We’re barely a week into 2015, and Madonna may have already embarked on the most tasteless album campaign of 2015. In anticipation of her 13th album, Rebel Heart, tentatively set for release on March 9, the longstanding pop icon posted a series of images to Instagram and Twitter depicting political figures like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. wearing the ropes that bind Madonna’s face on the record’s cover. “This ❤️#rebelheart had a dream!” reads the caption on the modified King portrait. Madonna has apologized for the image, though in 2015 it’s hard not to suspect that the stunt might’ve been a calculated PR move. From what we’ve heard of the record so far, “deliberately tasteless” seems to be the look for Madonna this year. The singer employed both Diplo and PC Music associate Sophie to produce the album, and the resulting singles may be the first big leap between the Soundcloud underground and the pop mainstream.
I’m talking specifically about “Bitch I’m Madonna,” one of six new songs released in December after leaked demos sent Madonna and her team scrambling to put out an official Rebel Heart teaser. The single features production from both Diplo and Sophie, as well as a guest appearance from Nicki Minaj, who’s no stranger to scandal herself. Between Diplo’s blocky breakdowns and Sophie’s slippery arpeggios, it’s a provocative piece of work.
“You’re gonna love this,” Madonna teases in the track’s first seconds as a brisk acoustic guitar hints at Avicii’s megahit “Wake Me Up.” But past the intro, the song sounds nothing like Avicii—it pushes past stadium-filling EDM into a genre that more commonly fills the headphones of kids surfing obscure music blogs late at night. It sounds a little like vaporwave.
Most people who got into Sophie and the trolling net-label PC Music last year had seen this coming. Songs like “Hey QT,” a collaborative single from Sophie, PC Music head A.G. Cook, and a singer pseudonymously known as Quinn Thomas, already sounded like the next big thing coming in pop. PC Music stretched pop to its most florid extremes, pitching voices up to Chipmunks heights and cranking the filters on their synths. Every single that came out through the web-only label last year proudly wielded tastelessness and comedy as aesthetic weapons. Beyond provocation, there didn’t seem to be any philosophical tenet at the collective’s core. So it’s no surprise Sophie was happy to sign on to a major-label project before he’d even released an album of his own.
Madonna’s “Bitch I’m Madonna” and, to a lesser extent, the syrupy, druggy “Devil Pray,” are the first real taste of Soundcloud’s pop simulacra finding its way into capital-P pop music. It’s a strange thing to see: the earworm ouroboros finally starting to swallow its own tail. And it means that the industry is getting faster, sniffing out rising talent like Sophie before most of the music world even hears of them.
“Bitch I’m Madonna” has already flared up its share of backlash among fans who were expecting traditional song structures and concrete hooks from the so-called Queen of Pop. Instead, they’ll have to deal with harsh cuts, cheap synths, and nasal vocals as Madonna’s new signature. Of all the songs on the new record, “Bitch,” by its title alone, seems to be the one that Madonna wants to make emblematic of her sound in 2015. The shift from Soundcloud to superstars was always coming—it just so happens that Madonna is the one who carried it over.