In future generations, humans will look back on this time in popular culture and be confused about a multitude of things. Like the ongoing popularity of TV singing competitions, or the fact that rock musicians willingly take part in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (thanks for the laughs, Kiss and the Madden Brothers!), or finally — and this one is most baffling of all — that we, as a society, have been talking about Madonna's breasts now for literally three decades. Obviously, everybody likes boobs — but, c'mon now, 30 years seems like kind of a lot for anyone.
[jump] In case you were asleep for the last 36 hours, Madonna just did a rather exquisite photo shoot for the art issue of Interview Magazine. She posed in high-necked, long-sleeved latex, like a badass. She wore studded corsetry and lace petticoats, like a boss. She hung around on couches wearing rubber underwear and leather coats, like a sexpot. She wore some kind of crazy face contraption that was halfway bondage contraption and halfway gas mask. She posed with a snake. And yes, at one point, she reclined wearing lingerie and an open pink sweater, and both of her perfect, 56-year-old breasts happened to be visible.
Accompanying this (seriously stunning) set of photographs is an interview by Madonna's friend, magician and all-around scary person, David Blaine. They discuss art, film, life, death, philosophy, the importance of silence and performance, Madonna's belief in angels and prayer, the creative process, success, failure, and even her days in 1980s New York City with Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat. The thing, however, that most people seem to have latched onto are the naked breasts. Which is even more remarkable when you consider that the same day the photos came out, Wealth-X named Madonna as the wealthiest recording artist in the world, with a net worth of $800 million. $800 million! But no, forget about that because her tits are RIGHT OVER THERE.
Twitter lit up with a pile of remarkably positive commentary, with only a few smatterings of negative nonsense from ageist, sexist dudes saying things like: “At this point in Madonna's life the only time she should be getting pictures of her breasts taken is during a mammogram…” Even the ladies of daytime TV were mostly nice, with Wendy Williams asserting “I think she looks terrific, haters!”; Sharon Osbourne of The Talk countered “If you are beautiful and you want to share your body, we all have the freedom to do that. However, I do think that she must be very insecure as a woman… She constantly has to keep showing it.” Rosie O'Donnell of The View disagreed, saying “If my titties looked like that, I'd be nude right now… The thing is, she's beautiful and proud of her body and always has been.”
It's Rosie here that gets closest to the heart of the matter. Madonna has been posing topless since before she was famous. Pre-fame photos of Madonna showed up in a 1985 issue of Playboy. In 1990, the only thing shielding our eyes from her breasts in the “Vogue” video was a thin layer of lace that left little to the imagination. And once her controversial Sex book came out in 1992, none of us ever had to wonder what Madonna's naked body looked like ever again. Now that we live in the age of Google, you can find photos of Madonna topless, all the way back to 1977. So why is everyone still so obsessed with a new photo of Madonna's breasts?
Probably because Madonna does naked better than any other pop star in history. Madonna is so incredibly smart about how she presents her sexuality when she goes nude, it has always been somehow intrinsically linked with her own power. This woman has been stomping on the traditional notion that men are naturally sexually driven and women are naturally passive objects to be controlled in the bedroom, and she's been doing so since the mid-1980s. Madonna — and this is incredibly unusual if you look closely at the history of pop — has never seemed more submissive or less intelligent for exposing her body. Madonna never gives up her agency just because she's being provocative. It's an extraordinarily difficult thing to pull off.
The greatest triumph for Madonna here, though, is forcing the world to see a 56-year-old woman as an attractive, powerful, and sexual being — a concept that the movie, media and music industry has repeatedly tried to squash for decades now. Every other pop artist on earth could take lessons from Madonna on how to do naked in a manner that's both classy and meaningful. She didn't always get it right throughout her career, but she definitely got it right this time.