Survival and Human Nature
IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in a promotional shot for her 1994 album, Bedtime Stories/PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick Demarchelier
Is 2019 the Most Important Year Yet for Madonna?
I might have to impose a bit of a limit...
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
when it comes to mentioning certain artists om my site! I said the same about Kate Bush but I feel it is only right to mention a big event or anniversary – you never know what is happening with her so never know how many times you’ll be compelled to take to the laptop! The same can be said of Madonna. Given the fact she turned sixty last year, I had cause to look back at her career and investigate her legacy from different angles. A couple of her albums celebrated big anniversaries (the thirty-fifth of her debut and twenty years of Ray of Light) and I went a bit Mads-mad at times! This year, in fact, might be busier still. I will come to look at her new endeavours and changes but I think 2019 is a year when Madonna’s past work gets seen in a new light. There are several albums that are marking some big anniversaries. Like a Prayer is often considered her strongest album and was a moment where she ascended from the ranks of Pop-queen-in-waiting to a full-out Queen of Pop. The way she managed to rise from this traditional-if-special Popstar to someone who took music to a new level...that all happened in 1989. The title cut from the album – and its video – caused a bit of a stir but, to those who value music over making a fuss, we were presented with this mature, accomplished and stunning artist who had made the transformation from a commercial act to somebody who had genuine edge and a design plan…
Things would change and go in a different direction by 1992 but 1989 marked a crucial time in Madonna’s life: she ended the decade with a genius record and confirmed her place as the leader of the Pop market. Madonna’s fourth album talked about her Catholicism and family and found Madonna taking a much bigger role regarding co-writing. On 21st March, we mark thirty years of Like a Prayer and recall a moment when Madonna got a long-awaited wave of critical affection. Another reason why I feel Madonna’s albums will pick up extra acclaim this year is because of the state of modern Pop. There is accusation it is bland and lacks any real punch at a time when the world is divided – should musicians not be talking about something much more substantial and deep in these times? If you want to go for the commercial pound then why not make something more upbeat and addictive? Look at Like a Prayer and we switch between affecting and personal – Like a Prayer and Oh Father – to the Pop fun and brilliance of Cherish and Express Yourself. One can learn so much from the album and I think modern Pop artists – and those in other genres – need to take it to heart and realise why it is such a revelation. Even though it nearly thirty, it sounds ageless and works as a textbook for mainstream leaders and new artists alike.
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
Two more albums mean Madonna will be celebrated and explored. Maybe Like a Prayer is the biggest anniversary but what about Bedtime Stories (1994) and Like a Virgin (1984)? We have to wait until 12th November to mark thirty-five years of Like a Virgin but it will be a nice way to end the year! Recorded at Power Station Studios; Madonna had to follow her promising debut album with something that took her music to the next level. She has dismissed her debut as something akin to aerobic music and a bit too twee – all bounce but not as edgy as she would want. It would take another album or two before she shed her cleaner and more commercial skin but Like a Virgin is an important and influential album. We usually mark albums from artists like Madonna with songs on the radio or brief articles but I feel 2019 is a time when her work will be picked up by new listeners and will grow in stature. I am not suggesting music’s mainstream is in crisis but it lacks direction. Who are the Pop leaders and the icons of the next generation? Fake fur Madonnas like Lady Gaga – an exceptional artist but stronger being herself rather than follow Madonna – are promising and great but there is nobody out there who is making those timeless Pop gems and songs that stay in the mind. Perhaps it is the times in which we live but there is a yearning for classic Pop and an artist who can go from the same progression as Madonna.
The Queen of Pop was becoming more confident and direct with her image/music. Unlike the sweet and innocent cover of Madonna…Like a Virgin is a sexier and more memorable cover! Madonna debuted her Like a Virgin single at the MTV Video Music Awards on 14th September, 1984 in a wedding dress! How many artists today would appear at a music video award show in that attire?! It is another lesson to learn from Madonna and proof that, by 1984, she was standing out on her own. Tracks like Material Girl, Like a Virgin; Dress You Up and Pretender showed greater range coming into Madonna’s work and she gained great reviews. She proved she was no one-hit wonder and had this unassailable knack for performing instant Pop gems. In November, when we mark Like a Virgin’s birthday, it is a chance to look back at the sophomore Madonna album and will give guidance to Pop artists who are in a similar position – at a rather stagnant time, Madonna’s first breakthrough helped transform the Pop scene and brought new elements in. Maybe it is a minor footnote when we compare Like a Virgin to her bigger albums but few can overlook how important it was and the fact there were insatiable gems throughout. If you want a third album that can be instructional to artists around then look at 1994’s Bedtime Stories. I have written about this a lot but it was the follow-up to her exceptional, if controversial, 1992 release, Erotica.
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
The reason this anniversary is important is because of the way a huge Pop artist managed to come back from a controversial time in her life – a lot of sexual content was being judged by the media and many wondered whether she was trying to be provocative and shock too much – and turn things arrive. Bedtime Stories is an underrated album because, in many ways, it was about recovery rather than a huge leap and this media-courting record. Human Nature is a single that addressed the ‘scandal’ from her Sex book and Erotica – cheekily asking whether musicians could talk about sex – and proved Madonna was not a neutered house cat. It is the sheer class, maturity and grace that can be found on Bedtime Stories that arrests me. I am thinking about Take a Bow: a track that, when released as a single on 6th December, 1994, showed Madonna in a new light. It is an accomplished and revealing track that shows the heroine’s scars (a song about being teased and having love taken from her) and allowed Madonna to explore new sides to her voice. The album did receive some mixed reviews and did not get the same reception as her bigger releases; in any case, it was a huge release and, with Madonna co-writing most of the album’s tracks, allowed her to have her say and make a very big statement. Many consider Bedtime Stories her best and most important work as she had to do something different after 1992.
25th October is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Bedtime Stories so, again, we have a bit of a wait! I do think this anniversary will be important because it showed how an artist as huge as Madonna could come back from possible defeat and not only create a great record but firmly confirm her position as the Queen of Pop. Many people look at other albums and times as the moment Madonna sat on the throne but 1994 was the most important year in her career. She showed, again, another side to her voice and creativity and there was nobody that could equal her. The three albums that are celebrating important-numbered anniversaries all arrived at important times in Madonna’s life and each made a serious impression. It will be great for new fans to discover these records but it acts as guidance to the modern scene and why Madonna is so revered. There is this gap between the March anniversary of Like a Prayer and October. I know Madonna will get behind these albums and her legions of fans will too and this is not the only reason why 2019 is a big year for her. Consider new offerings and avenues that will put her firmly in the spotlight. It is not only new music that will excite fans: Madonna is sporting shorter, brunette hair and a slight return to an earlier stage of her career.
Maybe turning sixty has inspired Madonna to make some personal changes – even if a new hair style is not that huge – and we all know there is an album coming along. I predict it will be released by March but you have to wonder whether that will clash with Like a Prayer’s thirtieth. It might be ambitious to think it would fill a nice gap in around May or June – maybe later – but I think Madonna will get the record out fairly soon. I am not 100% sure what it is called either. There have been #magic hastags that have been interpreted as the album’s name but I am not sure whether she has confirmed it will be named Magic – surely something more striking or mysterious would be better you’d think?! I think a new Madonna album not is crucial because it arrives at a very divided time. It is four years since she put out Rebel Heart and the longest gap between albums since the Bedtime Stories-Ray of Light crossover. Even that pause saw Madonna pop in an epic film turn – as the lead in 1996’s Evita – so there has been a bit of a wilderness in her camp over the past five years! Whereas what followed Bedtime Stories marked Madonna’s biggest transformation yet, I do think whatever she provides will be less radical and head-spinning. One other reason why I say this is an important year is because of everything happening in the world: from the sexism and sexual abuse scandals to President Trump and all manner of climate problems.
PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna
Will Madonna produce an angry and society/political-addressing record like she did with 2003’s American Life? That album scored the least impressive reviews of her career to that point so I do have to wonder whether she will return to that well. I would like to see a combination of the political edge of that record teamed with some personal updates. That is not to say we need her to put her heart out and, if anything, her life is happier than it was in 2015 – she was reflecting on changes in her world and coming back from a couple of albums (MDNA in 2012 and Hard Candy in 2008) that did not fare overly-well. Rebel Heart was a more successful and lauded album and I feel turning sixty has suited Madonna well. Her Twitter and Instagram feeds are filled with snapshots into her life and her hanging out with her children. She has changed her hair and she is living in Lisbon, Portugal. Maybe there are heartache happening but so far as I know she is a single woman. Does this mean her next album will be a more liberated, single-woman-kicking-arse type of deal?! We often chart albums and their tones based on the artist’s personal lives and relationships. I think her fourteenth studio album will be important because it is impossible to predict and many will wonder what she has been working on.
There are so few Pop icons around still and it means the decades-reigning Queen of Pop will have a lot of people guessing and hooked. There is, too, ageism in music and Madonna has had to fight against this. I wonder whether we will get some edgy and Hip-Hop-scented or a bit of a return to her 1980s work. It is obvious Madonna is leaping into 2019 and she is excited to bring the world new work. If all of that was not enough reason 2019 is a huge one for Madonna, there is a very rare thing coming to our screens. Most of the documentaries and films regarding Madonna have been focused on her and I cannot think of a time when we have seen another person portray Madonna. The docu-drama Madonna and the Breakfast Club. We do not have to wait too long for it to come out way and Billboard provide an overview:
“The film starts with Madonna during her early days as a drummer, guitarist, keyboard player, and songwriter for the Breakfast Club. She had formed the group in 1979 with Dan Gilroy, who she had been dating at the time. As the film progresses, Madonna gets more involved with the band’s music, and begins to develop her own identity as an artist.
The docudrama will be split between reenacted scenes from Madonna’s time with the band, alongside recent interviews with Gilroy, his brother Ed, and bandmate Gary Burke scattered throughout the film. The film was produced by Guy Guido and Paul Castro Jr., and stars Jamie Auld as Madonna. Auld’s uncanny resemblance to the pop icon is incredibly realistic, and is sure to intrigue longtime fans of the singer...
“We filmed in the same locations Madonna once walked and performed in, incorporating the exact instruments she played, including the real guitar she used to write her first songs,” Guido said. “It was surreal to capture Jamie in the drama that would eventually lead to Madonna pursuing her solo career.”
While Madonna left the Breakfast Club well before even their first single was released in 1984, the band would go on to some Billboard chart success with the release of their self-titled debut LP in 1987, which peaked at No. 43 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. That set featured the group's biggest hit, "Right on Track," which hit No. 7 in March 1987.
The film is set to release across digital and video on-demand platforms by The Orchard on March 12”.
It is very rare to see anyone play Madonna and have something that documents a very particular part of her life. In the past, there have been attempts to make biopics but nothing has really come to the screen. This mixes a more traditional documentary with re-enactments of her life and an opportunity for people to get an understanding of what was happening with her before recording her debut album. It will be interesting to see and there has been a lot of positive buzz around Madonna and the Breakfast Club (starring Jamie Auld as Madonna).
It is not rare to find a year when we have a Madonna-themed project on the screen and a new album out. I cannot think of a year when this has happened but we have three of her albums marking anniversaries – big ones at that! Throw into the mix Madonna will tour her new album and she has all that going on! She has not been this busy for years and I do not think her work, past and present, has carried such weight. Music Pop scene is rather inferior and slight and it is an important year to look at Madonna’s fantastic albums and learn from them. This Pop icon prepares to release fresh work but the stature and significance of her older albums is clear. She has experienced bigger years in terms of an album and the position of her career but this is the first time her new and past work will gain so much interest. All we need now is Madonna to appear in a film herself and she we will have a complete set! Maybe that will not happen but 2019 is a massive year for Madonna fans and the woman herself. I am excited to see how it all unfolds but am stunned that, over thirty-five years since her debut album, there has been nobody like her. We have seen some great Pop artists come and go but nobody who matches her longevity and popularity. We know when the trio of anniversaries occurs and when the docu-drama is out but we all come to the question of the new album. There has been tease and rumours of what it will sound like but, when it finally lands, it will answer questions many have been asking...
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
SINCE she released Rebel Heart.