When rock music endures long enough, it becomes classic; hip-hop mellows into old-school. But how are pop stars, human vessels of everything shiny and ephemeral, supposed to stay?
“Not everyone is coming to the future, not everyone is coming from the past/Not everyone can come into the future, not everyone that’s here is gonna last,” Madonna coos robotically on the roiling dancehall jam “Future.” The second half of that couplet, at least, is literally true: Contemporaries like Prince and Whitney and Michael are gone; the ones who survived have largely left the game. At 60, Madonna mostly stands alone, if she could ever really be said to have peers at all. And she still has a lot to say on Madame X’s 15 tracks — about modern narcissism (on the piano-glitchy ballad “Dark Ballet”), geopolitics (the spare, rattling “Batuka”), and giving voice to the voiceless (the flamenco-kissed “Killers Who Are Partying”). The state-of-the-union screed “God Control” swings from shimmery roller disco to full agit-opera, with simulated gunshots. Subtle is not the word; while it’s hard to question her sincerity, you wonder what Madonna fan needs to be told to “wake up” to the world’s injustices in 2019. Material girls and boys might find simpler pleasure in songs like the swaying lead single, “Medellín,” with its echoes of “La Isla Bonita,” and the breezy intimacy of diametric bedroom lullabies “Crave” and “Crazy.”
Latin rhythms figure heavily on the whole album — a side effect, maybe, of her primary residency in Portugal over the past few years. But its global sounds and millennial guest stars, including rappers Quavo and Swae Lee, can feel more like obligatory flag-planting than organic evolution. As an artist, Madonna owes nothing to some ageist, retrograde idea of what she’s allowed to be; if only Madame felt like a more compelling rebuttal to all that.