Madonna And The Business Of Controversy: Are All Those Headlines Paying Off?

Madonna
Madonna made headlines left and right this summer, and it seems to be paying off. Reuters

Like clockwork, everyone is talking about Madonna again. Have they ever stopped?

At a concert in Moscow on Tuesday, the 53-year-old pop star inserted herself into a national controversy by expressing support for the all-female Russian punk band Pussy Riot. The band's three members are on trial for inciting religious hatred after they gave a performance in Moscow's main cathedral to protest Vladimir Putin's March election win.

With the band's name stenciled on her back, Madonna called for the girls' freedom. "I think that these three girls -- Masha, Katya, Nadya -- I think that they have done something courageous," the singer said. "They have paid a price for this act. I pray for their freedom."

The incident comes amid a summer swirling with controversy for the Material Girl, who has been making headlines left and right throughout the European leg of her "MDNA" tour. First she drew the ire of France's National Front party after incorporating an image of a Nazi swastika over the face of party leader Marine Le Pen during a Paris concert.

The singer also flashed her nipple in Istanbul, mooned the crowd in Rome and waved fake guns on stage in Scotland one day after the Colorado Batman massacre.

Back in Paris, less than two weeks after the swastika incident, she was booed and called a "salope" -- French for slut -- by fans who were upset that she cut one of her concerts short.

And earlier this week, after the singer called on Russian authorities to release the Pussy Riot rockers, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg issued a joint statement warning Americans who are planning to attend her concerts in those two cities to "remain vigilant regarding their personal security."

Clearly, the Material Girl hasn't lost her flair for controversy, and this year she seems determined to pack a lifetime of it into one summer. But are all those headlines paying off for the notably shrewd pop star? That depends on how you measure "paying off." Certainly she's attracted equal parts admiration and scorn, including some harsh words from Elton John, who on Tuesday said the singer looked like a "fairground stripper" as he declared that her career is "over."

But in terms of monetary payoff, the results of this year's Madonna mayhem are decidedly mixed. The album "MDNA" debuted at number one when it was released in April, but sales plummeted a staggering 84 percent the following week, marking the fastest drop in Billboard history. Within a little over two months, the album had disappeared from the charts completely.   

But this being the 21st century, album sales can't be expected to carry much weight. The real money for music stars these days is in live performance, and in that arena, Madonna's controversial antics appear to have boosted ticket sales

Last week, Billboard reported that Madonna's "MDNA" tour has so far grossed $79.6 million from 22 reported shows. The tour ranks number one on the "Hot Tours" chart and is on track to become the best-selling tour of the year - despite the fact that Sir Elton called it a "disaster.

Still, not everyone believes Madonna can keep up the momentum. Dovid Efune, editor of the Jewish newspaper Algemeiner, told the Huffington Post, that the singer may still pay a harsh price for her use of Nazi imagery -- particularly when her tour makes its way stateside at the end of this month.

"The symbolism of the swastika represents inhuman horror beyond belief," Efune said. "Trivializing its meaning by incorporating the icon of evil into a publicity stunt for pop culture entertainment ... is offensive to the memory of millions of victims of Nazi terror."

Madonna's first North American tour is in Philadelphia on Aug. 28. If the locals fail to extend their famous brotherly love, Madge may have a problem.  

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