The Material Girl’s huge personality and cultural impact certainly deserve a huge biography—but how huge is too huge?
Anyone the least bit familiar with pop culture over the past three decades knows the broad strokes of Madonna Ciccone’s story. Relocated to the Big Apple from suburban Michigan, she made her bones in the dance clubs of New York, signed a tiny deal with Sire Records, became a pop music hitmaking machine and sexual icon, starred in a couple of good films and more really bad ones, matured impressively and settled down with a cult U.K. film director. While there have been a handful of full-length biographies, none are as lengthy as this problematic tome. The primary flaw is lack of access. While O’Brien (She Bop II: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul, 2004, etc.) interviewed dozens of associates, she wasn’t able to get an audience with Madonna herself. Sometimes being shut out by the subject leads to a sharper critical examination, but that’s not the case here. O’Brien, an unabashed admirer of Madonna and everything she stands for, offers little in the way of incisive analysis. Hardcore acolytes will appreciate the author’s attention to detail but will be disappointed by the dearth of fresh material from the star. Casual fans or readers looking for some musical insight, however, may be turned off by O’Brien’s focus on minutia and her rah-rah attitude. Simultaneously too much and not enough, the book may have trouble finding a wide audience or lasting long on bookstore shelves.
Enthusiastic and well-researched, but this mammoth dissertation comes off as an overblown “Madonna for Dummies.”