Is the BBC’s Ban on Madonna Ageism or Just a Programming Reality?

No women (and very few men) have sold as many singles (sec0nd only to the Beatles), albums (more than 300 million) and concert tickets (the Sticky and Sweet Tour grossed $408 million alone) as Madonna. She’s reinvented herself more times than anyone can count and has been an influence on thousands of performers and millions of women.

If you’ve been on this earth since the early 80s, you’ve never known a reality where Madonna isn’t on the radio. She is indisputably the biggest female star we will see in our lifetimes.

If we’re over the age of, say 25, that is.

Madonna is now 56 and while male performers (cf. Stones, AC/DC, Ozzy, etc.) still seem to have a few years before they reach their best-before dates–and let’s not discuss the sexist unfairness of that right now–it appears that Madonna has reached hers–at least in the eyes of some people.

The BBC Radio 1–tireless and consistent supporters of Madonna for several decades–has banned her for being too old.

Of course there hasn’t been an official edict, but we can let the facts speak for themselves. Madge’s latest single, “Living for Love,” has been available for airplay since December 20. In that time, Radio 1 has played the song once.  One time. And that was in the evening, out of earshot of most most of the station’s listeners.

I quote from the Daily Mail:

‘At the end of the day it’s all about relevance. It’s natural that as an artist gets older their audience goes elsewhere and Radio 1 has to reflect that.

‘The station has a duty to meet the needs of younger listeners. I don’t think the audience is losing sleep that it is not playing Madonna in the same way that it used to.’

That being said, the song is being played on Radio 2, which caters to an older (i.e. 35+) crowd. But it also means that despite Madge’s attempts to look and act young, it’s not working with younger music fans.

This sort of relegation to (lower?) radio formats isn’t unusual. Take the new U2 album. How many modern rock/alternative stations supported the album beyond the first single? Very few–and for the same reasons. U2 just relevant to younger alt-rock fans anymore.

Need another example?  Depeche Mode. It was once unthinkable for an alt-rock station to jump all over a DM single and album. Today? Not so much–if at all.

To everything there is a season–including even the best of the best.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.