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Has Madonna Gone Too Far? : Pop: Music, book and film projects are expected to take her penchant for exhibitionism to new heights, but some wonder if she's pushing her luck.

October 09, 1992|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You think there are men in America who ain't seen your breasts?

Actress Rosie O'Donnell delivers that line in the hit film "A League of Their Own" to the character played by Madonna.

But a wise guy could direct the line to the real-life Madonna, who has built a career around sexual tease.

Compared to the latest Madonna blitz, however, the wise guy might also quip, "We ain't seen nothin' yet."

With a series of ambitious music, book and film projects, Madonna over the next few months will test the limits of overexposure--literally and figuratively.

The works are expected to take the 34-year-old singer-actress's penchant for sexual exhibitionism to new heights.

Here's what's coming:

* Record retailers--eager for "superstar" product to lure customers into the stores during the key holiday sales period--are excited about the prospects of "Erotica," the Maverick/Warner Bros. album due Oct. 20. The promotional video for the first single, titled "Erotica," is built around the theme of kinky sex, and it's so steamy in places that it is only being aired after midnight by MTV.

* Booksellers are looking for unprecedented sales for "Sex," an elaborately packaged coffee table work featuring arty photos by Steven Meisel of Madonna and friends in a variety of fleshy escapades. Despite the $49.95 price tag, Warner Books says that pre-orders for the Oct. 21 release have already reached nearly 750,000 copies--the entire planned run of the edition.

* The film "Body of Evidence" is an erotic courtroom thriller that some industry observers see as the vehicle that could finally make Madonna a legitimate movie star. And some observers are speculating that Madonna's presence in the film, due in January, could be enough to make "Body of Evidence" the test case as to whether an NC-17-rated film can actually be a mainstream success--if the producers decide not to cut it to R acceptability.

Madonna has thrived on this kind of mega-exposure in the past, but there's always the danger of backlash--a point that even such massively successful pop rivals as Michael Jackson and Prince have experienced in recent years.

Is Madonna pushing the boundaries of her art and her image with these new projects--or is she pushing her luck?

Some pop insiders believe the singer is flirting with a possible backlash.

"I think every man, woman and child has seen a lot of Madonna," said Arnie Bernstein, president of the 300-store Musicland-Sam Goody music chain. "Unless something's going to change dramatically on her anatomy, there are no surprises coming."

Rick Cummings, program director of Los Angeles radio station KPWR-FM, says there's a danger in Madonna's continuing to push her sexuality. "The question isn't whether she's overexposed, but whether she's seen as doing the same old stuff," he said.

"What we have to wonder about," said Lew Garrett, vice president of purchasing for the 326-store Camelot Music store chain, "is whether the kids still care about her and if adults are not turned off by her now."

Some critics are already saying that the "Erotica" video is just a rerun of last year's "Justify My Love."

But Bob Merlis, vice president of press and promotions at Warner Bros. Records, warns that Madonna has proved the naysayers wrong in the past. "There's no percentage whatsoever in counting Madonna out. That's a loser's game."

And whatever concerns Bernstein, Garrett and Cummings might have, they are betting against the star power, talent or savvy of Madonna. Both Bernstein and Garrett said they expect "Erotica" to be a huge seller this season, and Cummings reports that the "Erotica" single has been getting "a ton of (request) calls." The single entered the pop chart at a strong No. 13. Said Cummings, "There's still a fascination with her and everything she does."

If the pop world seems excited about the new record, much of the book field seems downright ecstatic about the new coffee-table package.

"I don't think anyone else could grab the consumers' attention like she does," said Maureen O'Brien, associate news editor for the trade magazine Publishers Weekly. "I can't think of any other celebrity who works the media like she does."

And Nanscy Neiman, vice president and publisher of Warner Books--and editor of "Sex"--could hardly contain her glee. Warners is so confident about Madonna's sales lure that the book is being shipped in browser-proof wrapping so that the only way to see the contents is to buy it. And Warners will not accept returns on the book.

Said Neiman of the star, "She's the only person I know whose publicity gets publicity."

What about the possible backlash?

Neiman isn't worried.

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