The year was 2012. A new wave of female artists, nearly a decade after Britney and Christina’s debuts, have taken over the charts. Katy Perry tied Michael Jackson‘s record of the most number-ones from one album. Nicki Minaj had successful crossed over to pop radio. Lady Gaga had amassed seven chart-toppers on mainstream airplay and was now a cultural juggernaut. The pop scene was ruled by women on a sonic landscape in electronic overdrive.
Enter the Queen of Pop, who had then commemorated 30 whole years in the industry, and her twelfth studio album, MDNA. The album was Madonna’s first LP of the new decade and her virgin foray into music in a post-Gaga-debut universe. Its electropop tracks were built to be competitive in a market overcrowded with Gagas and Katys. They were radio-friendly yet thematically diverse: revenge, infatuation, braggadocio and the inescapable mindless partying.
Critics were ambivalent of MDNA. It was a good dance-pop record, but not the groundbreaking material the Queen of Pop should be offering the industry in an age of increasing basic bitch-ness. MDNA was a conformity to the sounds of the time.
It opened to a competent start, debuting atop the Billboard 200 with sales of 359,000 units (a number bolstered by a tour bundle sale). Its ordinary-sounding lead single “Give Me All Your Luvin’” which features Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. cracked the Top 10 (after its inclusion in Madonna’s SuperBowl halftime show).
However, MDNA‘s subsequent singles barely made a splash and the album cycle vanished quickly. “Girl Gone Wild” only garnered attention for the potential lawsuit it sparked with Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis, and an NSFW video that YouTube temporarily refused to host. “Turn Up The Radio” was ironically non-existent on radio.
While this pair of singles make for an enjoyable jam, they aren’t the best offerings from this good-yet-basic dance-pop record invented for 2012’s consumption. Cue Tracks 2 and 3, “Gang Bang” and “I’m Addicted“, two hidden gems that negate the album’s basic bitch-ery, and easily two of my favorite Madonna songs ever.
“Gang Bang” is Madonna’s favorite track on MDNA, and I can’t disagree. The cinematic, almost poetic 5-minute track is a mini-movie with an epic finale. Its throbbing beat, siren effects and transgressive lyrics are so visual, the song plays out like a Quentin Tarantino flick. The track sings of an obsessive vengeance against a former lover, with twisted lines to die for: “How could I move on with my life if you don’t die for me, baby? I need you to die for me, baby.”
The album’s third track, “I’m Addicted”, is a colossal electronic beast with sizzling beats that flutter like an animated Rorschach test. I became obsessed with the song even before its full release, replaying snippets of the audio on YouTube for days because the previews were already so majestic and alluring.
Although the album quickly fizzled out as Madonna rechanneled her focus to her world tour that year, its hard to overlook the significance of MDNA. Five years on, I still revisit the album largely because it parented these two phenomenal, outrageously underrated masterpieces.
Thank you for “Gang Bang”. Thank you for “I’m Addicted”. Thank you, MDNA.