The disarming first song from the singer’s 14th album has some lyrical clunkers but acts as a potent reminder of her genre-mashing skills
If any artist has shown her ability to code-switch between styles, it’s Madonna, who’s adroitly shifted from dominatrix to disco queen to earth mother with previous album cycles. Her latest reinvention is Madame X: the title of her upcoming 14th album (out 14 June), and also the name of a chameleonic character that she will play across the record. She announced it last week in a cinematic, enjoyably OTT video featuring a panoply of guises which included multiple eye patches and Madonna wearing a hooded bonnet as if preparing for Gilead.
In voiceover she details 15 identities – dancer, prisoner, nun and whore among others – and explains: “Madame X is a secret agent. Traveling around the world. Changing identities.” And it seems that Madonna’s gaze is reaching just as wide for Madame X, which features the American rap artists SwaeLee and Quavo, as well as South American superstars Anitta and Maluma, who features on the album’s iridescent lead single Medellín.
Co-produced by her American Life collaborator Mirwais, Medellín is quite unlike anything we’ve heard from Madonna before, and her most subdued lead single since 1998’s stately Frozen. The most initially disarming about it is its balmy sense of ease. “I woke up in Medellín,” she sings over airy synths, before slyly adding, “Another me could now begin.” A rhythmic reggaeton beat that kicks in for a fiesta-starting chorus, with lovey-dovey call-and-response between the duo. At nearly five minutes, Medellín’s pacing feels refreshingly relaxed, though it wouldn’t be a Madonna co-write without a few lyrical clunkers (“pain” rhymed with “champagne”). It doesn’t exactly do much to dispel stereotypes of Colombia either (“we built a cartel just for love,” she sings).
But those are minor quibbles: Medellín is a potent reminder of Madonna’s deft history of meshing genres, while also a convincing addition to the roll call of western megastars like Beyoncé and Justin Bieber linking up with Spanish-language artists. And unlike the occasional trend chasing of her most recent albums MDNA and Rebel Heart, Medellín proves that she’s well equipped to weather the demands of today’s listening trends while bringing global styles into her own world. For Madonna, it seems that the streaming age may just speed up her shapeshifting.