Product placement has a specific definition: a company pays money to have their product integrated into a movie, film, or song. In a strict sense, last night's Madonna-centric episode of Glee was not this: Madonna did not pay to have her songs performed. In fact, the show paid her (and will continue to pay her, if you consider the royalties she gets from sales of last night's tracks — her own and the new Glee versions). And yet
it sure did feel a whole lot like product placement!
If anyone deserves the jukebox-musical treatment it's the Material Girl, and when it came to the music, Glee did her, and themselves, proud — the songs were, as previously mentioned, totally epic and helped move the plot right along. But if you hired a company to make an advertisement about Madonna being more important, powerful, and culturally significant than the New Testament's Madonna, it would have been more understated in its praise than this Glee episode. Big slobbery Madonna kisses from last night included:
"Culturally Madonna's legacy transcends her music because by and large the subtext of her songs are about being strong, independent, and confident, no matter what your sex. But more than anything Madonna's musical message is about equality."—Mr. Schuester
"I don't think we can have an honest conversation about Ms. Ciccone without acknowledging that her images are as indelible as her songs" —Kurt
"You don't deserve the power of Madonna, you don't have her self-confidence, her power over her body, or her sexual magnetism." —Sue Sylvester
"The big Mo was always in control of everything. Her life was her own. I need to take control of myself and my body, just like Madonna." —Emma
"If you want to be as riveting a performer as Madonna, you're going to have to start thinking like her, acting like her." —Sue Sylvester
"Genius. Icon. Hall of Fame MILF" —Rachel, Kurt, Puck
Glee is a show that prides itself on mixing earnestness and obnoxiousness, heart and smut, and, yet, it made zero jokes at the expense of the woman responsible for Erotica, who speaks with a mysterious British accent, has arms that nightmares are made of, kissed Britney, and, seriously, ran around in a cone bra for a few years! It's swell that Madonna gave Glee permission to use her songs, and if that means Ryan Murphy and Co. felt like they couldn't dis her, then fine. But did they have to canonize her? Seriously, even Saint Augustine made some bad choices in his day and he didn't insist they go unmentioned.
If Madonna is, as Glee put it, "the most powerful woman in the world," she is also, most certainly, a business with a whole lot of product — songs, albums, concert tickets, movies, costumes, her image — to sell. Last night Glee sold the hell out of the whole line. If 30 Rock catches heat for making some jokes about McFlurrys — which was not officially product placement, either — shouldn't Glee catch some for personally trying to hoist Madonna atop the iTunes chart? Or does Madonna's status as an artist preclude that? Either way, Madonna proved, once again, that you really should, as Glee suggests, ask yourself "What Would Madonna Do?" Instead of paying to have her product placed, she got paid.