Living for This Video

The last few videos Madonna has made have largely been, gasp, lackluster – and for the woman who practically invented the music video, this was simply unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong, fluffy escapist trifles like ‘Turn Up the Radio‘ and ‘Give Me All Your Luvin‘ provided passing interest, and were devoured by a Madonna-hungry public because of the piss-poor promotional efforts for her last record, MDNA, but they paled in comparison to former glories like ‘Like A Prayer‘ or ‘Bad Girl.’

Her latest video for ‘Living For Love’ doesn’t quite return her to the apex of video artistry, but it comes damn close, and carries with it enough powerful imagery to turn a relatively standard song into something more meaningful, something more galvanizing, something more, well, Madonna. As noted, I found the ‘Living For Love’ song nice enough, but wasn’t convinced it was lead-off single material. Yes, it brought her back to those 90’s-nostalgic house beats and piano chords, and the injection of gospel elements lifted it to a higher ground, but it still felt a bit like a filler track, a throw-away song that could be taken away without leaving a hole in my heart. The video changes things a bit, more succinctly bringing the song into focus as a self-empowerment anthem, as Madonna vanquishes a circle of encroaching minotaurs like so many fallen chess pieces.

As someone who’s been under his fair share of attacks, both deserved and unfounded, I like the metaphors and the dazzling imagery. Most of all, I like the classic Madonna theme of exorcising the ghosts of those who have wronged her in such a cathartic and spellbinding way. We go to battle with our demons every day, be they family or foe (or any combination of the two), ex-lovers or longstanding-obsessions, former flames or future fucks – but rather than indulging in the bitter she exults in the sweet, rising above and leaving the past behind. It’s what Madonna has always done best: never looked back. There’s a cost to it, but you’re not about to see her emotional bank account.

The video is notable for the impossible way it manages to reinvent Madonna for the bazillionth time, repositioning her as toreador, and showing off several camera moves and angles and dance moves that she’s never tried out before – that in itself is a pretty substantial accomplishment for a woman who’s done practically everything on video by this point (witness the incredible fall and rise close-up that begins at 0:41 and the stunning jump at 1:48.)

Most thrilling for those of us die-hard fans who notice every subtle nuance, intended or not, are the references that Madonna makes to her own body of work. The matador outfit brings back the days of ‘You Can Dance‘, and the bolero might even have been reclaimed from 1987 itself. She steps into the male bull-fighter role she so elegantly paired off with in ‘Take A Bow’ and ‘You’ll See‘ – and executes a snippet of the ‘Papa Don’t Preach‘ strut that originally ended with the first sanctioned peek-a-boo of nipple back in 1986.

Madonna’s come a long way since that epochal decade in which she rose to the pinnacle of the pop heap. She still hovers in that rarefied air, and really, no one else can quite touch her when it comes to history and legacy and modern-day currency. If she isn’t as pervasive as she once was, she still holds incredible sway and power, and the readily-admitted worship of almost every current pop star, and quite a few who have come and gone over the incredible ongoing span of her career.

“Man is the cruelest animal. At tragedies, bullfights, and crucifixions he has so far felt best on earth; and when he invented hell for himself, behold, that was his very heaven.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

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