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Released: 2009

“Material Girl” by Madonna can be seen as the sonic embodiment of 1980s consumer culture, marking a decisive shift away from the more political themes of earlier pop music. The song playfully subverts traditional gender dynamics by depicting a female protagonist who unabashedly prioritizes material wealth in her romantic relationships.

Let’s look at the verses first. Madonna sings about different boys expressing affection towards her. Their kisses, their hugs, their attempts at romance and slow dancing aren’t enough for her. The lines “If they don’t give me proper credit / I just walk away” implies that what she values most isn’t the emotional or physical connection but rather their ability to display materialistic affluence. Madonna’s lyrical indictment of men who do not “give me proper credit” brilliantly conflates romantic attention with monetary value, suggesting a clear linkage between financial solvency and male desirability.

Continuing with this theme, the chorus clearly communicates the protagonist’s self-identification as a “Material Girl”, living in a “Material World”. Madonna is using the term “material” in a dual sense here, both as someone focused on materials – that is, tangible economic wealth – and as a keen observer and participant in the “material world”, meaning the physical, real-world realities and structures that govern social interaction. She’s stating that the world she lives in is dominated by material wealth, consumer goods, and status symbols, and she’s playing by the rules of that world.

As we move towards the end of the song, the lyrics “Experience has made me rich / And now they’re after me”, turns the tables and positions Madonna as a coveted prize. These lines suggest that her romantic experiences, perhaps measured in the material gifts she’s received, have given her a wealth and status that now make her highly desirable.

On a final note, “Material Girl”‘s reference to the material world echoes a Buddhist concept which distinguishes between the material and the spiritual realms of existence. Madonna, though, seems to revel in her very ‘material’ earthliness, making the song an ironic play on this spiritual philosophy.

Overall, “Material Girl” masterfully uses coquettish humor and a catchy pop sound to provide a biting commentary on the economic dynamics of romantic relationships and the broader consumer culture of the 1980s.

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