna video” (?) to “it’s basically the Pulse shooting – you’re not ready.”
I was mostly terrified of how this already extremely sensitive subject could be approached with respect and decency, but after watching, I think Madonna’s managed to do it in an artistic, effective and, most of all, jarring way.
Without making specific references to any one event (because, frankly, who can even keep track at this horrifying rate?), Madame X tackles the most prevalent atrocities happening around the country in one clip: armed robbery, school shootings, club massacres. The underlying cause is always the same: gun violence.
As I pointed out in the Madame X review, there some hypocrisy at play, admittedly: she’s the same artist who performed the wildly bloody “Gang Bang” on the MDNA Tour just a few years ago, after all. But I’m not interested in holding her to a performance concept or a position on an idea forever. Everyone, pop artist or otherwise, should be allowed to evolve on issues.
To get her point across, Madge scatters scenes of the horrific events of the late night dance floor massacre – which are brief, but startling – in between shots of real-life gun control protests, as well as of Madame X frustratingly puffing away on a cigarette at a typewriter, writing out the lyrics of her twisted disco epic: “Everybody knows the damn truth.” “We lost gun control.” “When they talk reform, it makes me laugh.”
There are some particularly striking visual moments throughout, including the children’s choir singing through their tears, and the long line of caskets stretched down the church aisle. But perhaps one of the most effective scenes – for me, anyway – was seeing her getting dressed to go out for the night while watching the breaking news coverage of a school shooting on TV – with a “straight white men rule everything around me” poster hanging in the room, no less.
That is an absurdly accurate depiction of the experience of American Life – in these past few years, especially. Watching it back, it’s all the more absurd that it even is a part of life. I’ve lived that experience, too. I’m sure most people have. But it shouldn’t be normal.
As with most things Madonna, the video is a lot to process. The messaging is a lot to process. And yes, it absolutely does trigger the trauma that the queer community at large experienced three years ago this month. But the video (mercifully) steers away from glamorization or exploitation: instead, it’s an important, disturbing reminder that change needs to happen, still.
The Studio 54 euphoria of the song, mixed with the horrifying imagery of bloodied bodies hitting the floor, is exactly the kind of stomach-churning discomfort needed to convey the situation at hand: we feel helpless about the State of Things, we go out and dance to forget, and even the spaces we consider safest can be violated, violently so.
It’s deeply upsetting to watch – but then, it’s also not more than a mirror being held up to society. Madonna, as always, is one of the few pop stars willing to make such a bold message in her ongoing quest to fight for what she believes is right.
It’s time to wake up.
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