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“When I was very young, nothing really mattered to me but making myself happy,” she sang on the ethereal house anthem “Nothing Really Matters.” “Now that I am grown, everything’s changed.”Ray of Light was a profoundly risky move for a pop star, asking her audience to ditch the teen-idol provocateur rolling around in the wedding dress or twisting her cone bra and instead embrace her exactly as she was then: a proudly middle-aged woman. Instead, it sold 16 million copies, launched three top 10 singles, and earned Madonna her first and only Album of the Year Grammy nomination.Everything had indeed changed, and the public rewarded her for being honest about it in her work.By the time the last of these, 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor, arrived during Madonna’s 48th year, it felt like she’d defied gravity.She’d spent her forties, geriatric in pop years, proving there was a place for a middle-aged women pop stars who sang about being women and middle-aged.But Madonna has proven herself a potent exception to that rule, a woman who will go down in history as much for her formidable catalog as she will for remaking pop culture in her image.And with Ray of Light, she pulled off her neatest trick yet.
The aftermath was Madonna in excelsis: She didn’t block the performance’s upload to the Brits’ You Tube channel.
She didn’t hide the imperfection or pretend it had not happened.
In fact, within a week, the full performance was on her official VEVO channel, where it remains.
From 1998’s masterpiece Ray of Light through 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna made music that was proudly older and wiser while sacrificing none of the sex appeal or fun we often associate with pop.
It’s in the years since then — during a curious pivot over the past decade toward less idiosyncratic and, at least conceptually, more radio-friendly material engineered to compete with the Gagas and Arianas of the world — that Madonna’s career has stalled.