If you still have yet to see the mash-up of Madonna’s “Don’t Tell Me” and Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” on MTV Unplugged, you’re in for three and a half minutes of loaded pop culture history. The usual implications of Madonna glomming onto the latest–most youthful–thing have been unsurprisingly bandied. What has yet to be mentioned, however, is the analogous nature of this performance to that time in 2003 when Madonna performed with Britney Spears at the VMAs (and, yeah, I guess Christina Aguilera was there too). Although the similarity between Madonna prancing onstage with the then princess of pop and the now princess of pop is indisputable, the motives for each performance seem different.
Back in 2003, Madonna had released American Life, an album that hit number one, but was still universally panned. By the time the MTV Video Music Awards rolled around in late August, the collective pop culture consciousness had forgotten all about American Life ever existing. Thus, it was an indispensable opportunity for Madonna to remind everyone that there was still plenty of material to cull from on the album, namely “Hollywood.”
By throwing the public a bone with the “Like A Virgin” intro (which Madonna couldn’t be bothered to sing herself, because, let’s face it, she’s long been over that song), she greased the wheels to prepare them for what she really wanted to stand out, her latest single. Adding Missy Elliott into the mix also killed two birds with one stone by further promoting her then current ad campaign for GAP.
Whereas the Madonna/Britney collaboration came across as slightly strategic on Madonna’s part, her duet with Miley feels as though it has no agenda. With nothing (that we know of) on the horizon to promote music-wise, Madonna appears to have grown fond of revisiting older songs from her canon (as shown during Macklemore’s Grammy performance during which she sang “Open Your Heart”) in order to simply remind everyone that she’s still around–and still the queen. The natural fit of “Don’t Tell Me” with the motif of Miley Cyrus’ shit-kicking persona was enough for Madonna to agree to a melding of the hit with Miley’s “We Can’t Stop.”
This performance marks a new approach in Madonna’s career method: One in which she less obviously promotes herself by laying the groundwork for future self-promotion. Oh, to have her business acumen.