Miley Cyrus Mother's Daughter Music Video

'Mother's Daughter' Video: Miley Cyrus Femmes the Future

Miley Cyrus is, in my humble and oft-dragged opinion, the closest to being "the Madonna" of the '00s Disney Girls.

That's not to start an exhausting Stan War in the comments section, or take away from her own unique brand of artistry. It's just that Miley shares some of the same characteristics as the Queen of Pop: she's an in-your-face, provocative, political and, occasionally, problematic entertainer. She's also well-intentioned, even when it occasionally misfires, and determined to lead the crusade for equal rights. (Because, at the end of the day, she just wants to have a Party in the USA...and beyond, presumably.)

While Madame C is already on a roll, achieving her goals and generally dominating the summer (at least, among many Twitter Gays) with her bewigged Black Mirror alter-ego Ashley O, she's got some stuff of her own out, in the form of She Is Coming - including her latest single, "Mother's Daughter," which is like a feisty, fuck-filled continuation of Can't Be Tamed's empowerment anthem, "Liberty Walk."

To bring the don't-fuck-with-me messaging of the song to life for the accompanying visual, which premiered on Tuesday (July 2), Miley enlisted a few public figures - over a dozen of them, in fact, ranging from entertainers to activists to athletes to, of course, the very namesake of the song itself: Mama Tish Cyrus. (Side note: Tish looks incredibly fierce in this video, dripping in a rich Chanel ensemble. As she should.)

Miley Cyrus Mother's Daughter Music Video

Zipped up in an "Oops!...I Did It Again"-meets-Jennifer's Body red latex outfit, Miley powerfully poses and struts her stuff in front of a simple pink backdrop amid feather-ruffling symbolism (nipples! C-section incisions!), politically charged slogans ("Every woman is a riot") and friends both new - like trans disabled model Aaron Philip and skateboarder Lacey Baker and model Vendela - and old (Amazon Ashley's been by Miley's side since the Bangerz days).

And, bringing it back around to Madge, she supplies shades of "Human Nature"; a similar middle finger to society.

The diverse cast represents a progressive future, sending a powerful, pro-feminist message about women's freedom to make decisions about their own bodies, including their own gender expression and sexual identity.

In these harrowing, is-The Handmaid's Tale-even-fiction times, when human rights are continuously challenged under the current administration, it's not a surprise that Miley's decided to use her pop star platform to speak out in defense of herself - and so many different types of women, too.

Her mother taught her well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T2RonyJ_Ts

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Zara Larsson All The Time

Zara Larsson's 'All The Time' Deserves to Be a Song of Summer 2019

From the breaking of the day to the middle of the night...

The Song Of The Summer™, objectively, comes down to charts, sales and streams (so, the most demanded song of the season). But the song(s) that hold the most memories and replay counts for you are every bit as valid (so, subjectively, Las Ketchup's "The Ketchup Song (Asereje)" might be your Song Of The Summer for the past 17 years and counting as it is mine).

Either way you choose to define it, Zara Larsson's "All The Time" deserves to be one of those songs in 2019 - objectively and subjectively, hopefully.

"All The Time" was released on June 21 which, as we know, already makes it ancient history for the ceaselessly parched Stan Culture - but that's not how the general public operates. Some songs take months to build - Ava Max's "Sweet But Psycho" being the most recent example. And, in fact, Zara's latest release seems to be picking up some steam at radio, and is now climbing on the Pop Radio Charts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMKtzB7zNrg

The songwriter wattage behind the song is solid enough as is: "All The Time" was co-penned by the 21-year-old Swedish singer-songwriter herself, the already prolific Noonie Bao (Carly Rae Jepsen's "Run Away With Me," among other glittery pop feats) and the unstoppable Ilsey, responsible for co-writing a bulk of Lykke Li's so sad, so sexy and Mark Ronson's (excellent) Late Night Feelings, among others.

Lyrically and sonically speaking, the track falls into one of the most tried-and-true categories: sad at the disco. Granted, it's not a disco song - it's more like a surge of summery pop energy - but the lyrics are nonetheless lonesome, as Zara lusts for a former flame - recalling a Teenage Dream from long ago, if you will.

"I try to forget about you, baby / And I die when I think of you with someone else and / I don't know why, I don't know why you're dancing in my mind...from the breaking of the day to the middle of the night."

Armed with finger snaps, bright synths, an earworm vocoder melody that strongly recalls Daft Punk (listen to "Doin' It Right"), and a whopper of a hook led by a hot guitar riff, the song's got all the makings of a summer hit.

The video only helps matters as well, as Zara plays dress-up to provide her own back-up dancers at a colorful carnival. Why shell out the cash when you can handle the duties yourself, right?

As for her dancers? I'm seeing Erika Jayne and Violet Chachki, personally. Even more of a delight: the JaQuel Knight-choreographed dancing is satisfyingly pop star level. Not everybody's capable of doing that these days, after all.

Whether staying in your house or going out - and/or just going crazy like Zara, for that matter - "All The Time" ought to be included in your soundtrack for the summer season.

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Photo credit: Epic Records


Celine Dion Flying On My Own

'Flying On My Own': Celine Dion's Heart Goes Onto the Dance Floor

Celine Dion, coming to an EDM festival near you.

Of all the directions Céline Marie Claudette Dion could have opted to go musically in 2019, dance-pop probably wouldn't have been the most obvious choice.

"Flying On My Own" is the first taste of the iconic Canadian chanteuse's upcoming album Courage due out in November.

The album marks her first release since the finale of her near-eternal (16 year) residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and her first English-language studio album since her 2013 effort, Loved Me Back to Life. (The Sia-penned title track and lead single off of that album remains major.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts0d_me8JQs

The song was penned by Liz Rodrigues, Anton Mårtensson, and prolific Swede-pop purveyor Jörgen Elofsson, responsible for everything from Britney's "(You Drive Me) Crazy" and "Sometimes" to A*Teens legend Marie Serneholt's debut solo album, Enjoy The Ride. (Legends only, truly.)

Mercifully erring away from schmaltz, but never far from camp, Celine takes flight on the winds of change - namely, pulverizing beat drops - as she delivers yelp after almighty yelp of self-empowered, reinvigorated energy.

It's a convincing cut - not only because Celine is one of the few who can deliver an epic howl like that, but because her own personal circumstances (the loss of her husband René Angélil three years ago, specifically) add substantial weight to the words "I'm flying on my own."

As the voice behind some of the greatest love songs and ballads of our time - "The Power of Love," "Because You Loved Me" - and, yes, "My Heart Will Go On" from the little known 1998 indie film Titanic, among others - Celine could have easily sung something much sweeter and sentimental to usher in this new era.

Instead, she's opted to go forward into the unknown with a surging solo statement - and with a song that matches the energy of her endearingly insane on-stage (and off-stage) mannerisms.

A new era of Celine is upon us. Vous êtes prêts? Allons-y!

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Photo credit: Denise Truscello for CDA Productions Inc


Agnes Limelight I Trance

'I Trance': Swedish Dance-Pop Diva Agnes Returns to the Discotheque

Agnes Carlsson, singularly known as the Agnes, is back.

The "Release Me" Swedish dance-pop legend and Idol 2005 winner last left us with her incredible collection Veritas, originally released in 2012 in Sweden (one of the best pop albums released that year), which was later released in other territories in the following years.

And, apart from a recent appearance on Avicii's posthumous "Tough Love" released earlier in June, she's been essentially off the music industry grid ever since - until now.

"Can't believe it's happening. I've been on a journey that took me 4 years, 2 months and 29 days, living life, making music, traveling, seeing new places and faces, consciously pushing myself to do new things and the idea of who I am. Such a crazy journey. It's been scary as hell and wonderful at the same time, so, tomorrow is a big day for me. I am release [sic] new music (I've been emotional for a week now). See you on the other side, A" Agnes announced earlier in the week on her Instagram. And indeed, she did.

"Today is the day🤘🏼⁣⁣The first two songs to come I dedicate to the dance. It’s all about being in the moment, how sexy and pleasurable it is when you’re able to completely let go. ⁣⁣I am so humble and happy for all the support. My heart grows triple it’s size in my chest," she later announced. ⁣⁣

"Limelight" and "I Trance" mark Agnes' grand return to music, and - just in case the song titles didn't give it away - they're both dance floor forays.

The songs were both co-written by Vargas & Lagola, responsible for work on tracks for Galantis and Avicii - and Madonna's Rebel Heart, including the title track.

"Rhythm is my remedy," she croons on "Limelight," a more soulful ode to disco sound. "Baby, nobody knows me better."

She does even better with the appropriately entrancing "I Trance," which dives deeper into the discotheque as Agnes supplies sensual, barely-there vocals above the shimmering beat. At one point, the song bursts into a breakdown that screams Timbaland and Keri Hilson's "The Way I Are" - and then it's back to late-night trance euphoria.

Both songs offer a tantalizing tease of what's to come from Agnes. Let's just hope the next tracks don't take quite as long.

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Photo credit: Universal Music


Madonna God Control Music Video

'God Control' Video: Madonna's Triggering Statement About American Life

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.

Madonna's tackled countless points of social contention throughout her over thirty year-long career as the Queen of Pop™ - religion, racial injustice, gender inequality, sexuality, war, power, greed, corruption. You name it, Madonna's probably sung and danced around on stage about it at some point.

"God Control," which I consider to be the true centerpiece of her worldly, political Madame X, tackles the super breezy subject of gun control. Nothing divisive about that issue at all here in America! Nope, not at all...

And in the accompanying Jonas Akerlund-directed music video released on Wednesday (June 26), she - as with anything - doesn't shy away from illustrating the issue in vibrant and gory detail, complete with a much-needed trigger warning. Literally.

Admittedly, I - and many people in and around the entertainment industry, I'm sure - had a general idea of what was coming with this music video in advance because, well: squeeze a bunch of Drag Race girls, YouTubers and creatives into a room, and the tea is bound to spill. The descriptions I was given varied in intensity - from "it's like a classic, old-school Madonna video" (?) to "it's basically the Pulse shooting - you're not ready."

I was mostly terrified of how this already extremely sensitive subject could be approached with respect and decency, but after watching, I think Madonna's managed to do it in an artistic, effective and, most of all, jarring way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv-sdTOw5cs

Without making specific references to any one event (because, frankly, who can even keep track at this horrifying rate?), Madame X tackles the most prevalent atrocities happening around the country in one clip: armed robbery, school shootings, club massacres. The underlying cause is always the same: gun violence.

As I pointed out in the Madame X review, there some hypocrisy at play, admittedly: she's the same artist who performed the wildly bloody "Gang Bang" on the MDNA Tour just a few years ago, after all. But I'm not interested in holding her to a performance concept or a position on an idea forever. Everyone, pop artist or otherwise, should be allowed to evolve on issues.

To get her point across, Madge scatters scenes of the horrific events of the late night dance floor massacre - which are brief, but startling - in between shots of real-life gun control protests, as well as of Madame X frustratingly puffing away on a cigarette at a typewriter, writing out the lyrics of her twisted disco epic: "Everybody knows the damn truth." "We lost gun control." "When they talk reform, it makes me laugh."

There are some particularly striking visual moments throughout, including the children's choir singing through their tears, and the long line of caskets stretched down the church aisle. But perhaps one of the most effective scenes - for me, anyway - was seeing her getting dressed to go out for the night while watching the breaking news coverage of a school shooting on TV - with a "straight white men rule everything around me" poster hanging in the room, no less.

That is an absurdly accurate depiction of the experience of American Life - in these past few years, especially. Watching it back, it's all the more absurd that it even is a part of life. I've lived that experience, too. I'm sure most people have. But it shouldn't be normal.

As with most things Madonna, the video is a lot to process. The messaging is a lot to process. And yes, it absolutely does trigger the trauma that the queer community at large experienced three years ago this month. But the video (mercifully) steers away from glamorization or exploitation: instead, it's an important, disturbing reminder that change needs to happen, still.

The Studio 54 euphoria of the song, mixed with the horrifying imagery of bloodied bodies hitting the floor, is exactly the kind of stomach-churning discomfort needed to convey the situation at hand: we feel helpless about the State of Things, we go out and dance to forget, and even the spaces we consider safest can be violated, violently so.

It's deeply upsetting to watch - but then, it's also not more than a mirror being held up to society. Madonna, as always, is one of the few pop stars willing to make such a bold message in her ongoing quest to fight for what she believes is right.

It's time to wake up.

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Utada Hikaru Laughter in the Dark Tour

Hikaru Utada's 'Laughter In The Dark' Tour Hits Netflix

And she wrote the English subtitles herself.

It's such a surreal feeling to even write this, but it's real: Hikaru Utada's Laughter In The Dark 2018 Tour special is now available on Netflix, globally, as of Wednesday (June 26). This marks her first-ever Japanese concert special to be made available to stream stateside.

It's not just available to watch, either: you can read along with it, too.

Hikki herself opted to supply the English translation of her dialogue and song lyrics throughout the show, much like when she provided the English-to-Japanese translations herself for Exodus in 2004.

If you've not been following along closely, Hikaru - who, for the record, recently started releasing her music as Hikaru Utada, and not Utada Hikaru, last year - went on a tour throughout Japan between November and December of last year. (She also recorded "Hikari" and "Chikai" with 6K 180-degree cameras for a Playstation VR experience, which was also made available worldwide.)

Utada Hikaru Laughter in the Dark Tour

The tour is, well - simple and clean, as one might say, featuring the now 36-year-old Japanese pop icon performing classics like "First Love," "Traveling," "Automatic" and "Colors," as well as an assortment of Fantome and Hatsukoi selections.

She's not one to provide a particularly over-the-top live spectacle full of dancers and narratives and costume changes - that iconic voice and emotional delivery tend to take center stage at a Hikaru Utada show - but it is nonetheless a sleek, chic staging with warm washes of lights and abstract projections.

"I'm not really into being celebrated," she tells the crowd early into the show after announcing that the concert marks the 20th anniversary of her debut.

"I feel very awkward to be like the star of the party...but here I'll just take it as it is and be happy."

She looks and sounds absolutely beautiful throughout. The transitions are seamless. The band sounds beautiful. She even hops on for a synth session at one point. "Forevermore" choreographer Fukiko Takase joins her onstage to provide an interpretive dance to "Tomodachi" and "Too Proud" - and Hikaru even turns out a few sultry moves herself.

And her speech about the strangeness of marking her 20th anniversary, and going on a hiatus and not being sure if she'd even return again, only to find herself onstage for the very day - and then launching into "First Love," the very song that kicked off her career? Overwhelmed. Verklempt.

Utada Hikaru Laughter in the Dark Tour

During one interview segment during the show's interlude, she revealed that the title of the show was partially inspired by comedian Tig Notaro, and how she continued to do stand-up amid a breast cancer diagnosis and the death of her mother.

"If you have humor, you can shift your emotional gear no matter how much you are in despair," Hikki reasoned during the very serious discussion. She then demonstrates that in the most unexpected of ways. Repeatedly. It's...absolutely absurd. And incredible.

As a J-nerd who regularly imported Hikki CDs from Japan via YesAsia and eBay and bought a bootleg version of the Utada United 2006 Tour from Anime Zakka at The Garage in Harvard Square over a decade ago, it's still so jarring to see her albums and concerts just, like...readily available. Here. The kids don't even understand. Back in my day...

And, as an English-speaking fan (with failed aspirations of mastering Japanese back in college), the ability to read along with the songs, and the ample overwhelmingly-polite-yet-amusing audience banter, as is incredibly moving, to say the very least.

Life is wild.

Click here to watch the Laughter In The Dark tour special on Netflix.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-ql8i1VHsw


Kazaky Push

'Push': Kazaky, the High-Heeled Ukrainian Boy Band, Returns

You hear that? The faint click-clack, click-clack of a troupe of muscly Eastern European men somewhere not so far off in the distance?

Yes, that's right: Kazaky is back.

The Mortal Kombat-gone-gay dressed, high-heeled Ukrainian hotties have been around for a while now. I first wrote about them all the way back in 2011, in fact. They also appeared alongside Queen Loreen for an absolutely incredible performance of "Paper Lights" at Melodifestivalen in 2015. (Please go watch that if you haven't yet.)

Three years after announcing their disbandment, the boys went ahead and said: just kidding, we're calling it a "long creative break" instead. And you know what? I'm more than fine with that. Who among us has not announced an indefinite work hiatus?

Kazaky Push

On Monday (June 24), in honor of Kyiv Pride in the Ukraine over the weekend, Kazaky premiered a new song and music video called "Push," directed by Alan Badoev.

It serves as not only their official comeback, but the band's first tribute to the LGBTQ+ community, which "has supported and continues to support Kazaky for nine years, and represent a world of acceptance and self-expression, thanks to which the band has managed to become heard and seen."

It's also dedicated to "all those who need freedom and courage to be themselves and have their voice."

In case you weren't aware, Ukraine isn't exactly, uh, overflowing with gay rights: there's still no official recognition of same-sex relationships, nor can same-sex couples adopt, among various other injustices. Also, while we're about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, consider this: Kyiv Pride only really officially kicked off about four years ago, amid heavy police protection, anti-gay protests and arrests. So, Kazaky's outspokenness is all the more crucial within a country that's significantly behind on advancing equal rights for all.

The accompanying music video is, thankfully, full of the group's signature slick styling, tight choreography and, of course, plenty of stiletto action. It's really very hot. But it's also full of important symbolism too, representative of their decade-long journey, which has certainly not been without backlash.

"This is our first work with a personal background, with what sometimes haunted us in the previous years of our way - hatred, ignorance, intolerance and lack of understanding of what we're doing from the side of a very conservative society. Of course, we couldn't talk about everything that was unpleasant for us, because it was obvious. Despite this we never gave up, even if it was difficult to move on. You can't even imagine how much your support meant for us and inspired to create everything we did when someone shouted around us that we were doing something wrong, sinful, that we were promoting false values etc. Your support and love became the most valuable thing we received. And we cherish this. We are who we are only thanks to you," they explain.

As for the song itself? Think of the dooming, sharp synth slabs of Lady Gaga's "Government Hooker" (and Born This Way in general), mixed with a hint of a BTS kind of K-popping chorus, all served up with a sexy Ukrainian accent.

It's very sexy, very danceable, and very, very queer: "My heels are my weapon," they declare with a deadly seriousness.

Although attitudes towards the queer community have shifted significantly stateside since the debut of Kazaky nearly a decade ago - we're already on the 84th season of RuPaul's Drag Race, can you believe? - where this band is from, the boys are undoubtedly still pushing plenty of people's buttons.

Push away, boys.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUheB5lnsA0

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Photo credit: Sasha Ostrohliad


Robyn's 'Ever Again' Video Is a Triumph

Want to know how to tell if someone's a real star? Give them a mic stand and see what they do with it...or to it, for that matter.

Queen of Swede-Pop™ Robyn's signature video style is, for the most part, an intensely intimate, tightly choreographed affair. What comes to mind first? Her one-take, back flip-to-floor-thrust dance routine for "Call Your Girlfriend," probably? Or maybe the air punches in "Dancing On My Own"?

In keeping with tradition, the Colin Solal Cardo-directed, Maria "Decida" Wahlberg-choreographed music video for "Ever Again" isn't some massive, glossy pop production either.

Granted, she's got some cool Greek artifacts lying around in the sand with her in the - uh, somewhere?

“A dreamy place, somewhere undefined, somewhere in my unconsciousness,” she explains. Works for me! But really, it all comes down to one talented woman, a custom-crafted (and, clearly, easily removable) Louis Vuitton ensemble made by Nicolas Ghesquière, and a mic stand unknowingly in for the ride of its life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfK88LsB0fg

Echoing the resilience of the Honey closer, which may prove to be a lowkey Robyn classic in due time (it's only gotten better, somehow?), the Swedish superstar thrashes, twirls, gyrates and humps her way through the triumphant post-breakup anthem, channeling the track's emotion into a powerful, sexually charged energy. She mounts herself on that mic stand and throws it 'round in every which way possible, supplying all of the Prince vibes in this ecstatic process. (Amid the on-set staff shout-outs, she thanked the late icon on Instagram.) That final, cathartic overheard twirl!

It's a bold and striking look - both literally, in the sense that she's showing way more of herself than ever before in a music video (and looks damn good doing so) - and also artistically speaking. No special effects or camera trickery needed: this is, quite simply, what a real entertainer looks like.

We are lucky to have Robyn. And this fierce new single mix of "Ever Again," too! Listen to it on the MuuTunes playlists.

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Madonna Madame X

'Madame X': Madonna Gets Lost in the World, But Isn't Lost

If we took a holiday, took some time to celebrate – just one day out of life, even - it would be so nice. Right?

Well then, let’s do it. Yes, I’m dead serious. You still got your passport? Good. I’ve got a friend of a friend who lives in Portugal we can stay with. Actually, she might be in Brazil at the moment. Or...possibly Colombia. You know what? It doesn’t really matter – I'll find out where she's at in the world, and we'll just go.

Her name? Oh. It’s, uh…well. She just goes by Madame X.

Who is she? The last I heard, she was working as a cha cha instructor in Medellín, but according to her LinkedIn, she’s also an equestrian. And a nun. And a spy. And a prostitute. And a wine expert. And a tiny spoon collector. And a Walmart greeter. And - you know what? Don't worry about it. She’s great. Everyone’s always talking about how she brings light to dark places. She’s a little bit mad - in the literal angry sense and also the loca sense – but in a good way. Just trust me. It'll be an adventure! Ven conmigo, let’s take a trip.

You’re in? Great. Meet me at the airport by 6. Also, do you have an eyepatch? I’ll explain later...

Madonna Medellin Maluma

For those of you just tuning in, here's where we last left off: after the release of her 2015 studio album Rebel Heart, a self-referencing modern pop retread of the most enduring themes in her music – perseverance, individuality and self-empowerment, mainly - Madonna moved to Portugal for her son, David, to pursue his passion for soccer.

While living the soccer mom life for the next few years, whether by extreme occident or divine intervention, she found herself inspired by the omnipresent sound of fado, a genre of Portuguese music, permeating throughout the streets, cafes and bars, as well as Cape Verde’s morna. The diversity of Lisbon (a "melting pot of cultures," as she put it) also influenced her - enough that she wanted to write a record.

To bring her ideas to life, she reconnected with some familiar faces, including her American Life and Music collaborator Mirwais, as well as Diplo and Mike Dean from the Rebel Heart sessions. She made new friends along the way too, including Colombia's Maluma and Brazil's Anitta. (Yes, I am immensely proud that Madonna collaborated with two international acts I've championed for years. Yes, I take full credit. Yes, I did personally A&R this record.)

But Madonna felt this album required an identity, like Dita to Erotica, and so, she reclaimed a nickname from her past: Madame X, given to her at 19 by legendary dancer Martha Graham while studying in New York City due to her shape-shifting identity.

And so, Madame X became the record’s namesake, and also its globe-trotting, injustice-fighting, eyepatch-wearing heroine. (She was injured, for the record. It's not just a bad case of conjunctivitis.)

With that, Madame X one, two, cha-cha-cha-ed her way into our world and onto the music scene, and Madonna returned with the latest addition to her prolific career as the long-reigning Queen of Pop™.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAxNaLAR2to

There’s a part during Madonna’s tours – at least, the ones from the last decade - usually referred to as something like the "gypsy section." It's the moment she and her dancers break away from the spectacle of the main show, gather 'round the band and perform folky renditions of Madonna's myriad hits inspired by different cultures: Gogol Bordello inspired the Sticky & Sweet Tour section, the Northern Basque Country's Kalakan shaped the MDNA Tour section, and Spanish flamenco dominated the Rebel Heart Tour section.

Madame X, essentially, is an album version of that section; a wild, political, romantic ride through world music.

Back in April, Madonna kicked off the campaign with “Medellín" (original review), a cha cha-dancing, toe-licking, bilingual burst of reggaeton-infused pop euphoria, like a cool younger cousin of “La Isla Bonita."

With an offensively sexy Colombian hunk smirking and gyrating by her side ("slow down, papi"), Madonna let loose, liberating herself briefly from her own self-judgement enough to indulge in her fantasy: “I took a trip, it set me free / Forgave myself for being me,” she coos - a most telling line.

The two wound up working together twice on Madame X, and once for his own album, 11:11. With Maluma sending flowers to your door, wouldn’t you?

“Bitch I’m Loca," their second tag-team, is the album’s most playful pop serving. In fact, it's even more fun than “Medellín," as the two trade flirty verses in Spanish and English across buzzy, banging Billboard-produced beats.

Quiero ser tu perra, también tu bebecita” Madge lusts. (Basically: “I want to be your bitch and your baby.”) The outro is the best part, as the two call each other by their pet names, Mr. Safe and Mrs. Crazy.

Where do you want me to put this?” Maluma adorably inquires in English.

Um...you can put it inside,” Madonna replies, as Maluma erupts into a giggle. Their cougar-papi chemistry is infectious - and he’s only too eager to meet her demands. (No doubt, she had many in the studio.)

She keeps the flirtatious energy going on “Faz Gostoso,” her duet with the multilingual Brazilian Funk Carioca Queen herself. Together, Anitta and Madonna bounce their bundas along a bilingual cover of Blaya’s 2018 Portuguese-language ode to a sexy man of seduction, which was also a No. 1 hit while Madonna was living in Lisbon.

In an album full of heavy themes – gun control, persecution, fighting for freedom - the Madgeluma and Madonitta moments on Madame X are welcome getaways, hammering home a different, yet important sentiment in its own right: women can be sexual at any age. Imagine that.

Her sexual expression isn’t necessarily the heart of Madame X like Erotica or Bedtime Stories, though: there’s a world out there in desperate need of change, and Madonna’s ready for a revolution of love. Are you with her?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Uagw4zser8

Just over a year ago, Madonna teased a new song on the steps of the Met Gala in front of Rihanna, who was dressed as the Pope. As it turns out, that song would become "Dark Ballet" - and it's way, way weirder than she let on that evening.

People tell me to shut my mouth,” Madonna vents on the lurching piano-led number, inspired by her Rebel Heart muse Joan of Arc, who is played by Mykki Blanco in the grim, religious iconography-filled accompanying music video. (She is nothing if not consistent in her love for all things blasphemous.)

The song quickly descends into electronic madness, as Madonna's voice warps into unintelligible levels of vocoder above an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” from The Nutcracker before being spat out for a monologue: “Can’t you hear outside of your Supreme hoodie? The wind that's beginning to howl?” (The way she over-enunciates “who-die” alone truly makes the song.) A fire blazes. She blows it out, ASMR style. It’s as absurd on paper as it is in headphones. In the best way? Perhaps. If nothing else, it's shocking, at a time when few can still manage to surprise with their music.

"Dark Ballet" is only the beginning of Madonna's quest to shine a light on bleak subject matter: “God Control," the dazzlingly hellish epic that follows, is arguably the true centerpiece of Madame X, and it comes armed with meaning - pun very much intended.

Like Janelle Monae’s sunny, post-election depression jam “Screwed,” the song is a jaded-yet-joyous response to the State of Things – in this case, gun control.

I think I understand why people get a gun / I think I understand why we all give up,” Madonna murmurs in the song's moody opening, echoing the disillusionment and depression of a nation.

The Tiffin Children’s Choir chimes in: “We lost God control,” the kids eerily sing over and over. Their participation is no coincidence. Later on, Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez's impassioned speech leads into self-empowerment anthem, “I Rise.” Madonna knows exactly what she's doing with these choices.

And then, the song then gives way to...disco strings? Yes. Things are about to take a turn.

This is your wake up call,” a voice declares amid gunshots. And suddenly, we’re off: the track transforms into bitter bliss on the dance floor, as Madonna goes batty (“People think that I’m insane / The only gun is in my brain!”) and whispers the most damning of truths: “Everybody knows they don’t have a chance / Get a decent job, have a normal life / When they talk reforms, it makes me laugh.

It's a manic, anti-gun masterpiece, and only grows better with each listen. Sure, there’s some hypocrisy afoot: is the gun-slinging “Gang Bang” singer really one to get preachy about the subject now? But then, it's been a few years. Perhaps her attitude's changed given the impending collapse of civilization. Evolve or die, right?

Those clinging to the disco beat of "God Control" in an otherwise unfamiliar soundscape of world music will be relieved to discover another dance floor gem deeper (and deeper) into the album: “I Don’t Search I Find," which answers the question: what would happen if Madonna truly did “old Madonna” again?

If “I Don’t Search I Find” was revealed to be a polished-up version of a demo from a tape being sold in one of those personal collection auctions, no one would likely bat an eyelash: it is pure, early ‘90s, Shep Pettibone-style “Vogue”-Erotica-era ecstasy, out of nowhere, in 2019.

There’s no rest for us in this world,” she purrs, “Justify My Love” style, above strings and finger snaps. Each recitation of "Finally, enough love" is like a mantra - and it feels like home. It is wildly different than the majority of Madame X, and her fiercest song in over a decade probably; a perplexingly brilliant standout.

Ever the paradoxical pop icon, Madame X goes from a nostalgic dance floor ode to the whimsy of gypsy life to feeling lost - because she...wasn't lost. Still following?

I guess I'm lost / I had to pay the cost / The thing that hurt me most / Was that I wasn't lost,” she sings on "Extreme Occident," a mystical Mirwais ballad that finds the singer wistfully looking back.

No, I wasn't lost / It was a different feeling / A mix of lucidity and craziness / But I wasn't lost, believe me / I was right, and I’ve got the right to choose my own life like a full circle,” she declares. An "Easy Ride" reference, perhaps? ("I go round and round just like a circle...")

It’s one of the most introspective moments on Madame X, as she reflects on her past, and her conquest leading to the present - only to ponder what comes next.

Not everyone is coming to the future, after all: just ask Migos member Quavo. Their reggae-heavy “Future” is essentially a “woke,” vocoded-to-oblivion take on Rebel Heart’s “Unapologetic Bitch.” It makes more sense in context within the album, but remains one of the weaker, lyrically cringe-y offerings.

“Batuka,” recorded with Portuguese female orchestra The Batukadeiras, is also not quite a highlight: the protest song finds Madge in warrior mode, leading us into battle while standing up against a certain U.S. sitting president without once saying his name: “Get that old man / Put him in a jail / Where he can't stop us,” she chants. The pounding drums and rallying cries provide for an intense listening experience, although it plays more like something she'd do as a call-and-response during a concert rather than an actual song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpBEtsrwng4

Madonna's been hit with "desperate for relevancy" accusations for decades, especially when collaborating and performing with the trendiest of pop stars. That's proven to be embarrassing at times (remember the LMFAO love affair?), and genius at others. (The 2003 MTV VMAs - 'nuff said.)

While the Quavo collaboration feels somewhat stilted, she finds more success with Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee on the soft midtempo ballad “Crave," released as the follow-up to "Medellín." Sure, the video is a bit nothing - Madonna, please stop tossing pigeons off the roof - but Swae Lee's voice provides a pretty, if haunting accompaniment to Madge's yearning...if you can get past some slight slurring.

The one drawback of Madame X is, unavoidably, the artist's voice itself. The vocal engineering of a bulk of the record makes Madonna's voice sound dull, robotic and thin - and not in a “skinny legend” sort of way. It’s not the first time she’s purposely manipulated her voice, but back then – on songs like “Impressive Instant," for instance – she still sounded like herself, just being a weirdo in the studio.

Here, she mumbles (the opening of “God Control” sounds like she got caught doing a Sia imitation in the studio that they kept in), slurs (was she wearing the grill while recording “Crave”?) and speak-sings her way through much of the album. It’s unfortunate for fans who love her bigger pop hooks, although the state of her voice is a little unclear as it is. The less said about her Eurovision performance the better, but this vocal coach made a point: it sounds like she hasn’t been taking good care of her voice.

Madonna is not Celine Dion, nor do we want her to be (she's not me and she never will be), but there’s no getting around the fact that her voice just isn't quite at its best on Madame X.

That said, she does do new things with her voice: namely, singing and speaking in both Spanish and Portuguese. Although this white boy isn't the one to give her a pass, there’s something to be (positively) said about her singing other languages, introducing fans to artists from other countries and inviting collaborators to sing in their native tongues out of appreciation – an important distinction from appropriation.

Unfortunately, what she’s singing in English is the other occasional downfall of Madame X. Although she’s proven herself to be profound in the past (Ray of Light in its entirety), she’s also been known to engage in some mighty embarrassing penmanship: “I Love New York"? “Hey You,” anyone? Unforgivable.

In an effort to be sympathetic, she makes a misstep on the fado-infused, unfortunately-titled “Killers Who Are Partying,” name-checking about a dozen minorities in solidarity with their struggle. To Madonna's credit, I don’t know if any song will ever recreate the look on my face the first time I heard the opening line: “I will be gay if the gay are burned.

It’s really only downhill from there: “I'll be Native Indian, if the Indian has been taken / I'll be a woman, if she's raped, and her heart is breaking.” It’s all coming from a sincere place and meant to be a gesture of allyship, of course – but, oof. It just doesn't...work.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Looking for Mercy” contains some of the most vulnerable lyricism on Madame X: "Teach me to forgive myself, outlive this hell," she prays along a dark pulse. "On the outside, I'm strong / Hold my hand, please sympathize / Hard enough tryna forgive / Hard enough tryna live / Please don't criticize."

It falls in line with her thoughts on social media: even Madonna is not immune to insecurity. If the Rebel Heart herself is crippled by self-doubt sometimes, what hope have we mere mortals? (On a lighter note: imagining that she wrote the chorus while literally looking for her daughter, Mercy, inside one of her sprawling estates makes it even better.)

Madame X is also rich with self-references. And with a catalog like hers, can you really blame Madonna for plagiarizing herself?

I want to tell you about love…and loneliness,” she urges on “Dark Ballet,” a reference to “Future Lovers.”

Don't tell me to stop 'cause you said so," she sings on “Future,” a nod to "Don't Tell Me."

The Portugal-inspired “Crazy” finds Madonna bending her knees "like a prayer." See what she did there?

"Crazy" is also the sole song on Madame X that tackles a rocky personal relationship, a theme that's all but absent on this more globally-minded project, but has dominated previous records. (MDNA was essentially a Guy Ritchie divorce dance-off.)

'Cause you're driving me crazy / You must think I'm crazy / Você me põe tão louca / Você pensa que eu sou louca,” she croons across a romantic accordion. Despite the subject matter, it’s still a swoon-y offering – “cra-a-a-zy” – like Madge delivering a breezy kiss-off over the phone to a former suitor before twirling into another living room session somewhere in Lisbon.

Madonna Madame X

Don’t tell Madonna this (or Madame X, for that matter) – and definitely don’t mention it if you’re profiling her for a cover story in the future – but age is an important part of her story, now more than ever. In a society that worships youth, in which women over 35 are essentially blacklisted by radio (unless you’re listening to an adult contemporary station, or have adopted a clever diversion tactic like Sia and her wig), and women over 50 are made to feel invisible, Madonna is here to say, loudly, that she's still here. After all the barriers she's broken over the years, ageism is perhaps the most daunting wall still standing in her way, which she's determined to demolish.

The truth is, there is no roadmap for an artist like Madonna. She's still paving the path in real-time. Most of her contemporaries – Michael, Whitney, Prince, Bowie - are dead. Yes, there are older icons still being iconic – Barbra Streisand, Cher, Dolly Parton among others – but her crusade is a different one.

She is the pop star archetype: the music, the choreography, the tours, the wardrobes, the marketing roll-outs, the music videos, the awards show performances alongside artists a third her age. There is a reason for the reverence after all this time. There is a reason she is still the Queen of Pop.

But even with all of her professional success, and even all of the love in her life (finally enough love...), it must be an increasingly lonely road to walk at times, especially when the world heckles her for being too old. And if it's not that, it's that she's too irrelevant, too desperate, too sexual, just too much – her detractors will only keep at it until she cha-cha-chas into the great beyond. And then, those same people will write their breathlessly reverential tributes. “It makes me laugh.

Is a musically diverse, politically conscious global-futurist record not the best we could hope for from Madonna in 2019? What else should she be doing? (To the hater who just yelled “retire, bitch!” in the back – I heard that, asshole.)

Really though, why call for someone to bow out of the game who’s still so hungry? “Ravenous,” she clarified in one interview.

Is she meant to do more of the same? Reunite with Stuart Price and whip up a Confessions Part II? (Gays: "Yes!") Should she conform to today's streaming standards? Hit up some teenage bedroom producer to pop out a few 2-minute GarageBand bouncy “bops” for New Music Friday digestion? Actually, don’t give her ideas.

But no, this is Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone we're talking about: she's not one for an easy ride. And neither is Madame X. And now that we're fully acquainted, what about Madame X, the album?

Madame X is Madonna’s weirdest album, for sure. It’s at least her most artistically daring effort since Ray of Light, and her first real start-to-finish statement since 2005’s disco epic, Confessions on a Dance Floor. It's also more ambitious in scope than both 2012’s MDNA, a bout of EDM-laced stress relief after her divorce and her directorial debut, and 2015’s Rebel Heart, a varied collection of modern pop that felt closer to a career retrospective.

All that is not to say it’s her most enjoyable listen – 2008’s Hard Candy, her hip-pop opus that is now aging like wine, is miles (away) more fun to listen to than an album with heavy-handed cuts like "Killers Who Are Partying" and "Batuka." But Madame X isn't meant to be that kind of a record. Madonna isn't as concerned about saving pop with bops as she is about saving the world these days.

At a time when "settling down" could be a very attractive option to someone who's enjoyed such an illustrious career, Madonna's (blonde) ambition only seems to be reinvigorated as an artist, 14 albums and 37 years after the release of her debut single. She's still the same girl who said she wanted to rule the world. She came, she saw, she conquered...but she's far from done.

They say be all I can be / And all I want is peace, peace, peace, peace, peace, peace / See the world, haven't seen it all / All I wanna see is, see is, see is, see is, see is dreams,” she coos while boarding her rocket ship to the sky on the ethereal “Come Alive." (Madame X is an astronaut too, I think.)

Madame X is also only Madonna's latest identity. She's the Queen of Reinvention for a reason: she's shape-shifted throughout her whole career as a recording artist - and years before then, too.

But at least one thing's stayed the same, regardless of what she's wearing, the language she's speaking, where she finds herself, or who she's claims to be on any given day: it's that seemingly endless hunger for life, knowledge and experience - to dream and do and see more (with her good eye, anyway) - that makes her Madonna.

Madame X was released on June 14.

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Photo credit: Interscope Records


Sabrina Carpenter In My Bed Singular Act II

'In My Bed': Sabrina Carpenter Remains Today's Most Reliable Post-Disney Pop Princess

There are few objective truths in this world: death, taxes, and the pop supremacy of post-Disney princesses.

Of all the new girls on the scene, Sabrina Carpenter remains one of my favorites - and it all comes down, obviously, to the music.

Consistently, she's supplied nothing but quality since debuting with Eyes Wide Open in 2015: from 2016's EVOLution, including "Thumbs," the spiritual continuation of Sam Sparro's "Black & Gold," to all of last year's Singular Act 1, including "Almost Love" and "Paris," a stroke of breathy, romantic genius.

"In My Bed" is the third offering thus far from Sabrina's upcoming follow-up, Singular: Act II, out on July 19, and it's the best one from the set yet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB2fd5MV2BI

"Little things become everything / When you wouldn't think that they would," the 20-year-old singer solemnly declares in the song's dramatic opening.

Eventually, the track's tension bursts into bubblier territory: "I'm still, I’m still, I’m still in my bed about it," she purrs on the bouncy, synth-y chorus, which recalls the flirty and featherlight stuff of Selena Gomez's Revival era-and-beyond quirky bops.

“It’s a clever play on words instead of saying, ‘I’m in my head about it.' The song is about one of those moments where life feels like a lot to deal with. We took that and turned it into something really fun and vulnerable," she says of the ode to overthinking, produced by Mike Sabath, who not only worked on "Hold Tight" from Act 1, but Little Mix's almighty "Wasabi."

There's no real massive pop moment, per se: the best parts are in the details, from the playful background beats ("woo!") to the sultry delivery of the line "I'm not usually like this..." to that hurried bridge.

It's the little things that become everything, as one might say.

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"In My Bed" was released on June 7.

Photo credit: Hollywood Records


MUNA Number One Fan

'Number One Fan': MUNA Finds the Bliss in Stanning Yourself, For Once

So, here's the bad news: this life is not easy.

Harder, still, is getting through the day without being entirely consumed by your own crippling insecurities and/or anxieties that still need to be ironed out in therapy, which you can't afford right now - let alone taking into consideration the opinions of others being thrust at you on your timeline, especially from those who do not wish you well. No? Just me? And also Madonna?

Anyway, here's an alternative to crumbling: hype yourself up, instead.

Enter MUNA, the queer electro-pop band which produced a truly fantastic debut in the form of About U in 2017, including one of the more recent additions to my Favorite Songs Of All Time list: "Everything." (Appropriately titled, still.)

After some time away, the group returned on Friday (June 7) with "Number One Fan," co-produced by Mike Crossey (The 1975), a fierce, danceable burst of self-empowerment that is all too real, playfully sarcastic and genuinely encouraging all at once - and, mercifully, free of toxic positivity (#LiveLoveLaugh #YouJustNeedToSmileMore).

"So, I heard the bad news / Nobody likes me, and I'm gonna die alone in my bedroom looking at strangers on my telephone," frontwoman Katie Gavin robotically monotones in the song's opening seconds, which - well! I feel seen. But imagine not being consumed by existential dread, endless comparisons and loneliness from scrolling through the feed late at night?

"Well, wouldn't you? Wouldn't you like if I believed those words? / If I'm born to lose, I'll never try and I will never learn," she goes on, as a swift strut kicks in.

Rather than sulking, the troupe takes a collective look in the mirror and adjusts their moody mindset, going full-force as fans of themselves for once, instead.

"Oh my God, like, I'm your number one fan! / So iconic, like big, like stan, like / I would give my life just to hold your hand / I'm your number one fan," they swoon on the playfully fangirl-y chorus.

The video only digs deeper into the concept, as Katie slowly but surely demonstrates how to be her own number one fan after much pursuit - and a bit of Dance Dance Revolution, naturally. (Deeply relatable.)

“'Number One Fan' is the first release from an album that we truly cannot wait to share with our fans. It is a song about recognizing the negative voices in your head and learning to speak back to them. It’s a joyful and surprising experience to recognize that, just as we can all be our own biggest haters, we can also decide to be our own biggest fans. We can choose to believe in ourselves, to take notice of all the little admirable things we do, to applaud every inch of progress and comfort ourselves through every pitfall. It’s an incredibly liberating process, learning to love ourselves this way. In this culture, we are almost taught to look to other people to fill up some void in ourselves. What happens when we accept that we are already whole? We become our own icons. We become unstoppable and un-buyable. We save the world. No, just kidding, sorry we got caught up in the moment. (But maybe!)," they said in a statement, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the song.

They're only semi-kidding about that saving the world thing, though: the track is their first from their upcoming sophomore album, called - wait for it! - Saves The World, out on September 6.

It's easily my favorite new song of the week, and already a very promising indication of what's to come from the band.

“Pretty much anyone you look up to who’s making art has days where they’re like ‘Should I even be doing this?’ But you just keep going, you keep doing it anyway," Katie said to Billboard.

Now read through the lyrics, post them up on your mirror, create a Brazilian stan account for yourself, blast this song on repeat - do whatever you need to do to live through this.

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"Number One Fan" was released on June 7.

Photo credit: Isaac Schneider / RCA Records


Roisin Murphy Incapable

'Incapable': Roisin Murphy Contemplates a Loveless Life With 8 Minutes of House

Róisín Murphy is capable of love. Err. Right?

Well. Maybe not.

"Incapable" is the Irish singer-songwriter-disco-pop-pioneer's latest offering since supplying a handful of singles last year, and it's a girthy one: an over 8-minute long hypnotic House contemplation about living life without ever having had a broken heart, to be exact.

Joining the ranks of "Simulation," "Jealousy," and her other seemingly endless dance floor monsters, the song finds Róisín taking her sweet, sweet time cooly cooing, lusting and sassily yelping her inner thoughts and insecurities aloud across a Pride day party-friendly disco-infused groove, crafted alongside longtime collaborator Richard Barratt.

"Never had a broken heart / Am I incapable of love? / Never seen me fall apart / I must be incapable of love," she ponders. Is she, do you think? Or does she just need to keep swiping right a bit more?

It's no secret that Róisín's only strayed further from "mainstream" and gone increasingly experimental with her sound over the years. And while "Incapable" is still unlike the laser-focused, radio-friendly construction of the songs on her 2007 opus Overpowered in terms of structure, it's sonically in the same neighborhood - or discotheque, rather.

"'Incapable' was a little experiment in songwriting for me. I thought it might be fun to write from a point of view totally opposite to the usual heartbreak and despair. This diva is mildly concerned at her own lack of feeling and it’s beginning to dawn on her that there will be no love without pain. When it came to the imagery, for some reason I wanted a huge perm. Perhaps in my mind, a character so untouched by the pain of heartbreak would also have huge mounds of luxurious hair?" she said of the song - and the single's super glam, '80s-tastic retro cover art - to DIY.

This one's for the unbroken heart-having, luxurious hair-having souls who haven't found love in a hopeless place. Yet, anyway.

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"Incapable" was released on June 5. (iTunes)