Who Is Madame X? Is It You or Madonna?
Tackling large issues in her songs, Madonna points her questioning of society at herself and back at her listeners with her latest album, Madame X.
What does it mean for one to be woke in 2019? Does it mean shouting your traumas and pain out of the street or to the front-view of your iPhone camera as a means of being a freedom-fighter and warrior for change and to be seen? Madame X, also known as Madonna, is in the same world as us, and gulp— to your shock, she is thinking deeply of all the things that you think about, too.
A lot of people have always been repulsed by the idea of Madonna having any deeper thoughts about spirituality, existentialism or cultural commentary because of her point of privilege in society (being one of the most elevated living pop icons in the world, and all that) but in her most powerful work to date, Madame X, she knows this, and she deals with this conflicted anger by coming to place of acceptance that she can only be herself, and to be herself is “to dance.” The Maluma-assisted “Medellin” opens the record through a dream-sequence of a world where Madonna has dissociated from the reality of her fame and drifted into a world where she is being viewed as someone for her soul, cha-cha-ing in a ballroom with a hot Latin singer. We learn Madame X is not a nihilist. “For once, I didn’t have to hide myself…”
This is also a heartbreaking reminder that Madonna has had to fight to show her pain to the world in a way that will always be perceived as opportunist, corporate or manipulative. Everything she does is not enough – which she seems to be perplexed by, because all she wants is people to listen to her and to help others. And that’s how she has courted so much purposeful publicity around using shock in her career, to raise consciousness around everything from AIDS to LGBTQ rights, and to the tools of the magickal belief-system of Kabbalah.
As much as Madonna’s activism has not been unrecognized as a part of her legacy, it’s been erased and forgotten in substitute for clichés like her age, what she decides to put on her body, and filthy Instagram captions. Madonna grew up in eras through her art, and in a time where she is expected to take a nap, she is still fighting to create the art that she wants to see in the world. Why is that not being celebrated? The conversation about Madonna’s age and identity is so boring.
We will never be able to understand or know the unique position of goddess-power Madonna has in the world, in which she is almost more of an abstract thing or deity – but we know that there is a human invoking that power, and this human is someone we all can connect to. This human is fighting to be heard on Madame X.
“Dark Ballet” is powerful in presenting her understanding of parody and power, in a place of hopelessness where our world sometimes can seem like we are living in some bizzaro dystopian pop novel. In 4 minutes of Electronica terror, she gets clownish: “Can’t you hear outside of your Supreme hoodie?/They think we’re not aware of their crimes…” This hints to the listener that there is another, more elevated spiritual consciousness available at our disposal and we could reach it but not many are open. Madame X laughs at this: “Your world’s in so much pain. Your world is up in flames!”
On “God Control”, Madame X takes the power of pop and parody to weirder level, in which the song begins as a spiritual revelation but then morphs into a histrionic-disco party chanting about “a new democracy, god and pornography.” This is the longest song on the record, and for good reason: the song’s “shift” seems to capture the euphoric way we respond to the world around us, inundated with optimism and “positive vibes” one second, and then total-fucking-doom the next.
Madame X calls up Quavo on “Future”, a Diplo deadlift about “how not everyone is coming to the future”. This challenges how the concept of what the future is remains different to every human being, and how maybe we all are unable to agree on one-fixed version of reality. “Killers Who Are Partying”, provocative in its title, holds up a mirror to our powerlessness. The role of the rebel and devil’s advocate is something that still holds close to her heart in a world where she watches everyone’s identities be persecuted and destroyed through daily violence and injustice: “I will be gay, if the gay are burned/I’ll be Islam, if Islam is hated.”
Even Madame X is not immune to unrequited love. On “Crave”, to her young lover played by Swae Lee, she confesses: “The feelings never fade, I don’t think we should play with this.” There always seems to be a loneliness in the way Madonna sings about love, as if she becomes attached to anyone she makes the choice to be vulnerable to.
The most powerful moment of the record, “Extreme Occident”, sounds like being trapped in an elevator of a luxury hotel with Madame X, thanks to being a collaboration with Madonna’s long-term creative partner Mirwais (who we can thank for the cult-classic “Impressive Instant”). “The thing that hurt me the most, was that I wasn’t lost.” MX said it all. Is finding a secure-place in the world, something to grieve? This is what enlightenment is, and Madame X isn’t afraid to feel free anymore.
“Bitch I’m Loca” is the chaotic conception of Madonna’s long love for world music and from-another-fucking-dimension Electronica and embodies what soundtracks this album’s story and the tale of Madame X through grace and power.
“I Don’t Search I Find” takes us back to the Madonna everyone seems to try to nostalgically reach-out for, the disco-queen of our childhood but reminds us all that “we live between life and death.” Before we say goodbye forever, Madame X reminds us that we can kill her but she will still come back on “I Rise”, stating “I died a thousand times, managed to survive”, a song dedicated to artists and the ostracized, the marginalized humans who have to fight to be seen or heard in this world.Madonna is a human but like everyone else she is a soul, and a spirit first- and in a time where we are obsessed with binaries and breaking them, it’s a bit of a slaughter that no one is able to listen to the art that she is creating which could possibly be the most chaotic, advanced version of weird pop our world has found.
Identity, and the social construction of ourselves, are things most humans with a smartphone deal with. Whether it is subconscious or conscious, it is always at play because of the social media’s tendency to make us present our avatar-versions of ourselves. The feeling of needing to hide ourselves and the freedom of anxiety Madonna has found through Madame X, freedom to be vulnerable in this world, is something so much more difficult to reach than of the past because of the commercialized version of ourselves we present. The highs and lows of stardom are not just exclusive to the famous, because anyone ever with an Instagram account deals with the anxiety of the public self and the private self, and the possibility of being “burned at the stake” with the flames of “receipts” being revealed, at the risk of losing it all.
Maybe we should challenge ourselves as a culture to be better, in the way we treated her with misogyny, lack of openness and understanding, and creating the trials that made her so symbolic to the pain that so many women and female artists experience daily.
We can all try to invalidate Madonna’s pain but she has a one-up on us, because she already knows what is going to happen next, and now she doesn’t seem to care and in today’s society, we are all Madame X: on a quest, lost, searching for ourselves and our identities, trying to reach an idea or aesthetic of perfectionism to display what is going on with us inside, and trying to tell our story whether it is constructed or real. Maybe nobody cares. And to that, it is time. We must go dance.