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Tiffany Naiman

Tiffany Naiman received her Ph.D. from UCLA’s Department of Musicology in 2017 and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University. Her research investigates musical and cultural responses to illness, disability, and aging while contributing to our understanding of the social significance of popular music in regard to these areas.  Additionally, Tiffany is a DJ, electronic musician, the experimental film programmer for Outfest Los Angeles, and an award winning documentary film producer.

"'Unapologetic Bitch:' Madonna Persists and Resists in Popular Music"
“The vast majority of people who like Madonna are over 30 and frankly, we've moved on from Madonna,” stated George Ergatoudis, the 47-year old male head of music at BBC1.  He determined that Madonna’s initial single off 2015’s Rebel Heart would receive no airtime.  The decision was based solely on Madonna’s age and the age of her perceived audience. This ageist assumption takes for granted that Madonna’s contribution to popular music is ineluctably past—and thus could no longer appeal to a new, younger fan base.  It measures her persona against two seemingly incompatible standards: how a pop singer should look, sound, or behave, and how a 58-year-old white woman should conduct herself while aging appropriately. These contradictory demands raise important questions, addressed in this paper, about Western popular culture’s relationship to its aging icons, particularly women over 35, and how they manage to negotiate its norms more or less successfully. After all, despite the constant call from critics that she retire, Madonna persists, and this persisting itself may represent her greatest challenge to the genre of pop and its culture.

Madonna’s current career denies and problematizes the normative, ageist narrative of decline that frames middle-aged women as sexual non-starters. Through the continued performance of an empowered and commoditized sexuality into her middle age, she has destabilized and disrupted the kinds of expectations put on a female pop music performer. As an artist, Madonna puts an extraordinary amount of labor into being Madonna—a performer with the stamina, and voice to execute an athletically demanding show nightly. Yet critics often denigrate this labor in gendered terms as an aging woman’s desperate attempt to maintain youthfulness, when in fact it is indispensable to her art and livelihood. This talk takes a fresh look at Madonna to illustrate my analysis of the structures of power and value that regulate women’s labor and artistry in contemporary popular music.