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Madonna's Controversial Take on Sexuality and Pop Culture

Madonna recently faced backlash over a recent Instagram story in which she claims to have paved the way for sexual liberation in popular culture. The veteran pop superstar began the post talking about her best-selling coffee table book titled “S.E.X.”, a cultural phenomenon released exactly 30 years ago. 

The book was filled from cover to cover with images of Madonna and other notable features such as Naomi Campbell nude, often depicting sexual acts such as bondage. Following the release of the book, Madonna was met with substantial backlash, but the book still went on to sell over a million copies. Madonna referenced such ignorance and judgment in the post, but she went on to mention a few other celebrities including Cardi B and Kim Kardashian West. Although not explicitly stated, Madonna implied that she believes she is the reason behind other female celebrities’ abilities to express their sexuality, a claim many had issues with. To top it all off, she ended the post with the line “You’re welcome b—-es” followed by a clown emoji. 

Unsurprisingly, many celebrities including Cardi B took offense to the post, finding it insulting to name drop others out of nowhere in something as flippant as an Instagram story. Many also had an issue with the validity of her claim that she led the way for sexual liberation. Madonna is one of the best selling pop stars of all time, and she displayed a level of sexual liberation never seen before. However, she was not the first to do it–that distinction is owed to many women and queer people of color who came before her. Most notably, many black female blues performers such as Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith, who began their careers in the 1920s, were some of the first acts to garner attention and popularity for sexually suggestive personas which extended into their music. While it is undoubtedly true that Madonna owes dues to those she followed, there is some validity in her claim. This owes itself to the scale of her fame at the time as well as the privilege she had as a white performer.  

This is not a unique phenomenon, especially in the music industry, where Black and Latinx cultures are often assimilated into popular culture, and then referenced (oftentimes appropriated) by white performers. This instance is much less of a direct influence, but those criticizing Madonna are rightful in their frustrations with her recent Instagram story. Any possible influences do not deter from the fact of Madonna’s fame, which gave her the platform and the space to display her sexuality to the masses–space and opportunities which her predecessors did not have. The mere fact that a coffee table book by the star went on to sell over 1.5 million copies is enough to show that her controversies succeeded on a massive level. 

Now, the discussion of Madonna’s claim itself is only part of the story, as most had more of a problem with the way she expressed it. In brief, she needs a publicist, or at least a team of people to help maintain her legacy as one of the most influential figures in the history of pop culture. This recent controversy is only one of many for Madonna, whose social media habits have put the star in the spotlight as of late. Although in the big picture, these flippant instagram stories and posts will have little impact on her public image, her status as an icon means that they still leave a lingering impression.

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