Madonna Resonates Wildly as the Extraordinary ‘Madame X’
Madonna is such an iconic figure in pop culture that she has subconsciously seeped into the spirit of nearly everyone over the years. While most pop stars tire and fade over time, Madonna stands out with as much vibrance, creative energy, and pulse on the moment as possible. Her latest album, “Madame X,” shows her prominently exploring Latin sounds, while delving into various styles, but still always sounding unmistakably like Madonna.
The album starts with a whispering of “One, two, cha cha cha,” followed by lines like “I took a pill and took a dream.” In an instant, it brings back everything Madonna is known for — instinctive immediacy, spirit of youth, rebelliousness. The song is “Medellín” and Columbian singer-songwriter Maluma joins her, tapping into a rhythm that takes things off into a whole different sphere immediately. Then, “Dark Ballet” takes a different, starry-eyed, whimsical tone, and when the beat drops, it fully falls into place in a way that strikes a chord in a viscerally profound way. The song features lines like “I can dress like a boy / I can dress like a girl,” again very much in what we’ve come to expect from Madonna, and it ends in a bit of elaborate piano filigree.
On “God Control,” Madonna puts on a whole different voice, while singing of our decaying country, sounding like she’s pouting her lips constantly, in a way that’s very camp. The music takes a turn into choir-type orchestration, giving way to disco-fused electronic stylings reminiscent of 2013 Daft Punk with Madonna singing and speaking flirtily, while enveloped in ‘70s style sweeping strings. Madonna sings lines like “A new democracy,” “We lost god control,” and “We need to wake up” with a vagueness that is open-endedly cheeky. Then, Madonna dives headlong into reggae-inspired “Future,” a collaboration with Migos’ rapper Quavo, who chimes in with Auto-Tune business as standard, while Madonna sings “You ain’t woke” and “Not everyone is coming to the future / Not everyone is learning from the past.”
Madonna herself picks up Auto-tune for “Batuka,” although on a subtle level, backed by a cheerleading type of stomp. She gets carried away with her vocal ad libs, and the tribal-heavy song ends in sentimental violin, showing an eccentricity that Madonna has always managed to pull off while still staying accessible, as few can. For the brilliantly titled “Killers Who Are Partying,” she becomes an ally of the underdogs in society, with lines like, “I will be gay, if the gay are burned / I’ll be Africa, if Africa is shut down,” then singing “The world is wild” in Portuguese, and continuing with lines like “I’ll be Islam, if Islam is hated / I’ll be a woman, if she’s raped and her heart is breaking,” displaying a compassion that she has always shown hints of in her music.
Her infectious single “Crave” is a song that captures the intensity of romantic obsession with lines like “My cravings get dangerous / The feelings never fade / I don’t think we should play with this.” Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd, shows up, just for a short bit, but enough to put his stamp on the track. Madonna shifts gears, taking a more classic pop format for “Crazy,” telling a lover that she will not be tamed with lines such as, “Used to think that I was not enough for you / Now I see that I’m just way too much.” Mixing in hip-hop stunts, like a refrain of “Cray-ay-ay-zy,” Madonna spurts into bits of dialogue between English/Portuguese mixed choruses — continuing the theme that has loosely run through the album since the opening track. “Crazy” even finds Madonna channeling her best Beyoncé, with the line “Peel off my weakness layer after layer.”
“Come Alive” is a sassy, candy-coated track, delivered with a slightly sarcastic, elusive reservation of voice. For “Extreme Occident,” Madonna begins with “I went to the far right / Then I went to the far left,” Finally, someone in popular music speaks openly about not subscribing to one of two randomly assembled ideologies. Midway, a tabla player comes through, and the song gets Indian, but just for a moment. At this point, Madonna is exploring the whole world in her music, as reestablished in the next song “Faz Gostoso,” featuring Brazilian singer Anitta, and perhaps her most unabashedly Latin-themed song to date — that is until she keeps going, featuring Maluma on another track, “Bitch I’m Loca,” a song that ends with a dialogue, that has Maluma asking “Where do you want me to put this,” and Madonna responding, “Um, you can put it inside,” followed by laughter. It seems like she gets steadily more flashy with her risqueness, in order to keep up the provocative reputation that Madonna owes much of her allure to, and she pulls it off effortlessly.
Ever the determined spirit, Madonna follows with the classically titled “I Don’t Search I Find,” a song with intimate speaking moments that echo her ’90’s stirring single “Justify My Love.” Then on “Looking For Mercy,” she captures a rarely achieved balance of reflective profundity and lighthearted looseness. The album comes to closure with “I Rise,” a song that sums up all Madonna’s instincts in a way that properly finishes the album, and ends the set of songs on an uplifting, inspirational note.
“Madame X” is an album that showcases Madonna’s stylistic versatility, and her ability to tap into sounds with such a natural instinct and such a radiance that only the true geniuses in popular music are capable of. The album offers some new variety, with a heavy Latin influence, pulled off with great aplomb, and simultaneously brings back familiar sounds and spirit that are associated with Madonna’s legacy. It Madonna at her best — unabashed, unapologetic, and accompanied by a persona that is acheived by being the most outspoken woman in pop culture for decades.
“Madame X” is available June 14 on Apple Music.