c/o usmagazine.com

There are many reasons why one likes a certain type of music at a certain time. For me, it’s that a piece can either initiate a movement in my body or a thought in my mind. I have relied upon many artists for these initiations, but only a few have won me over as a fan and consistently met my expectations over their entire careers.

In 2008, I saw the music video for “4 Minutes” by Madonna featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. Whether it was the music or the choreography that hooked me on to the music video, “4 Minutes” was my introduction to Madonna and her legacy. Although I did not know Madonna before that song, to my surprise my parents told me that they used to listen to her songs in their 20’s. Madonna was and still is the only musical link that remains between my parents and me.

Seven years later, Rebel Heart, Madonna’s 13th studio album, was released to favorable reviews and debuted as the best-selling album of the week. However, only a week later, the album sales dropped by 78 percent, and now, after less than two months, “Rebel Heart” is not even among the top 200 best-selling albums in Apple’s iTunes Music Store. What happened to the Material Girl and her once unstoppable fandom? Did I miss her glory era? Must I now succumb to the bubblegum pop-centric stylings of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry? Or is Madonna taking the wrong path? More importantly, am I losing one of the very few strings that is keeping me connected with my parents’ artistic taste?

Much like most of Madonna’s fans, my initial reaction to the substantial drop in Rebel Heart’s sales was denial. I used the widespread leaks of several demos, released long before the initially planned release date of the album, as an excuse. Even though almost every track of the final album has been available on pirating websites, and even on YouTube, since December of last year—which ultimately led to a rushed early release of the album—this mischief can’t justify Rebel Heart’s severe lack of presence on social media regardless of how many albums have been purchased.

Many fans, including me, along with some critics partially blame this on the final album being unpolished in comparison to the leaked demos. Many find the demos of some songs are surprisingly superior to the versions included on the final album. This might be the result of having 14 producers working on the album who couldn’t harmonically collaborate and produce a singular unit under the pressure of the leaks. The rushed process goes even further beyond assembling the final album and extends to choosing “Living For Love” as a lead single. The song is a generic, forgettable dance number that assured the doubting audience that Rebel Heart might as well be a redux of Madonna’s previous albums, specifically Confession on a Dance Floor from 2005.

Not long after the evident failure of the first single, “Ghosttown” was released as the second single, showcasing the vocal power firmly attached to Madonna’s love ballad legacy. What should have been promoting the album as the first single is now Rebel Heart’s life support and Madonna’s last chance at finding a desirable place among the new generation that feeds from the growing population of young musicians rather than giving a chance to those whose fame is heavily pinned down in time and rooted in previous generations.

As much as I think the way the album and its singles have been produced and chosen should be criticized, I believe that their promotion styles should be panned twice as much. If releasing the music video of “Living for Love” on Snapchat wasn’t enough for Madonna to show teens that she is not a technophobe, the music video of “Ghosttown” had a failing debut on Meerkat, a less-known live video streaming app, before it was released on common streaming services like YouTube.

As of now, Madonna’s publicity team is desperately clinging to gimmicks in hopes to hit its target of becoming relevant in a society that Madonna claimed to be ageist towards females in her recent interview with Rolling Stone. “It’s still the one area where you can totally discriminate against somebody and talk shit, because of their age,” Madonna said. “Only females, though. Not males. So in that respect, we still live in a very sexist society.” Overall, these inconsistent promotions or publicity stunts have alienated the younger audience into perceiving Madonna as a once-famous star who fell behind the crowd and couldn’t adapt to today’s exclusive entertainment industry.

It is not clear whether Madonna can make a comeback and continue her record-breaking career. I’m afraid that I have indeed missed the golden era of one of my favorite singers. Even though Madonna’s personality and controversial characteristics have never appealed to me, the power of her music is the one thing that I’ll truly miss if she fades away. I hope that my less hopeful look into the future and critical analysis of the current situation is fundamentally affected by the temporary shortcomings that should have been anticipated. However, in the worst-case scenario, Madonna has left behind a legacy, with Rebel Heart as an acceptable ending, that is almost impossible to erase from history. In 20 years, I’ll still remember that once there was Madonna and she was the only one of her kind.

  • HelpCo

    Exceptionally written if I do say so myself. However if there is one thing that I have learned on this roller coaster we call life is to never count Madonna out and if you fall, you get up again over and over.

    The validity of the latter is further sustained by the significance and actuality of the former.

    And so we, as fans, will continue to relish in this now dubious Rebel Heart era in anticipation of something even greater, more spectacular and fraught with an unprecedented abundance of artistic grandeur when she not only whets our palettes but, also, that of the world’s, when she embarks on her fourteenth opus.

    For as long as critics continue to challenge and question her relevance then her legacy shall seamlessly continue. Though it would be nice if those same critics would take as much time to acknowledge not only her past contributions to the world but also the tapestry that she continues to embrace our daunting present with.

  • tony

    why do u think she should prove to smbd that she is the most powerfull and successful female musician of all time? i am sorry for her that she is not so much in charts as before, because she deserves it more than any one else, but show me Katy Perry or Lady Gaga (she is not so cool anymore) or Taylor Swift 30 years later WHERE THEY WILL BE?!!!! madonna is still here with success TOURS, but i would like to see them after all those years and then can to tell smbd on madonna, ok? not KNOW!

    • tony

      u cannot imagine how big madonna and huge was, still is, she is not to required to prove smtg to smbd, her music is still perfect.radios in US dont play her because of their stupid thinking because of American life album which was against BUSH! Madonna did so much for other female singers, without her …bla bla.madonna is the queen, who cares about charts?!

  • turnitup

    Madonna has been denigrated by the press so many times for so many reasons. The respectable public was up in arms when “Like a Virgin” first became a hit and spoke to so many young people. That the song was ever considered controversial and desperately calculated now seems laughable. Then she got slammed for “Papa Don’t Preach,” then her marriage to Sean Penn, then the “Like a Prayer” video, then the Erotica album, “Justify My Love”, the “Sex” book, the lousy movies, kissing Britney Spears. I’m sure I’m leaving much out.

    Every two years like clockwork, her relevancy is brought into question. Yet, here she is three decades later, with hundreds of millions of albums sold, and her longevity is still being debated. Going forward, she will have less of an impact on young people, until they themselves hit their 40s and catch a listen to Rebel Heart, a more mature, contemplative album that touches on exactly what they themselves will be experiencing: how to maintain relevancy in a judgmental world that pushed forward by eager youth and ferocious consumption. Her work is built to last. That’s the mark of a true artist.

    If you’re looking for an example to follow on tenacity, this woman, who has been skewered so mercilessly worldwide for thirty years, yet continues to move forward with courage and defiance, is your absolute best bet.

  • Billy

    Either you like the album or you don’t. Why shouldbit matter what it does chart wise. It shouldn’t influence your personal interaction with the album and songs. I know that regardless of what happens, it will be the most played and most popular album on my iPod for the year!

    • Alien in a crazy world

      I have already listened to it hundreds of times, and I still listen to it. Fantastic album.

  • Murray Honahni

    How old are you? You illegally downloaded songs, like ppl of your age, and complain about album sales? Have you ever held an album? I waited for the record store to unlock the door to buy Rebel Heart, like I did when True Blue was released in 1986.

    • Me too!

    • Alien in a crazy world

      Me too. I can’t imagine just buying a Madonna single without buying the album. And the only Madonna music that I have ever downloaded are the unreleased tracks which are not for sale.

  • Jorge Espinosa

    Thanks for your article. It’s a very good analysis. I will reply with the exact same thing I’ve been saying to all the fans that are worried: The industry has changed and today nobody sells albums. If you compare Rebel Heart’s sales to the rest of the albums released in 2015, it’s in the top 10. Her numbers are still much higher than the rest. However, artists do not make money from albums anymore and that’s why they don’t promote them as much. What is more important in today’s music industry is that people SPEAK about the album, and you tell me if somebody speaks about Rihanna’s newly launched album (don’t get me wrong, I ADORE Rihanna, but just to put an example). There are very limited press articles or social media conversations about her comeback and EVERYBODY has spoken about Madonna’s Rebel Heart, good or bad: the Ellen appearance, the Brits fall, the Jimmy Fallon appearance, the Drake kiss, the topless photo on Interview mag, you name it. Also, part of Madonna’s success relies on her haters. This was written in an article in Vanity Fair in 1992, so this has ALWAYS been like that. The difference is that all those discussions happened offline and the whole world didn’t read them the way we do today with social media. The world is still obsessed with observing everything she does. She’s still the most relevant artist out there, much more than all the young ones. She posts a picture on Instagram and all media write article about it. So yes, you are still in the golden era of Madonna. The only difference is that MTV doesn’t air videos anymore and radio stations are indeed ageist, but also we don’t need radio stations anymore. ;)

    • turnitup

      Wow – really well said. You nailed it.

    • Alien in a crazy world

      I really hope that is the case, because I just love the Rebel Heart album. It is one of the few Madonna albums that I can listen to on continual repeat without getting tired of it. I have been a major fan since “Borderline” when I was a little kid, and I just can’t imagine life without Madonna interacting with the world.

  • bunny

    It is so refreshing to positive posts about Madonna after an article. The music industry has changed, and charts and sales are even important anymore. Ali Jamali, you shouldn’t go by chart numbers to know if Madonna is still important in the industry or not. Buy a ticket to one of her shows and look around. The sold out stadium or arena speaks for itself.

    • George Perry Higby

      Aint that the truth. When you see her live you know she is a professional and when you are a pro it takes weakness to bring you down and do you not agree Bunny that Madonna and weak I wouldn’t even put in the same sentence.

      • bunny

        Exactly George! Madonna is a strong woman and definitely not weak. She wouldn’t be where she is today if she were. Plus, she is terrific in concert!!! :)

  • bunny

    I meant to say charts and sales aren’t important anymore.

  • robinchism

    First, I really enjoyed your article. I believe madonna has been able to hook many a generation similar to how you were hooked with four minutes. My song/video was “Vogue”. So I’ve been listening to her for quite a while. But up until “Vogue” I considered her music just rehashed pop. I’m in agreement with you about the leaks of this album perhaps hurting it’s sales, but I think Madonna herself should heed her own advice. Over the dolce and cabana controversy she commented that some people should just keep their mouths shut”. During the first week of release of her album she stated ” gay people and African American rights were way ahead of women’s rights. I didn’t realize women couldn’t get married in some states and that they were being shot or bullied to death like some African Americans but for the moment when I read the article I wished I could have unloaded my downloaded cd by her. While I forgave her and moved on to something else, I wondered when her sales waned if isolating two of her biggest support groups affected her albums sales.

    • Dean Oldham

      It was Madonna’s comments about women over gays that offended you enough to make you drop her? She has said more things that can be considered offensive than that over the years. Hell, most of her songs alone have been more provocative and hair-raising than those comments.

      You sarcastically said that “you didn’t realize women couldn’t get married in some states and that they were being shot or bullied to death like some African Americans” -and that is why you come across as an idiot.

      When was the last time you heard of a gay or lesbian having been raped? I’m sure it happens, but it isn’t as rampant as women of any race getting raped. When have you ever heard of a straight man of any race getting raped?

      Madonna’s comments weren’t just about women in the US. She is a global citizen and has (obviously) traveled to more places in the world that you have. In some African cultures (including Malawi -where Madonna frequently visits), the local women must get on all fours when entering a room with men in it and crawl around like a dog to greet each man with their head down extending their hand and waiting for each man to shake it and give her permission to go to the next man before she can stand up. Even then, she’s not allowed to speak unless spoken to.

      In many countries around the world, women still aren’t aloud to get an education or even learn to read or write. They don’t get to vote -let alone hold office or any position of power, own property, have their own money, or even keep the children they carry and give birth to and they are forced to marry men they don’t choose by way of arranged marriages. Gays and blacks in America and other countries are taught to read and write, can go to school, be successful in business, vote, hold office, have a bank account, and adopt children or procreate at will.

      Gay men and women and African Americans in the US wear what they want to. Women in some cultures are made to wear a burka or one of 7 other types of clothing designed to cover her. Some women in the world aren’t even aloud to own or wear shoes. I have gay male friends, and believe me -they have lots of (fabulous) shoes. My black friends all own shoes too.

      In some cultures, the laws are such that women must have their clitorises cut off so they wont enjoy sex in fear that they might become sluts. Gay men and lesbians of any race and blacks in America get to keep their genitals and can be as slutty as they choose to be. Gay men get to have sex right there in the bar or bar bathroom, in the bar parking lot (or other parking lots), in other public bathrooms, in parks and at rest areas and it is accepted by gays as okay and normal in gay culture and mostly ignored or overlooked by the straits. Just about every strait man I know is very jealous of this, by the way. When a consenting woman of any race has sex in a car or other public place with a consenting man she is considered to be behaving inappropriatly -while the man is given the thumbs up. Men can have sex with any race they want. Women get chastised for having relations with men who are of different color than they are.

      Unmarried women can’t have consensual sex without being labeled a whore -even by other women and sometimes by the very man who is having sex with her. White and black men (gay or not) in our society and lots of societies all over the world are okay with men having sex with as many partners as they want but if a woman has sex with multiple partners they are labeled to be a slut. In some cultures they are murdered for this. In some of those cultures, the gay men and women are murdered for being gay and in some, the men are only jailed but the women are always murdered.

      In America and in other 1st world countries, women don’t get paid as much as men for the same jobs and they work just as hard -if not harder than their male counterparts. When have you heard of a gay man not getting the same wages as his straight male counterparts? Actually, according to The Advocate and Forbes magazines, a gay male couple is known to generally earn more money each year than any male/female couple or female/female couple does.

      Women -gay or straight, black or white or other, pay more for the same health and beauty aids that men buy, they pay more for child care, insurance, doctor appointments, therapy, and beauty appointments than men (gay or strait, black or white, or other) do.

      Get a clue! Get outside of your tiny little world here in the US and wake up to what is really going on in the world.

      If you don’t like Madonna’s music, that’s okay. Why are you judging her songs or albums based on her personal views? Michael Jackson was an alleged child molester but he still had some great songs. Whitney Houston was a coke head and drugged herself to death but still had wonderful songs out. Amy Winehouse is being celebrated when she was dirty, cracked-out, and a drunk but she had a good song or two.

      If you want to say that we should judge Madonna’s album based on her personal life or opinions, then let’s go there: She has (from day one) had to deal with sexism and ageism, been ridiculed and chastised, told that she is talent-less, been called a has-been, has not been given her fair share of radio or video airplay (even in the 80’s and 90’s) and been called a whore more times than one can count -yet she has overcome it all and is the absolute best at what she does.

      Madonna is #1 in her field, holds and has broken more Guinness world records than anyone, and outsold everyone in the world when it comes to album, singles, and concert sales. No one else has been consistently successful for 30 years like she has been. No one else has failed at things and recovered as gracefully and with as much dignity as Madonna has -and she has done it without becoming a drunk or drug addict.

      She has given lots of money to charities including AIDS research, helped build schools in Africa, and given money to help with education here in the US. She has and given money and resources to help with 9-11, Haiti Earthquake, Hurricane Sandy, and other catastrophes. She has championed gay and women’s rights, lobbied for equality here and in other parts of the world, and helped draw global attention to gay and lesbians who were unjustly imprisoned and to a little girl who was shot in the head for wanting to go to school. What has your favorite artist accomplished?

      So, if we’re judging music by what the artist does in their own personal life and buying music based on how their personal beliefs sync up with our own like you do, then we all need to get rid of every current pop star and make sure every one’s Madonna music collection is complete and up to date. By complete I mean going back further than you did to include the 1st 6 albums of songs and videos she had before Vogue -you know the 1st songs and videos in pop history to challenge Catholicism/Christianity, sexism, double-standard-ism, conservative sexual values, homophobia, female-phobia, and Right to Choose issues. And, songs, that weren’t the 1st to do so but still, fought against racism, for human rights, and were supportive of marriage equality.

    • robinchism

      No Dean, I still listen to the great one. Your right ,you don’t really hear about many gays or lesbians getting raped because in other countries that can be killed just for saying they are gay. That is all I will respond because you resulted in name calling which proves my point 1000%. Might I suggest you falling asleep to madonna’s new album last night because I did. But remember, whether you are a super star or super fan, cause and effect applies to everyone.

      • Dean Oldham

        I didn’t call you names. I said that you come across as an idiot. That is different than saying “you are an idiot”. I do see now that there are a few lines in my reply I could have left out. You see, I’m not an asshole, but I can sometimes come across as one. My passion was a knee jerk reaction to defend Madonna and to defend women as I am so tired of everyone bashing them both. I think M gets more of her fair share of bashing, probably because she is a woman, and a strong one at that. Could you imagine what would happen if she was a black woman, or a black lesbian?
        I’m sorry that I offended you. You’re not an idiot.

  • George Perry Higby

    People have the attention span of….well I already forgot what I was gonna say because I’ve moved on to something else. Thank the internet for the lack of interest two months later. There is no mystery, no excited in the music industry when you can instantly download a new album every 4 minutes. There was a day when you had to wait and then when you had it you enjoyed it for some time. You read the album insert, let a friend borrow it until they got it, you cared for it. I’m only 41 but feel much older because I can’t keep up with whats trending right now but I do know Madonna has never been a trend and there will never be an end to her relevance.

  • I wish i could write like this, but English is not my native language. I must say the author doesn’t know what he is writing. I hated what I had written. Madonna exists long before ” 4 Minutes”!!!! She is relevant now, “Rebel Heart” wasn’t a flop, etc etc etc. I am kind of tired of listening / reading this all the time. It seems people are jealous of the others success. They are always waiting to see when they fail. Human nature sucks…sorry.

  • Anonymous

    This is spot on. I hope her next album and era will be better.

  • Jemay Ciccone

    this writer fails to recognize the declining of album sales these days. it’s not just madonna. it’s happening to almost all singers. sales numbers are no longer a key indication of success. grow up!

  • Dean Oldham

    Wow -I am finally reading comments online about Madonna that aren’t hate-filled. I’m shocked. Though it was well written and made some valid points, I disagree with this article, especially the headline.

    Rebel Heart is quintessential Madonna. It took me back to the 80’s (I’m 40 yrs old). I waited to hear the album until it was released (though it was tough to not get online and seek out her leaked songs). I pre-ordered it on Itunes and had the 1st six songs on repeat for a 2 months. I told my wife “This is the Madonna of yesteryear, the Madonna I fell in love with at 8 years old!” -then the rest of the album dropped and I died and went to heaven. My favorite song on the album is dependent on the time of day, what mood I’m in, and what Madonna song was previously left on repeat for hours, and to what song my wife says “really, this one again?!”.

    “Devil Pray”, “Ghosttown”, “Unapologetic Bitch”, “Joan of Arc”, “Iconic”, “Wash All Over Me”, “Rebel Heart” “Beautiful Scars”, and “Borrowed Time” are the ones I make non-Madonna liking friends and family listen to in hopes of converting them. It hasn’t worked on all of them, but I’ll get ’em next time.

    Though there are two songs I don’t care for and some of the songs on the album are only going to be tolerated or liked by die-hard fans, I think that overall, she nailed it -yet again. She took the current sounds of the day and put her spin on them, tried musical styles that she’s never done (Reggae on “Unapologetic Bitch” is reminiscent of when she went Latin for the 1st time on “La Isla Bonita” and “Who’s That Girl”), and used rhythms and vocal arrangements that she hasn’t used before. She also reinvented and reworked some things that she has used in previous works (gospel choir in “Living for Love” is a throw back to “Like a Prayer” and “Nothing Fails”, “Ghosttown” reminds me of “Take a Bow”). In addition to a few feel good party songs, she had to go there, of course, with songs that included sexual, religious, and political themes. Those are all things that she always does, things we’ve come to expect from her.

    Madonna gave us her take on current events and was facetious, sarcastic, political, and thought provoking. She opened up and let us in on her heartbreak and sorrow but didn’t land there as she also gave us hope and renewed faith. If that isn’t Madonna -and always has been, then the sky isn’t really blue and humans don’t really need air to survive.

    I’m fine with Ali Jamali having a different opinion than mine and I really do appreciate that he wrote an article that didn’t resort to calling her names and pointing out her age. I just wish he would have done his homework before publishing this article. He based his opinion on having heard his parents play her music as a child and his first visual impression of her was in the “4 Minutes” video from 2008. Talk about coming late to the party. She was already 25 years into her career and on her 30th reincarnation by then.

    To say she isn’t relevant anymore when she drops an album that goes number one in 41 countries and sells out stadiums all over the world when no one else today can do that is absurd. I guess she’s not popular with young people because she isn’t writing empty songs about telephones, glitter, getting drunk and stupid for the sake of getting drunk and stupid, going out to the club, or how fat someone’s booty is.

    Rebel Heart is not “the end” Ali. The only way people will be “remembering her for once being” is after she retires and/or dies and all of her fans have passed too. Even then, she is going to haunt (or annoy) the world more than Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, or Michael Jackson ever have or ever will. In 2115 and beyond, people will think “Why is Madonna everywhere? Who is she? What did she do?” and then they’ll look her up on line and go “Damn, I had no idea” -just like the young people do today. Hopefully by then, people will learn to hold their opinions until they do the research and get all of the facts straight.