A long needle, syringes, gauze and other medical equipment lie strewn on a blood-splattered table. An X-ray of a hip joint. A photograph of an unidentifiable piece of flesh covered in bruises and needle pricks.
These were the disturbing images that flickered by after I cautiously committed to watching Madonna’s Instagram stories earlier this week. I say cautiously because, well, if you’ve followed Madge recently, you’d know that our queen of pop still has blond ambition, but she’s added a little more wild-eyed, maniacal, harried energy, making her social media presence startling at best. I’m usually ready for anything when it comes to Madonna, but I wasn’t exactly prepared for such an intimate view of Madonna’s medical procedures–or blood. I gasped. I recoiled. I quickly took screenshots of them so I could spread the joy.
And I don’t mean this as an insult; I love that Madonna’s social media is a shocker. Express yourself, Madonna! In fact, Madonna’s Rona-era Instagram has become, I would argue, her greatest artistic contribution in recent memory. It’s jaw-dropping, eye-popping, and it shocks even me–the unshockable.
It’s no secret that the only reason I’m on social media at all is to watch famous–from the marginally well-known to astronomically recognized–figures have public meltdowns online. That’s why the only Instagram stories I’ll watch are from Azealia Banks (religiously) and Grimes who mostly heavily filters her posts of singing to Elon Musk’s chonky dog Gatsby. If you’re going to be on social media, go crazy or go home.
Well, it seems as if Madonna has gone crazy. For months, I’ve sat riveted by her bonkers social media presence and its pure, unadulterated camp. I mean, what do denizens of camp love more than an older woman coming apart at the seams for our collective pleasure? There’s a reason we all love Joan Crawford. But here, it’s not Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, it’s real!
Just scroll through her Instagram and witness her personal unraveling with her series of “quarantine diaries,” in which she treats her followers as her own personal team of therapists. In each diary, she sits behind a typewriter (how scholarly!) accompanied by some smooth jazz, slurring about her day and her self-obsessed mental state all while setting papers on fire or eating edibles (which explains a lot). Her quarantine diaries are also where she revealed she tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, to which she responded: “So tomorrow, I’m just going to go for a long drive in the car… and I’m going to breathe in the COVID-19 air” Madonna, no!!
When she’s not naval-gazing, Madonna posts even more baffling photographs, largely getting some woo-woo rich lady health treatments with light (does light heal COVID?). In one, she stands seductively in a “healing red light” with her prodded, plumped and pulled plastic surgery cautionary tale face drawn to the camera. She looks downright vampiric, which could be my own biased analysis after witnessing her more recent bloodletting. In other posts, she runs around with her children, hiding Easter eggs while wearing an eye patch. Don’t ask me.
Look. I know some of you rabid Madonna fans will balk and say I’m being overly critical. But I’m not! I love Madonna gone berserk. In fact, I see it as a return to being so transgressive that you’re terrified someone might catch you watching her.
Now, I’ll defend Madonna about pretty much anything. Yes, she can be ridiculous. Yes, she can be embarrassing. But we don’t always get to choose our royalty. Plus, Madonna has always been a smidge mortifying. She scammed her way to the top by stealing from lesser-known artists. Just ask half the East Village who still harbors pretty intense grudges against what Madonna snatched from her times club-hopping around the Lower East Side in fishnets, rubber bracelets, and a heavy dose of Dep. But whatever, all artists steal. Get over it.
Depending on how old you are, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, you might remember when Madonna around her Erotica era, as she took listeners on a journey deeper and deeper to where the world began. A time when Madonna was synonymous with illicit, delinquent sexuality–a kind of liberated female hyper-sexuality. Watching Madonna’s videos on MTV such as “Erotica” or “Justify My Love,” you’d have to do so in secret–a covert transgression–with the sound low as to not be caught gazing at her as she slinked and writhed around the screen with her various lovers. Not to mention trying to sneak a peek at her Sex book. Madonna symbolized perverse pleasures that could only be fantasies for awkward preteens and teens. Who didn’t want to both be Madonna and be with Madonna? Somehow to love Madonna was to be a deviant too! Oh, it gives me fever just thinking about it!
In more recent years, Madonna’s creative output has been a little, well, more shameful as she’s resisted, kicking and screaming, against aging. Not that refusing mortality is a bad thing. Madonna was never going to age gracefully. Nor should she! Imagine if Madonna became some polite, precious, respectable lounge singer, crooning the standards. Yuck! No. Thank. You. I want Madonna to endure hocking gaudy pop until the hereafter. However, the last few years have been pretty cringe-worthy to witness as Madonna has transformed into your aunt who always gets drunk at family barbecues: smooching Drake, twerking, doing standup and hollering “Bitch, I’m Madonna!” Eesh. Stop it, Aunt Madge! Even her arresting drunken “Tears of a Clown” phase was deliciously demented, but disappeared as suddenly and as shockingly as it began.
Her latest album Madame X is probably the worst yet, especially with the unwatchable video “God Control,” a ham-fisted attempt to make a political statement about gun violence by reenacting a shooting in a gay club like the Pulse massacre in Orlando. As the bloodbath unfolds, Madonna, I mean, Madame X, sits in her readers behind a typewriter (what is it with Madonna and typewriters at the moment?), punching out this hokey song as images of other radicals like Angela Davis and Frida Kahlo loom overhead. What did they do to deserve this? Not only does it feel retraumatizing, I couldn’t help but think that if I died in a mass shooting, I’d want to die a second time out of embarrassment knowing my own tragedy was invoked in this schlock.
However, I take all my criticisms back after realizing that Madonna is pioneering yet another radical gesture: unhinged social media. Perhaps Madge’s magnum opus was her milk bath ramble about COVID-19. Sitting nude with exception of about fifteen necklaces in a murky opaque bath filled with rose petals and surrounded by a fire hazard amount of candles, Madonna clutches the hot and cold water dials with white knuckles. Whispering with her head down about COVID-19’s equalizing force, only raising her face up to the camera to reveal her feline Jocelyn Wildenstein-esque face, Madonna delivers a monologue worthy of the stage:
“It doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are, what amazing stories you can tell…it’s the great equalizer and what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it. What’s terrible about it is it’s made us equal in many ways.”
Bravo!! If I ever had to pick a monologue to audition for god knows what, I’d know which one I’d choose. Move over, King Lear! What presence! What power! And okay, not everyone’s a fan. Mr. Judgy-pants Michael Musto called the video, “one of the worst things I’ve seen.” How dare she?!
Speaking of Shakespeare, there’s something just so Lady Macbeth about Madonna’s newest incarnation and I don’t think it’s just the “out damned spot” in her Instagram stories. If Madonna at her Erotica peak represented a frightening untethered sexual power, well, she’s returned. This Madonna is unpredictable, reckless, and seemingly without limits. And for an older woman, what a wonderfully subversive thing to become. Fuck respectability!
I’ll be honest, a lot of Madonna’s shock value comes from her manipulation of her own body, as well as her fearlessness in showing it off as she presses her boobs together and leers into the camera. When analyzing the Met’s failed camp gala last year, I made the observation that Kim Kardashian’s exaggerated figure was itself a camp gesture (along with her waterlogged dress, if you’ll recall). Well, Madonna, ever the camp genius, is enacting a similar thing. However, with Madonna, it is less aspirational influencer sex-pot with cover girl glamour, and more, well, cuckoo vintage Hollywood diva clinging to youth, stardom and fame at any cost. This isn’t to say she doesn’t look good. She does, but it’s just that her face is becoming more and more unrecognizable with every new injection, requiring a double-take with every post. I mean, isn’t there something just so gleefully campy in giving in to vanity so much so that you no longer even resemble yourself? In fact, it’s almost as if she’s transforming into Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, which somehow makes sense. If you’re going to alter your own body, why not emulate the master?
And despite having every single beauty regiment that money can buy available at her fingertips, Madonna in quarantine is more relatable than she’s perhaps ever been, which is especially odd coming from Madonna whose disjointed rift with reality seems to have only widened in recent years. Now, she’s downing martinis, bumbling around rambling about “the Met Gala deconstructed” (“Show up with whatever you had on that day. It’s the opposite of camp”), and dancing while cooking something unidentifiable.
Though her self-isolation masterpiece may be the milk bath video, my personal favorite of Madge’s quarantine posts has to be a video of her stumbling through her bathroom at 3am. Representing the dangers of combining too many medications, Madonna lurches around the marble tiles while caterwauling a nonsensical tune about eating “fried fish” to the tune of her own “Vogue” into a hairbrush. Stars, they mix pills and booze just like us!
Naturally, there is some cognitive dissonance in her Instagram posts. I mean, bitch, she’s Madonna! And yet, I find her COVID-19 breakdown humanizing. At a time when we’re all slowly going mad from isolation, it’s soothing to witness a celebrity who appears to have already done so and that is willing to share it all with us. She seems to give off an energy that is somewhere between Norma Desmond, and Big and Little Edie from Grey Gardens. And isn’t this the trifecta of agoraphobia that we should all aspire to while in lockdown?
Plus, she’s also singing Elvis. What more could you want?!