The Met Ball, while growing increasingly tired in the themes it chooses–this year’s being not so much a theme as a decision to honor Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons–never disappoints when it comes to showcasing the boldest fashion choices of the moment. And while, yes, there were the usual Kardashian/Jenner bodies to gawk at and Katy Perry’s ever-more revealing of an imminent mental breakdown aesthetic in her red mourning outfit, there was also none other than Madonna.
For the past few years at the Met Ball, she has been a staple, giving us looks as wide-ranging as a naughty Easter bunny to a punk goth goddess. This year, while seemingly more demure than usual (especially in comparison to the outfit that drew the usual ageist flak against her), Madonna’s camouflage Moschino dress (she’s been quite faithful to Moschino in recent years) speaks volumes with its presumed classicism.
Extracting the primary element of her American Life era–military fatigues–Madonna reveals her willingness to enter combat against an era increasingly plagued by doublespeak, fear-mongering and intolerance. At the time of American Life‘s release in April of 2003, George W. Bush had freshly sanctioned a war in Iraq in a clearly personal vendetta that he tried to make about being a roundabout response to 9/11. Madonna, seeking answers about her own original conception of the American dream, which she herself managed to achieve during one of the last decades when it was truly possible, exudes a temperament of fear and anxiety on the record, tempered with the confidence in knowing that “Love will change us forever” and that “love will take us away from here.” For you see, as sexually charged of a reputation as Madonna has, her bottom line message has always been one of love.
Produced my Music collaborator Mirwais Ahmadzaï, maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that M dropped him after the album–though charting at number one–was among her lowest selling. And yet, in spite of its poor critical reception at the time of its release (“American Life” was named the ninth worst song of all-time by Blender–but seriously, fuck that rag), the passage of time has only vindicated the motifs of the record. As Madonna said in an interview for Q Magazine in promotion of it, “America has changed over the years and… a lot of our values seem to be materially oriented and so superficial. And we all seem to be obsessed with fame just for the sake of fame, no matter what—sell your soul to the devil if that’s what it takes.” And that is, undoubtedly, exactly what it takes. Moreover, you know it’s bad when an artist that saw her highest amount of mania in the 80s–the ultimate supposed decade of excess and superficiality–is telling you that, actually, things are far more vapid now.
Fittingly, the original “American Life” video (before Madonna replaced it in favor of a flag backdrop one in a rare instance of pulling back out of respect) concludes with a cartoonish fashion show of models in their finest military chic couture parading down the runway–with two Middle Eastern children thrown in for good measure–as Madonna steamrolls in on a camo-print Mini Cooper (she was very into Mini Coopers) acting as her tank. The onlookers continue to watch with delight–Madonna’s statement on how much the masses get off on chaos–while she pulls the tab off of a grenade and unleashes it at Bush and Hussein lookalikes sitting front and center at the foot of the runway.
Fourteen years have gone by since American Life was met with public contempt. But, as usual, Madonna was ahead of the curve, her already long ago expressed political outrage being all too in vogue at the moment. Which is why it was a very calculated choice for her to don the camo dress at the Met Ball this year. Replace Bush with Trump and Hussein with Putin and very little has changed. The aims of the political players are still the same: suppress the cud-chewing hordes they rule and wreak havoc based on their own personal issues, largely stemming from their childhood.