Artist Aging Artfully: Could Madonna Take a Lesson from Tina Turner and Cher?


Last Thursday evening I was enveloped in an unexpected round of cocktailing with some friends and the subject of the Madonna Breast Flashing came up. Now before I go any further let me explain the make up of our circle, there were 3 women above 35 years old and one gay man also above 35 (for accuracy sake let’s say you could round us up to the nearest ten, if you know what I mean). At any rate the discussion ended up being heated not just with a passion and conviction about age, and aging (what is “appropriate” or not), but also the question of what is “age” or “stature appropriate” for an Artist. You see we were all artist at the table, and we are all aging.

To tell you the truth I personally had not thought about how aging affects your artistry until this discussion. My relationship to my own body and its aging have in ways been forced upon me because of my hip issue, but then again, since retiring I have only fleeting desires to perform again. So for me the point is mostly moot.  What bothers me is the idea that if I wanted to, with my hip I “can’t” or rather I am unwilling to do what is required, make the sacrifices (both time wise and physically) to make that happen. (Now watch in 3 months I be announcing a “comeback”) So for me, where I do think twice about dressing appropriately for my age (Forever 21 is really just the name of the store and not a reality) I have never encountered the “age issue” as a performer. My long time friend (and birthday twin) Danni Gee who was sitting at the table (actually the person who dragged me, albeit quite willingly, into the Cocktail Klatch) does. After a long, illustrious career as a dancer (Philadanco, Alvin Ailey) she now has a rock band named  Suga Bush of which she is the lead singer. When the conversation went down the Avenue of “Madonna is too old and fierce to feel like she has to flash a boob to stay relevant” (the women’s perspective in the conversation) turned on to, “As a artist, how do you stay true to what you do and whom you are “Rocker” and age gracefully?” Row, Gee confessed that at times when onstage she wonders “Should I be doing this…this way…at my age?” as she whips her hair back and forth like Willow Smith

(Black girl hair note: It’s all Hers! Bloup!)(Gee Whippin’ it!)


The women at the table thought that the Madonna boob flash was her trying to be risqué, but like her young self, we thought that it looked desperate, “She is frickin’ Madonna! She’s really above that sort of thing, let Rihanna go there,” we said. We felt that perhaps she had succumb to the pressure that is inflicted upon women by society via the media, which includes the hyper-sexualization of the female body especially the young (very young) female body, and the precept that

you have to be “f#$kable” to be “attractive” –

or even on some level acknowledged period. This brought us to the comparison of Madonna to older (and still fierce) rock Diva’s Cher and of course the Honorable and always Edgy Tina Turner, neither of whom have had to flash their lady parts to hold their place in the industry or history. I know you are thinking that Cher does show her ass, and yes she did when wore the same sheer cat suit from her “Turn back Time” video (oh the irony) at an awards show a few years back but that doesn’t really count, that’s akin to you- at 35 -pulling out your senior prom dress to see if it still fits, and then wearing it to your reunion- honey if you could do it, you know you would.

(First time ’round)

Where Cher and Tina are both stateswomen in rock they, as people occupy opposite ends of the spectrum. Cher is a true grit rock chick, edgy, untamable, foul mouthed broad, who will go toe to toe with journalist, interviewer, or politician on any given day at any time. She strikes me as a “Just let me take my earring off” gal (not literally). She tells it like it is, she is quick with an authentic “f-off” With her you get the sincere feeling that she’s like that on stage, off and in her bathrobe. She has always been that way on stage and off. We love her for it, that’s her thing…

In the other hand in the early days Tina was known for her on stage persona, that wild, tigress growling out songs, and shaking what her mama gave her ripping it. But she off stage was more Anna May Bullock ducking Ike’s temper,  a sweet southern gal. When she made her comeback in the eighties that wild energy was sublimated into sexy elegance, an almost “You can look, and I know you want it, but you can’t touch it”.  She will still Roll it down a River and shake it in 6-inch heels and a micro mini sequin dress, but there are no “antics”, nothing that makes you feel like she is “trying”. Both she and Cher have  (as far as the fan’s eyes can see) had smooth transitions into what could be considered their third act. No embarrassing imbroglios to spin years later. I think most scandalous thing that has happened is that once upon a time Cher had a daughter and now she has a son.


From the outside looking in it appears that Tina and Cher seem to accept and embrace where they are in their lives. They do not seem to be chasing after: their youth, the glory of yester year, the searing, white hot spotlight, or what they were at their apex. Instead they seem to understand and respect the careers they had, and embrace the fact that they are aging and are shaping their careers as they move forward, tailoring to fit their maturity. Okay some of you will go directly to the fact that they have both had “work” done, as evidence that they are not quite “embracing” getting older, but I am not really talking about looks, but behavior, and they are in “show” business, women half their age have had work done. Let’s stay on track. What I am saying it that they aren’t trying to keep up with the “come ups” Because it seems that they realize that..

1) They can’t. The game moves too fast and what makes you viable in this generation, they have aged out of. Artistically they might be able to dust them but…


2) Because to try to keep up with the “come ups” would require them to look back because they are so far ahead of the newbies.


3) Most importantly- THEY DON’T HAVE TO. They are  Made Women.


I think that both Tina and Cher have come to comprehend the true concept of artistic sustainability. When you have had a certain type of career their will always be a waning, and then if you continue a shift. Generally you can still work, it will just be in a  different way, a lateral shift less up or down – and it stands to reason, their fan base (like them) is maturing, that is not to say that they can’t garner new, younger fans but the people who where there in their becoming are the ones that sustain them. There also comes a time when the rigors of touring become too great a price to pay for the roar of the crowd, when travel takes it’s toll, and when you can’t shake off a night of partying so easily, and because quite frankly you need sleep. It’s not that they roll up and die, they just shift a little to make it work for them and for their fans. So they adjust, do limited touring or just do “engagements” like Tina, or get a permanent home like Cher had for a while a Caesar’s in Vegas.  It might mean scaling back, and that’s okay. a litle absence make our hearts grow fonder….

That having been stated, I think that this is a very “Female” discussion. There are male rock stars who are over 50-60 years old who are still doing, the same show that made them legends, Mick Jagger is a prime example. But the difference is the foundation of their popularity, the music is first, not whether he is “F#@kable-( that plays a part)  the Rolling Stones is about the Music first. Though he is a sex symbol he has not been sexualized the way the women have been, though some women may still want to hit that, his sustainability is not reliant on his virility. His stage presence, and his appearance are a huge part his success and appeal, and he still looks great but he is not charged with looking good or continuing to wear skimpy outfit or dancing in heels while whipping his hair back an forth  (although he does has the moves because he is Jagger!) And of course in this society men get sexier with age, they get younger fans and girlfriends, while women in most instances are set out to pasture while their younger replacements gyrate on their graves.


This triad of female rockers have all flipped the aging script in their own ways, all have gotten better with time, and they like their male counterparts have even dated younger men, and all have gotten more appealing albeit in a different ways. For Cher and Tina it’s more than just “looking good for their age” but more their certainty of self, their groundedness and self -empowerment that makes them so attractive and respected today (no matter if you are a “fan” or not you have to tip your hat) and Madonna, the baby of the bunch has exhibited the same attributes although when she does things like purposely flashing her breast I get the sense that perhaps she does not yet own it fully. Her ego and her competitive nature make her forget who she is, and has her thinking that she has to annihilate Lady Gaga to exist, (although I thought her Express Yourself/Born This Way Mix was on point and deserved, some people need to be reminded). Tina and Cher own who they are, and what they have become, and you feel like they are all right with where they are, and what that means in their careers as well as their lives.

One gets the feeling that Madonna still feels unsettled, if not a bit resistant to this new older state of grace. I found it telling that her first tour back at the age of 53 she decides to put on a cheerleader costume and go back to high school. Her Daughter Lourdes is in High School…That was when I was like “ Houston we have a problem” Then she pulled the boob thing, not so very different from MIA giving the finger at the Super Bowl like a temperamental child (remember Madonna didn’t think that was cool). We all get that acting out is who Madonna is, she has always liked to F*@k with people’s perceptions and beliefs, hell she just like to F&@K with people. But when you are 53 and it’s 30 years later, are you still pulling the same types of shenanigans …shouldn’t they evolve and be reflective of your growth and maturity as a woman, mother and artist? Don’t your choices change right along with you? Hell what with all the Kabala, yoga, meditation and what not, you half expected her have totally evolved past the need for the orchestrated hijinks of her youth all together, and be focused solely on the music, the “art” not just about the art of creating a buzz, which she actually created- before there really was vehicle to support it (internet/gossip rags/ Entertainment talk shows) But then that is what Madonna does best, keep us guessing and shocking us, but perhaps not always in a “good” way. This round left me a bit disappointed…

I have no answer as to what the “proper” way for an artist to age is, I know that is extremely personal to the artist, and it should be totally their choice and everyone is not going to agree. I suppose that just like the art itself, there are things that you gravitate towards and things that you repudiate, for some there is elegance for others there is a Courtney Love sort of messiness (which I kinda dig because she is so consistent actually quite good at it. It’s a fierce couture hot mess) but the thing that we (the women at the table) were troubled most by was how much of a role society’s edicts (beauty, youth, and viability) seem to play when artistic women of a certain age, chart their third acts.


*Oh the gay man at the table thought that it was fabulous that she flashed her boob, because she is 53 and nobody wants to see it…Go Figure. We gave a collective sign SMH….