“Madame X” is many things – a poet, a spy, a soccer mom, a traveling car salesman, your neighbor Brenda from high school – but the one thing she’s not is easy to describe. And in a music landscape that’s become awfully predictable, an indescribable album is a welcoming change.
There is a journey to be taken through “Madame X”, from the dreamy, sip-induced trip to “Medellín”, to the triumphant conquering over adversary in “I Rise”. What happens in between these songs is a meditation on love, hate, politics, and the self, and is a rare invitation into the mind of one of pop music’s living legends.
If “Medellín” sets the musical tone for the album, then the one-two punch of “Dark Ballet” and “God Control” establishes the psyche of it: the world is not right, and it’s frustrating.
‘Cause your world is such a shame
‘Cause your world’s obsessed with fame
‘Cause your world’s in so much pain
‘Cause your world is
‘Cause your world is
Up in flames
If there was ever a song that suggests that you stop what you’re doing and go read the Muller Report, it’s “Dark Ballet”. Madonna’s taunting waltz finds her torn between the beauty of fame and the illusion of lies that say everything is fine, and the harsh reality that crimes are being committed in the highest offices of American political society. The video for the song, featuring Mykki Blanco as a Joan of Arc character, illustrates Madonna’s frustration: she wants to talk about the injustices in the world, but she’s being told to “shut [her] mouth”.
During a spoken-word interlude, Madonna claims that “They think we are unaware of their crimes”, but as the discofied “God Control” reveals, “Everyone knows the damn truth”. “God Control” is an immediate highlight of the album, combining the sound of “Confessions”, the lyrics of “American Life”, and the vocoder of “Music” into one massive, six-minute track that dares you to dance in acceptance that nothing is being done to fix the woes of our country, particularly gun control.
“Bakuta” furthers this trend, a call-and-response song that contains a message of hope if we’re willing to take the long journey to justice. It also contains Madonna’s most direct political message: “Get that old man / Put him in a jail”. I wonder who that’s about, hmm? These songs are more than a condemnation of the current administration, but of those who refuse to act against it as well. (Talking about you, Democrats who aren’t calling for impeachment proceedings…)
The production on “Killers Who Are Partying” is interesting and nice, and that’s all I’m going to say about that song.
“Madame X” then segues into the trials and tribulations of love, beginning with “Crave”. In contrast, “Crazy” is a cute anti-love song where Madonna claims that maybe she’s too much for her lover, and that she’s moving on because she’s not going to let them drive her crazy. The production is lush and charming, and it’s refreshing to hear Madonna sing in a way that’s reminiscent of the tone of her “True Blue” album. “Come Alive” marries the topics of politics and love, with Madonna claiming that all she wants is peace.
“Extreme Occident” is Madonna at her most introspective, seeking “to recover a center of gravity”. There is a bit of a gut-punch revelation in the song, where Madonna reveals that she wasn’t actually lost all along, and therefore can’t blame the world for her instability. It’s a stunning ballad of self-acceptance and self-determination, and calls on us all to find the right path forward.
Where that path leads, as “Madame X” suggests, is to a world of love, mercy, and resilience. “Faz Gostoso” and “Bitch I’m Loca” are fun bops with inspired features from Anitta and Maluma respectively, and allow Madonna to flex her trilingual skills. They’re light enough songs to satisfy even the most shallow of Madonna fans who are only looking for tracks to dance to, which is never a bad thing.
Drawing inspiration from “Deeper and Deeper” (!!!) is “I Don’t Search I Find”, an “Erotica”-laden boast of finding a partner, instead of merely searching for one. This is Madonna at her most confident, discussing love, fate, and restlessness above an impressive Mirwais-beat. (God is it good to have those two paired up again.)
“Looking for Mercy” features soaring vocals and strings, and a plea for, well, mercy. It is a beautiful piece, and is a wonderful wind-down as the album closes on “I Rise”, an empowering anthem about rising above “the tragic in it”. “Died a thousand times, managed to survive” is a lyric only Madonna can sing, and it’s hard not to cheer for her when she does.
What I’m trying to convey here is that “Madame X” is a complex Madonna record, stubborn in its refusal to conform to a singular tone, subject matter, or voice, much like the singer herself. It’s brazen, bold, sweet, and fun, with a healthy dose of irony and angst that’s common in all of Madonna’s best work. It’s going to take some time for me to place “Madame X” within the ranking of Madonna’s discography, but I’m having a fun time listening to it (on repeat). I hope you do too.