Madonna’s “Madame X”: A Bold But Confused Circus

Madonna. Photo by Joanne Davidson/REX/Shutterstock (7550270a)

Madonna’s first album since 2015’s Rebel Heart is a bold mix of ideas and musical experiments. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The album opens with Madonna’s collaboration with Maluma, “Medellín.” She seductively whispers “cha cha cha” and then sings in a muddle of accents and languages. The track is OK, but it seems to suggest that Madonna’s hit-making days are over.

In the subsequent track “Dark Ballet”, we get a glimpse of an early Madonna. After all, Madonna reached icon status not by playing it safe, but by pushing boundaries and celebrating individuality. On the track, she sings: “I can dress like a boy, I can dress like a girl / Keep your beautiful words, ’cause I’m not concerned.”

It may be thirty years since the pop queen strutted her stuff alongside the LGBTQ+ community in the music video for her big hit “Vogue”, but we are still a way off the liberal and accepting world Madonna strived to create. In “Dark Ballet”, she plays with pianos and synthesizers to celebrate the “beautiful life” she hopes to live in. Two minutes in, the track starts to get weird and while we don’t love the jarring vocoder, we can respect that Madonna is still taking risks after over thirty years in the spotlight.

“Crave” on the other hand, is a far more authentic Madonna moment. She sings with an acoustic guitar and her voice is rippling with emotion. It feels more honest and while she still plays with different sounds, it is less of a circus and more of a true Madonna performance. “Crazy” on the other hand, has a totally different flavor. She plays with ’90s trip-hop, conjuring memories of Morcheeba and Massive Attack.

Overall, Madame X is such a mishmash of genres that it is hard to pinpoint what it is that ties the whole thing together. Even the vocals lack consistency, often getting lost in vocoders and playful accents. It is often unclear what Madonna is trying to do with Madame X and it often feels like she is guest singing on a compilation album from a series of artists.

Nonetheless, there is due respect for Madonna, who has continued to not just make music but experiment with it, despite the industry pushing her to retire. Madame X may not be the greatest album of her career, but it’s a reminder that Madonna is nowhere near ready to call it a day. And for that, we commend her.