Madonna is in the news again, and not for anything very Madonna-esque. This time, it’s because she’s old.
Sunday, BBC Radio 1 (the largest Top 40 station in the UK) released its new playlist. Guess which 56 year-old pop star’s new single “Living for Love” wasn’t included on it? Madonna’s. In response to the radio station’s snub, Madonna’s fans inundated Radio 1’s Twitter account with accusations of not playing her songs because she’s too old. Her producer, Diplo, encouraged fans to keep tweeting Radio 1 in support of Madonna. Madonna herself even backed up these claims by tweeting out screencaps of an old interview in which she talks about the pop music industry’s bias against anybody over the age of 40.
In response, Radio 1 issued a statement saying that songs are added to their playlist based on “musical merit” and “relevance to their audience,” which is people aged 15 to 29. It should be noted that Madonna’s “Living for Love” was included on the playlist for BBC’s Radio 2, whose format is adult contemporary.
The question then begs to be asked: Is pop music ageist? Why, yes. Yes it is. Severely so. Just turn on your local top 40 radio station and most of the people you hear will be under the age of 35. In fact, every artist in the top 50 of Billboard’s Hot 100 songs this week is below the age of 40 (barring Paul McCartney, featured only instrumentally on Rihanna’s “FourFive Seconds” and Kanye West’s “Only One”).
Let the records show that the oldest person to have a No.1 hit was Louis Armstrong at age 62 back in 1964 with “Hello Dolly!” The oldest female artist to have a No.1 hit was Cher at 52 with “Believe” in 1999. As you can see, it’s been awhile since anybody who’s old enough to qualify for AARP has had the most popular song in the country.
The point is, Madonna is making music in a genre that doesn’t want to listen to her anymore. Pop music is marketed toward teenagers and 20-somethings who don’t want to hear someone older than their mom singing on a club track. 27 year-old Rihanna, in all of her blunt-smoking, crotch-grabbing glory seems like a more reasonable dance persona than Madonna. It’s not that my generation doesn’t know who Madonna is. We just don’t identify with her as easily as she grows older. Maybe it’s unavoidable.
And don’t get me wrong, I love Madonna as much as the next gay, but her new songs just aren’t that good anymore. She was great in the ‘80s, great in the ‘90s, and great for half of the 2000s, but the quality of her music has been slipping in recent years. Instead of anticipating trends, she’s falling in line with them.
Plenty of older artists have made great albums in recent years (Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, etc.), but those have come from male artists aiming for album-oriented rock territory. If Madonna wants to conquer the pop charts, she needs to try harder. It may be difficult, but a queen’s work is never easy.