Madonna: The Original Rebel Heart

While Madonna was with her family in Malawi (doing silly stuff like meeting with political leaders and overseeing the schools she’s opened there) two of the songs from her upcoming album were leaked. ‘Rebel Heart’ and ‘Wash All Over Me’ are the first we’ve heard from Our Lady since the glorious days of the ‘MDNA’ album in 2012. It ended a rather lengthy drought of Madonna music, even if not quite intended yet. While the new tunes have been getting largely positive reviews, there will always be heaters who are gonna hate. (Right Taylor?) Though this isn’t going to be another defense of Madonna, it’s worth noting that if ‘Like A Prayer‘ was released today it would get the same mix of reactions. That’s the problem with giving social media idiots like myself a platform like this.

What about ‘Rebel Heart’? I do love it. It’s a gorgeous return to a strong pop melody, but it’s got a retrospective wisdom that only Madonna could so convincingly espouse at this point in her career. Say what you will about her, she’s still standing, three decades into an unprecedentedly-successful run. And if you’re saying something bad about her, you’re the one who’s sort of stuck in the 80’s.

I lived my life like a masochist
Hearing my father say, “Told you so, told you so – Why can’t you be like the other girls?”
I said, “Oh no, that’s not me,
And I don’t think that it’ll ever be.”

Madonna was the original outsider. Disrespected by the music industry despite her enormous success, dismissed by the Hollywood film industry despite her compelling videos, and derided by would-be-hipsters bitterly jealous of her mainstream success, she forged her way in the face of all the haters. What appealed to some of us from the very beginning was this very defiant stance. She would do it her way. She would will herself into stardom with hard work and determination, and she would stay there for over thirty years (and counting).

Thought I belonged to a different tribe
Walking alone, never satisfied, satisfied
Tried to fit in, but it wasn’t me
I said, “Oh no, I want more, That’s not what I’m looking for.”
So I took the road less-traveled-by, And I barely made it out alive
Through the darkness somehow I survived
Tough love, I knew it from the start, Deep down in the depths of my rebel heart.

For little girls, and a few little gay boys, Madonna’s initial ostracism from critical acclaim gave her an under-dog edge that made her our perpetual heroine. In certain circles it will always be uncool to like Madonna, even more-so to publicly declare that love, but like the woman herself, some of us will not be shamed into silence. “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Besides, if you have to do the talking, chances are you’re not the one being talked about.

I’ve spent some time as a narcissist
Hearing the others say, “Look at you, look at you!”
Trying to be so provocative
I said, “Oh yeah, that was me.”
All the things I did, just to be seen.

This straddles ‘Ray of Light‘ and ‘American Life’ territory, but it reads more genuinely than the latter did. This is more than a simple ‘Woe is fame’ moment – this is a woman looking back over her choices, and her life,  owning up to some of it, but letting most of it go. It’s serious in a disguised way, with an accessible pop chorus that masks the weight of some of the words.

Outgrown my past and I’ve shed my skin
Letting it go and I start again, start again
Never look back, it’s a waste of time
I said, “Oh yeah, that is me, and I’m right where I wanna be.”
I said, “Hell yeah, this is me, right where I’m supposed to be.”

It took her 56 years to realize this, and though something tells me she’s far from where she wants to go, I’m going to be there every step of the way.

So I took the road less-traveled-by, And I barely made it out alive
Through the darkness somehow I survived
Tough love, I knew it from the start, Deep down in the depths of my rebel heart.
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