The pop industry has always been ageist and sexist. Madonna’s Grammys critics prove that

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Feb 9, 2023 at 12:30 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

The pop industry has always been an incredibly perilous place for women over the age of 40. If a woman in the spotlight embraces her natural wrinkles, curves and creases, she’s deemed lazy, unfit and unappreciative of the platform bestowed upon her. If a woman pursues cosmetic surgery in an attempt to appear more youthful, she’s considered vapid, grossly fake and far too concerned with her own looks.

It’s these strict societal expectations that saw Madonna be completely torn apart after her recent appearance during the 2023 Grammy awards. The entertainment icon had been asked to introduce a performance by non-binary musician Sam Smith and transgender singer Kim Petras at the event—the pair had earlier won an award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their song ‘Unholy’.

After images of Madonna at the event had been shared on social media, users began to bombard the singer with vitriol, pedalling horrendous comments online riddled with ageism and misogyny.

One user stated, “What happened to Madonna? She’s almost become unrecognisable.” Another netizen shared, “I’m worried for her mental health,” and one individual even went as far as to say: “Freakish…and definitely not ‘Like a Virgin’.”

Following this, the 64-year-old singer shared a statement on her social media: “Instead of focusing on what I said in my speech which was about giving thanks for the fearlessness of artists like Sam and Kim, many people chose to only talk about close-up photos of me taken with a long lens camera by a press photographer that would distort anyone’s face!!”

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The artist continued: “Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny that permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 and feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strong willed, hard-working and adventurous.”

Now, Madonna is no saint. She’s a package deal that includes her very own set of controversies. For example, some fans had an issue with her alleged ‘coming out’ TikTok back in October 2022—seemingly a number of netizens smelt a whiff of queerbaiting and felt as though the video was inauthentic.

Whether or not this was the case, historically Madonna has always been one for breaking protocol and has never hidden away from embracing her sexual prowess or power out of fear of being labelled uncouth or unladylike. In fact, if anything, she’s ran towards controversy and has helped a number of other female and femme musicians incorporate sex and gender fluidity into their identities.

The conversation here isn’t solely about the criticism surrounding Madonna’s current appearance, or even about the way in which she conducts herself in public. It’s about how older women within the music industry are treated—especially those who aren’t willing to compromise on their own originality.

Why does society shame older women in the pop industry?

First of all, it should be noted that all women within the industry are considered fair play in the public court of opinion. What they wear, how much they weigh, if they’ve used cosmetic surgery or not—it’s all up for debate as far as society is concerned.

But there’s a particular venom when it comes to the criticism that surrounds older women. As noted by Refinery29: “Why do we champion aged male rock stars while completely forgetting female musicians? It’s almost too easy to pretend that this kind of sexism doesn’t exist anymore, since so many female artists are outspoken about their sexuality and their feminist beliefs.”

And it’s true. I mean, Steven Tyler is still considered a sex symbol and he’s 74 years old. And don’t even get me started on America’s passion-fuelled obsession with 73-year-old Bruce Springsteen.

When male musicians produce music late into their 60s and 70s, we get behind them—both culturally and financially. But when women do the same, not only is their attempt at continuing their craft questioned and criticised, but their music is received flatly by both the consumer and the industry. There are a few names who continue to dominate regardless of age, Cher being one.

However, even the queen of pop herself has faced massive interest regarding her choice to have cosmetic surgery on her face. Now, in Cher’s case, commentary has been slightly different compared to Madonna.

Naturally, because when society decides your plastic surgery meets its very specific criteria, the change is welcomed and celebrated. It’s when an older woman’s face shifts away from what’s considered to be traditional beauty standards that the hate begins to topple over.

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