Carpool Karaoke is supposed to be a charm offensive. That’s why it exists. Pop stars get into the SUV with James Corden, they belt out a few of their old hits together, and they engage in mild hijinks. It’s an effective weapon, one capable of making Justin Bieber seem less like a toxic dipshit and more like a fun hang. But Carpool Karaoke has its limits. It is, for instance, incapable of making circa-2016 Madonna seem like a human being.
Last night, Madonna appeared on James Corden’s show to do Carpool Karaoke, and holy shit, it was ugly. The singing part was fine. Madonna has a huge catalog of great songs, and she got to sing a bunch of them with Corden: “Vogue,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Express Yourself,” “Ray Of Light,” “Music.” (They also did “Bitch I’m Madonna,” an absolute brick from last year that most of us had already forgotten, but whatever; that has to happen in these videos.) But holy motherfucking fuck, everything else Madonna did in that car was an absolute fucking catastrophe.
She tried both some light flirting and some light ribbing with Corden, and she somehow came off mean doing both of them. She hung out the window of the SUV, as if she was begging people on the street to notice that, wow, that’s Madonna in that car. And she used her amazing, inexplicable fake English accent while conversing with an actual English person, an amazingly terrible idea.
Look: Madonna has been famous for way too long to be a normal human person. And when you consider that her two biggest ’80s-pop-star contemporaries are both dead, she is doing remarkably well for herself. But when she forces herself into a position where she has to be relatable — where that’s the whole point of the thing — the anti-chemistry is enough to eat its way through steel. Madonna presumably employs people whose entire job it is to tell her not to do things like this. Those people made a bad decision when they let this happen. Watch the video below.
Madonna wasn’t even promoting anything, which makes this whole appearance even more mystifying. So instead, I’ll use this space to plug a vaguely Madonna-related product that I am currently enjoying: Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time, which centers, in part, around a distinctly Madonna-esque divorced-from-reality pop star. I’m halfway through, and it’s good.