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There comes a moment in every aging pop icon's life when, amidst one of their more spectacularly mounted bids to remain relevant, they look out among a sea of worshippers as they hang from a giant, mirror-encrusted cross, and think to themselves: "Is this it?" For Madonna, that moment is now, as she tells Time magazine that she has finally found a "big, big project" through which to focus all the strange, foreign impulses she's had over the past couple decades to, like, do something for someone besides herself:

Malawi, a Pennsylvania-sized country in southeast Africa, has four things in abundance: AIDS, malaria, drought and tobacco (its major crop)....She has already committed to raising at least $3 million to fund programs particularly aimed at orphans there. Of Malawi's population of 12 million, about a million are orphans. Ground has just been broken on an orphan care center, which aims to feed and educate as many as 1,000 children a day...She's financing—to the tune of about $1 million—a documentary about the plight of children there. And she has met with Bill Clinton to see if they can work together to bring low-cost medicines to the area, as well as partnering with several aid organizations. This, mind you, is all before Madonna has ever even set foot in Africa. (She plans to go in October.)

The project, like much of her output lately, may give off a lingering whiff of being five minutes behind the curve of other philanthropic celebrity efforts in developing nations, though it would be stingy of spirit not to acknowledge just how far the entertainer has come in putting her well-meaning words into deed. Only a decade ago, Madonna's response to the plight of the Malawis would have been to co-opt the sluttiest elements of their traditional tribalwear as she brought their ancient, ritual dance to the masses by imploring them to "come on, Gule Wamkulu!" over a thumping disco beat.