“Have you ever watched a dog vomit and then immediately lap it up?” That was one of the only notes I made after a demo of Madonna’s new single, “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” leaked last November. I can’t be 100% certain where I was going with that indelible image, but it seems instructive, perfectly encapsulating the essence of Madonna’s music career as she approaches the end of her third decade as a pop star. Indeed, the very title of “Give Me All Your Luvin’” tells you all you need to know about Madge’s primary purpose for continuing to make music today. That might sound cynical, but for the last few years, the Queen of Pop has been peddling a brand, not necessarily art, regurgitating the same themes and images and asking us to continue to consume them, no questions asked. After all, what were songs like “4 Minutes” and “Celebration” if not commercials for Madonna Inc.?
The last time Madonna got divorced, we got “Like a Prayer,” so it’s hard to ignore how decidedly vapid “Give Me All Your Luvin’” is by comparison. There’s nothing wrong with that per se: She’s done frivolous bubble-gum pop before, and while the timing for a song like this might be perfect for pop radio (with boosters Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. tacked on for added marketability, natch), it feels shockingly…reductive. “Every record sounds the same/You gotta step into my world,” Madonna sings, but even if “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” produced by French DJ Martin Solveig, doesn’t really sound like anything on the radio right now, it also doesn’t sound like what “Justify My Love” sounded like in 1990, what “Frozen” sounded like in 1998, what “Music” sounded like in 2000, or even what “Hung Up” sounded like in 2005. The song is catchy, sure, but its few charms—’60s surf-pop guitar, vintage video-game effects, and references to her past songs—are fleeting at best.
More importantly, we’ve heard it all before. “Beautiful Stranger,” which shares more than a few similarities with the new single, at least sounded like it was being sung by a grown woman rejuvenated and exhilarated by love at first sight; here Madonna’s just playing head cheerleader for a team of one (it’s telling that, aside from Nicki and Maya, the cheerleaders and football players featured in the music video are essentially faceless slaves). The issue isn’t Madonna’s age (she’s made a career out of thwarting expectation and convention, which is why she still matters), but authenticity: The difference between, say, “Into the Groove” and “Give Me All Your Luvin’” is that Madonna’s demand for us to give her all our money—err “luv” (because, you know, that’s how the kids talk now)—is coming from a queen on a throne, not an unknown hipster on the dance floor with the whole world at her fingertips. The marketing synergy behind the single’s launch, including a partnership with Clear Channel and a much-buzzed-about Super Bowl halftime performance, is breathtaking, but the bold, blond ambition that was once charmingly calculated now just seems calculated.