You’ve gotta give Madonna credit: she always keeps up with the trends, and has her finger on the hot new thing. As her new song and video, “Give Me All Your Luvin,” shows, Madge knows the new, postmillennial language of hipness. Like Shepard Fairey, Madonna eschews traditional objects of white cultural appropriation in favor of newer, apparently more ‘radical’ ones: traditional images of blackness (b/c that’s thought to be too co-opted, and not radical enough) are out, and radicalized (preferably non-Western) women of color are in. I lay this argument out extensively in this article, and blog about it more condensed ways here.
As bell hooks long ago pointed out, Madonna frequently adopts the position of the white patriarch, instrumentalizing marginalized people—people of color, gay men, etc.—to boost her perceived radicality, opposionality, avant-garde-ness, etc. "Madonna occupies the space of the white colonial imperialist, taking on the mantle of the white colonial adventurer moving into the wilderness of black culture (gay and straight), of white gay subculture. Within these new and different realms she never divests herself of white privilege."(Outlaw Culture, 20). So, Madge has practiced rather traditional forms of white hipness: she appropriates stereotypical blackness in order to demonstrate her elite status among whites.
So let’s look at the new song:
“Luvin” shows Madonna venturing into postmillennial hipness: instead of appropriating an increasingly co-opted form of stereotypical blackness, she appropriates postcolonial femininities of color. The fact that Madonna prefers Nicki Minaj’s Caribbean-American black femininity and MIA’s Asian-British femininity to other, more traditional representations of minorities in commercial music is supposed to be evidence of Madonna’s cultural savvy. Like Fairey, or TI/Jay-Z/Kanye/Weezy (Swagga Like Us), or Weezy/Drake/Young Money (Minaj), Madonna knows that gangsta is out and revolutionary non-Western women of color are in. Really, the whole point of the track is to prove that, at 50+, Madonna is still “with it”. And the best way to demonstrate her continued position on the (supposedly) cutting edge of pop music is to traffic in the newest discourse of white hipness.
The video clarifies MIA’s and Minaj’s instrumental status. Most of the time, they just provide background vocals. The rappers then get twenty seconds each to actually rap, you know, to do what they’re known for doing. That’s really short for a guest verse—b/c actually, it’s not even a verse! Madonna’s verses are about 40 seconds; so this means that MIA and Minaj each get half a verse. Usually the point of having an MC guest on a track is to have them lend their own individual style to the track. Here, though, when MIA and Minaj actually say anything other than “L U V Madonna!,” that is, when they vocally break from Madonna’s style, they have to adopt her visual style. At about 2:10, the three appear in variations of the same outfit: white lace dress and a blonde curly “Marilyn” wig. It’s in this setting that MIA and Minaj deliver their half-verses. In the video, then, “Third-World” women of color can speak only in white lady drag. Madonna capitalizes on their “Third-World difference” by incorporating it into her own image. MIA’s and Minaj’s “Otherness” has currency for Madonna only to the extent that she can re-frame it in her own image/terms/etc. (For example: Minaj can seriously rock a wig—so why give her such a boring one to wear in the video?) This is not about de-centering Madonna: MIA and Minaj are just filtered through Madge. She’s just using them to make her look hip.
And while postmillennial hipness may be the hot new thing among a certain strain of white cultural elites, Madonna’s use of it is actually one of her most tried, true, and well-worn methods. As hooks told us way back when, Madonna is really comfortable with adopting the position of the patriarch/white colonial imperialist. In 2012, Madge is just giving this same position a fresh new look.