After two fan-dividing albums, Madonna's next record will be make-or-break for many of us exasperated followers.
We survived her pleas to watch her booty get down for Hard Candy and we narrowed our eyes for much of the hurried and in cohesive MDNA. Now Madonna's Instagram account confirms she's back in the studio with a dozen Scandinavian writers and producers including Avicii, plus British singer songwriter Natalia Kills.
But if Madonna wants - or cares - to be relevant again as a musician, she needs to learn from the mistakes she made with MDNA.
Don't make your lyrics reductive.
Madonna is 56, she has two ex-husbands, four children, she has a preference for dating younger men and she's the most famous woman in the world. So there is plenty of material to work with. Please, no more 'waiting, anticipating' rhyming couplets, no warning us that time is running out and no more relating the joys she feels while dancing. We know all of this. What we don't actually know is who Madonna is these days. She can rope in as many trendy producers as she likes but when she's writing weak melodies and generic lyrics Madonna is no longer setting the pop music agenda, she's following it.
Don't get sidetracked.
Post-production for Madonna's film W.E. took longer than expected, and was followed by a worldwide promotional blitz. However, it left little time to lavish on MDNA.
Even her usually diplomatic producer William Orbit admitted: "We were very pushed for time due to... various pressing commitment that took up the artist's limited time such as perfume ranges and teen fashion contests and other such endeavors. All of us fully committed to putting ourselves through extraordinary efforts to make MDNA the greatest album of the year, but alas the time wasn't there."
Don't ruin the release of your lead single.
In the UK - home of one of her most loyal fanbases - first single Give Me All Your Luvin' earned minimal radio spins. Then a brief UK promotion which allowed fans to download the song for free if they pre-ordered MDNA, meant Give Me was initially ineligible for the chart. Once it was available to buy as a stand-alone track, the momentum had already dissipated and it peaked at a disastrous 37.
Don't follow it up with even weaker singles.
Second and third singles Girls Gone Wild and Turn Up The Radio were generic album tracks that could have been recorded by anyone from Katy Perry to Carly Rae Jepsen. The person responsible for choosing her MDNA releases should feel ashamed.
And then don't add insult to injury and make bad videos for them.
Despite Girl Gone Wild being banned for open view on YouTube due to its 'raunch factor,' - i.e. semi naked writhing men, which we've seen before in Justify My Love and Erotica videos two decades earlier - there was surprisingly little buzz for this second single. It didn't crack the Billboard Hot 100 and in the UK, it stalled at 73. Turn Up The Radio had a cheap video that could have been shot on an iPhone and was arguably the worst thing she'd put on film since Swept Away. Was this really the same person who'd set the bar with game-changers Like A Virgin, Express Yourself, Like A Prayer and Bedtime Story?
Don't underestimate the power of promotion...
MDNA became a rare example of critics loving Madonna's work more than much of her audience. But without a hit single or any kind of dedicated publicity from Madonna (bar a ten minute pre-recorded interview weeks later for Daybreak), many British downloaders didn't realise she'd even unleashed a new album. It was her loyal fanbase alone that got her to the top of the album charts, but by week three, it had already fallen out of the top ten. Promoting W.E. while simultaneously rehearsing for the Superbowl and planning a tour meant Madonna had too many eggs in a very small basket. As a result, MDNA's sales suffered.
... but don't promote it in stadiums.
Touring, tickets and merchandise will make more money than an album ever will. But finding the right venue for a show like Madonna's is key to an audience experiencing and understanding her creative efforts. Impersonal stadiums are often hopeless unless you've shelled out megabucks for the golden circle or front half. Many of the intricacies of MDNA tour were lost on those who could barely see the stage or where the sound quality was so poor, it just became reverb. Internet message boards were crammed with complaints by people who'd walked out before the show had finished. While it's more lucrative to play a 70,000 seater stadium than ten nights in a 10,000 capacity arena, the damage to ill-will can only be measured by box office receipts of the next tour.
Don't forget your legacy.
I've been buying Madonna's records, picture discs, 12"s, CD singles, albums and downloads from 1983 to now. I stuck by her through the infamous Sex and Body Of Evidence era; the burning crucifixes of Like A Prayer and the faux lesbian flirtations of Justify My Love. I've been to every tour from Who's That Girl to MDNA. I've remained here through the bad times, and reveled in the good.
It's the detail and ingenuity I admired Madonna for. She once took inspiration from other artists like Blondie, Bowie and Jackson yet managed to put her own original stamp on the ideas she remixed and revisited. And that is what's now lacking - I feel Madonna no longer has an identity. She's just Madonna, a brand slowly being eroded by perfume releases, gyms, skin-care, shoes and clothing lines. It may add to her net worth but at the cost of her credibility.
Finally, don't listen to me.
Because what do I know? I'll never influence, achieve or change perceptions the way Madonna has and it's easy for me to sit behind a laptop and moan. I know I'm selfish - I want Madonna to remain the biggest female pop star out there. And of course I'm going to continue this journey on the band wagon I first joined 30 years ago, regardless of her next output.
But as a lifelong fan, I'm waiting - and anticipating - for something a little more.
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