There's a reason she's called the Queen of Pop. Madonna's managed to write and rewrite the pop playbook over and over (and over) again for three decades. She's captivated and empowered young women to grow up to become whatever it is they want to be. (I'm one of them.)
When others have come and gone, Madonna has remained relevant. She's influenced others and, yes, even herself (see her new video for "Girl Gone Wild"). With her latest album release, MDNA, just days away from dropping, the big question that some might be wondering is: Does she still have it? Can she still make an album that breaks ground, sets trends and sounds uniquely like Madonna? Well, yes.
Like Madonna albums before it, MDNA seeks to explore just how imperfect love is and the cruelty of heartbreak. There's no sign of Dr. Luke, Ryan Tedder, Tricky Stewart, The-Dream, Max Martin or any other producers this generation of pop princesses call upon when they need that perfect Top 40 club banger. If Madge had called on those guys, well, that would have been reductive.
Over the last 12 months, seemingly every one of today's pre-eminent female singers has released new music, and all of it has been dance music (well, not Adele). So, now it seems as good a time as any for Madonna to capitalize and redirect the conversation to her, because when it comes to dance pop, it all comes back to her anyway.
Larry Rudolph explained last year that he felt that Britney Spears' Femme Fatale was her Ray of Light, recalling Madonna's fan-cherished 1998 album, on which she explored trippy electronica with the help of William Orbit. (Orbit, as it turns out, is back for more on MDNA.) But can anything really be Ray? FF relied on the electronic sounds of Ray to reclaim Brit's place on the dance floor but never delved into the lyrical depths that Madge's album did.
Then there was Lady Gaga and Born This Way. Its lead single certainly paid homage to Madge's own "Express Yourself," and the dark and industrial sound that made up much of BTW harked back to the sounds that Madonna has explored throughout her career. Her influence was certainly felt as Gaga sang about sex and love in different languages over grinding beats. But, Gaga and her team seemed to take too many on-the-nose cues from her kindred pop spirit.
Madonna's influence on pop is no better boiled down to these two women and their music. They show the two sides of the singer: the light-hearted, glitter-wearing disco queen and the late-night, politically minded party vixen. However, Madonna's desire to always push sexual boundaries certainly showed up on Rihanna's Talk That Talk, where she very openly sang about all the ways her boy can make her happy. Interestingly enough, both women have songs about birthdays (Rihanna with "Birthday Cake" and M with "B-Day Song") where they both use a euphemism about licking the icing off. We hope no further explanation is needed about that.
So how does MDNA stack up to these girls' work? Quite well, actually. Aggressive at times and vulnerable at others, it proves that Madge still has it. She can still party with the best of them. And, for that, we're all thankful.