Frankly, Madonna didn’t need to create ‘Madame X’, not for relevance, not for the tours and 360 branding opportunities that she invented.
When people want Madonna to sip chamomile tea and calm down, this act of creation is her boldest act of defiance, a tool she is all too familiar with.
‘Madame X’ can be seen as a defiant response to the trolls. But it very quickly reveals higher ambitions. This is a record that cuts across ethnic, religious, geographic and economic barriers. An act of music, an act of inspired politics. It speaks of dismay but holds out for optimism.
Travelling through her many incarnations, Madonna has finally become her own muse. ‘Madame X’ arrives, in full embrace of its author’s incredible life, the paths she has travelled, the lessons she has learnt or wishes to learn — and, most interestingly, of where her mind is at.
In ‘God Control’, Madonna sings “Blood of innocence, spread everywhere. They say that we need love. But we need more than this”. Clearly, the current state of affairs is her priority. But, if we can dance whilst saving the world, why not strike a pose?
There is a sense of letting go of the ego too. In ‘Dark Ballet’, she cedes the screen to LGBTQ+ activist, Mykki Blanco, and in the anthemic ‘I Rise’, she gives her platform to those who, the powers that be would rather silence.
Musically, ‘Madame X’ ties all of Madonna’s albums that have come before in one neat arc. Yes, it has a clunker or two, and sometimes Madonna’s songwriting seems rambling, it is undeniably brilliant. It is charting a new, multicultural territory. And where Madonna goes, the rest of the Pop brigade eventually follows.
Throughout the record, there is a sense of vulnerability that Madonna has not displayed in years. It is that vulnerability that comes from making peace with being a student of life, for life.
On ‘Looking for Mercy’, which is arguably one of the best songs on the record, Madonna asks: “Is it really pain if it’s inside? On the outside, I’m strong. Hold my hand, please sympathise”. Don’t be fooled. The only person she seeks sympathy from, is herself. This is not a woman looking for approval. This is a woman who will rise above it all.
Long after Madonna has discarded the eyepatch, she will remain a bride married to amazement. In ‘I Rise’ Madonna says: “Freedom’s what you choose to do with what’s been done to you”. And she chooses to use the vitriol directed at her to fuel creation.