Few can rival Madonna’s exceptional blend of talent, smarts, and outré fashion instinct, but the mantle of power weighs heavy, and the Material Girl has been slipping of late. Gold teeth? Afros? Libidinous-milkmaid frocks? We think not. Sad to say, but the zeitgeist is in limbo, and we need a new muse. But who could possibly fill Madonna’s platform shoes? A few possibilities:
1) EN VOGUE’S CINDY HERRON Short of the group morphing into one person — who would blow everyone out of the water — we’re betting on the gutsy 27-year-old soprano (the one most likely to pull a Diana Ross star trip). Pluses: Cindy puts her own spin on En Vogue’s fierce blend of hip and haute — shows more skin, has more chutzpah. Minuses: She needs to break out of the quartet’s too-conformist mold and strut her own style.
2) COURTNEY LOVE The pacifier-sucking grunge-goddess wife of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Possessed of a shrewd, steely drive, the 26-year-old has Madonna’s ) ambition, brains, and desire to transform herself (down to getting her nose done after her first album). Pluses: ”If you’re talking original style, she’s got it,” says designer Todd Oldham. ”She’s got a great sense of juxtaposition — the little-girl thrift-store dresses with red lipstick and a tough demeanor.” Minuses: Reports that she shot heroin while pregnant — which she has denied — still stick in the craw.
3) ROSIE PEREZ Discovered by Spike Lee, Perez laces her acting with a hip, slammin’ dance sensibility à la the Big M. Whether she’s choreographing In Living Color’s Fly Girls, acting in her current movie (Untamed Heart), or executive-producing a new hip-hop show for HBO (Rosie Perez Presents Society’s Ride), Perez has a look to get down. Pluses: She’s the goddess of street — urban, playful, pan-ethnic. Minuses: A reluctant exhibitionist: She cried through her topless scene in Do the Right Thing.
4) SOFIA COPPOLA Francis’ 21-year-old daughter is everywhere: in Italian Vogue, appearing in the Black Crowes’ ”Sometime’s Salvation” and Madonna’s ”Deeper and Deeper” videos, and working as a guest editor for Details magazine. Pluses: She’s effortlessly stylish, endowed with the kind of ethnic beauty so favored in the hip-again ’70s, and she can take critical knocks (The Godfather Part III). Minuses: ”I don’t think she cares to have the shockability (of a Madonna),” says scene watcher Lance Loud. ”It’s not the pointed-brassiere-in-your-eye look.”
5) K.D. LANG AND RUPAUL Alternative chanteuse Lang and the uberwoman drag queen RuPaul are the poster children for what Oldham predicts is a new openness in America. Pluses: They prove androgyny can be glamorous. RuPaul can out-vogue Madonna, and k.d. is finally copping some style (and showing — omigod — cleavage) in her new video, ”Miss Chatelaine.” Minuses: The new openness may only play on the coasts.
6) MADONNA In the end, Madonna may be the only one who can top Madonna. ”Everyone says her next move is to get pregnant and become a single mother,” observes Loud. ”Breast-feeding as a career move.” Minuses: Is America ready for a Jean Paul Gaultier maternity line?