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.


Ivan wrote on November 12th, 2011 at 10:09 PM PST:

Isn’t this a question about how to age gracefully? It is possible! There are so many artists who are doing just that: Eric Clapton, Prince etc. Is it a coincidence that these are all men? There is, of course, their music to consider, but most people will unconsciously be biased by the ‘theme and looks’ of the artist. Now artist who age gracefully, one will see a gradual increase of age (except for Prince, who seems to have found the eternal youth fountain…), while with Madonna and some other female artists, there seems to no gradual increase: it jumps from young (and fertile…) to old (and infertile – therefore no longer attractive). In my opinion, this has to do with artist-controlled Photoshop enhancement in pictures, and similar filters for her videos. But now, her true age is catching up, and she falls in disgrace.
There are women who age gracefully, of course, but just not Madonna. Mind you, I’m usually not paying much attention to looks and image, but in the case of Madonna, who has built her career on it, I think it is allowed.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on November 12th, 2011 at 11:22 PM PST:

I actually think that she looks amazing for a 53 year old woman. My mother is only 2 years older than Madonna and she looks like she’s 100 years old in comparison (note that my mom is considered “young-looking” in our village). I wish I’d look as good as Madonna looks like in her age.

Finally, this post was about staying relevant as an artist and as an icon, not how to necessarily look young (in fact, in my vision I have her with all-white short hair, emphasizing her age, albeit still looking good). IMO, it’s her music that needs fixing, not her face.

mirko wrote on November 13th, 2011 at 6:58 AM PST:


beside she looks her age..even with surgery… she better start brain surgery because senility is about you loosing your thinking abilities over clogged veins in your head

anyway madonna already retired in a sort of way

she is a brand and she understand that her music cans keep going even without her, while she spends time by diversifying the products. Good music production is not necessary today.

Money comes from live performances, So she better stick to the gym and be doped like any other professional sportive, letting her industry to select every trend to be exploited.

The album is just a press stunt to start a tour.

Have a look to what is like advertising for teenagers today: two examples: Diesel jeans advertising BE STUPID and last Versace line for H&M or DG… they are barely scattered electronic noises and pop visuals..saying nothing to met the attention of a 16 years old devasted by chemical drugs, anti-social behavior cultivated through social media

I did not mentioned fashion advertising for no reason. Madonna learned brand identity and real fashion business trough her contact with many stylist. She gets as many big brand, trends reports…books compiled and sold at high price creating the base for producing products that will fit a consumerism trend,

How can all major brands coming out with the same idea, color schemes, cultural references every year…and 1 o 2 year before to accomplish the production timeline.

so be ready with a product that fits the engineered trend and you’ll have media and other goods producer to promote it for free.

m.s. wrote on November 13th, 2011 at 4:41 PM PST:

I absolutely agree that she needs a new look. I think she’d look great in the outfits in the three pictures, and she should go back to her natural hair color. Madonna’s problem is that she’s so desperate to hold on to the time when she was Queen of Pop and all eyes were on her. She needs to stop obsessing about staying relevant, and make music that she loves. Annie Lennox, and Cyndi Lauper are about her age, but they are still rocking, making great music and their fans still love them. What’s most important however, is that they still have their dignity and seem comfortable in their own skins.

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