How do most 61-year-olds spend their birthday?
Perhaps they take the day off work and gather with friends and family for a celebration. There might be a bit of gentle ribbing about being “over the hill” and aging gracefully.
The subject of retirement will surely be broached. The retirement age is now, after all, within sight, and even if the birthday boy or girl has no intention of retiring it’s still right there glittering on the horizon like a glorious sunset.
That’s not how Madonna will likely spend her 61st birthday, which she will mark on Friday, August 16. The sexagenarian (a word that sounds oddly appropriate in this context) is in the midst of preparations for yet another world tour. This one is in support of her latest album, Madame X. She’s still packing out shows alongside other stars half her age such as P!nk, Chris Stapleton and Muse.
It takes moxie to not only stay relevant but to set the trends in the music industry for four decades, and Madonna has it. Here’s how:
Motherhood is at the heart of a lot of moxie.
Madonna’s moxie was born in the crucible of grief. When she was just five years old, her mother passed away after a bout with cancer. The early loss of her mother left an indelible mark.
The loss of her mother left her with a deep need for love.
“I’ve turned my need on to the world and said, ‘OK, I don’t have a mother to love me, I’m going to make the world love me,'” she said in an interview with Rolling Stone.
And Madonna has known few boundaries in her quest. Her reputation and appeal have been built on revealing nearly everything – body and soul – to her fans in an insatiable need for attention.
The boundary-pushing is yet another result of Madonna’s early loss. Mothers guide their children on proper behavior, she once said, and she didn’t have a mother to do that, so she simply did what she wanted to do.
Just as losing her mother shaped her life, so has being a mother. She’s now mother to six children, two of whom are her biological offspring and four of whom she adopted from Malawi. Her children include Lourdes, Rocco, David, Mercy James, and twins Esterre and Stella.
Adopting children from Malawi has led Madonna into perhaps her most enduring commitment. While her relationships with the fathers of both her biological children eventually crumbled, she maintains strong ties to the land that gave her four more children. She established a charity called Raising Malawi which supports education, health, sports and other programs for the impoverished nation’s many orphans.
Losing her mother made Madonna both forlorn and fearless. She channeled that ferocious need to be loved into a ferocious need to give love. It takes moxie to be that vulnerable and powerful at the same time, and Madonna has it.
Moxie is greater than the sum of its parts.
Madonna is the best selling female recording artist of all time. She’s sold a total of 300 million records during her career, including the best selling remix by a female (You Can Dance), the best selling compilation by a solo artist (The Immaculate Collection), and the biggest selling album by a female artist in the 1980s (True Blue). Her Sticky and Sweet tour just a few years ago remains the highest-grossing concert tour by a female artist, raking in $408 billion. Her book Sex remains the best selling coffee table book of all time and sold more than 1.5 million copies in just three days after its release.
But Madonna’s strength isn’t her stunning vocals. She’s never been heralded as a great singer or musician. It isn’t even her talent as a dancer or actor or producer or author. It’s all of it together.
“Everything about me is average. Everything’s normal, in the books. It’s the things inside me that make me not average,” she says.
Madonna’s need for love, attention, and approval has propelled her to explore every channel available for self-expression, including music, movies, documentaries, and books. She is quite simply everywhere. On all of these channels, she’s successfully vying for your attention, perhaps by being deliberately provocative.
But there’s a charm to her provocation. She’s not screaming for attention; she’s offering something interesting and worthwhile in exchange for your eyes and ears and psyche. She has an uncanny ability to just know what will connect with an audience, and she offers it.
Communications is about giving and receiving, and Madonna understands that. She’s successful because she knows what’s coming next, and she manages to both get out ahead of it and push it further. That takes moxie, and Madonna has it.
When you think of Madonna, what image first springs to mind? The waifish young woman swathed in mismatched jewelry and belts? The bride writhing across the bed on stage? The innocent-looking maiden at the foot of a crucifix? The video vamp in a cone-shaped bra? The mother surrounded by her children?
What about her sound? Do you think of fluffy, infectious pop tunes? Disco? Dancehall?
What about her accent? Do you detect traces of her hometown of Detroit, or perhaps a bit of Brooklyn? Maybe some posh hints of London?
My answer is “Yes.”
While other pop icons may only change up their image every few years – and some never at all – Madonna’s style has evolved continuously and will continue to evolve. But the essence of Madonna remains the same. At her core, she’s the same provocateur speaking with power and vulnerability. She wants you to love her, but you’re going to love her on her terms.
Moxie understands what is changeable and what is not, and Madonna has it.
Which iteration of Madonna’s style is your favorite?