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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 05/16/2006

Madonna: One Trick Pony?

By Liz Kelly

(Courtesy W magazine)

Today my June issue of W magazine, featuring a 58-page "Madonna Rides Again" photo spread, arrived. The pop star (who took a nasty tumble from a horse last year) is photographed wearing a bridle, topless brandishing a crop, lying back on a seemingly dead horse enjoying a smoke (Red kabbalah bracelet? Present!), pulling a horse's tail -- think Bette Page meets "National Velvet" and you've about got the right mix.

So, of course my first thought was "how old is she?" (47) because she's in ridiculously good shape for a mother of two (just check out her back in the topless pic above) who has been racking up hits since I was in junior high. My second thought was "what's with the freaky horse love?" My third thought was ambivalence -- ya, she looks great but I don't really feel like I'm seeing a new side of Madge here.

For decades, Madonna has shrewdly managed to ride the leading edge of musical trends, sexuality and fashion to astronomical heights of super-stardom. Back in the '80s, she caused a minor uproar when she writhed around on stage in a wedding dress at the MTV Video Music Awards singing "Like a Virgin." In the early '90s, the furor erupted again when she released her coffee table book "Sex" and MTV censored the original version of her "Erotica" video.

Are we up for another to-do over Madonna's freaky side... again? For a viewing public long accustomed to pushed limits and overt sexuality, has shock become standard fare? And for a younger audience, does the name "Madonna" pack any more punch than "Britney Spears"? That question may be partly answered when Madonna's world tour kicks off on May 21st. Husband Guy Ritchie will be along documenting the behind-the-scenes action for an upcoming film.

Madonna is still a bona fide sex symbol and continues to crank out top 10 hits (her latest album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor" has produced two hit singles so far). If anything, she's in better shape now than she was in the hobo/ratty hair early days. She's a hot momma of the first degree, but her formula is wearing a little with age, even if she's not. Could she be in danger of looking like a one-trick-pony?

One can only hope that her next deja vu move won't be a return to acting.

By Liz Kelly  | May 16, 2006; 10:43 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities  
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Love Madonna

Posted by: Cindy | May 16, 2006 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Madonna is a Mom now, twice. That is one persona she can never shed.

Posted by: Tom Pabst | May 16, 2006 11:24 AM | Report abuse

A yes in leather topless with pasties spanking some black leather thong clad hard body with her riding crop. Thats art. The sound, thwack, of crop meeting buttocks echos the deep meaning of pop art.

Posted by: Terry B | May 16, 2006 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Madonna and Michael Jackson and I are the same age, so I've watched their careers in real time. Regarding the so-called genius and originality of Madonna, I said from the start that that was just hype - she is, indeed, a one-trick pony, and has been from the beginning. Madonna sells bump-and-grind, the same as countless bump-and-grind artistes down through the ages have sold it. There's nothing new here, and there never has been.

Posted by: mewsician | May 16, 2006 12:00 PM | Report abuse

It should be "lying back," not "laying back."

Posted by: Grammar correction | May 16, 2006 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Something shocking from Madonna. What a (non)surprise.

Posted by: Bored w/Madge | May 16, 2006 12:33 PM | Report abuse

One trick pony? Are you kidding? We're talking about an entertainer in her third decade of superstardom. How many other entertainers fall into that category? Only a handful.

Posted by: Matt | May 16, 2006 1:03 PM | Report abuse

To Matt:

Yes, but for what is she known: bump and grind. A single trick. Longevity does not equal breadth or quality, especially in this day and age.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2006 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Having followed Madonna and her career since elementary school (she's 15 years older than I), I am still a fan. That said, I am also realistic. I don't disagree that she may be a one-trick pony, but lots of long-time-successful artists are, and they continue to sell out tours and albums into their geriatric stages of life. The biggest thing I give her credit for is her business sense. She understands the industry and how to make money in it, as demonstrated not only by her continued success as an artist, but also her ability to recognize talent for her Maverick label (anybody heard of Alanis Morrisette?).

My point is, she may be up to her same old trick of trying to push limits, but if it sells, isn't that what pop is about? Why should we hold her to a higher standard than Britney or Jessica or whoever else is current now but who we'll be remembering in ten years by watching VH1 "where are they now" specials? I say sit back and watch this latest and see how it plays out. The true test will be over the long term, as it already has been.

Oh, and Liz, spot on with the whole acting thing. Don't need any more of that.

Posted by: noshowmo | May 16, 2006 1:10 PM | Report abuse


You're saying she pushes limits, but *What* limits? The lesbian poses are old, the fact that somebody appears topless...yawn.

Madonna's 15 minutes ran out when people were no longer shocked by her. Remember the book? There was no shock value left and the audiences left.

Today? Watching a middle-aged mommy try strip is so over-the-top pathetic that it no longer shocks, it just makes you feel oogie for even looking at her.

Certainly, there is no sexuality left in the act. She always had a thin voice, and wasn't a songwriter.

So what's left? Why am I interested in Madonna? Why is anybody? It's like watching a train wreck without the train.

Posted by: What limits does she push? | May 16, 2006 2:39 PM | Report abuse

"Mewcisian" is obviously a nerd-faced loser. Madonna is amazing and hot as ever.

Posted by: Jimmy | May 16, 2006 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Who cares. Let her stay in England.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2006 2:48 PM | Report abuse

In response to the response to Matt:

A few "single trick" legends: Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Shirley Horn. Longevity may not equal breadth or quality, but it sure seems like a sign of it. How else could Madonna last so long? If you look closely at pop/dance music (not all of her music is "bump and grind" by the way), you'll see clear differences in quality. How else can you explain Paula Adbul or the many other 80s temporary pop stars?

Posted by: Bea | May 16, 2006 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I think she is a skank.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2006 3:08 PM | Report abuse

There is only one Madonna and she can be crude, tacky and loves to shock but she is also the consummate showman and fine song writer.

Does anyone else chuckle at the media created 'rivalry' between her and Cyndi Lauper circa 1984? Which one would have staying power?

She has never one to sit back and count her royalties, she remains at the forefront of the business and remains at the very top of the show biz pyramid.

I say: keep going Madonna, you rock!

Posted by: Montyc | May 16, 2006 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I wish she would keep going.....right out the door and gone forever.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2006 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Madonna may be a 'one-trick pony', like you say, but it remains a profitable trick because she is a very savvy business woman. Like many others, her star would have burned out long ago if not for her razor sharp mind. After all, there are others who look better, sing better and dance better. Yet, Madonna - like her or not - remains on top. Why? Cause when it comes to the business side of the industry, she's the best there is.

Posted by: Erik | May 16, 2006 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I like a lot of Madonna's music, both old and new.

This photo spread, just seems icky.

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | May 16, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I am older than Madonna and yet play her latest album over & over; a present given to me by my daughter who loved her when she was a teenager and is a mom now herself.

Madonna is an entertainer, and what she does is not supposed to make sense; just enjoy it OR not.

Posted by: Lady from Virgina | May 16, 2006 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Madonna, Madonna. I'm not certain what we expect, Liz: a standing O for each act? A home run each time at bat? Don't get me wrong, I am not a dyed-in-the-wool fan, but clearly Madonna's the type of artist who never fails, though she may sometime come up shy of high-class taste in the court of public opinion. If you cut to the bottom line, she's a human being who wanted to do something extraordinary. She accomplished that to a degree above so many people who continue to sit at home and dream. She's now among the most influential people in pop culture. This cannot be denied. She's got wealth and a family and a fan base that continues to want her back every five (or so) minutes. So what do we expect from her? Enjoy the pics, already. The more one dissects her low-range vocals, her oft-considered vulgar words and dance moves and the entirety of her acting career, the more one is faced with the fact that, even though we are all so much better (see my tongue in cheek?) we earn peanuts in comparison.

Posted by: Delaney | May 16, 2006 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I was lucky enough to meet Madonna a few years ago and watch her perform the Reinvention Tour onstage. From my perspective, anyone who underestimates her power to remain on top is foolish. Her accomplishments are based in hard work and self-confidence. Like any artist she is open to public critique and people can say what they want but she is always true to herself. As she aptly states in her cocky song Nobody Knows Me, "Why should I care what the world thinks of me, Won't let a stranger give me a social disease." More people should take these lyrics to heart and see how it works.

Posted by: Lee | May 16, 2006 4:37 PM | Report abuse

It shouldn't be amazing that Madonna's 47-year-old body looks so good in that photo spread. It's so easy to doctor photos nowadays. Don't they do that all the time in commercial fashion photography, and is not W a fashion industry magazine?

Posted by: Peggy | May 16, 2006 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I must agree with all the Madonna fans, it is amazing................... what a bad influence the "material girl" has been. We are all soooooooo much better off, my consciousness raised .... because she makes more cash then me. Bra.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2006 5:17 PM | Report abuse

In all seriousness please tell me this, how come in some pictures she as a big gap between her two front teeth and in others she does not?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2006 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Madonna is an illusionist. Best in the business. Credit to her for making it appear that she was a singer, or a dancer, or whatever it was she was supposed to be (avant garde?) In market share fact, she was as middle America as apple pie and pornography. As she methodically plodded through each hormonally activating bad girl adolescent persona one could only admire her entrepreneurialism. Popularity in pop culture was her great and abiding achievement. However, I fully expect Guy Ritchie will one day be found floating face down in Madonna's pool... Of course everyone will note that she still looked soooo hot during her perp walk (apologies to William Holden and Gloria Swanson).

Posted by: Tom | May 16, 2006 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Similiar to some posts already made, Madonna is much better as a market-trend analyst and entrepreneur / promoter than an actual musician. Ok, she has had some hits in the late 80s, but whimsical pop only, nothing I would term substantial to deserve induction to the real rock music pantheon. (I actually cringe when I think of her version of McLean's "American Pie") So, to me it has always been about her sex appeal with the music esp. in the Mtv video age rather than the actual music for itself. Totally agree she is one-trick, same formula but different costumes, but sex sells. Gotta hand it to her for that!

Posted by: Dave | May 16, 2006 7:51 PM | Report abuse

I saw Madonna recently at the Coachella Music festival in California - it was really exciting and everyone was pumped up to see her. She did some strange stuff like a strip-tease, attempting to play the guitar, getting pissed off at a fan for throwing a water bottle onstage, dancing in a leotard (!), and played almost NONE of the old 80s songs that most of the people had come to hear. But she looked good and her cardio obviously keeps her in shape cause she could sing and dance without breathing too hard.

Posted by: Camille | May 16, 2006 9:00 PM | Report abuse

How could you miss the photospread's intimations of the love that dare not speak its name, i.e., a woman for a horse? The whole encounter is portrayed--well, almost: the selection of the stallion, the enticement of her naked breasts facing him, her kneeeling in bondage as she offers herself offering and finally the o-so-hackneyed smoking after sex on the stallion as he enjoys a well-deserved snooze.

Indeed, did not Marlene Dietrich--whose infinite talent and beauty Madonna still wisely aspires too--portray Catherine the Great who (in urban legend but not in fact) died of excessive horse love?

...all that said, I admire Madonna the performer, dancer, star and businesswoman even if she does have a weak, tinny, tiny voice. Nor has not shaken my faith in Adonai! I just wish the pictures from her SEX book were easily found on the web.

Posted by: AreSalter | May 16, 2006 9:19 PM | Report abuse

One trick pony? Is putting thought into one's work a one-trick thing? I guess this piece is aimed at simple minds because these pictures require a smart mind that would take the time to analyze what they express. But of course, the simple minds can't handle depth and are caught up with the fact that she looks, like, hot and she's, like, 47 and Britney is like, much younger... Is there anything else to discuss? Madonna is an artist that doesn't speak in those terms.. She doesn't limit herself like most of us do. She's got a vision and she goes for it. Good for her.. I hope she keeps exploring her ideas.. Making us all think and also... making a lot of money.

Posted by: thinker | May 16, 2006 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Writing off Maddona and calling her a "one trick pony" is as newsworthy as telling us that the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor (been there done that). Besides, it's not like Madonna is doing Vegas or singing on Disney sound-tracks. And it's nice to have a legend who isn't dead like Elvis or a total freak like Jacko. To be fair, Madonna is not that old. I mean John Belushi was two years dead before she hit it big 23 years ago...Wow, I'm really old.

Posted by: enfink | May 17, 2006 6:38 AM | Report abuse

One trick journalism is more like it.

We've been reading articles dissing her in exactly the same terms for the entire length of her career. Or they talk about her incredible longevity in a positive way. How about something new?

What I see here is her once again playing with the images she evoked in the Vogue video, and now she's attempting to channel Marlene Dietrich. It's amusing. She embodies, for good or ill, our endless recycling of previous personalities and eras. She's always done that, and it's been fun even when the music hasn't been up to snuff.

I saw her interviewed on BBCAmerica and she was surprisingly articulate and interesting until she drew back at discussing Kabbalah.
I'd like to see someone writing about her as another American artist seeking refuge in Europe. That's a tradition that goes back to the mid-19th century, way before the images she loves to play with.
Lev Raphael

Posted by: Lev Raphael | May 17, 2006 8:00 AM | Report abuse

i just cannot get over what her body looks like. how is it possible that, at 47, she still looks like she's in her early 20s? did she make a pact with the devil? seriously, i know plenty of female athletes who, while still strong and lean, do not have the perfect body madge has. i smell a rat....

Posted by: awads | May 17, 2006 8:21 AM | Report abuse

She outsources all her talent because she has none.
What about the teeth?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 17, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Let's not re-write events as we talk about history -- either Madonna's or the United States'. The Germans did not bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941, enfink. The Japanese did.

Posted by: history buff | May 17, 2006 5:40 PM | Report abuse

The Germans didn't bomb Pearl Harbor.

Forget it, he's on a roll.

Posted by: Hoover | May 17, 2006 6:10 PM | Report abuse

"i just cannot get over what her body looks like. how is it possible that, at 47,"

*anybody* could look that good if they have 3 elements:

1) The will
2) Time
3) Money

She has all 3. It's not freakish, or special. Anybody can look that good. It's just that most of you people are in love with eating, you're not rich, and you don't have nannies to take care of your kids.

Posted by: UR Silly | May 18, 2006 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I would go to a Madonna concert for the preformance, but not for the singing. Since when has Madonna ever really had a voice that could sell out concerts? Um, never. It is her charisma, personality and stage presence. It is in no way her voice. I would never buy a record of hers just to listen to. Come on, the voice no longer is the most important part of the music business these days, which is a shame.

Posted by: Me | May 19, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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