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Review: Madonna & Terrence Howard Do Campy Ruin Porn in "Ghosttown" Music Video

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Review: Madonna & Terrence Howard Do Campy Ruin Porn in “Ghosttown” Music Video

The rollout of Madonna’s new album, Rebel Heart, continues to be a bumpy one. To their credit, the pop queen and her minions have made some admirable, albeit occasionally misguided, attempts at disseminating the project in unexpected and inventive ways—from Snapchat to Grindr to Tidal, Jay Z’s new artist-owned music-streaming service. But some called the pomp and circumstance with which Tidal was introduced to the public last week “embarrassingly out-of-touch,” and after previewing the new music video for “Ghosttown,” the second single from Rebel Heart, on the site over the weekend, it was announced that the Queen of App would instead debut the full clip via Meerkat. After a countdown clock ran out yesterday, Madge’s Meerkat stream was—forgive the pun—a ghost town, and her audio-visual apocalypse was abruptly delayed for 24 hours with no warning or explanation. Today’s actual premiere didn’t fare much better, marred by technical glitches that resulted in, from most accounts, no one actually seeing the video. (It’s since been uploaded to Vevo.)

Questionable management decisions aside, “Ghosttown” is already Madonna’s biggest hit on adult-contemporary radio since 1998’s “The Power of Good-bye,” thanks in part to a patient, if not aggressive, promotional push, including a rousing performance of the song with Taylor Swift at the iHeart Radio Music Awards last week. As in that appearance, the music video finds Madonna trading the matador duds of “Living for Love” for a steampunk style fitting for the song’s apocalyptic theme. Dressed in a leather greatcoat with train (don’t call it a cape!), garters, and knee-high boots, Madonna awakens to a “mad, mad world,” a series of nuclear explosions having decimated major cities around the globe. She presses her face against a vintage television screen, kisses a photograph of her mother, puts a rosary around her neck (because a girl can’t leave the house without accessorizing with Catholic prayer beads), and heads out to survey the neighborhood.

With buildings, cars, and Rebel Heart posters ablaze, the video quickly turns even campier as Madonna, with top hat and a golf club that doubles for a cane, frolics on a deserted playground and tries to use a payphone. She discovers no dial tone and crumbles to the ground, rubbing her face in the presumably radioactive dirt. When Terrence Howard hears her disciplining wooden chairs with her club, the Empire star takes aim at the singer with a sniper rifle and follows her into what remains of someone’s kitchen, where they—natch—do the tango! The couple adopts an orphaned Asian boy and a dog who’ve been lurking about, and head off into the end times together, per the song’s lyrics.

Helmed by Jonas Åkerlund, who’s now tied with Jean-Baptiste Mondino for the director with the most Madonna videos on his résumé (six a piece), “Ghosttown” is, much like Madonna and Åkerlund’s clip for 2003’s “American Life,” which was yanked in the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a cautionary tale; if the latter warned of impending war, the former is a reflection on 12 years of it. In another director’s hands (like, say, M’s friend and frequent collaborator Steven Klein), “Ghosttown” might have been more than just ridiculous, glorified ruin porn, but at least there are no zombies.