Why Madonna’s Legacy of Reinvention Is More Relevant Than Ever

By Erica Russell

She’s been a dance-floor cowgirl. A disco diva in leg warmers. A punky bubblegum pop star. An erotic mistress. A spiritual guru. An American dream girl. A rebel heart. We’re four decades into the chameleonic Queen of Pop’s career, but there’s one thing that Madonna has never been: uninspiring.

On the cusp of her 14th studio album, Madonna has reinvented herself yet again, this time as Madame X: a professor, a cabaret singer, a cha-cha instructor, and a spy in the house of love, as she divulged in cryptic promotional posts to her millions of Twitter followers. “Madame X is a secret agent traveling around the world, changing identities, fighting for freedom, bringing light to dark places,” the musician mused in a video teaser for the forthcoming concept album, out June 14. Perhaps serendipitously, the statement itself nods to Madonna’s career-long trajectory: She has, quite literally, changed her identity time and time over, fought for freedom of expression, and brought illumination to the depths of our often murky pop-culture waters.

Born Madonna Louise Ciccone on August 16, 1958, the artist moved to New York City in the late 1970s to pursue a career as a dancer. It was there, after dropping out of college and taking gigs as a backup dancer, she found her true calling as a solo singer and performer. Her eponymous 1983 debut album set the standard for the sound and energy of post-disco dance-pop, while her sophomore release, Like a Virgin, solidified her as a determined provocateur, delivering with its titular single one of the most controversial, memorable, and, particularly for its time, scandalous pop hits in history. To this day, her 1984 MTV VMAs performance, during which she revealed her underwear and humped the stage while wearing a wedding gown, remains one of pop culture’s most infamous and legendary moments.

Through the countless albums that followed, Madonna has maintained her status as one of the prototypical inventors of pop reinvention, refusing to, as one might say, stay in her lane. On 1992’s sexually-charged Erotica, she introduced Mistress Dita, her dominating alter ego, while embracing the club-friendly new jack swing and house music of the time. Six years later, she emerged as an enlightened earth mother amid the effervescent trip-hop of Ray of Light. In 2005, she ventured back into the glare of the discotheque lights on her critically acclaimed electronic opus, Confessions on a Dance Floor. Every album released between and since has seen Madonna wholly transform herself.

Over the span of her game-changing career, Madonna has both defined and redefined what it means to be a pop star, a performer, and an icon. She topped charts, broke records, and, most importantly, railed against the rules previously set for female mainstream musicians in the industry, voraciously fighting for control over her production and image while simultaneously ushering in new norms for women’s self-empowered sexual exhibition in music, injecting the pop machine with a much-necessary punk spirit. She set a revolutionary precedent that nearly every pop artist who has emerged since has acknowledged, whether overtly or subtly within their own art. Even in 2019, nearly 40 years after her debut, contemporary pop’s biggest players are still taking notes.

Madonna’s continued acts of public reinvention, for example, both within her art and her persona, have left a lasting mark on the culture of pop music, normalizing it for artists to reinvent their image, sound, and creative themes upon each new “era,” or album release. In the 2010s, Miley Cyrus twerked her way from the post-Disney dance-pop of Can’t Be Tamed to the controversial hip-hop of Bangerz, before switching things up again with the sunny country-tinged pop-rock of Younger Now. Similarly, across her albums, Katy Perry transformed from rebellious pin-up girl next door to electro-pop teenage dream to prismatic princess of love and light, among other personas. Stars like Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, and Gwen Stefani have all reinvented themselves. And Britney Spears, Madonna protégé and pop heir, is similarly no stranger to reinvention — or dutiful homage, for that matter. (Just compare Spears’ performance of “Breathe On Me” during her 2004 Onyx Hotel Tour to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” performance from the 1990 Blond Ambition Tour.)

On a broader scale, Madonna also helped shape the way pop artists release music. After the decline of the rock-oriented concept album in the 1980s — thanks in part to the rise of MTV and the increased focus on singles-driven music video releases — Madonna helped reignite interest in the art of the concept album within mainstream pop with thematic albums like Erotica and American Life. Her blueprint can be seen all over modern popular albums, from Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom to Marina and the Diamonds’ Electra Heart; Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid to Lorde’s Melodrama.

Of course, it would be heresy to wax on Madonna’s legacy without addressing her penchant for flirting with all manner of controversy, a skill she elevated to an impressive art form. From sharing a steamy kiss with Spears at the 2003 VMAs to dangling from a disco ball crucifix during her 2006 Confessions Tour — not to mention the burning crosses featured in her “Like a Prayer” music video, which was at one point banned from MTV — Madonna has scandalized and titillated in equal measure, pushing the boundaries with her signature embracement of hyper-sexual and religious themes.

Without her early pioneering in unapologetic pop provocation, Christina Aguilera may never have gotten quite so “Dirrty,” Lady Gaga may not have danced with “Judas,” and Rihanna may not have dabbled in “S&M.” Madonna’s assertive omnipresence can be felt in the work of provocative artists like Billie Eilish, Lauren Jauregui, Grimes, and Lana Del Rey, to name a few. Even Beyoncé has cited her as an influence.

And it’s no coincidence that Madonna’s heavenly disembodied voice delivers a sermon in the celestial music video for Ariana Grande’s 2018 single, “God Is a Woman.” Grande, a fellow Italian-American performer who cut her teeth in the New York City entertainment biz, has frequently cited Madonna as one of her most significant influences, but without Madonna’s audacious early forays into so-called blasphemous imagery, Grande (who also faced some controversy for her single) may not have found a space in which to explore her own brand of feminine divinity.

In 2019, Madonna sure as hell doesn’t need to provoke. Her iconoclastic and innovative artistry, though problematic at some points in her career (the star has been heavily criticized for being a repeat offender of cultural appropriation), continues to inform the landscape of pop music, despite declining album sales in recent years. Her music, imagery, and confrontational boldness may not seem so revolutionary today in the age of modern feminism, but that’s because she made it so. And yet with ageism and sexism still rampant in the music industry, her work is far from over: As a 60-year-old woman in a highly visible entertainment field, her mere refusal to quiet down, cover up, and fade away is an act of brilliant rebellion.

“Is Madonna still relevant?” From misogynistic critiques to ageist diatribes as to why she’s supposedly “too old” to express herself in the way she wants to, a quick Google search yields an aggravating insight into why her presence is necessary. So no, Madonna’s relevancy doesn’t hinge on the success of her albums, or whether or not she still quite shocks the public as she did back in 1984, or if her new music is sonically groundbreaking. Rather, she remains relevant because, quite frankly, she’s still here; still uncompromising and still reinventing; still flipping off a culture that seeks to push her out. And still breaking new ground for the artists who came after her.

Diplo Enlists Country Singer Cam To Journey In A New Direction

Diplo is one of electronic music’s sharpest producers and his thunderous contributions have made him one of the genre’s most noteworthy figures. In a surprise announcement, Diplo revealed that he’s going after another genre for his upcoming project, one that will make his music be the soundtrack to square dances and supermarket trips instead of raves and high-speed movie chases. He’s releasing a country album. And to prove it, he’s also shared the first song, “So Long” featuring country singer Cam.

Diplo is releasing the currently unnamed project under the moniker Thomas Wesley. Being that his birth name is Thomas Wesley Pentz, Jr., this adds a personal element to the new release. Something that he’s probably been holding to his heart that he’s now ready to release. You can hear some of this pent up ability in the first single from Dipl-erm-Wesley in the Cam-assisted “So Long.” Wesley’s production is much smoother and softer and, as country music usually sounds, you can hear the sun rising on the horizon. Cam sounds brilliant over the slightly more energetic than traditional country music and it’s clear that Diplo’s abilities are top-notch regardless of genre.

It’s been quite the year for Diplo so far and we’re only a quarter of the way in. He released the Europa EP in February and LSD earlier this month as part of the supergroup of the same name comprised of Labrinth, Sia, and the producer himself. In the cartoonish video for LSD’s “No New Friends,” Diplo plays the man in the moon and the sun, wearing outrageous suits that are almost as crazy as his productions.

Listen to the yeehaw-worthy tune up above.

FKA Twigs Is Back — See Her Gorgeously Trippy New Video For ‘Cellophane’

FKA Twigs is back. The English indie singer — and director, dancer, choreographer, Calvin Klein model, etc. — reemerged on Wednesday (April 23) with a new track, “Cellophane,” and a captivating video that must be seen to be believed.

The visual, directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, opens on FKA twigs walking onto a stage (gingerly, I might add, in towering glass platforms that clink with every step). The crowd applauds as she drops her garments, but their cheering cuts away as soon as the song begins and she starts performing. The singer spent nine months taking pole dancing lessons in preparation for the video, and it shows — she twists, twirls, and contorts her body in absolutely mesmerizing fashion.

“Why don’t I do it for you? / Why won’t you do it for me? / When all I do is for you?” she sings, gradually reaching her upper register. As her voice grows more urgent and the instrumentation builds, she falls through an otherworldly universe, eventually landing on a red clay planet. It’s an unsurprisingly epic return from FKA twigs, and definitely worth your attention — check it out below.

In a tweet immediately following the video’s release, the artist thanked Huang, writing, “When I wrote cellophane over a year ago a visual narrative came to me immediately, I knew I had to learn how to pole-dance to bring it to life, and so that’s what I did. thank you @Andrew_T_Huang, for elevating my vision beyond words. you are a visionary.”

FKA twigs seems to be gearing up for her next (and long-awaited) era. She released her first and only full-length album, LP1, back in 2014, and followed it up with the five-track M3LL155X EP in 2015, campaigns with Apple and Nike, a dance doc, and a short film. Now, it seems like her second album may be on the way — especially since she announced an international tour last week. The 10-show summer trek kicks off in L.A. in May, and also includes dates in New York, Berlin, London, Barcelona, and Paris, before wrapping up with two performances in Australia. Check out the full schedule below.

Taylor Swift Performs An Acoustic Set Of Big Hits At Time 100 Gala

Taylor Swift was one of six covers of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019 list, gracing the ICON edition. To celebrate her grand achievement, the singer took things back to the basics and gave a touching live performance of some of her biggest songs at the Time 100 Gala in New York City. It was reminiscent of early Swift and a possible indicator that whatever is coming out on April 26 will be iconic.

Swift took the stage with an elegant circlet and peach dress and looked as peaceful and unassuming as ever. Setting the crowd at ease, she launched into some of her various hits; she performed soft versions of two of her most classic records, “Style” and “Delicate,” and she also led the gentle piano in playing “New Year’s Eve,” “Love Story,” and “Shake It Off.”

Swift also addressed the crowd between songs about the craft of songwriting. One of my favorite things about female writers, about writers in general, about people who take that, happens to them and they process it and put it out into the world if you write, you can turn your lessons into your legacy,” Swift told the crowd, a genuine, soft smile slowly taking over her face. “I’m just really happy to get to do this.”

Swift’s acoustic performance reminds people of her roots and it couldn’t come at a better, more suggestive time. Along with her throwback hair and the performance itself coming just days short of April 26, the end of her mysterious countdown posted to Instagram on April 13, it’s highly believed that not only is Swift preparing new music, but she’s also possibly returning to her roots with it. Even before the countdown earlier this month, Swiftspiracy theorists have noted her return to a pastel color scheme on Instagram since February and her oddball uploads that all hint at April 26 being a date where Swift revisits the past to find her future.

Shawn Mendes wrote the blurb for Swift’s Time 100 entry, saying, “I quickly learned that the magic of Taylor Swift doesn’t come from the lights, dancers, or fireworks (although all of that is incredible) but from the electrifying connection that she has with the people who are there to see her.”

The Time’s 100 list also featured Khalid, BTS, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, and Ozuna.

Take a look at clips of the performance up above.

Tomorrow X Together And Some Very Good Boys Star In New ‘Cat & Dog’ Video

Tomorrow X Together burst onto the K-pop scene last month with their upbeat, synth-pop debut single “Crown.” Now, the quintet is back with another colorful music video — this time, for their energetic hip-hop track “Cat & Dog.” And it’s an instant mood enhancer.

The whimsical visual is all bright colors and playful choreography, as members Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun, and Hueningkai serve aegyo (cute expressions) with typical teenage attitude — a contrast that, much like the song, somehow really works. Watch the video below, but be prepared: This is the kind of song that will get stuck in your head, and before you know it you’ll be barking for no reason.

Given the title, there’s also plenty of cat and dog imagery throughout the video, including animated ears and meme-worthy scenes of the members cuddling up to their furry counterparts.

Look at these Very Good Boys:

BigHit Entertainment
BigHit Entertainment
BigHit Entertainment
BigHit Entertainment
BigHit Entertainment

If “Crown” was an introduction to the group as a dynamic whole, then “Cat & Dog” is an introduction to the individual members, each radiating their own kind of youthful energy: Yeonjun’s confident mumble-adjacent rap; leader Soobin’s soft and explosive duality; Beomgyu’s powerful expressions; and Taehyun’s vocal charms. And youngest member Hueningkai is a standout — his charisma in front of the camera is infectious.

The K-pop rookies have a busy summer ahead of them. Not only are they kicking off their first U.S. showcase in May with sold-out stops in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and more — not bad for a group that’s only two months old — but the teens will also be taking the stage at iHeartRadio’s Wango Tango festival in June and KCON New York in July. And knowing this ambitious bunch, this is only the beginning of the Summer of TXT.

It’s a good thing they have a song for that, too.

Schoolboy Q Smashes The Best And Worst Parts About Living Lavish Together On ‘Crash’

We’re in the final stages of the rollout for Schoolboy Q‘s new album Crash Talk, and its time to break out the big pre-release guns. Today, the rapper has unveiled “Crash” and it’s a thematic collision of sorts; the intersection between having money and having problems. It adds some new color to Crash Talk that previous singles haven’t explored, giving the world an understanding of what the phrase “Crash Talk” really means – real-life conversations about the good and the bad.

“Crash” is a track about confessions amidst success. It’s a therapeutic release on wax where Schoolboy Q gets the chance to get poetic about his troubles. He has all the showings of success but he’s troubled by family friends asking for money and the constant, startling fear of losing at life because it will affect his daughter in the long run. But just as he hints at the dark thoughts that he thinks about every night, he also explores having epic levels of success. “Stayed down and what happened?/Got my daughter that mansion/Gave my mother that million/Sold my soul to my feelings,” he raps. He sounds stressed but his accomplishments also give him peace.

Crash Talk comes out on April 26. Schoolboy Q released an unsettling album trailer last week that featured him wearing a paper bag on his head. The significance of that, so far, we don’t know. Last month, he dropped his furious return single, “Numb Numb Juice.” He followed it up with the sensual “Chopstix” that features Travis Scott.

Listen to “Crash” up above.

Lil Uzi Vert Is A Band Director For A Nude Violin Troupe In ‘That’s A Rack’ Video

Earlier this month, Lil Uzi Vert hits fans with a one-two release punch in “Sanguine Paradise” and “That’s A Rack.” It was a toss-up as to which one would receive a music video, but it became clear last night (April 23) when he released the imaginative video for “That’s A Rack” that proves, without a doubt, that Uzi is back completely. Just look at the visual’s simultaneously sexy and goofy charm and you’ll see.

DAPS (Oladapo Fagbenle) is the music video director behind some of the cleanest, most imaginative videos in hip-hop in the last few years such as Migos‘ motorcycle club-inspired “What The Price” and Rich The Kid‘s alien-infested “Plug Walk” visuals. DAPS is behind the lens again for Uzi’s latest and he brings the creative flair that makes his work so alluring. This time, Uzi’s the director of a band of women who wear their instruments as clothing. There’s all manner of violins and cellos in this cavalcade that range from the size of an arm sling to the heft of a motorcycle. Lil Uzi doesn’t put his hands up and lead the band but he does, however, lead himself in dance. A weird, goofy, and unsettling one characterized by dropped shoulders and stale faces that makes Uzi, well, Uzi.

When he’s not leading the band, he’s an artist with blue paint. The women of the band get splashes of blue across their bodies as he glides around them like a swan. He later dances in a mirror while the band of women walks around him and a kaleidoscope of eyes, teeth, and blue take over the camera on occasion. Uzi’s latest video doesn’t have a story, but it doesn’t need to. It’s comfortable just serving looks.

Lil Uzi first reintroduced himself to the scene when he released “Free Uzi” in March. Atlantic Record revealed to Pitchfork in a statement that the song was a leak.

Take a look at the “That’s A Rack” video up above.

Mark Ronson And Lykke Li Get Mysterious At Midnight In Vintage ‘Late Night Feelings’ Video

Mark Ronson and Lykke Li have discoed back to the 1970s in their new video for “Late Night Feelings.” It’s a star-making vehicle for Lykke Li’s tantalizing presence and movements. In the process, they have created one of the most captivating videos of this year.

Now, this is how you pack personality into a music video. “Late Night Feelings” is effortlessly cinematic and groovy. The song paints the funkadelic atmosphere while the camerawork itself expertly captures a woman’s midnight madness. Lykke Li is the main attraction of this show and begins by taking a shower, hopping out, grabbing a cigarette, and slowly meandering down the steps and crawling along the walls like a tarantula. She’s intently focused on Ronson who’s performing with a guitar on a tiny television. She’s enraptured by his presence.

Somehow, Lykke Li melts into a bathtub and then finds herself inside of the television next to Ronson. While she performs a magnificent routine with the producer, she’s revealed to not actually be inside of the television, but instead to be still in her living room having a jam session. Lykke Li has completely lost her marbles and it’s clear as she grasps at his legs in her imagination where she’s just as much the star of the situation as he is. Lykke Li passes out from exhaustion at the end, effectively putting the caps on the entire charade.

“Late Night Feelings” is the title track for Ronson’s forthcoming LP of the same name that’s scheduled to drop on June 21. It will also feature Miley Cyrus, Camila Cabello, Alicia Keys, and more.

Take a look at the 1970s-themed video up above.

LANY And Julia Michaels Tell Us How They Turned Heartbreak Into A ‘Breezy Bop’ With ‘Okay’

After five years, four EPs, and two full-length albums, alt-pop trio LANY‘s first-ever collaboration is here. And that’s probably a good thing, considering frontman Paul Klein once had a questionable approach to solo songwriting.

“I normally would just bang my head against the wall in the bedroom until I figured out a song,” Klein told MTV News, reflecting on the period before the band released its 2018 sophomore album, Malibu Nights. “But I came into this season of writing very open-minded and just down to work with anybody who would take a session with me.”

Enter Julia Michaels, who shared some mutual friends — not to mention, a knack for visceral, captivating pop music — with Klein. They met up at L.A.’s Conway Recording Studios last year, and in just two days, they had written a beautifully vulnerable song called “okay,” inspired by recent break-ups they had each experienced.

“I remember we talked for a long time and we went outside and ate a bunch of grapes in the parking lot,” Klein recalled about the genesis of “okay,” which dropped on Tuesday (April 23). “She talked to me about some guy she had a crush on, and I was like, ‘I just can’t even look at girls right now’ because I still loved this girl that totally wrecked me. At the end of my whole two-hour spiel, I think I said to her, ‘I’m gonna be okay. Right?’ And she’s like, ‘write that right now.'”

Michaels added, “I really cherish people that have honest perspectives and want to write from a very conversational standpoint and write something very specific about their lives. When we wrote together for the first time, it was like that right off the bat.”

The way she and Klein repeat the song’s central lyric — “I’m gonna be okay / Right?” — makes it both a declarative statement and a self-conscious query; Michaels describes it as “hopeful with a little doubt.” It’s a sentiment both artists felt in the midst of their respective break-ups, and to hear Klein tell it, it captures the kind of complex emotions that can sometimes only be accessed through total, mutual trust.

“I had a couple co-writes with some dudes, and I just couldn’t get there,” he said about previous writing sessions. “I felt, even at moments, weak, and I felt like I couldn’t be completely honest and transparent — and when I did, I regretted it immediately. I’ll never forget I had this one session where I almost had a panic attack. I ran to the bathroom and was like, ‘I think I just said too much, I don’t know if I trust this guy.’ I found it’s so much easier and safer talking to a woman about it. I don’t know what that is, but I think there’s this love, this wisdom, this understanding that women have. It’s not easy to open up, but with the right people, it definitely is.”

“I think the studio, too, is such a safe space,” Michaels agreed. “Even if you don’t know the person, you walk in knowing that it’s going to be a very intimate thing. And then it’s like talking to your friend. It’s that whole aspect of, would you rather go through it alone or would you rather talk to your friend?”

On “okay,” Klein and Michaels are far from alone; their voices are intertwined throughout, breaking the traditional formula of a collaboration wherein artists take turns trading verses. The LANY frontman admitted that some people at his label were skeptical about the solo-less collab, and there was even a moment when he considered singing the song himself, “because, you know, ‘Album 2, no features’ kind of vibes.”

“But when I sang it alone, I was like, this sucks, it’s not the same without her vocal on it,” he continued. “There was just never a doubt or question in my mind.”

Expect the pair’s innate chemistry to come through onscreen for the track’s upcoming music video, which they shot last week on the beach in Venice and at a roller rink in Glendale. It has a pretty unlikely source of inspiration that only ’90s kids will fully appreciate: “You remember that movie Mighty Ducks 2? There’s this beautiful scene where Coach Bombay, Emilio Estevez, is having this reflective moment, skating on this tennis court in Malibu during the sunset. We’re going to try to capture that vibe,” Klein explained.

“I just love dropping songs in the summer, and I think this is a really nice, summer, breezy bop,” he continued. “So I kind of wanted to throw it back to that summer childhood nostalgia, which to me is rollerblading. We’re going to do the whole thing on blades.”

He and Michaels laughed off any nervousness when talking about their skating skills — the LANY singer said he started to get the swing of things after getting back on some blades just a couple days prior. They’re gonna be okay. Right?

Beyoncé’s Original ‘Sorry’ Demo Has New And Old Lemonade Listeners In Their Feelings

Beyoncé‘s Lemonade is finally available on Apple Music and Spotify after being originally released on TIDAL in 2016. Three years to the date, in fact. As a consolation prize for the wait, Queen Bey has released the original demo version of “Sorry” which appears on Lemonade. As fans revisit the masterfully personal LP and absorb this new edition to the tracklist, the reactions coming out are conflicted. Fans love both the regular and demo versions of “Sorry.” Which is the superior?

The 2016 version of “Sorry” is one that you’ve heard on urban radio and probably clubs and social settings. It’s not the fastest track in the world, but there’s a celebratory, almost party-like atmosphere to the tune. It’s about not accepting an apology after being put through the wringer in a relationship multiple times. Beyoncé’s middle fingers are up and it’s delicious. Our smile reflects hers as she asserts her self-worth.

The demo version is much more ethereal and mysterious. Its vibe is different, being more of an invitation for a partner to act up so she can leave as opposed to being fed up and moving on anyway. She questions choked up sentences with a careless, mischevious grin and it’s unsettling. Hearing Bey’s voice this soft, milky, and smooth raises gooseflesh and releases pent up stores of the brain’s dopamine. It couldn’t be any more different than what was officially packaged with the project. Both fit into the wider range of what Lemonade has to say about Beyoncé. Regardless of which version of “Sorry” you hear, it’s clear that Queen Bey isn’t to be toyed with.

So how do fans feel about these two vastly different versions? It appears that the fandom is split down the middle. It’s clear that both versions are their favorites. Take a look at some fan reactions below.

After pouring over everything that Lemonade has to offer (or re-offer if you’ve already listened to it), you’ll want to listen to Queen Bey’s surprise LP, HOMECOMING: THE ALBUM, that dropped last week. Then you’ll want to watch her new Netflix documentary film HOMECOMINGThere’s a lot of new Beyoncé if you can’t tell.

Take a listen to both songs up top for yourself and see which one that you prefer.