Madonna, Queen of Pop, has spent the majority of 2013 teasing us with a new project — a #secretproject if you will — shot alongside acclaimed photographer and frequent collaborator, Steven Klein.
There’ve been endless clues about the project’s intent along the way, from video teasers to phone numbers to tiny sneak peeks on Instagram (well, when she’s not showing off her grill, that is) — all leading up to today’s full-length premiere.
So. What is the #secretproject, anyway?
Ultimately, the full 17-minute video provided no more or less insight than any of the teasers we’ve already seen over the past few months. It is an artistic expression; a meditation on justice, persecution, discrimination and oppression. The gorgeously shot production alternates between scenes of intricate interpretive dance, elaborate gun-juggling choreography (much like the performance of “Gang Bang” on the MDNA Tour) and jarring images of Madge being beaten, tormented and tossed into a jail cell by ruthless officers.
There’s also a whole lot of contortion happening throughout the clip, courtesy of a few bendable dancers. Those who are easily squeamish may not entirely enjoy seeing a man’s limbs briefly dislocate across every available joint — but I suppose there’s a message hidden in there too. Be more flexible in life?
Having just come off the MDNA Tour, Madonna saw a fair share of injustice on the road, from the imprisonment of Pussy Riot to the anti-LGBT policies in Russia — both of which she vehemently protested throughout the tour. #secretprojectrevolution feels like a direct response to the increasingly tense political climate, as Madonna mumbles her way through monologues about freedom, world leaders and democracy. “You better be prepared to die for what you believe in,” she growls at one point.
Aesthetically, the video feels like a combination of Madge’s previous visuals: The S&M-tinged carnality of “Erotica” and “Human Nature” (as well as the MDNA Tour‘s “Justify My Love” tour interlude), mixed with the strange, experimental world of “X-STaTIC PRO=CeSS,” an art installation crafted by Klein and Madonna back during the American Life era.
And as for the call to action? The video will be distributed on BitTorrent for the entire world to see later today, all leading to the true heart of #secretproject (which was already revealed several weeks ago): Art For Freedom.
From her official site:
Art For Freedom is a global digital initiative, led by Madonna, designed to fuel free speech – to respond, address and protest persecution around the world. It is an online public art project encouraging the world to express their personal meaning of freedom and revolution, in the form of video, music, poetry, and photography. Public submissions will become part of the Art For Freedom platform: contributors can join the project by uploading original artwork or tagging original posts #artforfreedom.
But what will happen to the artwork? And where will it be featured? And what sets Art For Freedom apart from a well-curated Tumblr?
Does #secretprojectrevolution actually achieve anything? And has the project been revealed in its entirety? Thus far, I can’t be sure.
The hype behind the project will almost certainly be seen as detrimental in retrospect, given the length of time it was delayed — and the lack of a specific end goal. After all, with no backing material attached — no music, no film, no perfume, not even a Hard Candy Fitness endorsement — the footage hangs sort of limply on its own, like a beautiful backdrop for a nonexistent tour.
While #secretprojectrevolution might not be all that revolutionary in the long run, it’s still ultimately important. The message of tolerance and condemnation of violence and tyranny is essential, obviously — although admittedly, pushing an agenda of tolerance to Madonna’s own fanbase is like expounding upon the benefits of vegetables to vegans.
But beyond that, the video highlights the fact that Madonna actually stands for something as an artist. She is the master of combining the entertainment duties of a pop star with the broader social vision of an artist. (Please, hold your ARTPOP jokes.) She’s always stood for something. She’s making art with no commercial goal. (If there is one, at least, it’s not readily apparent.) Beyond marketing ploys and fads (let’s excuse the grills for a moment), she’s used her platform as a pop star to preach the importance of self-expression, independence and empowerment. She believes passionately in celebrating the goodness of people — to a fault.
Along with today’s web premiere, Madonna also set up screening sites across the world in every major city last night, including New York City. And while I wasn’t entirely on board with the idea of trekking across town to watch a 17-minute social justice mini-film projected onto the side of a building, I also knew that I couldn’t pass up the experience. It is Madonna, after all. Besides — she might always show up at some point. (Spoiler alert: She did not.)
And so, I went. And while it initially felt silly standing huddled on the corner of 31st and 8th Avenue with taxis and trucks zooming by at 10 PM on a Monday, honking and swerving around us as we watched a nearly inaudible clip of Madonna and her troupe of dancers twirling around and firing guns, the video somehow still felt momentarily powerful. It might have been the curious glimpses of passersby, or the beautiful irony of the street preacher yelling about salvation on one corner of the street, but there was a brief moment where it felt like Madonna’s message was resonating amongst an entire crowd of strangers in a big city. (Don’t call it a cult!)
Not that the moment lasted too long. “Lady Gaga is better!” a man yelled as he strolled past the crowd midway through the screening, snickering to himself at the bomb he dropped. But barely anyone in the crowd noticed — or if they did, they didn’t react audibly to the shade. It lingered in the air awkwardly for a moment, but then, the attention turned back to the makeshift screen.
The revolution of love has only just begun, after all.
#secretprojectrevolution was released on September 24.