Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E15: The Power of Madonna
You know what I have to talk about, don’t you? I mean, you know. You knew as soon as you saw the title of this article.
It’s Sue Sylvester’s Vogue.
To call this the serve of the century is an understatement. Every single time I go back to this performance, I am just blown away by how fucking good it is – the level of polish is off the charts, the camp, the wit, the style, the glamour, Jane Lynch looking sexy as hell in a corset. I could just write a paragraph about this performance and call it a day, because it really has it all – the drama, the music, the comedy, all of it. It’s the perfect balance of reverence for the original artist blended with joyfully goofy fun, and it’s probably the most singularly polished five minutes in Glee’s first season. Everything about it is just so gorgeous (ugh, Chris Colfer was made for this black-and-white high cheekboned posing and Amber Riley looks like heaven in a tuxedo), and, after waiting fourteen episodes for a Sue performance, this actually feels like it lives up to the hype. It’s also worth mentioning that, in the version of Vogue that exists in my head, “Will Schuester, I hate you” is a canonical line.
If this episode was simply this number on repeat twelve times, it would be enough, but The Power of Madonna is just an all-round banger for the show as a whole. I don’t think any episode themed to a specific musician has felt as organic as this one, probably because of the sheer enormity of Madonna’s back catalogue and how many styles and eras there are to delve into; nothing feels especially forced, because there is basically a Madonna song to fit every occasion.
There are other theme episodes of the show I enjoy – Slave 4 U from the Britney episode lives rent-free in my gay little walnut brain – but Madonna has such an expansive number of hits that everything feels like it fits naturally, as opposed to just being there because it’s a Madonna song they had to cram in somewhere. There’s also something to be said for the fact that I grew up at a time when Madonna was the established pop diva, so her stuff always takes on this legendary status in my mind, regardless of the actua objective quality. I don’t think there’s a performance in this episode I don’t rate highly, and it genuinely looks like everyone is having an utter ball getting to dig their teeth into Madonna’s iconography and amazing discography.
Take Like a Virgin, for example, a six-way performance between Will and Emma, Rachel and Jesse (hey, have you seen Johnathan Groff in Knock at the Cabin? He’s great! He sings a bit!), and Santana and Finn as they all set about losing their remaining virginities. It’s an obvious choice of a song, but the natural emotion that’s built into it really makes this sequence pop for me. This is a perfect example of Glee using musical sequences as a way to streamline the storytelling, getting to the heart of the emotion and using the music and lyrics to tell us everything we need to know. It’s this dream sequence that ends with all the respective virgins deciding whether or not to go through with it, their internal discourse elaborated on via the song. It’s perfect, and God, it’s good to finally hear a little more of Naya Riviera.
In terms of sheer spectacle, too, this episode has a great Amber Riley and Chris Colfer collab on 4 Minutes – it completely turned me around on a song I used to genuinely hate, probably just because it goes so big and so silly in a way that really matches the music. The catalogue of professional, fully thirty-year-old dancers in the Cheerios never fails to jar a little, but it’s in a performance like this one, it’s hard to be mad at it.
The Power of Madonna might well be my favourite episode of this rewatch so far – a gorgeously well-crafted mix of story, performance, and diva worship, it feels like the kind of thing only Glee could have pulled off. And God, I’m glad it did.
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(header image via The Guardian)