Sometimes all you need is a little push. After weeks of leaked demos (including 11 new ones that started circulating earlier this week) and months of Instagram teases about her upcoming album, the Kingdom of Madonna has finally given official word on Rebel Heart, the singer’s 13th studio album, due March 10th. The Queen of Pop has unexpectedly dropped six new songs, including the lead single, “Living for Love,” which she originally planned to release on Valentine’s Day. The tracks are available when you pre-order the album on iTunes.
Among the new songs are “Bitch I’m Madonna,” a garish EDM track that’s perhaps the most divisive of the songs that have leaked; “Illuminati,” which finds Madonna rapping about the titular secret society to which she, obviously, belongs and name-dropping Justin Bieber, the Pope, and, yes, Lady Gaga atop a rumbling bassline and electronic barks; and the dancehall-flavored “Unapologetic Bitch,” produced by Diplo, on which the Material Girl strikes a balance between “rebel” and “heart.” Perhaps produced by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, who claims to have worked on the album, the midtempo ballad “Ghosttown,” the sole previously unheard song released today, is the least memorable of all of the songs we’ve heard so far. Labeled “Make the Devil Pray” in the files that leaked a few days ago, “Devil Pray” has been radically reworked from the original demo, the most notable change being a refrain of eerie, pitched-down vocals. Avicii’s signature country-house vibe and Madonna’s references to sniffing glue remain in tact, thank the devil.
As for fan favorite “Living for Love,” which has been described as Kiesza meets “Like a Prayer,” the single has evolved into something much less derivative. The throwback house beat of the demo has been replaced with a more modern-sounding 808 pulse, the prominent house keys have been complemented with piano courtesy of Alicia Keys, and the handclaps and gospel riffing have been excised almost completely from the tail-end of the song. One element that lamentably remains, however, is Madonna’s vocal take, including the kind of inexplicable nasal tone that marred much of 2008’s Hard Candy. Still, it’s the singer’s most rousing lead single in years.
In addition to the release date and, of course, the music, Madonna also unveiled the cover art for Rebel Heart, which is reminiscent of her 1992 album Erotica, not just because of the black-and-white photo of a platinum Madonna bound by rope, but because the title tattooed on her chest is clearly a nod to art director Fabien Baron’s “Erotica” logo (notably, Madonna is this month’s cover girl of Interview, for which Baron serves as editorial director). Releasing a new single the week of Christmas is risky business for an aging pop star who relies heavily on adult-contemporary radio (which largely plays holiday music through the end of the year), but it was probably a smart move given the rampant leaks. In the meantime, Madge, hire a damn plumber.