Is there a more iconic or influential musical artist alive than Madonna? Thirty years into an illustrious and historic career, the Queen of Pop’s fourteenth studio album, Madame X proves she still has more to offer.
Madge’s last album, Rebel Heart, was plagued by leaks and an unclear theme. There were strong individual tracks, but as a whole, it simply was not up to the standard of previous Madonna records. Madame X, on the other hand, is yet another concept album from Madonna, but then again, isn’t every Madonna record a concept album in some way? In Madonna’s own words, “Madame X is a secret agent. Traveling around the world. Changing identities. Fighting for freedom. Bringing light to dark places. She is a dancer. A professor. A head of state. A housekeeper. An equestrian. A prisoner. A student. A mother. A child. A teacher. A nun. A singer. A saint. A whore. A spy in the house of love. I am Madame X.” Essentially Madame X is Madonna assuming any and every role necessary to bring humanity together through light and positivity.
Like most Madonna records, Madame X is political. Take the outstanding “Dark Ballet” for example, in this orchestral trap opera of sorts, Madonna sings about the subliminal darkness of our modern world before launching into a monologue in which she warns those in power of their imminent usurpation. It’s dense and powerful stuff, especially since the monologue is recited over an electronic arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes.” Other Madame X tracks like “Killers Who Are Partying”; “Looking for Mercy”; “I Rise”; and the Quavo-assisted “Future,” are also part of Madame X’s journey to light and liberation. In essence, Madame X’s goal is to bring people together, so the implementation of different languages and genres does not feel as forced as it could have. On this new album, Madonna sings in English, Spanish, and Portuguese; she also collaborates with global Latin superstars Maluma (twice!) and Anitta. The genres on Madame X are primarily pop, trap, and Latin, but there also elements of disco, soft rock, and funk throughout the album.
Madame X excels when Madonna is able to achieve the careful balance of her classic artistry and newer talent and technology. “Crave,” her collaboration with Swae Lee is a perfect example; it’s a saccharine mid-tempo track about love, but Swae Lee’s atmospheric vocal performance is a smart complement to Madonna’s tender voice. The militaristic “Future” is a bit bizarre on first listen, but the harshness of the track works well with Quavo’s trademark Auto-Tuned staccato flow. Moreover, Maluma and Madonna have explosive chemistry on their tracks, especially on “Medellín,” one of Madonna’s stronger singles this decade. Finally, the Anitta collaboration, “Faz Gostoso” is the dance floor-shaking banger that Madonna was searching for on Rebel Heart and MDNA.
The fatal flaw of Madame X, however, is the vocal production. Madonna’s voice sounds so processed, that at times it feels devoid of any emotion or humanity. This is especially ironic given the mission of the Madame X character. There are some bright spots like “Medellín” and “Dark Ballet,” where Madonna is actually emoting, but on tracks like “God Control,” her vocals are far too robotic to keep up with the effervescent production.
At worst, Madame X feels like a textbook “white savior” that finds redemption through other cultures and hopes to enlighten the rest of the world. At best, Madame X is a genuine attempt (through music) to actively used one’s privilege for the greater good. Madonna takes on a lot in about 64 minutes; she covers a lot of ground and creates a sprawling character, but ultimately Madame X is equally confusing, bizarre, endlessly compelling, and fun. Madame X is a testament to Madonna’s longevity and stone cold proof that while she may no longer run the pop game, she is still definitely in it.
Key Tracks: “Crave”; “Crazy”; “Medellín”; “Dark Ballet”; “Faz Gostoso”