Madame X has something to say.
Madonna’s latest album “Madame X” was released on June 14 , a follow up to 2015’s album “Rebel Heart” which was leaked months prior to the album’s official release date. Despite this, “Rebel Heart” spawned an arena tour, 3 singles with music videos and many opinions on if and how Madonna should still be performing at her age, putting up for dissection her relevance and the current impact she has on the music industry. Channelling a Joan of Arc archetype during this album’s era, Madonna made it out the other side (as she always does) hungry for new experiences, new music genres and a message to share.
Madame X is a direct dialogue to Madonna’s previous work “American Life”, acting as a sister opus to the politically charged 2003 album. While American Life explored American culture in all its shallow trivialities and contradictions, Madame X lends her voice to the oppressed. Further developing the Joan of Arc savior-martyr theme from Rebel Heart, Madonna intends to start a revolution with her new album. This fusion of sounds, themes and figures from both American Life and Rebel Heart set the stage for Madame X’s experimental, albeit intentional concept album.
American Life is much darker and cynical. it is a Madonna that has been jaded from the pressure of Hollywood and fame. Madame X on the other hand is an agent of change. She is the reactionary that American Life yearned for 16 years ago.
In “American Life” Madonna expresses how much she has tried to be to be what others wanted, while also mocking the American Dream she embodies (and everybody is jealous of). in this album Madonna expresses her opinions on materialism, American life, Hollywood’s vapidness in search of making your dreams come true and so much more (including religion and politics). What stands out in this song in particular in the song is the opening line that asks “Do I have to change my name?” and the first verse that declares how she has “tried to be a boy, tried to be a girl, tried to a mess”. She answers these statements in Madame X, by adopting a new persona and referencing all that she has been in “Dark Ballet”. In the video, Mykki Blanco is the Joan of Arc martyr character from which Madonna has drawn inspiration from; Mykki is burned at the stake for his ideals, expression and all Madonna can do is sit and watch. Yet he is unwavering in his final moments.
Madame X is the collective experience. American Life is the spirit of individualism and consumerist shallow America. (“Everybody comes to Hollywood, they wanna make it in the neighborhood”)
Madame X is all of this and more.
Where American Life is more about the hopeless American dream, a utopia that never happened, Madame X is grounded on reality, a character infused with hope. She explores the different parts of her persona in each of the songs on the album. From politically charged songs (Dark Ballet, God Control, Killers Who Are Partying, Extreme Occident, Looking for Mercy, I Rise) to fun songs created to pay tribute to the sounds that have inspired her during this era (Medellín, Faz Gostoso, Bitch I’m Loca, I Don’t Search I Find), Madame X is an album that delivers on its promises of who she says she is and who she’s inspired by.
“Medellín” is intended to take us on a journey at the beginning of the album with an unexpected if not strange feature, the Colombian singer-songwriter, rapper and overall heartthrob Maluma (“slow down papi”). Making a slight reference back to La Isla Bonita where Madonna was also reminiscing on an imaginary place from her dreams, Medellín starts off by going setting the stage for the different personas that will be explored throughout each of the album’s songs and who she has been throughout her career. (“Allowed myself to be naive, to be someone I've never been, Another me could now begin”) The rest of the story details a love story between Maluma and Madame X The Cha Cha Instructor, foreshadowing as it will happen while both singers go back and forth singing to each other in both Spanish and English; the video illustrates the complete affair from beginning to end.
“Dark Ballet” hints at the anger and reaction Madame X wants from her listeners, to acknowledge the rage we all have with the current state of the world and act upon it. Premiered at the MET Gala last year as “Beautiful Game” the song is a brilliant and surrealist mishmash of genres (a slow piano introduction that segues into a monologue told from the perspective of Joan of Arc, abruptly followed by Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Reeds from the Nutcracker ballet) that culminate in a call-to-action: “Can’t you hear the wind that’s beginning to howl?” referring to the stirring political climate in which the album intends to navigate. (My absolute favorite lyric: “The storm isn't in the air, it's inside of us”) The video embodies unbreakable courage in the face of oppression and injustice.
“God Control”, a standout track, has Madonna addressing America’s gun control problem head-on, following the military themes of American Life and the disco sound of Confessions on a Dance Floor. “This is your wakeup call”, as gunfire sounds in the background, warning shots for the listener; this is an album for those who want to listen to the truth, to the gospel of Madame X, her opinion on politics while building on the metaphor that ideas are bullets, the brain a revolver. This is the ground the album treads (dances, twirls and stomps on; Madame X is a dancer after all) upon. “Wake up” echoes as Madonna continues spewing out her gospel on the way gun violence affects innocent lives on the daily and what we can do to help. The song’s video also calls for action and reform on America’s gun control laws (see below).
“Future” is a reggae-inspired track talking about change and it’s harsh nature of it, talking about how it affects all of us. The path to the future is not for everyone (“not everyone is coming to the future, not everyone is coming from the past”) In Madame X’s world, the future is only for those who are comfortable with growth. Her performance on the Eurovision stage last May gave us glimpse into some of the things that need to change for all of us to step into a more progressive world.
“Batuka” is a battle cry and declaration hymn that intends to rally up her listeners and focus on the pressing issues we are facing, from urging for sympathy and political action to bring down our oppressors. “I Don’t Search I Find” is a disco dream that is equal parts hypnotizing dance track, equal parts journey, as Madame X checks off the the things she has found, including love, peace, you (a lover, or even herself perhaps) in the journey that has been Madonna’s career for almost 4 decades (and counting).
“I Rise” is about resilience, the deconstruction of our identities (“I have died a thousand times”) and how the human spirit overcomes challenges. With I Rise, Madonna describes how she has maintained her relevance (sorry, but that’s not up for negotiation) through her reinvention. Seriously though, go watch her Reinvention World Tour and then spiral down the rest of her concert shows for a peak into her genius, if you haven’t.
In her last 3 albums (Hard Candy, MDNA, and Rebel Heart), Madonna has demonstrated that although she remains the artistic genius we know her to be, it is in collaboration and power in numbers where she (we) grow. The collabs featured on this album are not expected in any way, but they make the album’s message a lot stronger and more authentic. Features such as Anitta, Quavo, Maluma and Swae Lee might have been bizarre and out of place years ago for Madonna, but with the 3+ decades of experience under her belt the Queen of Pop can pretty much do whatever she wants. Her sampling of these unique sounds on the album and paying tribute to the places she draws inspiration from give the album a unique worldly feeling that is grounded in reality at the same time that it imagines a better world for us all to live in. We just have to be willing to listen, to break ourselves down and prepare ourselves for change. Just the way she has been doing for almost 4 decades.
P.S. I’ll be attending the Madame X October 16 concert in Chicago’s Chicago Theater, so expect my take on her theater tour.
Stream Madame X on your favorite streaming platforms (Spotify)
Medellín ft. Maluma
Future ft. Quavo
Killers Who Are Partying
Crave Ft. Swae Lee
Extreme Occident (Deluxe Version track)
Faz Gostoso ft. Anitta
Bitch I’m Loca ft. Maluma
I Don’t Search I Find
Looking for Mercy (Deluxe Version track)
Funana (2 CD Version bonus track)
Back That Up To The Beat (2 CD Version bonus track)
Ciao Bella (2 CD Version bonus track)