Madonna places her career-long fascination with Latin music to the forefront for a collaboration with Maluma, Ben Johns reviews
Subdued is not an adjective that is ordinarily attributable to the launch of a new Madonna era. The ensuing controversy surrounding the music video of ‘Like A Prayer’ which led the album of the same name, the ABBA send up on Confessions… lead single ‘Hung Up’, and the debut performance of Rebel Heart’s lead single ‘Living For Love’ at the BRIT Awards, marked the beginnings of new chapters in her musical journey with a metaphorical, and in the case of the latter, literal, bang.
This is not to say that her newly released single ‘Medellín’ which preludes her forthcoming album Madame X, is a whimper. Instead, the duet with reggaeton superstar Maluma is a sonically pared back pleasant surprise.
The current Latin American musical rush has seen the likes of Meghan Trainor and Kylie rope in some of the genre’s biggest acts in a rather contrived attempt to mine some chart gold. Although Madonna’s recent musical output has made her appear as a trend follower rather than a leader, this dalliance with Latino culture feels and sounds authentic. After all, this is the same woman who mused about ‘La Isla Bonita’, and who played the First Lady of Argentina in the film version of Evita. The opening ‘1, 2, cha-cha-cha’ whispers of this song merely signal the start of another addition to her Latin-inspired back catalogue.
Over a slowed-down reggaeton lilt, Madonna reflects on how she ‘took a pill, and had a drink’ and ‘allowed [herself] to be naive’, all whilst Maluma peppers the verse with interjections. The pace quickens with Maluma’s seductive second verse, which climaxes with him declaring ‘te voy a demostrar cómo este perro te enamora’. The English translation, ‘I’m going to show you how this dog falls in love with you’, may not fully convey the intended message, but his voice sounds enticing and only adds to the ‘getting hot under the collar’ vibe.
The bilingual back and forth of the melodic chorus shows that ‘Medellín’ is clearly a duet. Whilst it’s obvious that Maluma has more vocal power in him, the simple melody offers a welcome change to hear Madonna step back, relax, and not try so hard. Although it’s not an immediate ear worm, it’s refreshing nevertheless to hear Madonna share the spotlight on one of her most musically interesting songs released this decade.
Lyrical clangers such as ‘sipping my pain just like, champagne’ prove that even the most respected of pop stars have failed to learn the lesson from Pitbull’s ‘Kodak with a Kodak’ rhyme. But that aside, ‘Medellín’ offers a fresh sound and sheds light on what we can expect to hear from Madame X. However, with the trailer for the album announcing that Madame X ‘the persona’ is ‘a secret agent, a dancer, a professor, a head of state, a head of state, a prisoner, a student, a mother, a nun, a saint’ and last but not least, ‘a whore’, who knows what musical U-turns Madonna may throw our way.
‘Medellín’ is available now via Boy Toy, Inc. Tickets to see Madonna perform live are available here.