New year, new groan-worthy posts Madonna made on social media. In promotion of her forthcoming album, Rebel Heart, Madonna has been pushing a recent Twitter and Instagram meme that places other people’s faces into her album cover. This sort of thing is fairly typical in way of digital promotion. In 2013, David Bowie offered up a Facebook app that allowed fans to “Bowie-fy” themselves in the make of his The Next Day cover; Arcade Fire did something similar for their interactive “Reflektor” video that same year.
In Madonna’s case, the Rebel Heart cover shows her face all tied up in black string. Personally, my mind went to slightly Erotica places when I first saw the cover, but Madonna had more of a cultural rebel vibe in mind. Unfortunately, her way of expressing that vibe this morning — by posting interpretations of Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and uh, Bob Marley with the#RebelHeart treatment — was… well, it was a disaster.
Billboard writes: “In the hours since they were posted to Twitter and Instagram, the images have provoked hundreds of user comments from her 2.6 million Instagram followers and 524,000 Twitter followers, some decrying the pictures as insensitive and others defending Madonna’s artistic license.” Gawker’s headline says it all: “Madonna Should Probably Not Compare Herself to MLK and Nelson Mandela.” Jezebel’s headline also says it all, just a little more bluntly: “Madonna Seriously Needs to Check Herself.”
For the third occasion in a year’s time, Madonna has been accused of racial insensitivity due to her ongoing inability to do social media correctly. (She’s been accused of it for her IRL actions many times too; see: the O.G. appropriator’s “Vogue.”) It started with the Instagram caption where she referred to her 13-year-old son, Rocco, with the N-word. Then there were the various pictures in which Madonna’s wearing Muslim veils (specifically burqas and niqabs) with partial mouth coverings — a strong, albeit ambiguous, statement in itself.
It’s hard to say, “Oh you know Madonna, she’s probably not racist. She’s been playing with controversy then saying ‘Bye haters’ for more than 30 years.” But it’s not OK, the way she chooses to do her “digital brand” or whatever (ew). Celebrity internet misbehavior (CIM) isn’t some anonymous hidden message board shit anymore; even when it is, how well did that work out for DIIV’s bassist? Careers can live and die by CIM because people get offended for real, not just fake outrage. The internet isn’t make-believe.
So every time this happens with Madonna, I just wanna text her and be like…
“Madonna, can you not?”
“Madonna, just, what’re you doing? Don’t you have people around you who can explain to you how social media works?”
And maybe: “Damn, your ironically shitty Photoshop skills have improved.”
Finally, after working up to it: “Madonna, you’re playful and *sometimes* seem to understand that this quality sits at the heart of the most successful memes. So why would you think it would be a good idea to use photos of black political icons bound up? Why does someone have to point out how this would be troubling context? You seem to have meant it as a compliment — I imagine your statement would include the word ‘celebration’ of other cultural disrupters, not a personal comparison — but it looks narcissistic, like a cheap gimmick to promote an album you’re scrambling to promote any way you can, following a big leak of its demos.”
At this point, Madonna would probably be like, “Girl bye, can I live.” But at least I’d have tried, because it doesn’t appear that anyone else is.