Edward Russell on Madonna’s HIV and AIDS activism
We’re delighted that the Queerty nominated podcast Inside The Groove – which celebrates the work of Madonna – will be hosting a live World AIDS Day special. The event will take place on Saturday 25 November at London’s iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
To learn more about the podcast and the very special event, we sat down with one of Inside The Groove’s hosts Edward Russell.
Tickets to Inside The Groove: Madonna Get Together are available now via Outsavvy.
When did you first become a Madonna fan?
I remember seeing her first appearance on Top of the Pops in January 1984, performing ‘Holiday’. I have to admit, I must have been a prudish 13 year old because I thought she was a bit raunchy. My tastes changed and she just kept releasing great singles. By the time she released ‘La Isla Bonita’, I was well and truly hooked and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Tell me a little about Inside The Groove and the World AIDS Day special.
I started the podcast during lockdown, initially just by myself, but then it grew to include fellow Madonna fanatics Peter and Jonathan. We tell the story of Madonna’s songs track by track and tell the history of everything around it, not just the songwriting but the video and the visuals as well. We expanded into events where we combine a live episode with a Madonna disco.
We were approached by a friend of National AIDS Trust to do something for World AIDS Day and the obvious thing to do was to talk about Madonna as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community and how HIV and AIDS has touched her life and her artistic output. Inside The Groove: Madonna Get Together will be about celebrating that, while raising money for the charity as well and having a lot of fun too. There’ll be a disco, drag performances and some amazing prizes that we’re going to raffle. You can also get your hands on some really special merchandise that has been designed especially for the event. There’s loads of important stuff to learn, but ultimately it’s going a celebration that no Madonna fan is going to want to miss.
When Madonna began speaking out about HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, how revolutionary was this for the time?
It was very revolutionary. A few celebrities were speaking out, but Madonna was the only one that connected with young people, who needed to hear more about HIV and AIDS and weren’t getting information from anywhere else. Madonna was able to speak directly to her fans and let them know about HIV and AIDS and how to perform safer sex.
In 1989 Madonna included an insert with facts about HIV and AIDS in her album Life A Prayer. I was 19 when that album came out and seeing messages about safer sex written by a hero of mine, telling us how and why we should practice it had such a huge impact. I can honestly say that Madonna’s influence possibly saved my life and that is something I am hugely thankful for.
What impact do you think Madonna’s HIV activism had in the early days of the epidemic, not just for education, but for HIV stigma?
The fact that she was talking about it very openly was so helpful because it was such a taboo subject. She did a tour called The Girlie Show in 1993 and performed one particular song which was written about two friends who had died from AIDS. Before the song, she would speak for a couple of minutes about HIV and AIDS. Just talking about things is one of the best ways to break down barriers and stigma, and that was something she used her platform to do.
Now 35 years since the first World AIDS Day, how has Madonna continued to show her solidarity with people living with HIV and the LGBTQ+ community?
Madonna is on tour at the moment celebrating her 40th year as an artist and the show is littered with influences from the LGBTQ+ community. From a very on the nose performance of ‘Vogue’, which references the drag balls of the 1980s, to wearing the Progress Pride flag which celebrates the full spectrum of the community, including the trans community. Significantly she performs the song ‘Live To Tell’ which includes huge images of her personal friends who she lost to AIDS and these images eventually become millions of images of different lives that have been lost. It’s truly impactful and a real reminder of what has happened during the HIV and AIDS epidemic and why we must continue to talk about it.