There is a scene in Madonna's 1991 Blond Ambition tour documentary In Bed With Madonna where she is chatting quite candidly to her friend Sandra Bernhand about the aftermath of the death of her mother, who passed away when she was 5 years old. She describes her dreams as a child, which went on for years after her mother's death, in which people would jump on her and attempt to strangle her to death. "I was constantly screaming for my father and no sound would come out. I would be sweaty, afraid and I would have to go sleep with my Dad."

"How was that, sleeping with your father?" Sandra asks.

"It was fine." she replies. "I went straight back to sleep, just after he fucked me."

They both erupt into cackles of laughter, with Madonna quickly clarifying that she is joking. It's a fucked-up joke but the way Madonna tells it is outrageously funny. The exchange gives the impression that she doesn't give two fucks about breaking taboos, particularly at this point in her career where she seemed completely untouchable. The 'Imperial Stage', as Popjustice named it, when an artist is at the peak of their gladiatorial power: everything they do is amazing.

"2014 was a victory lap for the new boring."

The joie de vivre in which she responds to a police warning in Toronto is another revelling scene. She is told that she'll be arrested by the Canadian authorities if she performs the lengthy masturbation scene during 'Like A Virgin' (which prompted complaints the previous night). She quickly recognises that if they shut down the show for 'poor taste', the press coverage will be explosive, which is not necessarily a bad thing but there is also something much more valuable at stake; her artistic freedom. As the debacle unfolds, she point-black refuses to bow to the pressure. "I am an artist and this is how I choose to express myself. I am not changing the show" she declares, before defiantly marching to the stage, hand-in-hand with her backing singers, singing the words to 'Holiday' as they pass the police, who seem resigned to the fact that they've failed in their bullying tactics. She does the masturbation scene in full. In fact, she probably does it with extra vigour just to piss them off.

For me, as a fan of pop music, it is the provocative side of pop that has always been the most compelling. Madonna is a great example of this as she is a provocateur, albeit but one with a cause, as the documentary demonstrates (along with her wicked sense of humour). On her records and in her live performances, books, even her choice of film work, she has unapologetically chosen to de-construct ideas of female sexuality with spectacular success and is still doing so to this day.

With this sense of fun and outrage of the documentary fresh in my mind, I looked to last year's crop of pop superstars for a figure who can both provoke and entertain like her. But, as you can probably guess from my nostalgic tone, I don't think it was a great year for big personalities in the pop market. 2014 was a victory lap for the new boring.


Taylor Swift

Let's take the biggest pop star of last year as an example: Taylor Swift. There was something about the way every music site (or so it seemed) rallied around 1989 which made me feel uneasy. Not that I don't like the record, in fact, I think it probably was the best pop album released in 2014, but something about that statement makes me feel sad. Isn't this all a little boring for the pop world?

"The other big pop stars of last year, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, did they say, or do, or release, anything which can remotely be described as interesting? No, not at all."

When I think of classic pop moments, I think of Elvis in his tight white jumpsuit, showing off his male camel toe to the whole world, Bowie's androgynous beauty on TOTPs freaking out the entire country, Sinead O'Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope live on SNL, or Britney Spears' giving Barely Legal magazine a run for its money in the 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' video. They are extroverts, prodding for a reaction and they provide genuine moments of entertainment. All these pop superstars have used a pop vehicle to make bold statements, whether that be on their records, live performances, music videos, fashion choices etc. Even if they are being provocative just for the sake of it - that's good too. The closest Taylor Swift got to being provocative was writing a 'diss' track ('Bad Blood') which, quite frankly, borders on the timorous. Sample lyric: "Did you think we'd be fine? Still got scars on my back from your knife. So don't think it's in the past. These kind of wounds they last and they last". Oh, sure, that'll tell 'em Swifty. My 5-year old niece straight-up called me a bitch one time. That was far more cutting than anything Taylor came up with.

My niece being a little bitch is besides the point though. I like Taylor Swift and there is room for both - something more sedate and something a little more kinky. The problem is that the scales seemed to be tipped a little more on the beige than the bangin'. The other big pop stars of last year, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, did they say, or do, or release, anything which can remotely be described as interesting? No, not at all. Not even in the slightest. It's musical normcore. The only thing that wasn't designed for palatability is their appearance, which is entirely accidental.

And so, I am a little sad for the pop world if the person at the top isn't pushing our buttons on some level. I think this is because it all becomes rather dull once we accept that all you need to do to be the biggest pop star in the world is to write a few pretty songs. Some might say that that's a good thing, democratizing even, but it doesn't really lend itself to the rarefied, god-given idea of stardom, does it?


Miley Cyrus

Perhaps I more keenly felt this loss due to a particularly rambunctious 2013 thanks to one Miley Cyrus. The Miley machine went into overdrive that summer. Every week there was a new scandal due to a performance, or an outfit, a video, or a feud which provided headlines after headlines. You might think she's a dick, or find the questions of cultural appropriation and demeaning behaviour too troubling to get past, or both, but the record she was promoting, Bangerz, her first real shot at the adult music market, in my opinion, was the most impressive and exciting pop album to be released by a major pop star in years.

A lot of this has to do with the bouncy trap-production from Mike WiLL Made-It which gave Miley an edge in the over-crowded market of EDM-drilling pop of recent years. In addition to this, the lyrical concept was very well executed too. In essence, it follows Miley going through one of those weekends where you have a really shitty, this-is-the-end type break-ups with her boyfriend. It's starts on Friday evening and you get real sad about him '(Adore You)' but then you're like "FUCK THIS" and you buy 3 bottles of MD 20/20 get totally shit-faced ('We Can't Stop'). This inevitably leads to the point where you start talkin' crap and you're not making any sense to anyone ('SMS Bangerz'). In your higher state of being you decide to grab a ride in some hot guy's car but your so wasted you piss all over the seat ('4x4'). After one to many bumps of ketamine at some dirty squat party you've crashed you lock yourself away in the bathroom and have a full blown meltdown in front of the mirror ('Wrecking Ball'). The rest turns into a bit of a blur because you realise your totally gone and not that many people are actually interested in an in-depth analysis of a Miley Cyrus album but eventually you reach 5am on Monday morning. The sun is coming up and clarity suddenly hits you: you don't need that fucking guy in your life and you're gonna find somebody else (surprise surprise - 'Somebody Else').

Now that's an album I can get behind - an ex-Disney, country gurl having breakdown and going on a bender (I do have a history with this - hello, Blackout-era Britney!) Sure, it's lewd and bratty, and I'm not sure there is anything deeper going on but it doesn't need to be (although Alex Frank wrote an interesting dissection of the Bangerz show in New York which explores Miley's place in the cultural tapestry of the US). Despite a seemingly superficial modus operandi, I can truly say I enjoyed the piss-stained ride. I think her attempt at giving an honest portrayal of young person's attitude towards drinking and drug-use much more real and engaging than a lot of the innocuous, impotent doe-eyed drivel you'll hear spewing out of mainstream radio playlists. Add this up with eye-popping performances and visually striking music videos, and you've got someone worth watching. I didn't get that from the pop superstars of 2014.


A Plead

I am desperately hoping, nay, pleading, that someone can shake things up (not off) in 2015. I want something more from pop. I like it when it offends, shocks and arouses but, most of all, I want it to be fun. And maybe I'm not the only one. In a post-Adele industry which appears to favours safety in pop rather than anything risqué, it worth remembering that Madonna's Like A Prayer album sold over 15 million copies. More recently, Lady Gaga's The Fame sold the same amount. There is still a considerable market of people who like it a little more rough in the pop sack. So please, feed us.