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The rise and rise of little voice

by Julie Burchill

from The Guardian

May 3, 2003

A nother fiscal year, another thoroughly shite Madonna single. And another epidemic of Empress's New Clothes Syndrome. Well, they do say that if you owe a bank £10, it's your problem, but if you owe it £10,000, it's theirs.

The plain fact is that so many allegedly smart Brits have poured such copious quantities of syrupy approval on the works, personality and all-round wunnerfulness of one Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone Ritchie - who's been out-and-out crap for at least one and a half of the two decades she has been successfully stalking us, the innocent people of Planet Pop - that to withdraw it suddenly would leave their whole, like, aesthetic value system in smithereens.

Far better to gird one's loins, paste on a grin and maintain, through gritted teeth, that American Life's "I drive my Mini Cooper and I'm feeling super-dooper" combines the wit of Oscar Wilde with the rapping skills of Grandmaster Flash.

We've been here before, of course: Music was the worst single release by an established singer since Paul McCartney's Mary Had A Little Lamb, and as Bond themes go, Die Another Day made Lulu sound like Satchmo.

Yet the intellectual investment by the Popbitching classes in Madonna the Icon is such that to state the obvious, that Madonna the Singer is grade-A garbage, would bring tumbling down the whole house of cards that is modern pop theory.

With the crap single come the "exclusive" interviews awarded to selected media monkeys with a track record of genuflection beyond the call of duty.

Yet no matter how soft the ride Mrs Ritchie is given, she inevitably ends up saying something gloriously stupid and self-deceiving, such is the level of professional flattery that has cocooned her for 20 years.

After the atrocity that was The Next Best Thing, she famously rated herself a 10 as wife, lover, singer and - gulp - actress; a score with which I'd have no quarrel if it were out of 100, rather than 10.

Now this supremely marketing-led phenomenon has turned her merciless intellect on that supremely easy target, "manufactured" pop music, in Q magazine.

Madonna, apparently, made it totally on musical merit, long before the sleazy parade of "Svengalis holding talent searches, finding a girl that looks right and can carry a tune, then figuring a way to market her... I really don't know where we're going with the world. Everything's so homogenised."

Ungrateful, bitter people, who don't appreciate what Madonna has done for this wet little country's morale and economy by coming over here and, um, moaning about our workmen and hospitals, might point out that she has kept her career rattling on only by muscling in on all the latest edgy musical trends - garage, house, rap, techno, trip-hop - all of which she boils down to the lowest common denominator that her (increasingly) feeble voice can get a handle on; pasteurised, homogenised beige-beat with a tendency to make the late Curiosity Killed The Cat come across like the Four Tops.

And this is the nub of my argument, the glitch in the seamless, shameless Madonna machine that just won't go away: for all her talk of discipline and dedication, has there ever been a professional singer, with two decades behind her, whose voice has shown not just no improvement, but a decline?

Wouldn't the reputed four hours a day spent putting her ankles behind her head be better used practising her scales? And how much disrespect does this show to those who buy her records?

Considering how little effort Madonna has put into the very thing she became famous for, her fabled knack for "reinvention" starts to look less like the clever cherry on the cake and more like desperate smoke-and-mirror decoys from her total lack of talent.

Madonna is right to be glad that she made it before "manufactured" groups started to strut their sassy stuff. But not because she's too good to cut it among the new crop of singing starlets; on the contrary, she's not good enough.

With a twin who boasted the same rinky-dink whine, she might have made it as a Cheeky Girl, but no way could she have aspired to join the excellent Liberty X. In S Club, she'd have been Tina, the "dancer", not Jo, the ordinary looking Essex girl just out of her teens with a voice that can already evoke Sarah Vaughan. She doesn't have the sweet harmonies of an Atomic Kitten or the smouldering soul of a Sugababe.

She is, in fact, a novelty act who happened to have the shrewdest marketing moves; it's as if the Smurfs had been masterminded by Machiavelli.

The idea of authenticity in "showbusiness" - just look at that word , for goodness sake, it's bending over backwards to let you in on its dirty secret! - is one of the greatest cons ever perpetuated on a paying audience.

No wonder middle-aged muse-biz millionaires grown rich by peddling sincerity and "depth" and the mystery of "creativity" find the transparently get-rich-quick greed and graft of the manufactured groups so alarming - no wonder their tone of voice when they talk of them is that of the most pompous, self-righteous teacher in the school. "There's always one who has to spoil it for everybody else, one who's in it for themselves and won't pull together as a team."

Yep, and that's exactly what made pop music great. Next week, I'll explain why Girls Aloud are the best group since the Sex Pistols.

May 4, 2003 Parade Magazine

- answers the reader's question,

Madonna recently released American Life. Do you think it will be the hit she's been desperately seeking for the past few years?

[Hint: their answer starts with "No."]

Madonna's Sales Tank After One Week

by Roger Friedman

from Fox News, Regarding Madonna's American Life album

May 6, 2003

Madonna is in trouble. Her American Life album drops from No. 1 to about No. 8 this week, selling a paltry 65,000 copies. That's down from 235,000 the first week.

Of course, the whole record business bottomed out last week, with the top 10 albums selling fewer than 750,000 copies. Rapper 50 Cent (search) regained first place, and two albums connected to American Idol did well enough to make the top five. Additionally, Cher (search) continues to astound with her greatest hits collection.

But woe is Madonna, who looks like she will have her first real flop in two decades. At this rate she'll be lucky to hit half a million copies. A Madonna album is so expensive to market — what with flying everyone around first class and catering to all whims — Warner Bros. must be in a panic. Stay tuned.

Pop Charts Topped by 50 Cent Again, Madonna Falls, By Steve Gorman

May 7, 2003


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Madonna took a tail spin on the pop charts on Wednesday, falling so far that two releases spawned by the amateur talent show 'American Idol' outsold her [including the release Thankful by Kelly Clarkson].

Rap artist 50 Cent returned to the top of the album charts just ahead of the two 'American Idol' discs while Madonna's first album in three years, 'American Life,' plunged to No. 8 in its second week of release, after opening at the top.

... Fifty Cent's latest tally was down about 10 percent from the previous week but still enough to reclaim the No. 1 chart position, raising his cumulative haul to 4.5 million units.

Meanwhile, 'American Life' sank to eighth place in the charts as sales dropped more than 60 percent to 91,000 copies. The album opened last week at No. 1 with 240,000 copies sold.

Madonna Slammed By Mentor [John "Jellybean" Benitez]

from Contact Music

May 16, 2003

The man who discovered pop superstar MADONNA has slammed the singer's latest single AMERICAN LIFE - calling it "garbage".

JOHN 'JELLYBEAN' BENITEZ picked the aspiring dancer and singer out from the New York club scene and went on to produce her early 1980s hits like BORDERLINE, CRAZY FOR YOU and HOLIDAY.

But he believes Madonna is no longer making the kind of ground-breaking music she had for the best part of her 20 year career.

He says, "I don't like American Life. It's garbage. I perceive Madonna as always being on the edge and ahead of the curve, but this song is mediocre. She's better than American Life.