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Birthday Girl

Is age nothing but a number for Madonna?

She’s one of the most fearless and provocative artists in the music industry. Her artistic output often explores controversial issues, and taking risk is not something she seems to be scared of. But despite baring her soul and body for years, there is one subject that, it may appear, she doesn’t like to talk about much: her age.

 

 

Show business is a tough business that abides by its own rules. After turning 40, one is very unlikely to be referred to as a teenage idol. As difficult as this, is remaining in top of the charts and popularity rankings, and the number of the so-called “middle age” artists who manage to bring out a major hit, is shrinking from decade to decade. One has to admit though, that for many long years, Madonna has managed to defy this tendency. The Ray of Light album, which she put out just before she turned 40, was not only proclaimed her best, but still attracted attention of the youth. Following this, she made sure her 2000 single “Music” becomes one of her most successful songs ever, known by people of different ages all over the world. In 2005, the 47-year old singer won teenage hearts again, this time with the club album Confessions on a Dance Floor and the accompanying massive hit “Hung Up”. Again in 2008, when other icons of the 1980s seemed to be long forgotten or got themselves into trouble of various kinds, she surprisingly duetted with Justin Timberlake and explored latest trends on an album dedicated primarily to the youngest fans. And although the success of her latest album, MDNA, is questionable, one cannot deny Madonna is still perceived as a woman who... just doesn’t get old.

 

Madonna’s birthday elegance, 2004 (left) and 2010 (right)

 

But how does Madonna herself feel about her age? Do birthdays make her feel like “a happy girl in a happy world” as she assures in “B-Day Song”? It’s not a secret that she still pays a very special attention to her public persona, maintaining an image of an “ageless” woman. She hasn’t earned a gym maniac status for nothing, on the other hand, the gossip press more and more often reports alleged corrective surgeries. Anniversaries bitterly remind that time isn’t standing still. Surely, the 50th birthday must have been a great deal. Celebrating her half-century, the Queen of Pop point-blankly urged guests not to reference the age. The unwelcome number 50 was banned from appearing on birthday cards, cakes and gifts, let alone mentioning it aloud! What’s more, days before the birthday feast, Madonna unexpectedly announced that in reality, she’s actually... 36 years old. Apparently, that was her “spiritual age” as of August 2008, calculated by the highest priests of Kabbalah who had mystically analyzed Madonna’s energy. And although it might appear that Madonna would happily erase her age from the public conscience if it was only possible, recent years prove that celebrating birthdays is nothing else than fun for her.

 

 

So, what is she usually up to on the important day of August, 16? It appears that recently, above celebrity-studded blatant parties, the Queen of Pop puts more cameral gatherings with family and closest friends. Like in 2004, when her 46th birthday Madonna spent with children and husband in London. Traditional lunch and a visit to a nearby museum was followed by a dinner with Guy Ritchie in an elegant restaurant Sketch. Quite unexpectedly, also her 42nd birthday went by in a family atmosphere, when in August 2000, Madonna gave a premature birth to her son Rocco. In 2009, she spent her birthday in Portofino, Italy, with a new partner, Jesus Luz, and the family which had by then expanded with two adopted children. The idea was reprised two years later, however, with two fundamental differences: the Mediterranean scenery was replaced by a beach in the Hamptons, and Jesus Luz by... a new boyfriend, Brahim Zaibat!

 

Happy looking Madonna celebrating her 53rd birthday with Brahim Zaibat, 2011

 

For her 52nd birthday, Madonna threw a party at the Shoreditch House in London, dressed in a shiny silver gown, sporting religious accessories. Celebrating the round number of 50 has had to be pompous, and took place in a London club Volstead. Club Lounge Lover, also located in the British capital, served as the spot for her 48th birthday celebration. Interestingly, the birthday girl headed to the party right after getting off the stage, as earlier that evening was giving a concert at Wembley Arena as part of the Confessions Tour! That wasn’t the only concert with a birthday accent though. In 2001, during the Drowned World Tour show in Sunrise, Florida, Madonna’s then-husband Guy Ritchie paraded onto the stage with a chocolate cake, which was followed by a “Happy Birthday” sung by the band and the 30,000-strong audience. The next day Madonna was turning 43. A concert birthday surprise took place also in Warsaw, Poland, during her first ever visit in the country. The day before her 51st birthday, fans sang “Happy Birthday” and “Sto lat” (“May You Live a Hundred Years”), a traditional Polish birthday song, before a wave of white paper hearts rose from the audience. Moved and astonished, Madonna called it “the best birthday present ever”.

“Birthdays are always the time to think about everything you have to be grateful for. (...) I love my job, I love being able to be here with you tonight. And this is the best birthday present ever, so thank you.”

Several times Madonna came up with something special for her birthday. For her 44th b-day bash in Los Angeles, the Queen organized a Japan-themed costume party. In 2013, the 55-year-old star turned up dressed as Marie Antoinette and amused everyone – from the guests to fans following her social media pages, where the picture of Madonna in her royal outfit was warmly received.

 

The picture of Madonna in her birthday Marie Antoinette costume is one of her most popular on Facebook and Instagram

 

But how is Madonna’s age perceived by the public and mass media? It’s fair to say it doesn’t look too promising. Although every year her birthdays are surrounded by endless flattery, in general, the press and gossip websites eagerly publish biting articles, pointing out her flaws in the context of age. For example, in 2006, when Madonna teamed up with the clothing company H&M, some critically commented that the 48-year-old singer is “too old” to become the face of a retailer whose main target are teenagers. This argument was swiftly beaten off. “I defy any 18-year-old to do a quarter of what Madonna does on stage!” – said Liz Rosenberg, her press agent. These words are very true, however, it’s getting harder and harder to overcome certain barriers. In 2012, BBC Radio 1 presenter admitted that the station was not too keen on playing Madonna’s songs anymore, explaining that the singer no longer was a favorite for teenage listeners. This tendency was confirmed by the head of BBC Music himself, who in early 2014 revealed that the radio opted out of Madonna as her audience consists mostly of +30-year-olds – and those apparently are not the station’s target...

 

Madonna and her birthday cake, France 2013

 

Madonna has always strongly opposed ageism. In 1992, during an interview with Jonathan Ross, she said:

“Not only do we suffer from racism and sexism, but we also suffer from ageism. And that is that once you reach a certain age, you're not allowed to be adventurous, you're not allowed to be sexual and I think that's rather hideous.”

This shows that already in her early thirties, Madonna sought to fight with limitations foisted by the society – and she’s been consequently doing it to date, pushing the boundary between what is and what is not allowed for an over 40- and 50-year-old woman. How will her fight with the unstoppable time develop? What will she surprise us with on her next, 56th birthday? Time will tell, but as for now, we are wishing her happiness, great form and an unfailing creativity!

Matt Zaremba

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