When Divas Attack

8.19.2008

By Michael Musto

Not since the immortal film King Kong vs. Godzilla has there been such a fierce battle of imposing creatures swatting each other away as they grasp for continued success (though these ladies are much better waxed).

Addicted to the spotlight -- and the dough -- these dames have come out of retirement more times than David Bowie or Tonya Harding. All at once, sexpots-turned-sexagenarians Cher and Bette Midler have been alternating at Las Vegas's Caesars Palace, along with another finely aged diva, Elton John. ('Does it get any gayer?' Midler quipped about this campy trinity); disco queen Donna Summer tried to get her album Crayons 'on the radio' as two other chanteuses, Grace Jones and Whitney Houston, were hot on her orthopedic (I'm joking) heels; and grand dames Madonna, Tina Turner, and Janet Jackson are all bravely facing the road again, while Liza Minnelli keeps on ticking against all odds, belting 'Cabaret' whenever you prop her face in front of a microphone. She's more indestructible than the 50-foot woman!

A modern-day Jurassic Park or an inspirational fable showing that 55 is the new 25? The latter, for sure. While these divas have to constantly remind newbies of who they are in between deep-tissue massages, they have years of know-how to help them do so while providing expert entertainment that sometimes even turns a profit. And so, en masse, they've gone on the attack to get you to love them all over again!

Of course, their most common trick is to simply employ a younger, hotter costar to add some contempo luster to their act. Madonna, 50, teamed with Justin Timberlake as cash registers ka-chinged; Turner, 68, launched a tour after her Grammy Awards duet with Beyonc' showed everyone who's boss; and reports claim Whitney is duetting with 23-year-old Brit sensation Leona Lewis (I guess she really believes 'the children are our future...').

And if all else fails, bring in the aerialists -- that's what Cher does during her stage show, presumably to fill time while she's segueing into another Bob Mackie. As a smooth-faced purveyor of spectacle, Cher will probably never become obsolete, especially since she's found the consummate home for her enjoyably questionable taste -- Las Vegas. That's clearly where this dino truly soars.

What's more, Cher -- like Tina, Liza, and Bette -- specializes in serving up the oldies, a reliable formula that backfires only when your audience eventually can't leave the house. More audaciously, Jackson (who's still living down her right breast and her older bro) and Summer came up with new music, but it hasn't granted either of them the Mariah-style comeback they needed. Whitney's also facing an uphill struggle (even with Leona Lewis and without Bobby Brown); long ago she became more famous for the way she sweated when going through customs than for temperature-raising love ballads or The Bodyguard. With her Dr. Frankenstein -- Clive Davis -- recently demoted, it's not certain that Whitney's Mothra-like wings can still take her to number 1.

But the winner is still Madonna, who this year forged forward and squeezed one more smash out of her loins. Is she losing energy? Hardly. In fact, she's the one who had to give vitamin shots to Timberlake. Cleverly, Madge inevitably calls on the red-hot collaborators du jour while slyly working the Internet for promotion. The only danger is that Madonna's hipness might seem a little rote these days. She's become more robot than gorgon, and one senses that her wiring might eventually wear down.

Still, like the other divas, she's simply doing what a gal's got to do to stay alive in the face of a radio biz that is repulsed by middle age. Bravo to her, Tina, and the rest for making it OK for seasoned broads to push some buttons and open others. May they all have monster hits!

PLUS: Tune in and turn it up with our picks for best new autumnal tunes.

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