Madonna said something stupid again—we just happen to be learning it about 25 years later.
In what’s described as “an incredibly personal, detailed letter handwritten by Madonna, and addressed to ‘J,’ in the early 1990s,” in its online lot detail, Madonna makes previously unseen remarks in which she compares herself to black people responding to Elvis Presley’s fame and disses her then-peers Whitney Houston and Sharon Stone.
The letter, which will go up for auction July 19, was provided by Darlene Lutz, “Madonna’s art consultant who was also a long-time personal friend.” It supposedly was intended for actor John Enos, whom Madonna briefly dated. The most side-eye emoji-worthy section reads:
Now I have made so many people angry that I’m being punished and basically made to be quiet and sit in a corner while other less interesting and exciting people are reaping the benefits of the roads I’ve paved. Maybe this is what black people felt like when Elvis Presley got huge. It’s so unequivocally frustrating to read that Whitney Houston has the music career I wish I had and Sharon Stone has the film career I’ll never have. Not because I want to be these women because I’d rather die but they’re so horribly mediocre and they’re always being held up as paragons of virtue and some sort of measuring stick to humiliate me. Everything I do is so original and unique and I put so much of myself into it like my book and my record and it’s only brought me heartache and pain and I don’t think I can play the game to be accepted.
I’m knee deep in bullshit without a shovel. I only have a blog with which to dig us out, and I don’t want to spend too much time proving the obvious. Bear with me.
This was clearly written after the 1992 releases of the album Erotica and the book Sex, which were received more cooly than anything Madonna had released at that time. Here is an AP photo from 1992 that singlehandedly captures the reception to Sex:
And yet, they both sold millions of copies—the worldwide totals for Erotica are around 6 million, and Sex moved 1.5 million units. So in addition to the heartache and pain, these projects brought Madonna attention and money, which are two things she seems to very much enjoy. They also gave her something to complain about in song, in very much this vein: Her 1994 album, Bedtime Stories, was a commercial comeback of sorts that featured the single “Human Nature,” in which Madonna moaned about being “punished” for telling us her fantasies.
Looking back on it, it’s flabbergasting: You release art, people like it or they don’t. At least they listened at all! No one owes you adoration! Were people particularly unkind to Madonna during that period? Sure, I guess, people are assholes especially when it comes to women expressing their sexuality, but her whining about this project’s commercial underperformance strikes me as self-entitled sobbing from an entertainer so used to widespread acclaim that anything else felt like punishment. That’s about the least relatable sentiment ever committed to pop music. The price you pay for pushing the envelope is sometimes people push it back. That’s life!
Is it clear that Madonna was jealous of the success of Whitney Houston, 10,000 times the singer that she was, and Sharon Stone, at least 5,000 times the actor she is? Duh. Was Madonna’s career at that time so unique and original? Hardly—you need only to go back two years before Erotica to encounter “Vogue,” a pastiche of old Hollywood and black/Latin underground gay culture to see Madonna’s considerable debt to other people’s ideas:
As a white artist who frequently worked with aesthetics associated with black music (like electronic-kissed post-disco and house music), is Madonna more like the black people Elvis ripped off or Elvis himself? I’m not really asking—we all know the answer.
I say this while enjoying many of the Madonna-led projects mentioned here. She had good tunes, she did provocative work. But god damn it has she said some stupid shit about it.
It’s an interesting letter, though (read it in full), because it sheds light on the relative nature of happiness. Madonna claimed to feel like she had “no career” and a “black black black” outlook on life—this was before her Golden Globe-winning turn in Evita, years before she released an album that many consider to be her very best, 1997's Ray of Light, over a decade before her perfect single “Hung Up” broke a Guinness Book record by hitting No. 1 in 41 countries. Everyone feels a little hopeless sometimes, even one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
The letter is expected to go for $3000-5000 in next week’s auction.