“Hung Up” to “Hello”: Two Odes to Telephonic Torture, One Decade Apart
Technology can be so cruel.
Sure, it’s helped to create a “global village,” connect fans to their idols, provide Brazil countless opportunities to trend on Twitter and spoil us with an endless supply of porn, puppies and Britney GIFs — but it also just makes us feel so very lonely scrolling through all those timelines and hashtags sometimes, doesn’t it?
Those likes, faves, reblogs and various other virtual acknowledgments are fine for a few seconds of validation, but all it really takes is one reminder of the lack of actual human connection — one unreturned call, text, tweet, WhatsApp, whatever — to send us plunging into the depths of despair.
“Hello from the other side…”
Adele, The Voice of Our Generation (not being hyperbolic, she will go down in history as one of the voice of the millennials, or whatever our generation is called), has returned after three years with one hell of a “Hello” — and she knows exactly what it means to be left hopelessly hanging on the telephone.
“Hello” is Adele at her Adele-iest: Gut-wrenching, soul-piercing, shiver-inducing and deeply cathartic. Years after having her heart torn apart across the bulk of 21, she’s finally closed that chapter with the introduction to the next piece of her audio autobiography, 25.
Or, well, not quite: Instead, Adele’s dialing her former flame four years after it all fell apart — y’know, just to check in and say “hello.” (Or really “Hallow.”) It’s also less of a hello and more of a bellow — which, might I add, sounds a hell of a lot better than any 3 AM voicemail I’ve drunkenly left for an ex.
Sadly, he’s not receiving.
“I must have called a thousand times / To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done / But when I call, you never seem to be home…”
If it helps Adele at all to hear (since she’s clearly not hearing much on the other end), “Hello” is already on track to follow in the footsteps of her unbelievable 21 reign. Rightfully so, of course — it’s fantastic.
That, and there just happens to be a certain #UnapologeticBitch who can empathize with her telephonic troubles, and turn that depression into fierce disco defiance.
“Ring ring ring goes the telephone / The lights are on, but there’s no one home…”
Back in October of 2005, almost exactly one decade to the day before Adele opened up her flip-phone and quivered “Hello, it’s me…“, a certain Queen of Pop was already hanging on the line, tired of waiting on you.
In 2005, the Internet was certainly A Thing, but not quite A Thing like it is today: The music industry was still begrudgingly adapting to digital. (Remember CDs?) Music blogs started sprouting up regularly from all corners of the world. Forums filled with fans thirsting to share news, gossip and stan — way before the term “stan” even existed. And in pop world, in places like PopJustice, it was “Hung Up,” Madonna‘s forthcoming return following 2003’s politically charged American Life — and her first-ever song to be released as a digital download on iTunes — at the forefront of those discussions.
Prior to even being released, there’d been much buzzing about the fact that “Hung Up” contained a personally approved sample of ABBA‘s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” one of only two times the legendary Swedish troupe had ever reportedly given the OK to sample their songs — the other being The Fugees.
“Hello, it’s me, Moto…”
With a month still to go, “Hung Up” played in a Motorola campaign starring Madge herself, who found herself smushed into a phone booth with some famous friends and/or Maverick Records signees: Iggy Pop! Alanis! Questlove! MYA! I still remember hurriedly downloading the snippets that started swirling around the web around at that time — slightly sped-up versions, if I remember correctly.
The song officially dropped on October 18, and that’s when — not to be dramatic — everything changed.
But really, it did: It changed for me. It changed for Madonna. It changed for pop music as a whole.
Just as “Hello” is quintessentially Adele, “Hung Up” is the epitome of Madonna. For as much as the Queen has forayed into experimental sound — be it trip-hop, country or a Björk co-write — she will now and forever be known as the reigning Queen of the Dance Floor. (With 46 #1 Billboard Dance hits to her name, she comes bearing receipts tucked into her purple leotard.)
Before the explosion of EDM festivals, before the superstardom of Skrillex, Avicii, Deadmau5, before the emergence of hipster electro-pop in PC Music, SOPHIE and QT, before the early ’90’s club revival in Disclosure and Route 94, there was “Hung Up,” a disco song about telephone troubles that dared to slap a ’70s Europop classic on top of pulsating beat — by a then 47-year-old legacy act, no less.
And, impossibly, it worked.
In one of the truly rare cases of deserved pop success stories, the song smashed across the entire world, hitting #1 across 41 countries, earning her a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records and becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time. Madonna had officially re-re-re-reinvented herself, proving for the umpteenth time that her relevance should never be questioned. (It’s also the song that made me, officially, a full-fledged worshipper in the House of Ciccone — I’ve never looked back since.)
It’s hard not to devolve into a series of stutters, gay gasps and “YAS, QUEEN!“-s over each millisecond of the production, including one of the best openings in all of pop music: From the tick-tock of the clock, to the Madge mantra on loop (“Time goes by…so slowly…”), to the ominous slow-build of the ABBA sample, Stuart Price paves a perfect path onto the dance floor. And then…boom.
“Time goes by so slowly for those who wait / Those who run seem to have all the fun…”
“Hung Up” is also perhaps the first time Madonna began paying tribute to her own body of work: Not only are the opening lines pulled from her own “Love Song” with Prince on 1989’s Like A Prayer, but the song plays like a love letter to her early days in New York City, still getting her start as a young #RebelHeart performing “Everybody” at Danceteria and Limelight. And yet, the track is just as progressive as it is nostalgic, thanks to Stuart Price‘s chilly, throbbing future-pop pulsations.
Madonna’s seen and done and heard it all before, and she’ll do the next thing before you do, too.
Of all the many virtues of “Hung Up,” it might the breakdown after the bridge that truly cements the song’s next-level status, as the beat suddenly dives underneath the speakers and that persistent clock comes back, ticking and ticking away to keep us all in step. Madonna arrives once again, keeping the mantra coming on repeat as the beat returns — “so slowly, so slowly, so slowly” — climaxing at last with one more triumphant go of the chorus. “Every little thing that you say or do, I’m hung up! I’m hung up on you!”
That’s not even taking into consideration the video — the iconic purple leotard, the dance studio, the stretching, the Dance Dance Revolution, the boombox humping, the fist-rolling punching bag choreography (DESPITE FALLING OFF A HORSE AND BREAKING EIGHT BONES A FEW WEEKS PRIOR) — nor the impeccable artwork of “Hung Up” and the Confessions era as a whole — the red hair, the glittery stiletto, the disco ball (hell, the entire aesthetic of MuuMuse is solely because of “Hung Up”) — all of which come together to form one of the most polished, genuinely flawless pop releases of all time.
Two missed phone calls, one decade apart, have done such good for the music industry.
Maybe Junior Vazquez was right all along: If Madonna calls, I’m not here.