Saturday, February 4, 2012

"every record sounds the same"

"Every record sounds the same /
you gotta step into my world."

Madonna, again showing a striking amount of chutzpah, complains about every record sounding the same. Even more audacious, she makes this complaint on one of her most boring singles ever, a retread of innumerable bland pop songs that we heard at the turn of the millennium. Every record does indeed sound the same - you have to step out of Madonna's world. "Give Me All Your Luvin'" is terrible and it makes me angry how terrible it is. It makes me angry because Madonna is someone that I would really like to get behind, someone who historically is so central to pop music, especially female pop music. It's really hard to remember what a shock she was in the eighties to mainstream culture, to sexist culture. All of that early boundary pushing becomes hard to remember now that it's no longer weird to see near-naked pop stars singing things far filthier than Madonna ever did. This is the woman, who after all of that pushing against gender expectations and restrictions in the eighties, put out a trifecta of near-perfect albums in the 90s that I still listen to all the time: Erotica, Bedtime Stories, and Ray of Light. All three are very distinct and quite exceptional - really good music, records that don't sound the same. Since that time though, Madonna has put out disappointing album after disappointing album, albums trying so hard to be pop radio hits, but neutered in some way, missing a spark, a fierceness, save for some of the songs on Confessions.

I remember a couple of months ago when "Give Me All Your Luvin'" was first leaked and how incredibly let down I was, how I had been looking forward to new pop from Madonna, hoping that she was going to bring it, that we are really in an incredible era of pop music and I thought Madonna was going to contribute to it. Instead, there was this insipid song that we now have a video for, inane lyrics and a bubblegum beat, so boring. This track was leaked right around the time that Rihanna's "We Found Love" was pumping out of every sound system. When you compare the two, damn, does Madonna sound terribly irrelevant. Katy Perry, of all people, is putting out more exciting music than Madonna right now. Both are going for a similar cutesy bubblegum pop sound, but Madonna's just sounds so false. And this is the woman who recently has been making catty comments about how great she is, how people should save their pennies to pay $300 to see her in concert, and how Lady Gaga's music is "reductive." You can say all the catty comments you want, but if you can't back it up with good music, then shut up and go home.

And then there is the video itself. What a mess. I just don't get it - any of it - the song or the video. This is Madonna, who has an unlimited budget, and who probably has her choice of producers, song writers, and video directors that would love to work with her, and this is the best she could do? What the fuck? It really is maddening. And I'm not sure why it is that it all bothers me so much, why I want so badly for her to put out a string of amazing songs. I think it is probably because I am so invested in her back catalog, have such a strong emotional connection to it, that it really stresses me out to hear all this bad recent stuff that then forces me to question the quality of that earlier stuff, to reevaluate it. That reevaluation would force a rewriting of so many moments in my life that I really don't think I can handle right now, or ever if I were to be honest. I don't want all those moments where I felt such a strong connection with this music, or danced like a maniac to particular songs, or watched her early videos on MTV with my sister in our basement in Virginia, that I don't want any of that to be reconsidered, compromised.

I am not sure why MIA is in this video, why she consented to be a part of this mess. Nicki Minaj, I know why. She is already overexposed and will guest on anybody's track. I really wish she would disappear from pop music. But MIA is a different story. She looks deeply uncomfortable in this video, dolled up in a stupid cheerleader's outfit and having to be a backup minion to Madonna.

But then I saw that MIA released her new music video, "Bad Girls," on the same day Madonna released this one, clearly using the attention she knew she would get from being in Madonna's video to promote her own music, which is pretty brilliant, and which is why I am hoping she agreed to be part of this Madonna mess. And damn, what a video MIA has put out! This is interesting pop music though it does have vague inane lyrics, possibly just as inane as the ones in Madonna's new single, but it has a way more interesting beat and the force of MIA's personality and the politically-charged theatrics that MIA likes to adorn herself in. People have questioned MIA's authenticity as this anticolonial pop star her videos like to set her up as, and that's fine. I am not sure how authentic she is, but I also think that that misses the point of what she is doing. This is great music and great art. This video is fantastic and really it's unfortunate for Madonna that it was released on the same day as hers. Viewing them side by side, Madonna looks entirely irrelevant and absent from the conversations culture should be having right now.

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