Does Madonna own the queer television kiss? (No, she does not)
Madge is off her Pilates rocker yet again. The pop icon posted an Instagram story last night to her 16.1 million followers, juxtaposing the incendiary queer kiss during Lil Nas X’s BET Awards performance over a photo of her infamous early aughts kiss with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the MTV Video Music Awards. She smugly added the hashtag #DidItFirst, and said nothing else. In a swift post to a fleeting medium that will disappear in 24 hours, Madonna proves once again that her upsetting pop culture blunders keep her relevant these days more than her once inescapable music.
Much has been said about the revolutionary kiss on the BET Awards between Lil Nas X and his backup dancer during his performance of “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” And rightfully so. The kiss, and Lil Nas X’s unapologetically queer presence and creativity at large, has helped to completely transform how queer artists are seen in the mainstream. It shows a new generation of young queer people, especially young queer people of color, that they are beautiful and accepted.
So for Madonna to compare Lil Nas X's BET kiss to her own almost twenty-year-old version feels a bit like one of her high kicks to the face. Though her MTV kiss was shocking and thrilling for a 2003 generation of viewers — it’s important to note that at the time the best we (elder millennials) got in terms of queer representation in pop culture was cosplay moments like the Madonna, Britney, Christina kiss. Our pinnacle of representation was when straight women kissed to get a week’s worth of splashy publicity or to spice up a movie or TV show.
The same happened when Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blaire kissed in “Cruel Intentions” and then recreated their kiss on the MTV Movie Awards. It was hot and exciting, and the magazines and early internet were abuzz about it, but it was still straight women taking advantage of a queer landscape with little authentic representation. While we baby queers at the time stanned seeing women kiss, and feeling like the straights maybe thusly accepted us, it still wasn’t representation.
This is not the first time Madonna has accused a younger pop star of copying her. She infamously came for Lady Gaga, accusing the then centrifuge of the pop world of co-opting her 1989 banger turned queer anthem “Express Yourself” into Gaga’s 2011 queer rallying cry “Born This Way” (also, please raise your hand if realizing that “Born This Way” is a decade old made you feel minorly deceased). When Gaga refuted the claim, Madonna made a medley of the two songs to showcase their similarities and fluttered through a high energy performance of the mashup on her subsequent tour.
While the two kiss images do mimic one another when juxtaposed aesthetically—and would make a cool dorm poster or something—for Madonna to downplay the import of what Lil Nas X did on the BET awards by equating it with a horned up publicity grab from 2003 is downright homophobic. Madge has always been a queer icon, but this is a moment where she’s certainly not being an ally or even trying to understand what it means to be a queer ally. Lil Nas X in his brief period of fame has done more for queer youth than Madonna has in the last two decades (my gay dad is going to be mad at me for saying that, but it’s fine). So if Madonna wants to remain fresh, she should pay less attention to mimicking the looks of the youth, and more to the youth culture.
Everything has been done before. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if Madonna tries to suggest some of the hand choreography in the Lil Nas X performance was also copying her 1990 iconic video “Vogue”—which she’s been accused of culturally appropriating herself from the queer, black ball and club scene in 1980’s and 1990’s New York City. The queen herself isn’t safe from this same kind of accusation, so maybe she should cool out a bit. Madonna is an icon, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is stealing from her. We’d much rather see her get back in her iconic bag than take away from new, beloved stars’ contributions to the culture like Lil Nas X.