Madonna announced the arrival of six songs from her forthcoming album on Saturday as “an early Christmas gift” to her millions of fans, but in fact, the rush release of the new tracks happened in response to an earlier internet leak of 13 tracks, reportedly comprising the entirety of the “Rebel Heart” album, due on March 10.
The security breach within the Madonna ranks deeply upset the star, who took to Instagram and posted the following: “I am asking my true fans and supporters who respect me as an artist and a human to not get involved with the purchasing trading or posting of unreleased images or music.” She would refer to the breach as both “artistic rape” and “a form of terrorism” in later posts.
Security breaches notwithstanding, Madonna’s fans were happy to be “gifted” with new material, and promptly pushed the first single, “Living for Love,” to No. 1 in more than 20 countries. All six tunes - “Living For Love,” “Devil Pray,” “Ghosttown,” “Unapologetic Bitch,” “Illuminati” and “Bitch I’m Madonna (featuring Nicki Minaj)” – were made available immediately when fans pre-ordered “Rebel Heart” via iTunes.com/Madonna. By Tuesday, all six songs sat within the iTunes Top 10 in several countries.
The demand for new Madonna product is clearly there, but what about the music itself?
As has been the case with Madonna for decades, the creation of the new album involved collaborations with several of-the-moment producers, among them Diplo, Kanye West and Blood Diamonds.
“Living For Love” is reminiscent of earlier club-style anthems of the type that have traditionally been huge hits for Madonna, a sort of “Express Yourself” updated for Generation Drop-the-Bass by producer Diplo; “Illuminati” is pretty much straight-up EDM, with Madonna’s vocals drenched in auto-tune; “Bitch I’m Madonna” is the singer’s third collaboration with Minaj, and is close to an embarrassment, so blatant is its attempt to keep up with the Charli XCX’s of the world by crafting an obtuse but cutesy club banger. (That said, Madonna, as she has always done, manages to pull it off with at least some of her dignity intact.)
The balance of the six new tunes fare much better, as they stick closer to the Madonna script, which has always involved the singer keeping her ear to the ground, spotting new trends while they are still developing in the underground, and watering them down just enough so that her audience will accept them as her own innovations. Madonna is a dance music chameleon, and is always at her best when she slaps pop-as-pop-can-be choruses on mildly edgy dance club tracks, which is what happens with the infectious “Unapologetic Bitch” and the acoustic guitar-laced electro-pop backing the apparent anti-drug anthem “Devil Pray.”
In all, this is about what we would expect from the Madonna who released “MDNA” in 2012, and then promptly set about the reconstruction of her image from dance-pop Godmother into an artist still relevant to the audience claimed by the likes of Minaj, Beyonce, and Katy Perry.
Madonna is 56 now, and just how long she can continue to chase youth-oriented trends – particularly ones that are inextricably tied to burlesque-style performances and the selling of sexual mystique – is anyone’s guess. For the time being, based on these six of the projected 13 songs due on “Rebel Heart” in March, she’s still pulling it off. Just.