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Madonna's message isn't music _ it's "Sex'

MTV is calling her "the most provocative artist in popular music," and it is right, even if Madonna's real art long ago ceased to be popular music.

Erotica, a music video introduced in what MTV dubbed a "planetary premiere" Friday at midnight, is more proof that the $60-million woman (thanks to her recent Time-Warner deal) is the master of media manipulation. The video is a simultaneous plug for an upcoming book _ Sex, a fantasy-themed photo collection _ an upcoming album _ also titled Erotica _ and her own controversial persona, which she pushes a little further each time out.

Appearing in a black mask and wielding a whip, Madonna plays a sort of dominatrix of ceremonies for a dizzying rush of clips, all sexually oriented and some leather-upholstered. The music is incidental, and most of the lyrics are spoken. "Erotica Romance," she intones, while a chorus sings "Put your hands all over my body"; Isabella Rossellini is among the faces that flash by, as is her fellow actress-model Naomi Campbell, seen nuzzling a woman's neck. It's unclear after only a couple of viewings just what is going on some of the time, but Madonna can be seen in a number of manifestations, including a hitchhiker who's apparently nude; black bands obscure her naughty bits.

Tweaking bluenoses while remaining mainstream is something Madonna is very good at, though she seems surprised at how easy it is; the little smile she flashes at the end of the video is more like a wink: "And imagine," she seems to be saying, "this is going to have them crawling the walls." That some will be upset by the video's contents is inevitable, but the video, while inappropriate for children, is really a satire about how little it takes to generate outrage.

After introducing the Erotica premiere with a mercifully short discourse on bondage, discipline and submission _ without actually explaining what they are _ MTV host Kurt Loder said that because some people find these sexual practices "repellent," the video (which except for Madonna's gold tooth is in black and white) would be shown only at night, not in regular rotation. Parents should be grateful, if only because of the nature, and number, of the questions it might raise among kids.

"Give it up, do as I say," Madonna purrs during Erotica, "give it up, let me have my way." It's nice of her to ask.

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