Madonna (ft. Maluma)
The track, Medellin, is available via:
17th April, 2019
Boy Toy, Inc., Live Nation Worldwide and Interscope Records
The album, Madame X, is available from 14th June, 2019. Pre-order here:
EVEN though I have been...
writing on this blog for over seven years, I have never reviewed Madonna before! It is hard to know where to start but, when considering her latest track, I want to investigate alter egos and personas; collaborations and big artists who fuse with others; longevity in the industry and keeping fans behind you; teasing material and building up that sense of mystery and defying ageism in the music industry – I will end by looking ahead at where Madonna might step next. I am writing more about this later today but I am interested when artists invent a persona and their own character. It can be quite interesting seeing artists take a big leap between albums and taking their sound in a new direction. More compelling than that is someone who can change their identity and bring about this new figure. In Madonna’s case, she is not new to the alter ego. One might say that every album she has produced has given us a fresh personality but, in terms of a unique character, Erotica was the first reinvention. That album came out in 1992 and arrived at a pretty interesting time. She wowed critics with Like a Prayer in 1989 and was at the peak of her powers. Every album before that saw Madonna rise and grow but it was her 1989 record that broke her into the realms of superstardom. Madonna needed a logical move or a step away from what she was doing. Mistress Dita was/is this saucy, dominating woman who gave Erotica its necessary edge and sexuality. The album received some raised eyebrows but it was the first time that Madonna had embodied this character. She did not do anything radical with her voice but there was this sort of concept running through Erotica. Madonna was bold on Like a Prayer but Mistress Dita gave her this platform to write material that was a little more provocative and risk-taking. Even though that was twenty-seven years ago, this new embodiment seems to be a more fleshed-out version of Erotica’s heroine.
Madame X will be hitting the shelves on 14th June and its titular heroine is this all-encompassing superpower. Almost like a secret agent, Madame X is, as Madonna said on her social media feeds, this mother and lover figure; a teacher and spy; a whore and equestrian. These titles/jobs might give us an insight into what the songs on Madame X will sound like. There has already been talk/news regarding Madonna using a horse for one of her music videos so that is where the equestrian angle comes in. She has been rumoured to have a video using drag queens in the pipeline – no idea which part of her character that would embody. In many ways, Madame X is an extension of who Madonna has always been. She has always fought for freedom and wanted to change lives; wanted to touch people and give them a voice. Madame X is this spy-like character that travels the world and can be a nun and saint; a prisoner and criminal who reveals different aspects and angles. It is intriguing to think how the songs on Madame X will sound and whether she will use different sides of the character on each. Erotica was a sexual and confident album but, from song to song, there was not necessarily a different side of Mistress Dita. Here, it seems like Madame X will be the chameleon and project a different side in every song. This means the album will have that flow that keeps it fresh; a series of little stories all connected to this heroine. The first track, Medllin, has Latin rhythms and is more about Madonna and her partner, Maluma, embraced in this rare and exciting love. I will talk more about that track but it is more about Madonna as the rebel and lover of Madame X. I am interested seeing what other songs are about because, in my opinion, having this character is more interesting than a traditional album. We get to see Madonna in a new light and embrace this strong and inspiring figure. Each song, I guess, finds her traveling the world and changing her personality in this rather cool way. Nobody is quite sure what Madame X will sound like but, from its first offering, it will be pretty impressive!
I was a bit worried when Madonna revealed her tracklist for Madame X as there are quite a few collaborations. Out of the thirteen tracks announced, five have other artists on it. That might not same like too much but I do look back at her earlier career and there were not many times when Madonna had to share the spotlight. Apart from duetting with Prince on Love Song (from Like a Prayer) and having people like Babyface sing on her tracks, it has been all her. In more recent albums, Nicki Minaj has been involved and Madonna has been keen to promote various producers – giving them quite a big billing on album covers. Whilst Madonna is the star and the reason we will buy Madame X, I do wonder whether other parties will take too much focus away from her. As she has this new persona and storyline, these other artists give additional voices and characters. I can appreciate that they need to be there so the album has this sense of story and narrative but I do feel like a few less cooks in the kitchen would have been a good thing. In the Spotify era, collaborations are a great way for artists to get more people listening to their music. A big artist can bring others on and, in an instant, the profile of the lesser-heard artist can rise. I am not cynically claiming collaboration is about business and getting the numbers up but a lot of songs do not need others performing on them – or not as many as you get! I hear songs with five or six different artists on it and it can be pretty annoying! In the case of Madonna, she has carefully selected her collaborators and has always worked with different acts through her career. Collaborations before have been quite subtle and it is only in recent years where other performers have taken more of a role in her sound. Madonna does not really need others to make her look and sound great but some say that her collaborating is an effort to remain relevant and fresh in a competitive market.
That would be wrong as Madonna is the Queen of Pop and will always have a huge fanbase. The landscape has changed since she burst through in the 1980s and there is a lot more to choose from. Music has become more digital and the type of music we favour is also different. Doing what she did back in the 1980s and 1990s might not work now and there is nothing wrong with joining with other artists. It will be a big test for Madame X as to whether these other artists take too much focus. Five songs have collaborators and I just hope that Madonna is not pushed out of the way and has minor say when it comes to the vocals. If you have the odd duet or another voice in the background, it can be highly effective and original. Maluma features a couple of times on the album and seems to be a lover-type figure. There are no big names collaborating which makes me feel like there is not going to be that feeling world-famous and legendary figures are in there just to revive their career. On the other hand, I have not heard of any of the collaborators on the album and, I guess, they are trendy and cool with the young folk. Madonna has a reason for including them but I do wonder whether, instead of the hip newcomers, she could have created a bigger punch joining with more established and long-standing artists. I am not a big fan of the BBC Radio 1-type artists who seem very popular and cool but will not endure many years from now. Madonna does not need these type of artists to make her cool and current but, so long as motives are pure, then it is fine. Recent Madonna records have brought in super-cool producers and artists but I think it is a way of making sure her material is in good hands and sounds contemporary. She could not well keep writing and producing with the same people in a climate that has changed; she needs to bring in the new core and, yes, use other artists to bring new fans/eyes Madonna’s way.
Not only are new personas and constant creative shifts a reason why Madonna ensures and inspires but she has knows what the people want. Look back at her early career and Madonna was aware of how good she was and what the scene was lacking. She talked about deeper subjects and tackled things that others were not. There was this boldness and confidence that meant she was a standout artist from the 1980s and 1990s. Able to fit in with changing musical trends and keep her material fresh and individual, Madonna was much more inventive, savvy and strong than her peers. She is shrewd when it comes to business and takes care of every aspect of her career. Look at the way Madame X has been promoted and teased and here is Madonna able to adapt to 2019. That sounds patronising but she is not an artist who sits back and assumes her legacy will create sales. She realises people need to promote in a certain way and has created this great campaign. As opposed doing a few interviews and letting a team run things, she is more hands-on and is keen to take care of things. Madonna also celebrates her older albums and wants people to discover them. This balance between a very modern artist and someone who acknowledges her past is fascinating. I have seen some legendary artists lose fans because they either do not change or they sound a bit fake when trying to modernise. Madonna knows what her fans want and does not change that. She needs to keep evolving and looking forward but she could easily sell out and be someone different. There are multiple reasons why Madonna has endured but she can read the market and is able to change and create these steps without losing her core and true identity. The music itself remains strong and always keeps you guessing. Others need to look her way regarding how to survive and remain in a very challenging industry.
I have been a fan of Madonna since the 1980s and feel that she has many more years ahead. She ruled Pop in the 1980s but knew that, in the 1990s, music was changing. Erotica brought in some Dance and House elements and she was aware of the European influence in the early-1990s. Ray of Light in 1998 was the first album to bring Electronic music fully into the mainstream and give producers like William Orbit a bigger voice. I think it is the risks Madonna takes and how she can see the future. Rather than copy what everyone is up to, she looks to the underground and creates something new. Madonna always bends sounds and united different genres and, on Medllin, she is at it again. This article from The Telegraph shows why Madonna backing a Latin sound is important – and what we might expect from the rest of Madame X:
“If Medellín is anything to go by, then the Queen of Pop is back to her usual genre-bending form. A collaboration with the 25-year-old Latin-pop sensation, Maluma, the airy reggaeton-infused track, named after the city in which Maluma was born, is written in both English and Spanish – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Madonna already revealed her penchant for Latin music on her 1986 song La Isla Bonita.
The Latino flavour is timely: while sales of music in Europe grew by just 0.1 per cent in 2018, Latin America grew by 16.8 per cent. US pop stars have been paying attention – both Beyoncé and Justin Bieber have worked with Latinx artists since 2017 (the year when 19 predominantly Spanish-language tracks made their way into the Billboard Hot 100).
Several details about Madame X are still under-wraps, but we do know that Mirwais Ahmadzai, who worked with Madonna on her albums Music and American Life will be involved, as well as Rebel Heart producer Mike Dean”.
That foresight regarding sounds and utilising the best producers around means Madonna can keep her career burning and inspire a new generation. She is always moving forward and does not want to repeat herself. This is something that should act as guide to other artists who repeat themselves and never really shift between albums. Whereas some of her iconic peers are eager to remain still and not really embrace the modern ways, Madonna is always adapting and bending to ensure that nobody rivals her.
There is always this talk regarding Madonna as Pop’s queen and whether she can compete now. Many say that people like Arianna Grande and Lady Gaga are overtaking her. There is a raft of new Pop artists who are popular but can one really lay claim to a new leader when Madonna is still kicking?! Given the body of work Madonna has and how she has changed music, I am not sure anyone in our life will rival what she has given music. The newcomers are okay but it is quite insulting to think that one could easily usurp Madonna with a couple of good albums and some big Instagram figures. You need to have respect for Madonna’s past and what she has given music. Madonna endures and compels today because she has that legacy but she has embraced modern technology and ways. She could just release a single or two and bring the album out – that would be fine and it’d sell well. Some relatively new Madonna albums have not sold as well as hoped but maybe that was to do with the social media campaign. Having this Madame X character means Madonna can build that sense of interest and use social media in a different way. She is posting photos and tweets regarding different aspects of Madame X and there is a new picture for each one. The teaser for the album was this cool little film where we saw Madonna in different costumes and giving Madame X this rather dramatic and flowing edge. She travels the world and is a chameleon that inspires, breaks and loves. I do feel like a lot of modern music and promotion relies on something quick and easy that we can digest and then move on from. Here, Madonna has given us something that requires a bit of imagination and actually hooks you in. You can call it gimmicky and a bit of a marketing tool but it is a natural extension of what she has done in the past.
I love the fact Madonna keeps things interesting and, in 2019, is still turning heads and getting people talking! I will move on to reviewing Medellin soon but I wanted to ageism in the industry. Madonna has faced this for a while now and, in fact, post-Music (2000), one feels like certain radio stations have overlooked her. Madonna is only sixty and showing that age does not matter. There are older artists who are producing gentler music and not quite as empathic as they were back in the day. Whether we are talking about Kylie Minogue or Sheryl Crow, they have faced ageism attacks and been relegated by radio stations that used to play their music. It is an issue that affects more women than men and I do wonder why there is this feeling an artist becomes irrelevant or uncool when they hit a certain age. Look at what Madonna has given to music and you can see how she has inspired and brought music to where it is. Albums like Erotica gave rise to more provocative and daring artists; each of her big records has resonated with artists and made them want to follow in her footsteps. It is a crying shame that many overlook Madonna because she has reached sixty and, therefore, needs to be shunned to a limited range of radio stations. Madame X will be an album full of life and pop. Madonna is not sitting down with an acoustic guitar and playing things safe: the always-enduing and influential leader is ensuring her music has the same sort of energy and desire it always has. Why, then, do radio stations ignore the sound and dynamic of the music and focus on age alone? I get the suspicion BBC Radio 1 will not be playing much of her album but maybe they will. It is strange that slightly softer and more romantic songs from recent Madonna albums have been overlooked but the more upbeat ones are okay. Perhaps joining with artists like Maluma means she has that crossover appeal but it seems tragic that it takes these relatively inexperienced artists to give Madonna a place on ‘younger’ radio stations.
A lot has been made of Medellin and some slightly dodgy lyrics. I shall come to them but, in terms of the opening notes, Madonna checks the microphone. She gives us a whispered and sensual “1,2…” and makes sure people can hear her before things kick off. In some ways, it is Madonna returning to the stage and getting people’s attention. Before you get any images of Madonna on the stage and being this sort of cabaret figure, she talks about taking a pill and slipping into a dream. There is this sense of nostalgia and slipping back as she returns to the age of seventeen and a time, one suspects, where music was making a big impression on her. There are some cool beats and electronic funk whereas we get some Maluma injections in the background. His presence is quite low and anonymous at the very start as Madonna talks about her dreams and experiences – one could not have a first single from this album and feature too much of a collaborator at the top! That distinct Madonna vocal sound rides the wave as she takes sips and dreams. One gets the sense of this heroine sleeping in the sun and returning to a younger time. Maybe there is naivety but it is interesting hearing Madonna look back on a song that is very modern and unlike what she has done before. In terms of sounds, there is a Latin flavour that runs throughout. This is not new to her. Songs like La Isla Bonita (True Blue, 1986) show Madonna has an affinity for Latin sounds but here we get a fusion with something jagged and harder-hitting. The song is quite romantic but a more modern version of a track such as La Isla Bonita. Maluma comes in with Spanish verse and you will need to put the lyrics through Google to understand what he is singing about. Madonna responds to the alluring call of Maluma with the declaration that she will be so good for him.
You cannot help but escape the catchiness and sense of dance that defines the song. Medellin is a twisting, groovy song that has a definite swivel and fun to it. Madonna sips her pain “like a Champagne” and feels naked; alive and vulnerable without having to have to hide herself. Maybe the Spanish lyrics are a bit hard to get behind and there is this clash between the familiar words and a feeling rather than clarity. One can appreciate Maluma in terms of sound but, as many will not know what he is singing, it means you might have to pause the song and translate the words. In many ways, it means Madonna can make the biggest stamp and can resonate harder. It is nice to hear the two artists spar and unite as they have a very different sound. We get a bit of processed vocals and machines stepping in but they are more for effect than to disguise a lack of strength. The chorus for Medellin has a big heart and pump and the song itself never loses its fire and sassiness! Madonna sort of returns to her earliest days when she was putting out Pop belters. One can also look at albums like True Blue and Ray of Light in terms of the energy and quality being put forward. Some of the lyrics do sort of slip by – and there is a time when she talks about love being like a cartel that does seem a bit of a poor choice – but most of the words strike and provide clear and alluring images. Medellin will definitely strike those who like their Pop with a twist but it is the fusion of genres that gets to me. Madonna takes a trip with her lover and the two unite and sway with one another. Beats crackle and the sunshine breeze gives the track a real heat and intensity. You need a few spins to get to the heart of the song but it definitely puts you in a better mood! It is hard to escape the passion and power. Madonna, I feel, stands out and gives the biggest performance but Maluma adds an exoticness and vocal that is less crowbarred and more essential – the two are on the same page and it will be great seeing what Maluma brings to another Madame X song, Bitch I’m Loca. It has been a few years since we have heard Madonna music but the wait has been worth it. There are some slightly weak aspects of Medellin – some of the lyrics are saccharine and trite; more natural instrumentation and strings rather than electronics could have created a better song – but this is a strong and compelling song above everything. It is good to Madonna back!
Madame X will be out on 14th June and it is the fourteenth studio album from Madonna. There have been a lot of photos, teases and posts to suggest what we might get from the album. There has not been an official video for Medellin yet so that will be interesting to see what comes about. Madonna posted the tracklist for the album and there are some great titles to be found – Batuka and Bitch I’m Loca among them! I am sure there will be other singles before the album is released and it will be cool to see the various visuals and characters Madonna plays. I am not sure when Madonna will tour but, in terms of images and sets, one feels like a Madame X tour could rival some of her best work. Think of all the different sets and visuals she will create and what could come about! There are no firm plans at the moment but, when the album is out, I am sure there will be dates announced. It is a great time for Madonna and I cannot wait to see where she heads from here. I understand she is moving from Portugal (where she lives) to New York and she has recently been in London talking about Madame X. I have talked about reinvention and ageism and how it relates to Madonna. It is sad that many stations and outlets will overlook Madame X because of Madonna’s age rather than the quality of the music. Madonna does not need to worry as the album will get a lot of great reviews and many will want to see her hit the road. There is nobody out there who keeps changing shapes and moving like Madonna! She has been at the forefront of music since the early days of her career and many are calling Medellin a return to form. Albums such as MDNA (2012) and Rebel Heart (2015) got some good reviews but nothing quite like Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005). It appears there is a new lease back in Madonna’s music and, even though she has created this new heroine, Madame X will be personal and revealing. There is a lot to look forward to and recommend so, when the album is released, make sure you get a copy and see Madonna in…
A new light.