Well Madonna has actually been successfully sued for plagiarism multiple times in her career (Erotica, Hollywood, Sky Fits Heaven, Frozen, etc.); she’s even had songs and albums banned in some countries due to plagiarism. This is why I can’t help but laugh a little when Madonna fans are first in line to accuse other people of plagiarism. Stones in glass houses!
My problem with Madonna isn’t that she’s paid homages it’s the fact that she’s paid so many. She’s relied heavily on recycling ideas and paying homages for the majority of her career. It’s what the media and fans continue to refer to as “reinvention” and her so-called “constant revolving image”. What amazes me is she’s called a genius for simply recreating ideas, costumes, art direction, hair and make-up, etc. from decades before. How is it genius? Fans often argue that critics just don’t understand her “art” but it goes beyond that. It's shocking how quick Madonna fans are to criticise another artist for supposedly “stealing” something Madonna did even though she was hardly original in the first place. This is why Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis despised Madonna with a passion. Madonna has taken her love for other people and their careers way too far.
These are just a few of the people Madonna paid “homage” to in her career, many of them within the first ten years (and often multiple times):
Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell, Gina Lollobrigida, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Brigitte Bardot, Katherine Hepburn, Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Ann-Margret, Sophia Loren, Jean Seberg, Sue Lyon, Bettie Page, Debbie Harry, Liza Minnelli, Louise Brooks, Marlon Brando, Thelma Todd, Andy Warhol, Grace Kelly, Carole Lombard, Donna Summer, Veronica Lake, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, James Dean, Shirley MacLaine, Dale Bozzio, Nastassja Kinski, Tina Turner, Gwen Wong, Horst P. Horst, Dita Parloner, Wendy O Williams, Ernest Bachrach, Ken Russell, Fritz Lang, Philip Kaufman, etc.
How many people does one person want to pay homage to?
One of the biggest influences on Madonna has undoubtedly been Marilyn Monroe. Madonna has paid so many homages to Marilyn over the years that the line between admiration and obsession has become blurred. She’s devoured so many of Marilyn’s iconic looks and mannerisms and simply recreated them at various points in her career. Everybody’s aware of the “Material Girl” music video and the lame Oscar performance in 1991 but it’s much, much more than that. She’s become a walking, talking Marilyn Monroe tribute act, dressing up as her in everything from music videos to fashion shoots to single covers to live performances to TV performances to magazine spreads and pictures. How is this clever or genius? To do it once or twice is OK, to do it literally dozens upon dozens of times is simply lazy and uninspired. Even Madonna’s hair and outfit in the “Open Your Heart” video was blatantly lifted from Marilyn in the 1960 film “Let’s Make Love”. The “Give It 2 Me” video (the rope, the outfit) was also heavily influenced by Marilyn . It's funny how it's always Madonna fans who criticise other people who pay, or have paid, the odd tribute to Marilyn at some point in their careers. Hmmm....
The whole “Vogue” period is simply recycled ideas from other people:
- The song itself is actually a blatant rip-off of the 1989 song “Deep in Vogue” by Malcolm McLaren.
- The music video is a homage (yes another) to photographer Horst P. Horst and actresses Carole Lombard and Katherine Hepburn. Madonna literally copied imagery exactly.
- The “iconic” dress that Madonna wore in the music video is in fact the exact same dress Nastassja Kinski wore in a 1983 fashion shoot.
- The Vogue single cover artwork is in fact simply a recreation of a photo of Marilyn Monroe in her underwear from the 1950s.
A whole period in Madonna’s career that’s deemed iconic is nothing more than a cut-paste job from other people’s ideas. Genius? Hardly.
The famous cone bra Madonna wore on her Blond Ambition Tour was simply a recreation of a cone bra Bettie Page wore in the 1950s. Most of the content in Madonna’s 1992 Sex book (as well as several performance costumes/ideas) was also lifted from Irving Klaw’s work with Bettie Page in the 1950s. Madonna literally copied art direction, scenery, poses and looks from Bettie Page pictures in exact detail in the Sex book. It amazes me how many call the Sex book groundreaking and important for women. It was groundreaking in the 1950s when Bettie Page did it first; she was the first female bondage model.
Marlene Dietrich was one of the first women who really broke ground at the height of her fame in the entertainment industry. She dressed up in a man’s suit in the 1930 film “Morocco”, something Madonna has done several times in her career and subsequently been hailed a genius for it. Then there's the famous picture of Marlene with the cigarette between her lips that Madonna copied, as well as the outfit she wore during the "Express Yourself" performance on The Girlie Show Tour. People like Marlene and Bette Davis were the first true trailblazers in Hollywood, they pushed boundaries and took huge risks for women at the time and were heavily criticised as a consequence. This wasn’t the modern day when such things were seen as more acceptable, this was back when a woman’s career in Hollywood could have been blacklisted or even ended for the smallest and simplest of reasons. The expectations of women were simply a lot different back then. Madonna has been called groundreaking for simply recreating what Marlene, Bette and many other old time Hollywood stars did decades ago. It’s not groundbreaking in my eyes. It’s even worse when one realises how many people give Madonna all the credit and either ignore or disregard people like Marlene and Bette and their influence on pop culture. I wouldn’t disregard them; Madonna certainly saw them as important enough to rehash their work.
She’s also clever in that she often lifts ideas from lesser-known people so it will go under the radar, the 2007 "Solo" album cover by Sergio Lagos being a good example. Her famous 1984 performance at the MTV Video Music Awards was hardly original, especially since both Debbie Harry and Donna Summer performed on stage in the 1970s dressed as virgin brides in wedding dresses. Even the "Like a Virgin" album cover is lifted from Donna Summer. Dale Bozzio was also a big influence behind Madonna's supposedly iconic look in the early to mid-1980s. The “Confessions” era was a cooking pot of other people’s ideas - Tina Turner, Ken Russell's "Tommy" and "Mahler", Ann Margret, Goldfrapp (Alison Goldfrapp has talked openly about her dislike for Madonna), Donna Summer, The Love Kylie lingerie advert campaign was the inspiration behind the photograph of Madonna sitting in front of the mirror with the two reflections. I remember Madonna fans criticising Lady Gaga after she supposedly ripped off the “True Blue” album cover. Well Madonna got that from Greta Garbo. Her fans also ripped Gaga a new one after she got a bob haircut (apparently Madonna invented those) that was supposedly like the one Madonna sported in the early 1990s. Well Madonna's slick, black bob hair cut (like the one on the "Keep It Together" single cover) was inspired heavily by Louise Brooks, as were poses , clothes and art direction in several photo shoots taken during the time. The "Bedtime Stories" era was simply recycled Jean Harlow imagery. Where's the originality? Why does everything always have to be a homage? Even Bjork spoke out about how uncomfortable she was with Madonna singing like her on the song "Bedtime Story" and dressing up like her in the music video. Just because Bjork wrote the track with Nelle Hooper and Marius De Vries doesn't mean that Madonna had to literally "Bjork herself up".
There are many websites out there that focus on Madonna and her on-going fondness for homage and blatant plagiarism. Many of the things included on the websites aren't what I would necessarily call plagiarism, but there are a lot of things that are good examples of how blatantly unoriginal Madonna has been in her career. A lot of Madonna fans are just so obnoxious and blinded that they will never admit it. These are the same fans who will resort to listing superficial things like how many records she's sold, how much money her tours have grossed , how many number one singles she's had on the Hot 100, etc. as though it proves some kind of point or validates her and whatever little talent she has. They do this because it's all they really have. She’s one of the most overrated, overexposed frauds in the music industry, has been since day one. It amazes me how many sheep insist she was the first to do everything. She wasn’t. She can't sing, she can't write or produce music without help from gifted songwriters and producers, she can't act nor has she ever been particularly beautiful. She's damn lucky to have had the career she's had.
The bottom line:
When Madonna pays yet another homage it's "inspiration".
When another artist does the same thing Madonna fans call it "copying" or "plagiarism".