Madonna recently shared an update on social media, marking her first appearance since June 28 when her manager Guy Oseary announced she was hospitalized in an intensive care unit (ICU) for a severe bacterial infection. She expressed gratitude to her fans for their support and love, and clarified that her world tour has been postponed but not canceled.
The singer’s hospitalization was enveloped in secrecy from the start. Rosie O’Donnell and Debi Mazar, both close friends and actresses, disclosed that she was fine and recuperating in her apartment on the upper east side of New York. Podcaster Lauren Conlin then shared on TikTok a few snapshots of the singer confidently walking through the streets of New York. At last, Madonna issued her own statement.
The scant information provided by Oseary and Madonna led to numerous unverified headlines, each one more alarmist than the last. According to the British Daily Mail tabloid, concern within Madonna’s inner circle led to a Zoom conference to discuss contingency plans in the event of her demise. The Sun lost no time in referencing the tragic death of Michael Jackson. TMZ revealed the insignificant fact that Madonna had been running a slight fever for a month and then reported that she could barely move from her bed after being discharged from the hospital. Page Six, the outlet that scored the exclusive, claimed that she spent at least one night in the ICU, weak from months of daily, 12-hour rehearsals. More recently, the Radar Online website claimed that paramedics had to revive Madonna with Narcan (a medication used to reverse drug overdoses) after finding her unconscious at home.
In the era of clickbait, it’s not surprising that none of these reports cited a single source. Equally unsurprising, given her status as one of the most photographed artists in history, nearly all the national and international media outlets featured an old and unflattering photo of Madonna in their coverage, fueling rumors about her poor health.
When EL PAÍS reported Oseary’s statement, the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram comments on the article were filled with charming remarks like, “She looked in the mirror and fell down;” “Her Botox filler is infected;” “Grandma, it’s time to hang it up;” and “It’s time to sacrifice Madonna.”
Even in her last Instagram post, shared just four days before she was hospitalized, there were disturbing comments that read, “Girl, it’s time to accept your age” “Enough with the plastic surgery;” “Nobody wants to be intimate with a 60-year-old;” “Mentally incapacitated;” and “Seriously, it’s time for you to retire.” Comedian Kathy Griffin, who was fired by CNN for posting a controversial image of her holding a fake bloodied Trump head, waded into the fray and objected to ageism and misogyny in the entertainment industry. Griffin said that Madonna, compared to her male peers and other women in show business, faces a disproportionate level of discrimination based on her age and gender.
Resentment of Madonna goes way back. She has been antagonizing conservatives since 1984, when she rolled on the floor and flashed her underwear while singing Like a Virgin at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards. Five years later, she caused a scandal among Christians by kissing a Black saint in the Like a Prayer video. Shortly after that, the Vatican attempted to block her Blond Ambition World Tour from coming to Rome because of her simulated masturbation on stage. In 1992, at the height of her career, she was vilified in the United States for appearing nude in her book Sex, and for defending the LGBTQ+ community, which was stigmatized at the time due to HIV. Nowadays, she is criticized for undergoing cosmetic surgery, oversharing on Instagram and using face filters like many millennials. Except she’s not a millennial, but a 64-year-old woman.
Nancy Jo Sales, author of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, recently wrote a column in The Guardian addressing all the uproar about Madonna. “She dates men 30 and 40 years younger than her. She goes to nightclubs and dances the night away. She climbs on Jimmy Fallon’s desk and flashes his audience. But she does it all with a sense of humor – knowing full well that she doesn’t look like the dazzling young woman she once was, and knowing what the haters will say about her supposedly trying to ‘recapture her youth’… Madonna has always explored the meaning of what it means to be sexual, to be sexualized, and to sexualize oneself. And now she’s exploring what it all means as an older woman – the ultimate taboo, for many people, who think old ladies should just disappear.”
This combination of ageism and misogyny is distinctly prevalent in pop music, a genre that extols the new while denigrating the value of experience in favor of endless, disposable products. “In soul music, it’s considered positive for both men and women to remain active beyond the age of 70. This indicates expertise and a seasoned voice. The same applies to rock. No one would say that Joan Jett or L7 are too old because what matters to their fans is that they keep rocking. Age is not a limitation,” said Joan S. Luna, editor-in-chief of Mondo Sonoro magazine. There are many men older than Madonna, legends like Bruce Springsteen (73), Bob Dylan (82), Iggy Pop (76), Rod Stewart (78), Paul McCartney (81), Mick Jagger (79), Peter Gabriel (73) and Roger Waters (79), who continue to perform live without anyone questioning their abilities, criticizing their appearance or telling them it’s time to retire. Even Elton John (76), who just bid farewell to performing live, doesn’t intend to disappear from the media spotlight – he already announced that he’ll continue to record new songs. However, it’s unfair to say the issue only exists in pop music. Rockers like Debbie Harry have also faced frequent sexist and degrading comments. “Currently, there is no study that examines the average retirement age of artists, differentiating between men and women,” said Maria Fuster of Barcelona’s Taller de Músics music school. “However, we do have data that reveals a gender-based bias in the music industry, where women are subjected to unfair treatment based on superficial factors like their physical appearance or age.”
An international study titled Be The Change: Women In Music in 2022 conducted a survey of 952 industry professionals, comprising 631 women, 267 men and 54 individuals with other gender identities. Of the female artists interviewed, 67% reported frequent pressure to conform to beauty standards, while 50% acknowledged regular instances of age discrimination. In terms of music genres, 79% of women in the pop industry expressed concerns about ageism, closely followed by the hip-hop genre.
Madonna is fully aware of the harsh criticism she faces as an older woman who refuses to retire and does what she wants with her appearance. “I’ve never apologized for any of the creative choices I’ve made, or how I look or dress, and I’m not gonna start now. The media’s been at me since day one, but hey, I get it. It’s all a test, and I’m happy to be a pioneer paving the way for other women.” Madonna said this recently for the reissue of Sex, the book of erotic photographs she created with Steven Meisel 30 years ago, sparking a huge controversy. The photo collection is now considered a work of art. And in what surely won’t be her last social media post, Madonna said, “I’m looking forward to more years of subversion, pushing the limits by confronting patriarchy, and above all, just enjoying life!”
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