The onstage lap dance Madonna recently gave Maluma is being called “disgusting” and “controversial,” but not because of anything other than her age.
Regardless of how you feel about this statement, it’s worth parsing out the reasons her performance has inspired such an incredible sense of scandal.
Madonna Has Always Been the Queen of Controversy
Throughout her long and storied career, Madonna has performed countless shows in which she pushes the envelope — after all, being bold, sexual and daring has always been her thing.
Take her famed “conical bra” of 1990, in which she subverted the “soft curves the corset was supposed to shape,” turning the female anatomy into “a spiky, phallic weapon,” one she “celebrated by exerting her dominance, sexual or otherwise.”
At the time, she was already mired in controversy, after the video for her lead single, “Like a Prayer,” drew connections between racial injustice and organized religion, featuring burning crosses and Madonna herself receiving the stigmata.
Really, just the very fact that Madonna’s name is Madonna is subversive. Although she was given the name at birth (believe it or not), the simple fact that someone named after the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, would spend her life fervently reclaiming her own name via the development of a decidedly erotic persona is notable, to say the least.
“Art should be controversial, and that’s all there is to it,” she told the New York Times back 1989. Indeed, this is a credo she has yet to abandon.
Throughout Madonna’s many past “controversies,” the star endured sexism and misogyny regularly, yet her sex appeal was never questioned. That is a far more recent development, and one that many believe is linked to ageism — the gendered kind.
Madonna’s “Controversial” Lap Dance in Medelín
Fast-forward to April 2022, when Maluma’s long awaited “Medallo en el Mapa” homecoming concert in Medellín, Colombia took place. Throughout the show, the 28-year-old reggaeton star delivered a dynamic performance with numerous special guests, including the one and only Madonna, aka “The Queen of Pop,” now 63 years old.
Madonna joined Maluma onstage and together they sang their collaboration, “Medellín,” which was featured on her 2019 album Madame X. During the performance, Madonna joined Maluma’s backup dancers for several numbers, including a bit where she grinded up against Maluma, culminating in a brief but memorable lap dance. The crowd seemed to love it, and calls for future collaborations between the pair have resounded as a result on social media.
That being said, there have also been less-than-appreciative comments, with one Twitter user posting, “Awesome granny lap dance – how classy.”
Although the majority of comments have been positive, the negative comments stand out more. Judgmental remarks like, “Madonna, what’s going on with you?,” “You didn’t need that,” and “This performance is very sad,” beg a further look into what, exactly, people are taking issue with during the concert.
Madonna, Sexuality and Ageism — a Striking Double Standard
Maluma and Madonna met at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards, and since then, Maluma has shared that Madonna “changed [his] vision in many ways.”
“I’m still young and I’m still learning a bunch of things in this industry and my career, but it was an important thing to just be more confident in myself,” he told Madonna during a chat for Rolling Stone in October. “Since I met you, that’s something I always do, and I really appreciate that.”
But while Maluma has seemingly found something of a mentor in Madonna, The Queen has been getting all kinds of flack for her lap dance.
Madonna’s critics have said they don’t think she acts her age because she dates younger men. British television personality Piers Morgan has also been vocal about his disgust towards Madonna’s continued presence in pop culture, calling her “pathetic,” “embarrassing,” and even claiming that she doesn’t know how to “age gracefully.”
And yet, whether Madonna’s choices as an aging entertainer speak to you personally or not, it’s hard not to notice that aging male performers are hardly held to the same standards. After all, men dating women 20-40 years their junior has been altogether normalized. One need look no farther than Mick Jagger, 78, who has a child with his partner, 35-year-old Melanie Hamlick. The pair became a couple when she was just 27 and he was 70. Yet you don’t hear anyone dubbing him pathetic.
In 2016, Madonna became the focus of ageist bullying after spontaneously kissing Drake at Coachella and having a wardrobe malfunction at the BRIT awards. Both incidents sparked torrents of social media commentary mocking her age. Some claimed she must have “sucked the youthfulness” out of Drake and suggested her age was the reason she fell down the stairs during her wardrobe mishap.
Madonna, Still a Trailblazer in 2022
After winning Woman of the Year at the 2016 Billboard Women in Music awards, Madonna shared a powerful but rather tongue-in-cheek message with listeners, describing how society allowed women to be “pretty and cute” but not to share their opinions. Delving into the unwritten rules of the music business, she said, “Be what men want you to be. But more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men.”
“And finally,” she continued, “Do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticised, you will be vilified, and you will definitely not be played on the radio.”
She was likely referring to BBC Radio 1 declining to play one of her recent singles as it “pursued a younger audience.” Madonna responded to the radio ban by saying it was “discriminatory” and “unfair.”
Strikingly, just as Madonna has been vilified for aging, she has likewise been vilified and scrutinized for getting too much plastic surgery — in what one might assume is an attempt to cope with the viciously gendered ageism she faces in the music industry. Sadly, Madonna’s decision to remain a sexually expressive public figure at 63 is still a radical act in 2022.
“At the beginning of my career, I got so much flak for using sexuality as part of my creativity and was called a sexual provocateur,” she shared in a 2018 interview. “Now, all the challenges that I had to face 20 years ago seem ludicrous.
“What I am going through now is ageism,” she continues, “with people putting me down or giving me a hard time because I date younger men or do things that are considered to be only the domain of younger women. I mean, who made those rules? Who says? I’m going to keep fighting it. 10 to 20 years from now, it’s going to be normal. People are going to shut up.”
“We need role models” to make real change, she insists. “It’s an outdated, patriarchal idea that a woman has to stop being fun, curious, adventurous, beautiful, or sexy past the age of 40… Why should only men be allowed to be adventurous, sexual, curious and get to have all the fun until the day they leave this earth?”
“I’m going to make it easier for all the girls behind me when they turn 60. I hope they appreciate it,” she told Voge the year she turned 60, clearly intending to be the kind of role model we so sorely need to change the way society views aging women.