Mad about Madonna

Customer service officer Abdul Rahman Selamat says listening to Madonna helps him to relieve stress. Food services executive Panda Tan (right) and his magazine collection of more than 2,000 copies. He tries to get every international cover of every p
Food services executive Panda Tan (above) and his magazine collection of more than 2,000 copies. He tries to get every international cover of every publication each time she appears on the cover.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

From owning 2,000 magazines with the Material Girl on the cover to turning a bedroom into a shrine, two superfans tell The Straits Times what she means to them

The first thing customer service officer Abdul Rahman Selamat sees when he wakes up in the morning is Madonna.

Plastered all over his ceiling are posters of the Queen of Pop's face, looking down upon the 41-year-old.

His sofa bed is the only part of his room - other than the floor - that does not have Madge plastered over.

His 15 sq m room in a three-room HDB flat in Bedok has memorabilia spanning her entire career.

 
 

Wall-to-wall cabinets and display cases house CDs, vinyls, cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and other paraphernalia related to each of her 13 studio-album releases, with each album having a dedicated cubby hole in the room.

Cubby holes of his favourite Madonna eras - Ray Of Light (1998) and Like A Virgin (1984) - take prime position, in his direct line of sight, next to the headrest of his sofa bed.

There are also cases filled with stuff from her movie roles, such as A League Of Their Own (1992) and Dick Tracy (1990).

Miscellaneous pieces such as Madonna standees salvaged from CD shops and promotion shows are wedged in whatever free space is left at the top of his cabinets, while the cabinets contain merchandise from the Madonna concerts that he has attended around the world.

Since 2004, he has seen her live in concert in London, Paris and the United States.

Customer service officer Abdul Rahman Selamat says listening to Madonna helps him to relieve stress. Food services executive Panda Tan (right) and his magazine collection of more than 2,000 copies. He tries to get every international cover of every p
Customer service officer Abdul Rahman Selamat says listening to Madonna helps him to relieve stress. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

If you cannot already tell, Mr Rahman is a Madonna superfan. Like many other Material Girl devotees, he is looking forward to her first concert in Singapore at the National Stadium on Sunday.

Singapore is one of the stops in her Rebel Heart world tour. The other regional stops include Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau and Manila.

Thinking that she would not perform here, Mr Rahman has already seen her Rebel Heart concert in Amsterdam last December. He will head to Sydney next month to see the gig again.

His concerns about Madonna's concert in Singapore were not unfounded.

Last month, the show received an R18 rating from the authorities for "sexually suggestive content". The song, Holy Water, will not be performed as it is deemed "religiously sensitive".

The Catholic Church issued a statement on Tuesday asking Singapore Catholics to "act according to their informed conscience" on whether to attend the show.

Religious controversy or not, Mr Rahman says the pop star has inspired him since he was a boy.

He began collecting Madonna keepsakes in 1989 and estimates that the collection is worth "tens of thousands of dollars".

LIVING BY HER LYRICS

He says her music gave him the courage to do things differently from everyone else. He loved dancing and wanted to pursue it since his secondary school days.

 
 

He says: "During that time, not many boys liked to dance in school because they were afraid of being bullied and called names. She gave me the courage to do that."

He has even adopted her lyrics as life mantras.

He says: "Like in her song, Express Yourself, she says if you don't express what you feel or if you don't say what you want, then you're not going to get it."

In his late 20s, Mr Rahman went on to perform in Madonna-inspired drag, paying tribute to her iconic outfits such as the cowboy ensemble from Music (2000) and the red kimono from Nothing Really Matters (1998).

He stopped performing two years ago, joking that he no longer can fit into the costumes.

Now, he says her music and music videos are "therapy". To relieve stress, he always plays Madonna videos or music on his vinyl player or 56-inch television screen.

"When I have a stressful day at work, I just want to come home and see my collection. That puts me at ease." He lives with his elderly parents who are retired. He is the youngest of four children.

Another superfan, Mr Panda Tan, 35, discovered Madonna in the 1990s.

The food services executive at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital recalls a music teacher from his secondary school who played Take A Bow (1994) during a lesson.

The ballad was his introduction to Madonna and he has been hooked since. He subsequently bought the Something To Remember (1995) compilation album with pocket money that he had saved up.

"After listening to the album, I fell in love with her," he says.

When he started working at a department store at the now- demolished Specialists' Shopping Centre in Orchard Road after his O levels at the age of 16, he spent his lunch hour at Tower Records and HMV - both were located in town and have since closed - scouting his next Madonna- related purchase - be it a magazine or a CD.

MORE THAN 2,000 MAGAZINES

The bulk of his Madonna collection consists of an extensive library of international magazines - totalling more than 2,000 copies - with the pop star on the cover.

The magazines are from as far as Armenia and Poland. He has 48 international issues alone of Madonna's latest Cosmopolitan magazine cover.

He says he acquires them via eBay or Facebook where he trades copies with fans from around the world. Sometimes, he writes to the publications to ask for a copy.

He estimates the collection is worth between USD$30,000 (S$45,000) and US$40,000.

His magazines are not meticulously catalogued or displayed. They are kept in cardboard boxes stacked in his room in a four-room HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio.

Since his only elder brother got married and moved out, some of the collection has spilled over to the now-vacant room.

His mother, Madam Lim Quee Lang, 63, a housewife, says of her son's collection: "To him, it's treasure, but to me, it's rubbish."

However, she adds with a note of resignation: "As long as he is happy, it's okay, lah."

His father runs the family car-painting business.

Mr Tan says: "When I have my own house, I will have a room to display everything."

To him, Madonna is the original, boundary-pushing pop star.

"My mother always asks me, 'There are so many younger celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, so why Madonna?' "Throughout her entire career, she's like another mum to me," he adds, his voice quivering for the first time. He says she has taught her fans love and acceptance, no matter their sexual orientation, and that is something he believes in too.

Throughout her 34-year career, the pop star has been vocal about her stand against homophobia, hate crimes and any form of discrimination.

Needless to say, he will attend the concert in Singapore on Sunday. He has already seen the show in Bangkok earlier this month and, like Mr Rahman, will head to Sydney next month.

While both men dream of meeting the pop diva in person, Mr Rahman's feet are planted firmly on the ground.

"Every fan would love to meet and take pictures with her, to know her, to touch her - but it's not easy, so I won't hope for that.

"To see her live is enough. To even have her wink at me is enough."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2016, with the headline 'Mad about Madonna'. Print Edition | Subscribe