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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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TOPHER TALKS: We need to give Madonna her flowers

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, or knows of me, that I am a big Madonna fan.

During my childhood, her and David Bowie were like religious icons to me. Her music videos were events and her ‘reinventions’ impacted retail sales, catwalks, and music industry trends. The same reinventions would also impact the clothes I would beg Mum to buy me from market stalls and car boot sales – “Madonna wore something like that!” I would shout, pointing at a bullet bra, to my mother’s horror.

She was soundtrack to my entire life, literally, as there were new songs out from the day I was born (and prior) to now. There are songs that take me back to my little box room in Eltham, songs that take me back to our little flat in Sydenham – and songs that I relate to losing my virginity and falling in love, that remind me of my heartbreak(s) and career highlights. She was possibly the most famous human in the world, outside of religious figures and politicians.

But most importantly and profoundly she was the first person I EVER heard speak about queer people in a positive light. And not just in a positive-popstar-PR-move- light, in a respectful and admirable way. She demanded respect and acknowledgment of us from the media and made us seem ‘cool.’ As someone who always knew I was (very) homosexual; this really meant the world to me. Her message of not allowing yourself to be a victim and to get-up-and-keep- going resonated with my soul and impacted my strength in a way I would not even be able to measure. I still carry it with me now. I know a lot of queer people feel the same.

Currently on her worldwide “The Celebration Tour,” Madonna is taking her message LGBT-allyship worldwide. I went to the show on its 3rd night in London, on October 17th, and had avoided all spoilers so I could see the show with fresh-eyes (which included deleting Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok from my phone for 3 days – as the algorithm feeds me Madonna content all day, every day).

 

I was blown away. The show opens with the first Madonna song I ever bought, from WHSmith in Eltham High Street in 1998, “Nothing Really Matters,” which then breaks into an explosive celebration of her career with lights, sparkling outfits, visibly (and celebratory) queer dancers surrounding her, and the hits. During “Holiday”, Madonna and her dancers recreate time spent in the colourful nightlife of the late 70s/ early 80s New York City. As the song draws to a close, one of the dancers drops down to the floor and ‘dies’. As they do, the beat from Holiday halts but Madonna continues hauntingly singing “Holiday,” slower-and- slower and then finally to a halt as she places her Keith Haring-lined overcoat over them.

As someone who is clued up on the context and history of this period of history, I immediately knew she was referencing the horrific HIV and AIDs epidemic which swept over NYC nightlife, the queer community, and sex workers like a wildfire. An epidemic she lost many loves ones to.

The arena drops to darkness, and then a thunder storm begins to rumble and flash, until eventually “Live to Tell” booms out of the enormous Soundsystem and Madonna rises in a box which floats metres up into the air. The goosebumps were unreal. As she does, enormous projection screens fall which begin to project beautiful photos of the souls lost to HIV & AIDS, from her good friends and artists like Keith Haring and Martin Burgoyne
– to icons such as Sylvester and Freddy Mercury – and eventually to an overwhelmingly large collage of beautiful peoples faces who were lost to this devastating virus.

An overwhelmingly queer majority, as we all unfortunately know. As the song ends, the screen reads “In loving memory of all the bright lights we lost to AIDS.” Later in the show, Madonna adorned a Progress Flag over her shoulders as she sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” – and eventually breaks into cries of “NO FEAR.”

These moments served as reminders, to me, of the profound nature of this allyship from Madonna and the way it had helped change the trajectory of my life – as a queer person. Alongside the fact that she is not only continuing to do it now – but she is amping it up and travelling the world with it, one arena at a time. Projecting it to millions of people, at a moment in political in social history where LGBTQ+ rights are under constant scrutiny and attacks. A time where transphobia and homophobia serve you well, in terms of the algorithm and social media clout.

I am eternally grateful to Madonna for the impact she has had on me and on an immeasurable number of peoples understanding of queer people – and I feel she deserves her flowers. I feel like I’ve fallen in love with her all over again.

Give Topher a follow @tophertaylor

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