Madonna, The Spectacle, Part II: who you calling queen?

Maybe you’ve heard that Madonna and Lady Gaga indulged in a little twittertiff a few weeks ago about the connection between Gaga’s song “Born This Way” and Madonna’s classic “Express Yourself.”  (Funny to think that bad-girl Madge is in the position of having a “classic,” isn’t it? In the same ironic vein as “Jumping Jack Flash” becoming supermarket muzak.)

I don’t know about you, but the first time I heard “Born This Way,” I thought it sounded a lot like Madonna’s song, no question asked.  So then it’s either the generous interpretation: Gaga’s homage to Madge.  Or less generously, Gaga’s unattributed borrowing from Madge.

Gaga says that the chords in her ditty are just the same chord progressions that have been part of disco music for the past fifty years.  Which jesus, disco has been around for fifty years? Wow.

Madonna, apparently, takes the less generous viewpoint, as she made clear in her Abu Dhabi show during a version of “Express Yourself” that featured cheerleaders, pompons, and a drum corps suspended on invisible wires from the rafters. (Can you imagine it? Good news! you’ve been chosen to join Madonna’s tour! Bad news! You’re going to hang twenty feet off the ground with your full drum kit playing an incredibly complicated rhythm line for about thirty minutes!)

This version of “Express Yourself” sampled “Born This Way” and as Madge paced the stage, she exclaimed: “She’s NOT me!” The audience roared its approval, and roared even louder when she said “I’m the Queen!”

I like Gaga’s tune, and a few others, although if I have to listen to my kids doing “p-p-p-p-p-poker face…” one more time, I’m going to make that woman eat her damn meat dress. And Madonna – well, Madonna is the soundtrack of my college years, of bombing around New York’s East Village in paisley leggings and black Chuck Taylors, of dancing sweatily into the night in apartments that looked much better in the dark.  So although her shock value has worn away, I can’t so easily shove her off the throne – those tunes are my youth.

But both Gagalina and Madge would do well to stop quarreling and bow to the American South, home of the woman who spawned them all, the first truly iconic one-word woman:


All of them – Madonna, Gaga, Britney, Beyonce – owe a debt to Dolly.  She used boobs and talent to force open doors that women weren’t supposed to open and gave us a woman unafraid to re-invent herself with the flip of a wig and the wave of a press-on nail.

From Nashville with Porter Wagoner, to 9 to 5 with Lily Tomlin, to Dollywood, to Kennedy Center Honors, and back around to the bluegrass music that was her first love, Dolly owns it all.  The wig, the eyelashes, the nails, the huge shoes…it’s all part of the show, as is her ability to laugh at herself, a talent that other divas might want to consider. At the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago, she even rapped about her amazing rack – and paid homage to Queen Latifah, also a breastally gifted woman.  Dolly has a long way to go as a rap star – Latifah won’t be losing that contest anytime soon, but can you imagine Gaga, or Madonna, or anyone else making fun of themselves like this:  She’s the queen of her own hood … but I’m the queen of Dollywood! I don’t hip and I don’t hop … I’d black both eyes with this big top.  I know the Queen has got ’em too …  but she don’t work ’em like I do!”  (to see the clip, from, click here).

Gaga plays the piano, and Madge had a guitar with her for a few numbers the other night, but Dolly (even with those nails) plays guitar, banjo, authoharp, dulcimer – and even, occasionally, the drums. Which is to say that for all her self-proclaimed fakery, the lady is the real deal.

Here’s Dolly, back in the day, with what can only be described as a a literal beehive on her head. Amazing what could be done with just hairspray, y’all.  (source)

And here’s Dolly a few years back: pink, sequins, wig, face-lift, waist cinched, smiling. (source)

Gaga can wear all the meat she wants and Madge can pretend to kill people on stage, or break up with God, or whatever it is she wants to do. But when they’re alone in their lavish dressing rooms, they’d better pray that when they’re pushing seventy, they can be as cool as Dolly.


For Part I about the Madonna show, click here





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14 Responses to Madonna, The Spectacle, Part II: who you calling queen?

  1. Halala Mama June 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    amen. There is something about Dolly that makes me smile, always.

    • Deborah Quinn June 8, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

      so nice of you to stop by! yes, Dolly makes me smile too – and dance around a bit, sometimes sing along. All good (well, my singing is atrocious, but I’m happy when I do it!)

      • Halala Mama June 8, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

        I always read you…just terrible about making comments. My fave Dolly line is “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Ain’t that the God’s truth?

  2. susan w June 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    FWIW, I love La Gaga and can’t stand Madonna, who seems lame and fake as opposed to Gaga’s postmodern ironically fake (oh hell, I just like the music better). Dolly P is all you say, I agree with that, but the music doesn’t do it for me.

    • Deborah Quinn June 8, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      I’m sort of a sucker for the bluegrass stuff, I confess – and I also like some of what Husband calls “hick shit,” from Dolly & others. To me Gaga’s music & Madonna’s is almost completely interchangeable. Try the bluegrass…:)

  3. Dick Horwich June 8, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    I’m almost ashamed to admit that Dolly — hair, rack and all — never did it for me. Sort of like Mae West: all the accoutrements of sexiness without being in the least sexy. I do tip my hat to her feminist/musical accomplishments, though; she did open doors.

    • Deborah Quinn June 8, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      I don’t think Dolly means to be sexy, do you? Because she’s NOT at all sexy. It’s like a parody of “sexy” …

  4. Alexandra June 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    I love music talk.

    Here’s the thing about Lady Gaga: I enjoy both of these superstars’ music but there is an approachable real quality that helps me PUSH and WISH for more success to Lady gaga.

    And rejoice in her success.

    With the ugliness of madonna’s soul, how she disses on the love of a fan who brings her hyacinths.

    That to me makes me not care about anything she does.

    • Deborah Quinn June 10, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

      Lady G. is more approachable – but then again, back in the day, wasn’t Madonna, too? Remember “Desperately Seeking Susan?” Before she become all iconic, she was the girl from Detroit who made it in the big cit-ay, right? Or at least, that’s how I saw her…but of course, I’m so old now that those memories are a tad foggy!

  5. anna June 15, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    i didn’t predict this ending with love for the big-D, but i’m glad it did b/c i am a huge dolly fan. i also love her quote, which i am too lazy to get correctly via google, that now that she’s got her dream of being famous she ain’t never going to complain about being famous.

    everyone should be able to see what good fortune is so clearly.

    • Deborah Quinn June 15, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Dolly, to me, is aging gracefully, despite the plastic surgery and costumes and etc., in part bc she’s so clear about her good fortune and her place in the world. She admits to having work done (as if you couldn’t tell) and although she’s gone wildly overboard, I love her for allowing her music to grow and shift over the decades….But then again, she’s still working the same look she’s had for years, as is Madge. So maybe I’m being unfair to Madge? hmm…

  6. Jackie June 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    Amen Sister!
    Dolly is the first, the best, the everything!

  7. Cindy September 3, 2012 at 12:19 am #

    I like Dolly too, but I wouldn’t compare her to the other two. GaGa is more like Dolly because she is a musician, and writes her own songs. I don’t like maddog at all, she’s toxic and horribly mean.


  1. Madonna, The Spectacle, Part I: shock and … er … | MaNNaHaTTaMaMMa - June 12, 2012

    […] For Part II about the Madonna show – Madge, Gaga, and… Dolly? – click here […]

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