People Are Worried About Madonna's Latest Appearance

No one has had more phases, eras, or different looks than Madonna — each of them iconic. From the "Material Girl" of the early '80s to her devoted Catholic "Like a Prayer" look of the later 80s, to her later embrace of spiritualism in the 90s (via NME). Even now at 64, Madonna is still changing her image, popping up with pink hair at the Waverly Inn, or with a braided, androgynous look at the 2023 Grammys (via DailyMail, People). It's safe to say that where Madonna goes, controversy follows — be it for her looks, her lyrics, or her music videos (per Billboard). 

But in her speech accepting the 2016 Billboard Women in Music Award, Madonna herself addressed the idea that she's some sort of polarizing figure (via Billboard). "People say I'm controversial," she said, adding, "But I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around." 

Madonna is well aware that sexism in the music industry persists, and despite her incredible success as the best-selling female recording artist of all time (according to Guinness World Records), Madonna is especially not immune to it. "I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer," she said in that same speech. "Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse." And that sexism continues, even into the year 2023.

Grammy viewers express concern for Madonna

When Madonna appeared at this year's Grammys, it was to introduce Sam Smith and Kim Petras' performance of their song "Unholy" (via Cosmopolitan). Yet many were quick to chime in that her face appeared puffier and "unrecognizable," with much speculation that these facial changes were due to extensive plastic surgery (via New York Post).

Sources told the Post that this was actually the look Madonna was going for. "[She heard] that puffy cheeks hide the aging lines, and she's become obsessed with the notion. So the cheeks will be puffy even if people on the outside think they make her look either odd or chubby." Viewers at home quickly commented on Madonna's new look. One tweet said, "I wish Madonna would have loved herself enough to let herself age gracefully." And one more tweet read, "Me attempting to ignore the fact that Madonna has a whole new face."

There was a quick backlash, with many sticking up for Madonna's right to age however she wants. "No matter how you feel about @Madonna's appearance, the fact that people are publicly debating her looks and not her unrivaled career says all that needs to be said," DJ and singer Samantha Ronson wrote. One thing is clear — no matter what Madonna does or doesn't do, people will always talk about it.

Madonna's new look is sparking a conversation about beauty and aging

After the Grammys, Madonna responded to the criticism of her appearance on Instagram. She expressed her disappointment that people didn't focus on her speech and Kim Petras and Sam Smith's achievements. "I have never apologized for any of the creative choices I have made nor the way that I look or dress and I'm not going to start," she wrote. "I look forward to many more years of subversive behavior — pushing boundaries — standing up to the patriarchy — and most of all enjoying my life."

Writing in The New York Times, author Jennifer Weiner dubbed the singer's look a "brilliant provocation." She noted that Madonna's choices are a marked contrast to a long-established tradition of beauty interventions that are supposed to go unseen. The novelist also observed that the public reaction to Madonna's look "has gotten us talking about how good looks are subjective and how ageism is pervasive."

In her Grammys speech, Madonna vocalized her support for people who have the courage to stir things up. "If they call you shocking, scandalous problematic, provocative or dangerous, you are definitely onto something," she said, per Daily Mail.