After a near-death health crisis in 2023, US-American pop star Madonna is celebrating her 40-year career in music with her Celebration Tour during the last portion of 2023 and into 2024. The tour schedule takes her to see her fans in Europe and North America, with an opening in London and an ending in Mexico City. There is no doubt that Madonna has influenced pop culture since 1983. She has become one of the most successful and influential pop stars in modern times. Her career has coincidentally spanned the height of the liberal era with an expansion in personal freedoms and capitalist excess. Through her artistry and personal life, Madonna has acted as a reflection of this period, highlighting its positive and negative aspects. She has challenged the status quo with social awareness while failing to challenge power structures in a meaningful way, much like liberalism itself. Here, I will explore the successes and failures of the liberal era through the metaphor of Madonna’s career.

First, we must define what liberalism means. I will explore three facets. Here, political liberalism refers to the Democrat Party and the figures Madonna has shown an affinity for, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Economic liberalism points to freedom in economics to pursue profit through capitalism, a useful model for any “material girl” seeking to make it rich. Social liberalism speaks to freedom of choice, such as in sexuality, and embodies the separate disunited struggles of feminism, gay rights, black liberation, and other movements for which, Madonna sympathizes. U.S. Americans confuse these different liberalisms as they consider the Democrat Party political liberalism left of conservative Republican Party ideology while Democrats simultaneously embrace the right-wing liberal free-market economic model. There is no functional labor party in the United States. Left-wing movements have struggled to get off the ground for a myriad of reasons. For this reason, social liberalism assumes the role of a left-leaning progressive force within the center-right Democrat Party of capitalists. All three liberalisms are part of this analysis.

The successes

The 1980s and 1990s were the height of Madonna’s commercial success. Consecutive number-one singles and multi-million-selling albums around the world established her as a force to be reckoned with. The Material Girl era saw Madonna pursue wealth and fame. Stockbrokers and CEOs of the time increased their wealth with the privatization and free trade market deregulation policies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, which suppressed wages. Madonna, too, sought the deregulation of religious and sexual taboos. She called for the freedom of women to oversee their bodies and expression without shame or permission. She often inverted traditional male roles into her interpretation of control and domination during the Justify My Love and Erotica period through costume and roleplay. Self-directed bondage became a tool of irony and entertainment.

While Madonna filled her bank accounts, she also had a heart. From the beginning of her career, she has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the gay community. This was vital for the creation of public awareness and fundraising during the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when social conservatives refused to acknowledge the issue1. For this, the LGBT community has supported Madonna throughout her difficulties.

By 1991, the iron curtain had fallen. The West had won, and liberal capitalism spilled into Eastern Europe, expanding the European Union and NATO while spreading liberal social values. Madonna’s voice and artistry matured into the 90s with motherhood and projects like Evita and Ray of Light. She was finally receiving the critical acclaim she had longed for since the start of her career. Both liberal capitalism and “the material girl” had won while finding widespread appeal and respect.

Throughout Madonna’s rise, she has been a symbol of the rust-belt work ethic of her native Michigan in the mid-west of the United States. She spoke of this strength instilled by her father at the 2023 January 15th performance of her Celebration Tour in Detroit while expressing gratitude to both him and the region for making her into the person she became2. This on-your-own, self-made success story lives at the heart of the individualist U.S. American economic ethos. Hard work and perseverance within capitalism have rewards for some if one agrees to different levels of exploitation in various capacities. Most never hit it big, but the freedom of opportunity makes it possible to transcend one’s original economic, and social class. Many admire Madonna for accomplishing this feat.

With Madonna’s success, she also gives back. Her charitable works pass through her Ray of Light Foundation3 and through Raising Malawi4. Her visit to Michigan in 2014 was to tour and support various projects in Detroit with billionaire Dan Gilbert5. This is usually how philanthropy works within the liberal capitalist system. Rich people work to create opportunities for others to move up without directly challenging the systems and structures creating social inequalities.

The failures

This is where we see where liberalism stalls out and where Madonna’s heart and generosity cannot address the social ills she identifies. Social inequality persists throughout liberal economics because its very nature produces stratified, unequal structures as outcomes. Those with wealth, privilege, and power retain wealth, privilege, and power. They are not about to give it up.

Madonna, like many U.S. Americans with liberal social values and empathy for others, believes they can find solutions for social ills within the liberal politics and economics of the Democratic Party of the United States. As one of the two dominant political parties in the United States, many feel they have no other option for creating a kinder type of capitalism that recognizes some inequality. Unfortunately, many social and resistance movements are hijacked by the Democrat Party, which then neutralizes resistance into established power structures. The Black Lives Matter movement watched Joe Biden increase police funding6. Environmentalists saw Joe Biden reject the New Green Deal and approve more oil permits than Donald Trump7. Union workers watched the Democrats reject a living wage while the most pro-union president, Joe Biden, forced railroad unions back to work by making their strike illegal with the swipe of an ink pen8. Human rights activists watched Biden continue Trump’s immigration policies like Title 42, in violation of international law9, and restart building the border wall after promising not to build “not one more foot”10. If only Nixon could go to China, it was only Barack Obama who could deny the existence of a massive domestic spying network, and then continue to defend it after it was ruled unconstitutional.

When conservatives are in power, Madonna, like many others finds it easier to oppose the establishment to drive change. Madonna took a big stand against imperialism and U.S. warmongering by publicly opposing the second war on Iraq started by George W. Bush with the music video American Life and album cover art inspired by Che Guevara. However, as soon as military action started, Madonna backed down and changed her video11. U.S. radio stations punished her with less airplay as her career continued to flourish in Europe. The second war on Iraq turned out to be a fraud of no weapons of mass destruction found at the cost of trillions of dollars, with tens of thousands of people killed and displaced.

Madonna then turned to supporting an anti-war Democratic Party candidate for President in 2004. She held a fundraiser in 2003 for former General Wesley Clark12 who opposed plans to reshape the Middle East one country at a time13. This resistance effort was within the framework of the Democratic Party. Later she supported Barack Obama. She famously created a meme inspired by the album cover for her MDNA record, replacing her face with his and the letters symbolizing her name with OBMA14 to promote his 2012 presidential campaign. Obama then dropped over 26,000 bombs on seven countries in 201615.

Much of Madonna’s 2004 Re-Invention featured anti-war themes. She promoted the idea of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. However, Madonna did not guide how to achieve these goals or advise on how to resist “the system." In 2017, Madonna spoke out against, Donald Trump in the White House during the Women's March16 in Washington. She called for a “revolution of love." She posted a photo of detained kids in cages attributed to Trump policies on Twitter, which was from the Obama era. She, like many others, did not realize the system of detention and deportation structures existed before Trump. She drew attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict again in 2019 by performing in Tel Aviv with the surprise appearance of national flags on dancers for the capitalist endeavor of Eurovision. Critics accused Madonna of participating in the pinkwashing17 of atrocities committed against Palestine. Like many of us, she is distraught over recent events in the Levant in 2023, but she does not name names.

In the lyrics of the Madame X album, Madonna beautifully and frequently sides with the disenfranchised, from women to people of color. She draws attention to gun control. During the album’s promotion, she frequently quoted James Baldwin, saying, “Artists are here to disturb the peace". Madonna points out issues, as is the usual case with social liberalism. We see it, we know it, but now what?

U.S. political liberalism has become elitist. When Hillary Clinton refers to certain voters as “deplorables” and Joe Biden tells a union worker, “I don’t work for you," it is difficult for the working class to believe in the sincerity of social liberalism to bring them justice while right-wing nationalists appeal to their emotional concerns. Madonna herself referred to the Indianapolis stage workers of her 2012 Super Bowl performances as “villagers”18 and has not always had nice things to say about where she grew up in Michigan, the heart of blue-collar manufacturing. Is political liberalism in solidarity with the common folks or is it looking down on them?

What comes next?

Both social liberalism and Madonna find concern for social inequality and imperialism, but they seek solutions within the political liberalism of the Democratic Party of the United States, which remains entrenched in right-wing liberal capitalism. Economic liberalism ensures power structures remain intact, such as the military-industrial complex and the preservation of stratified labor. The political liberalism of Democrats cannot reform economic liberalism for the concerns of social liberalism because the political liberals depend on the support of the capitalists by accepting dark money and refusing to overturn Citizens United, much like the Republican conservatives. They are both funded with corporate money. The Democratic Party neutralizes internal resistance from the likes of Bernie Sanders with rigged systems19 and backroom deals.

As the 2024 elections approach, U.S. Democrats appear to be heading to a campaign of fear, motivating voters against the boogeyman threats embodied by former President Donald Trump. We are to vote against something instead of for something. This time, something is different. Neither major U.S. candidate for president speaks to the massive global challenges coming with climate change, the depletion of resources, and the rise of pollutants, which will drive economic collapse, migrations, and conflict. Neither offers a survival pathway. It no longer matters which one wins. That is what we should be afraid of.

Madonna ends her 2023 Celebration Tour by arousing fans with a raised fist to chant “No Fear." This is the perfect time for Madonna and her fans to reject the politics of fear and support actual resistance by supporting third-party politics. This might include the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, the People's Party, or others. Building a movement takes time. We cannot challenge political and economic liberalism from the inside. We must challenge it from outside of the U.S. Democratic Party. This requires a united solidarity front of common interests of education, healthcare, housing, and an environmental future for all, not the separate struggles of Blacks, LGBTs, women, immigrants, and others competing for attention. Instead of touring ventures with billionaire Dan Gilbert, Madonna could visit worker cooperatives, where workers own where they work. She could name the culprits of mass military atrocities, from Biden to Israel. This is an actionable path of re-invention. Let’s celebrate Madonna and our continuing collective social evolution. We are all a little older now.


1 Madonna Was an AIDS Advocate Before the President Would Even Say the Word.
2 Madonna salutes Detroit roots and her dad in high-energy concert of hits at LCA.
3 Ray of Light Foundation.
4 RaisingMalawi.
5 Madonna's mystery visit to Detroit.
6 Black Lives Matter Releases Statement on Biden’s 2022 Budget.
7 Biden Administration Oil, Gas Drilling Approvals Outpace Trump’s.
8 By Forcing a Contract on Railworkers, Joe Biden Is Betraying Workers Everywhere.
9 Biden's Expansion of Title 42 Violates International Law: UN.
10 Biden administration presses forward with border wall plans in Texas, angering allies.
11 Madonna Edits Controversial 'American Life' Video.
12 Madonna Salutes Wes Clark.
13 Retired U.S. General Wesley Clark: Wars Were Planned, Seven Countries In Five Years.
14 Gay Celebs and Allies on Election Outcomes.
15 U.S. Bombed Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia in 2016.
16 Watch Madonna’s Powerful Speech at Women’s March on Washington.
17 Don’t artwash Israeli crimes: Cancel your performance at Eurovision.
18 Video: Madonna Calls Indy-Based Super Bowl Aides 'Villagers'.
19 Court Concedes DNC Had the Right to Rig Primaries Against Sanders.