Archive for November 11th, 2011

Madonna: only as good as her team is

So Madonna’s new single leaked out (sounded more like a “calculated” leak to me). The song itself is a travesty. It’s a cheerleader song, sang by a 53 year old woman. It is reminiscent of early ’80s Blondie, but in a bad way. The song does not add its own spin on the era, the same way modern chillwave does to synthpop, or modern darkwave does to goth-rock. It’s just a copy/paste effort from that era, and not a great representation of it either. This is not the kind of music Madonna needs to do to stay relevant.

Madonna’s previous album was pretty bad as well. Except 2-3 songs in it, the rest were just “too easy”, too flat. But her 2005 album, “Confessions on the Dance Floor”, as well as her previous 3 before that, were really good albums. The music was memorable, and it was blending rather than having over-powering vocals. I’m afraid to say that if the rest of her new album is as bad as this leaked demo song, it would probably be her worst album to date.

The thing with Madonna is that she does a little bit of everything. She writes, she directs, she plays piano/guitar/drums, she sings, she dances, she acts, etc. She’s not that good in any of these in particular. She’s just good-enough in all of them though, enough to get her through the job, with the help of her team. So she’s not multi-talented per se, but rather multi-functioning. Her real talent is business. That’s what has kept her in the limelight for 25 years now.

She’s still the concept-creator though. She explains her ideas, she writes some of them down (music, but mostly lyrics), and then her team puts together the work/production for her. I don’t think this diminishes her as an artist, she’s the one with most of the ideas anyway. But the finished work can only be as good as her team is. If her team is crappy, the realization of her ideas will be crappy too.

Madonna has worked with pretty much the same producers for the last 13 years (after the birth of Lourdes, in the beginning of her re-launched second major part of her career). Before that, she worked for another 15 years with her previous team (usually band members from her first early ’80s band, “The Breakfast Club”, where she was a drummer). Of course, some producers came and go (e.g. Timberlake), but the core of her team hasn’t changed much all these years.

The problem is that people get old. Madonna obviously refuses to do so, but her team is not the same open-minded and creative people they were in 1998. Very few artists remain equally earth-shuttering in young age and later in life. Painters like Picasso seem to be able to manage staying fresh when they get old, but most musicians don’t. When Madonna put together her current production team, these guys were on top of their game at the time (e.g. William Orbit). But the time has come to move to her next team now. She needs new blood ASAP.

And that new blood can only be found in the hipster domain. Not in hip-hop (with Timbaland over-charging his crap), and not in pop (hint: Sweden). As much as some people saw Madonna as a pop marionette, she always tried to push forward with her art and her eccentricity. You might had to look a bit hard to find the glimpses of genius, but they were there. These days, the music scene that produces anything of worth is that of Brooklyn. That’s where Madonna needs to go and look for new blood (even if most bands of this movement aren’t local to Brooklyn). She has the money to put together a super-team from members of Grizzly Bear, Atlas Sound, Animal Collective, Phantogram, Washed Out, Beach House, Bear In Heaven, Crystal Castles, Fever Ray, M83, Neon Indian, Yeasayer, MGMT, etc.

Marry the progressive hipster scene with pop, and there’s no better way to do this than “using” the Queen of Pop to bring that kind of music to the masses: Madonna. Sure, this will be seen as a blasphemous act by many hardcore hipsters (who hate anything commercial), but my response is: fuck’em.

The style I’d go for her new album would be electronic, but not exactly dancy, and not exactly down-tempo either, but rather dreamy, with the vocals being a bit un-focused (clean shouting vocals of pop begone). She needs to bring layers and complexity to her music, because just as she is 53 years old and needs to act her age via her music, a lot of her fans are also older now, and not necessarily hooked anymore by easy pop. This is the kind of music style I’d like to see her do (mp3 is a legal download, hosted on Pitchfork, have a listen).

Since Madonna is all about a concept “theme and look” on her image & videos for each of her albums, I’d go for the space look. That’s one look Madonna has never done (she only touched it on her “Rain” 1993 video). Cut her hair very short, color them white with black stripes. Dress her in Aeon Flux-style fashion (samples: 1, 2, 3).

Conclusion: Madonna must musically evolve and go with the times, or die a painful artistic & business death.