Unlike gazillions of people across the globe for the past four decades, I never had much use for Madonna. I’m an indie-rock geek with blues and country leanings, so her dance-pop didn’t do a thing for me. Although I considered her a beautiful woman (still do—her plastic surgery team deserves a medal), my blonde bombshell role models were Debbie Harry and Dolly Parton. If anything, I found her blatant opportunism minimally annoying—the way she’d co-opt an offbeat trend and turn it into acceptably outrageous fodder for MTV. But, hey, a Material Girl’s got to make a buck, right? Still, ever since I began writing about entertainment, I sought to avoid Madonna. I figured, she gets enough attention, she doesn’t need any from me.
So why am I giving it to her now? Because with “God Control,” her new video (which you can watch below), Madonna has finally gotten a rise out of me. The eight-minute-plus opus opens with a club marquee reading WE NEED TO WAKE UP and a warning that the clip to come is disturbing. Then the shooting and the screaming starts, accompanied by a disco beat and synth strings, in what unfolds as a reenactment of the mass murder at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded in 2018.
Warning: The following video is graphic and may be upsetting.
How Dare She?
As Madonna lectures in her tinny monotone, scenes of bloody massacre are spliced with artsy-fartsy images of the songsmith lyrically laboring, the requisite religious iconography, newsreel protest footage, and a borderline comedic bit of the star being held up in a dark alley. It comes to a pompous end with a quote from Angela Davis, a smattering of statistics, and a glycerin tear descending Madonna’s perfectly pancaked cheek.
After watching, I felt sick with rage. It wasn’t the violence; it was the chutzpah. Like here she goes again, only instead of capitalizing on street fashion she’s exploiting human tragedy to push her new album. Like I need Madonna to remind me of the urgency for gun control after watching 20 Democratic presidential candidates debate the issue.
Ray of Light
Springing from the screen, I went to vent to my husband, who makes playing devil’s advocate into an Olympic sport. “Is it the video that bothers you, or the fact that Madonna made it?” he asked. “Could anyone have made the video and not got you upset? What if I made it?”
Imagining my scraggly, bespectacled spouse in Madonna’s blonde wig and glittery gown almost gave me a smile as he finished his point—that it didn’t matter who made the video if it has a positive effect.
That’s when my righteous anger segued into a mix of sadness, shame, and, strangely, hope. Madonna has countless fans. If it’s likely that, say, her “Vogue” video engendered greater tolerance toward the LGBTQ community, isn’t it within the realm of possibility that “God Control” may change some minds about bump stocks and background checks? I may consider Madonna’s latest to be crass and even cruel, a far worse misstep than her stumble on the stairs at the Super Bowl 46 halftime show. But if she can convince even a few folks to “wake up” about gun control, and they sway a few folks, and they sway a few—who am I to shoot the messenger?
A native Brooklynite, Nina Malkin has written for everyone from hoity-toity fashion magazines to trashy tabloids to the New York Times. She’s the author of six books, including the paranormal romance novel Swoon and the memoir An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle.