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“Madonna: A Rebel Life” and “The Woman in Me” by Britney Spears: NPR

Britney Spears, left, joins Madonna for an appearance during one of Madonna’s 2008 Los Angeles tour dates.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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“Madonna: A Rebel Life” and “The Woman in Me” by Britney Spears: NPR

Britney Spears, left, joins Madonna for an appearance during one of Madonna’s 2008 Los Angeles tour dates.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

While Britney Spears was trying to get over her very public breakup with fellow pop star Justin Timberlake, Madonna came to visit.

“She walked into the house and immediately, of course, the room became hers,” Spears writes in her new memoir, The woman in me. “I remember thinking, It’s Madonna’s room now. Incredibly beautiful, she exuded power and confidence… She embodied a type of strength that I needed to see. There were so many different ways to be a woman in the industry: you could have a reputation as a diva, you could be professional, or you could be “nice.” I’ve always tried to please – to please my parents, to please the public, to please everyone.”

It turns out that a massive new biography of Spears’ role model – that of Mary Gabriel Madonna: a rebellious life — landed just two weeks before Spears’ unveiling. It’s easy to trace a generational lineage from Madonna, now 65, to Britney Spears, 41: two blonde, ambitious pop idols. Hell, they’ve done it themselves for the public several times over the years, including in their joint song “Me Against the Music” in 2003, and in the shocking kiss they shared on MTV Video Music Awards which year.

Britney Spears

But as Madonna: a rebellious life And The woman in me It should be noted that the paths and intentions of the two megastars have always been very different, even if they have each enjoyed enormous success. Madonna forged her own path, even though her father disapproved of her career. (Madonna’s mother died when she was just five years old.) As a young dancer, Madonna studied at two of the supreme temples of modern dance, the studios of Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham.

Madonna also dropped out of the University of Michigan and tried to make a career, first in New York, then Paris and back again. Her circle included visual artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat (also a boyfriend), Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf; she loved the downtown scene even as she craved global fame.

Cover of Madonna" A rebellious life

Even when she was still a child, Spears was being bought by record labels and television shows as a shiny mainstream product ready for consumption. As Spears herself observes, both as a Southern girl and within her immediate family, she was groomed to please others.

As Gabriel carefully recounts, Madonna has always celebrated herself as a sexual being, in her music and in her visuals. Her performance of “Like A Virgin” at the VMAs in 1984 cemented this overt statement. In contrast, Spears has always seemed to be tailor-made for the male gaze. Towards the beginning of her book, she talks about her appearance on Star search when she was just 10 years old, and host Ed McMahon was harassing her about boyfriends. (She leaves the stage and bursts into tears.)

Gabriel’s book is a detailed and meticulous account of Madonna’s life and work, from her early childhood through the pandemic shutdowns of early 2020; every set change on every Madonna tour is documented like sacred scripture. A rebellious life is 858 pages: the bibliography and endnotes have all been moved online to lighten things up a bit.

Notably, Gabriel did not interview Madonna at all during A rebellious life; it is a work of scholarship, not an authorized biography-hagiography. Yet Gabriel writes about Madonna like a hero, even if the tone is much more serious and labored than in his delightful 2018 book. Women of Ninth Streetwhich chronicles the work of Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning and three other female abstract artists.

Cover of The Woman in Me

Gabriel’s most exuberant and evocative tales come close to the beginning of Madonna’s origin story, particularly in documenting the restless teenager Madonna fleeing suburban Michigan for New York. The pace slows noticeably, and Gabriel’s enthusiasm for her subject evidently fades during Madonna’s later eras: when she has to cover Madonna’s “lady of the British manor” era during the megastar’s marriage with director Guy Ritchie, as well as detailing the outcry against Madonna’s adoption of four children from Malawi.

Despite this, there are strange gaps in A rebellious life. After spilling dozens of pages of ink on the narrowness of image and action in Madonna’s work, Gabriel writes nothing about Madonna’s recent cosmetic procedures, about the negative public reactions that followed, nor on the performer’s response to these criticisms: “I look forward to many more years of subversive behavior – pushing the limits – resisting the patriarchy – and above all enjoying my life,” Madonna wrote on Instagram .

Gabriel discusses various public remarks made by Madonna, including excerpts from a 1994 interview with Norman Mailer for Squire. Mailer’s remarks and observations are steeped in sexism and condescension, but the Squire The interview contains a prescient remark from Madonna:

“As a celebrity, or an incredibly famous person, you are, in this country, certainly allowed to operate with everyone’s approval for a period of time,” Madonna told Mailer. “People live vicariously through you, and they have fantasies of being you and wanting to do what you do. But that can never last, because several things have to happen: you have to disappear, to run out of steam, to be out of ideas. …You must get married, have a lot of kids, get fat or something. You must have an alcohol or drug problem. You must be in and out of rehab centers so that people can feel sorry for you. Or you should basically kill yourself.

Madonna could have been talking about Britney Spears, who has already experienced at least a few of these trajectories. At this point, many people claim to feel sorry for Spears, in exactly the way Madonna so bluntly described. (In some cases, it was those in the same industry who tore her apart.) But it’s also a classic American tale of falling and the path to redemption — and Spears has many fans who love it. encourage.

In The woman in me, Spears pours out decades of rage and grief, while expressing gratitude to the #FreeBritney movement that came to her defense. “If you stood up for me when I couldn’t stand up for myself: from the bottom of my heart, thank you,” Spears wrote.

Right now, the juiciest takeaways from Spears’ book are all over the internet, including details about the cruel and restrictive conservatorship her family imposed on her that lasted 13 years. These nuggets also include the abortion she says she suffered during her relationship with Justin Timberlake (he has not commented publicly on this subject); shaving her head while feeling “crazy” with grief during an intense child custody battle against her estranged husband, Kevin Federline; and performing in front of thousands of spectators every week, enduring a relentless work schedule, while her parents told her she was too ill to make her own decisions. (Spears herself argues that even in their wildest state, male stars who have also battled demons are never legally confined and suppressed like she was.)

She also writes about her Adderall addiction, her father’s bad drinking and business failures, and fallouts with her mother and sister, Jamie Lynn. She remembers drinking alcohol on trips to the beach with her mother while she was still in eighth grade. (Heaven, Spears writes, was sipping “a tiny bit of White Russian” on the way to the beach.)

Despite the sadness and anger that permeates The woman in me – especially towards his family – the tone is much lighter than the heavy subject matter. (Spears does not publicly acknowledge any ghostwriters, but she thanks several “collaborators” in her acknowledgments.) She barely mentions the details of the pop songs she created, or why and how she created them. This 288-page book, with its large type and generous spacing, is easily read in a single sitting; it’s a world away Madonna: a rebellious life in tone and purpose.

Both Madonna’s biography and Spears’ memoir have their chronological limitations – not to mention the inevitable narrative elisions. (Who’s telling which story and why?) Gabriel doesn’t address the serious bacterial infection Madonna suffered this summer, which delayed the start of her “Celebration” tour. (Earlier this week, while touring Belgium, she called her recovery a “miracle.”) Spears’ book makes glowing references to her third husband, Hesam “Sam” Asghari — she calls him “a gift from God” – but the timeline ends before August, when the couple publicly confirmed they were divorcing.

At the end of Madonna: a rebellious life, fans will have an in-depth knowledge of Madonna’s accomplishments, her various personas over the decades, and what she represents culturally — but they won’t be much closer to truly knowing her heart. And that may be the ultimate secret to Madonna’s five decades of success. Forget public nudity and quasi-confessional documentaries: we always only know what Madonna wants us to know about her, and when – and it’s always on her terms.

The woman in me It’s almost the opposite: Readers will come away with a much deeper understanding of Spears’ fragility and the ferocity that carried her through it. We watch Britney Spears get to know herself, in real time.


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