Madonna is so important for an infinite amount of reasons which I constantly speak on. I refer to her as the woman worthy of her name. Madonna exists in so many worlds at once like any *true* artist. She came to New York at the end of an era. The end of the bohemian community as we knew it; the rise of the internet and social media serving as the catalyst.
In the niche community of New York City artists, characters like Andy Warhol reigned supreme. Intellectualism with wit and glamour has always been in vogue. Capote is another classic figure. They were the scene–curating and critiquing it.
The 80s was the end of the intellectual artist and the transition into commercial success reigned supreme. Warhol foresaw the fetishization of capitalism within society. Halston was not such a cynic. He saw the potential in corporate artistry. I could argue that even Chanel did back in her day when she opted for cheap industrial fabrics to make her clothing. In fact, the fashion industry is the number one cause of global pollution. Food being its only competitor. Both of these industries function as a human need and elevated art form.
The urban punk scene of the 70s turned into suburban garage bands. The intellectual movement of the 60s died in the world of advertising and commercialism. By the time Madonna arrives in New York, hip-hop has dominated the scene. It first became popular with its association with the party scene, but became mainstream when it glamorized violence, raw sexuality, and ambition. It permeates the art scene much like punk did the previous decade. The difference being in its alliance with, rather than a confrontation of, capitalism. The vibe complimented the Wolf-of-Wall-Street era’s blind ambition. Madonna even referenced this dimension of Americana with her infamous Blonde Ambition tour.
The Lower East Side, as Madonna explains in her Jan 19th Brooklyn Talks, was a bubble, a vacuum, a community of creative thought and exploration. Bob Dylan’s first autobiography discusses a similar vibe when he arrived in the 1960s. There are these touchstones in certain neighborhoods where you meet valuable people and bonds are formed, invitations are shared, moments happen. There were relics of the previous eras and competition for the present. People dedicated themselves to a place or perspective or art form. People really knew things. Things that were cultivated and precious.
As we know, the internet established a whole new platform of experiencing life and engaging with the world. Cultivated experiences take a back seat. Who cares about finding the best source of information when a convenient was is available? Why dedicate yourself fully to the life you know when you know just how infinite the possibilities are? Why take chances when every misstep, false word, bad experiment is preserved for eternity?
Madonna persevered through all the changes. She learned a lot from her early artistic community and distilled that knowledge of how to be an artist for her entire career. Her platform is music. The most easily accessible form of art there is in an age where experiencing music is easier than eating. She created visual experiences to complement her music on an artistic level that very few can compare. The characters she has created over the years would constantly shift mainstream consciousness. In fact, there has never been a time in her career where she was not challenging assumed mainstream values.
Madonna remained forever in this creative bubble carefully curating the most relevant elements to bring forth to the masses. Not even Noble Prize winning Bob Dylan can say that. He is now a relic from a time that does not exist. (The way the world was before the internet.) Today, everything is a temporary trend with a superficial understanding of human experiences. Madonna creates meaning.
When Lana del Rey first moved to NYC in the 2000s, she was looking for the famed bohemian art scene–the places where intellectuals gathered to argue and love and create. But instead, it was just a bunch of lonely people looking for something sacred in a maze of other people’s nostalgia. The city has become safe and safety is a delusion.
The universities became safe spaces instead havens of discord. The cafes filled with tourists and artisans. The buildings designed for successful Capitalists. The streets heavily regulated. The labor force all imported from the outer boroughs and suburbs. The solitary experience of drugs, easy sex, and social media are the dominating themes of society today. Art, at its best, in these times, is more about being technically well-executeted (not even greatly so). We fear greatness as much as weakness.
Lana is the only real artist we have for this generation. She is truly subversive, and yet, she is a privileged white woman. Very unlike the disadvantaged youth persona of Madonna and her Lower East Side community with its punk and hip-hop roots. Or Bob Dylan and his rambling man, artistic genius persona. Lana is her own community and expresses this interior world so precisely, so sensuously. Her albums belong to nostalgia yet are grounded in real-life America. It doesn’t represent moments in the way Madonna did in the 80s or Dylan in the 60s. Lana is Americana rather than curating it.
Born to Die has an obvious reference to Brooklyn’s Notorious BIG, but directly speaks on her own internal experiences (not unlike the rappers own mode storytelling) which is often isolation, heartbreak, and mental illness. The album, including the Paradise Edition, perfectly reflects the modern bubblelessness of New York City. It is about yearning for community and unity. It deals with the excessive partying designed to numb the despair derived from said lack of community. It speaks on the way the powerful prey on the all beautiful and all harmonious innocent. And yet, it is the uncanny way all these elements co-exist, trapped in timeless eternity, where the sacred is found.
Lana was denied the community that inspired her own relationship to music just as her (our) entire generation have been denied the nostalgia and delusions handed down to us. Commercialism and Capitalism destroyed the scene and enabled the previous generations the delusion of safety. In this world, as a beautiful wealthy white woman, Lana’s vision and understanding of the bubble reigns supreme because she is for whom the bubble was built for. She sings for a savior and protector to save her from herself in this vacuum of apathy and mindless consumption. Nothing could ring more true for the Millennial generation. We need to create a bubble, a void of outside opinion, so we can birth something entirely our own.
It is time for the new bubble to emerge and not just a safe space from conservative aggression. (Remember, safety is a delusion.) The experiment of social media has existed long enough for individuals to know how to tame the beast. Communities no longer exist in strict physical limitations. We may not be able to avoid “Big Brother” (because safety is a delusion) but we still have our interior world. If enough of us share our visions, perhaps a space can exist outside of ourselves to exist. This is the New Earth. This is the Bubble.
Madonna, in the same, discussion says that the downside to this internet age is that it undermines our ability to accomplish things as artists. This is true. When Lana first came out with her masterpiece on NYC living with superb visuals along side it, she was just a privileged white woman. Her perspective was deemed unworthy. Her first mainstream live performance didn’t go well either which didn’t help her claim to authenticity. Yet, her commitment to her vision and the way her work continually resonated earned her the title Artist.
Before the internet age, creating an album or making a video required so much effort. You needed to know people and put time in and be somewhere physically. None of that matters now. If you have the skill or talent, you can create it. If you have the vision and the energy, it can be done. How do you impress or challenge people when everything has become so easy, when everyone can do it? What does Lana/Madonna teach us on this?
Be vulnerable. Don’t hide. “Express yourself; don’t repress yourself.” Cultivate your own vision, your own being. Share it with the world. This is the way forward. There is no alternatives. Your own heart and mind–your instincts–are all that matter now.
Be your own bubble. Create your filter. Shine your light.
“In life there is no real safety except for self-belief.”
-Madonna, 2016 Billboard’s Woman of the Year speech