They’re Madonna’s Rebel Hearts Club Band, and they’re the strangest gang in town.Back in January, the singer started promoting her 13th studio album with Photoshopped images of celebrated historical figures (and, erm, Homer Simpson). As long as you were a renegade of the angels, you were in, no questions asked. Step inside,Bob Marley! Welcome aboard, Martin Luther King! Here’s our secret handshake, Nelson Mandela! Despite the controversy of her laughably aligning her own struggles with King and Mandela’s, it all seemed so simple.
But earlier this week, Madonna inducted a new member – one who jarred somewhat with the rest. “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing,” she posted on Instagram, quoting a famous soundbite from Margaret Thatcher. She posted a photo of the former British prime minister, too, along with the caption: “Thank you Margaret Thatcher! #unapolegetic #rebelheart.” Unapologetic sounds about right – you don’t inspire people to throw street parties to celebrate your death by showing remorse, after all – but a rebel heart?
It looks as if Madonna has since deleted the post, probably for the same reasons thatGeri Halliwell erased a tweet she sent last April praising Thatcher: expressing admiration for the most loathed conservative figure of the past 50 years is still a PR own-goal. You only have to look at indie-rock plodders the Rifles, who took to Twitterlast week to celebrate the “balls” of Ukip (before hastily claiming their account was hacked), to see how angry everyone gets when musicians seem to be flirting with the right wing.
Given that Madonna is so hungry for success, it shouldn’t seem so bizarre that she’s a fan of Maggie. And yet, somehow, it still jars. From Rock Against Racism and Red Wedge to the Pistols and Bob Dylan and beyond, there’s a pervading sense that pop music – be it punk, rock, folk or whatever – is the voice of the dispossessed. And so we cling on to a dusty rock’n’roll dream of sticking it to the man, and are all flabbergasted when anyone in the arts starts cheerleading political figures who represent the interests of the privileged minority rather than championing something more progressive.
But haven’t we been disappointed by pop’s strange fondness for conservatism so often that it should have ceased to shock? In 1976, Eric Clapton turned aconcert in Birmingham into a ghastly anti-immigration rally, telling fans that only a vote for Enoch Powell would help “get the foreigners out, get the wogs out, get the coons out”. Three years later, Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis – a man who was so seemingly punk and anti-establishment that he walked around Macclesfield in a donkey jacket with “HATE” painted on the back – voted for Thatcher’s Conservatives. Phil Collins vowed to leave the UK if Labour edged out the Tories in 1997; the Killers’ Brandon Flowers dined with Mitt Romney in 2011 shortly before the Republican representative ran for president; Morrissey admitted in 2013 he’d toyed with the idea of voting for Ukip.
It’s not always explicit support, either. Arctic Monkeys may not be cosying up to George Osborne, but their alleged tax avoidance suggests they know where their bread is buttered: you can pose as no-bullshit men of the people, but sheltering £1.1m in the Channel Islands is unlikely to be recommended in the socialist’s handbook. And Jay Z’s new streaming service, Tidal, has so far appeared to be little more than an elitist cabal of A-listers – including, to come full-circle, Madonna – grouping together not in the name of altruism or for a public cause, but to line their own pockets.
In that context, it’s hard to work up any shock for Madonna’s Thatcher love-in: it’s disappointing, but these days the only surprising thing about pop’s love for conservatism is that we’re surprised by it.