Madonna's Madame X, her 14th album is her bravest (& quite possibly her most brilliant) album yet.
Madame X kicks off the album - and Madonna's latest era- with Medellín. The bilingual, latin, reggaeton-lite song, featuring Maluma, manages to be both insanely catchy ("One, two, cha cha cha", "Slow down Papi") and self reflective ("I took a trip it set me free. Forgave myself for being me"). This is a knack Madonna has a long history of doing incredibly well. With Medellín, the Madame X era - and album - begins, introducing us to the many facets of Madame X ("Another me could now begin") that we will meet over the course of the next 14 songs.
Madame X continues on with Dark Ballet, an incredibly weird, beautiful piece written by Madonna & Mirwais, which sounds like what you would get it you put the American Life album, Nutcracker Suite and Bohemian Rhapsody in a blender. You have literally never heard anything like it. The hauntingly beautiful music video only serves to make this song stronger upon further listens.
God Control is a brilliant song produced by Madonna, Mirwais and Mike Dean which starts monotonously, almost droning on about how we've lost control of our country, our laws and ultimately ourselves. Because we seemingly can't get control of our laws (such as gun reform), we try to compensate by scheduling and over controlling the everyday mundane factions of our lives, but ultimately, we are essentially at the whims of the next gunman. This is all before the song explodes into pure disco whisking us away into 70's inspired fantasy demanding that we wake up to the repetitive, sameness that keeps us at the mercy of lax gun laws.
Future, produced by Madonna & Diplo, is up next. A Caribbean inspired, dancehall bop, Future features Quavo (from Migos), trading verses with Madonna about getting woke to the issues surrounding us. Taking this further, Future tells us to leave behind the ones who refuse to evolve on social issues - even if its ourselves ("Don't like the person in your past, so you let 'em die).
Batuka is tribal song featuring Batukadeiras Orchestra, an all female, Portuguese orchestra. Madonna acts as the leader, rounding up the people to stand up to injustice and demand change for the better. Killers Who Are Partying finds Madonna, er Madame X, philosophically taking on the pain of the worlds prosecuted people (homosexuals, Muslims, children, the poor, etc). This may be one of the most beautiful songs that's partially sung in Portuguese and features an accordion that you will ever hear in your life. There are not many (if any) popular, mainstream American artists that aren't afraid to put fado music in the middle of their album.
Crave (featuring Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd) is a downbeat, acoustic trap song. Yes, Madonna just invented that genre. Expect to hear your fave doing a downbeat, acoustic trap song ASAP. Crave talks about connecting to an estranged lover over a hypnotic acoustic riff. This is the first U.S. single and is a fresh, heartfelt spin on the often harsh, thumping sounds of trap.
Crazy is a bit more straightforward pop, but as per usual, unlike anything anyone else is doing, yet remains irresistibly catchy. Come Alive follows with yet another more straightforward pop song, but you won't hear anything else like this on the radio. Following Come Alive is Extreme Occident, another Madonna & Mirwais co-production that finds Madonna contemplating her life as she traveled the world searching to find herself, only to realize she was never lost at all.
Faz Gostoso is a partial cover, partial reworking of a song of the same name by an obscure Brazilian artist named Blaya. This reworked version is much more punchy with an immediacy that makes you want to immediately get up and dance. Annita, a relatively new Brazillian artist, joins Madonna on the track and the two trade lines like they've been doing this forever. Their harmonies take Faz Gostoso to another level that the original could never reach.
Bitch I'm Loca finds Maluma rejoining Madonna for a more dance-y, upbeat song that will have you screaming. I Don't Search I Find could have been taken directly from her underrated album Erotica. This moody, 90's House song is essentially the only purely dance song on the album, but it sure is a juicy treat.
Looking For Mercy is a sweeping ballad with a driving beat that finds Madonna introspectively assessing her life while throwing out a life line in the hopes that someone will reel her in. " (Hard enough trying to forgive, hard enough trying to live. Flawed, flawed by design. Please, please sympathize."). This is a woman who realizes she's made mistakes but is searching for someone who can look past them.
Finally, I Rise closes the album, by opening with a clip of a speech by Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez speaking out against the adults who have said children shouldn't have a say. Madonna takes Emma, and all who are misunderstood and marginalized, under her Pop Queen wings and delivers the catchiest protest song in pop history.
Madame X is an album by an artist who isn't afraid to take risks, 37 years into her incredible career. As she states in I Rise, "There's nothing you can do to me that hasn't been done...No game that you can play with me, I ain't one." Not only has she broken every record there is, she's created new heights for everyone else to aim for. Top selling female artist in history? Check. More #1 Billboard hits than anyone? Broke that record 5 years ago. Over $1.5 billion in concert ticket sales? Done. More Top 10 hits than anyone ever? Did that too. Yet, this isn't an artist who is chasing the charts anymore. This is exactly why she's successful and why Madame X hit #1 in 60 countries in only it's first day of release.
One thing Madonna has always been is fearless and that is more than evident in the risks she takes with Madame X. From the beautifully strange Dark Ballet to putting a fado song in the middle of her 14th album, she's not afraid to create art. And as easy as it might be for one to see Madonna only for her huge pop confections, it would be downright ignorant to ignore the art behind her body of work. Madame X is a brilliant, powerful, artful record that you would never see any other artist release because they wouldn't have the cojones to do it.
Not only is it as confessional as the masterpiece that is Confessions on a Dancefloor, politically centered as the criminally underrated American Life, but it's as strong musically as the celebrated Ray of Light. It's understandable to see why some could write Madame X off. It's different, it's challenging and it's unique. But that would be a loss for them. It's brilliancy is in the fact that it's not an album that is immediate. It's brilliancy is that it is a thought provoking piece of art wrapped slyly in latin inspired living room session, delivered straight to your ears.
Listen to Episode 24 of Pop Culture Weekly: Madonna & Madame X (featuring an interview with Monte Pittman) on iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker, Google Podcasts and everywhere else.
Listen to Kyle McMahon every Saturday and Sunday 10a - 3p eastern on 92.9 TOM-FM or the iHeart Radio App, subscribe to the Pop Culture Weekly podcast and check out KyleMcMahon.me. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.