When the silk ribbons of Madonna’s glittering Armani cape refused to unfasten at this year’s Brit Awards, the pop superstar was pulled backwards over a flight of stairs and landed flat on her back. For a few brief moments, the queen of pop lay silent as a hushed, mortified audience at London’s 02 Arena looked on in horror. After a few tense seconds with the backtrack to her new single “Living for Love” blaring from the speakers, Madonna peeled herself from the stage in her skyscraper stilettos, picked up her microphone and flawlessly carried out the rest of her performance. It’s this kind of tenacity and resilience that’s kept Madonna in the game during a career that has spanned over four decades.
On March 10, Madonna released Rebel Heart, her 13th studio album. The super deluxe version of the album is a behemoth, boasting 25 tracks that were recorded with a little help from her friends Kanye, Nicki Minaj, Diplo and others. The result is, without a doubt, the most impressive collection of songs Madonna has gifted us with in many, many moons.
To help process and metabolize the overwhelming tracklist, we’ve compiled the top 10 most outstanding moments from Rebel Heart.
10. “Bitch, I’m Madonna”
“Bitch, I’m Madonna” is pop on steroids and features another guest appearance from Nicki Minaj — the pair collaborated on 2012’s underwhelming and lackluster MDNA. The track is rich with hooks without being overwhelming or cloying, and it moves at break-neck speed. “I just wanna go up tonight, pull me under the flashing light” is sure to be one of the summer’s defining refrains.
9. “Unapologetic Bitch”
It might read as one of the most horrid song titles in all of popular music history, but “Unapologetic Bitch” powerfully delivers what its title promises. “It might sound like I’m an unapologetic bitch. But sometimes, you know, I gotta call it like it is . . . You know you never really knew how much you loved me till you lost me, did you? You know you never really know how much your selfish bullshit cost me? Oh, fuck you.” The ska-inspired track delivers the same punch and candour reserved for “Human Nature” or anything from Erotica. This promises to be a highlight of Madonna’s upcoming Rebel Heart tour.
8. “Rebel Heart”
The title track is exclusively, and oddly, available only on the deluxe edition of Rebel Heart. It seems like a misstep that this pop gem did not make the cut for the standard edition of the album. The uptempo, acoustically-driven track recalls Madonna’s Ray of Light and Music, an era owed to star producer William Orbit. On “Rebel Heart,” Madonna candidly reflects on fame and her storied career — a central theme on the record.
The final track from the super deluxe edition and overall highlight of Rebel Heart. In what’s a glaring reference to “I’m Addicted,” one of the stronger tracks from MDNA, Madonna et al have crafted a dark, brooding yet exhilarating pop song that echoes “Your Woman” from British one-hit-wonder White Town with its urgent, descending guitars and synths.
6. “Veni Vidi Vici”
“Veni Vidi Vici,” which translates to “I came, I saw, I conquered,” sees Madonna shamelessly and lyrically referencing her own career — hardly unfamiliar territory for the star. “I expressed myself, came like a virgin down the aisle . . . And when I struck a pose, all the gay boys lost their mind.” She’s not wrong. The track appears only on deluxe editions of Rebel Heart and features a noteworthy performance from rapper Nas. The gritty verses are a stark juxtaposition to the shiny, acoustic chorus that bears strong resemblance to the finer moments of 2003’s American Life.
5. “Wash All Over Me”
The closing track to the standard edition of Rebel Heart is a poignant ballad that could belong to Madonna’s late ’80s catalogue. If it were one of the concert performances in Truth or Dare sandwiched between scenes of the star throwing shade at Warren Beatty and jetting around the globe, nothing would be amiss.
“Iconic” absurdly opens with a clip from boxer Mike Tyson, but like many other moments on Rebel Heart, the creative team involved miraculously manage to make a ridiculous idea work to a song’s advantage. Featuring Chance the Rapper, “Iconic” is a club-ready, hip-hop focused track that underlines one of the crowning achievements of Rebel Heart: a range that will likely secure it as one of Madonna’s more enduring records since 1998’s Ray of Light.
3. “Joan of Arc”
Considering the team of A-list producers and songwriters enlisted to record Rebel Heart, the album’s most surprising elements are the stripped down, relatively barebones tracks like “Joan of Arc” which constitute a healthy portion of the album. It would be surprising if the song wasn’t released as a single with its emotional, sweeping AM radio chorus. Again, we hear Madonna lamenting her vast fame and wealth. Cry us a river. Still, it’s one of the best moments Madonna has had in years.
2. “Living For Love”
That “Living For Love” would be chosen as Rebel Heart’s lead single is hardly surprising. The anthemic thrust of the song calls to mind Gloria Gaynor or Cher’s “Believe” era. It has all the trappings of a gay anthem, combining elements of disco and soul with survival, strife and love being its dominant themes. Like many other moments on Rebel Heart, you get the sneaking sense that Madonna is directly confronting the ageist, misogynist press she’s suffered over the last number of years, thinly veiled behind the sticky and sweet veneer of pop.
If the modern production were stripped away from “Ghosttown,” it could comfortably be one of the deeper cuts from True Blue or Like a Prayer. It’s not hard to imagine longtime collaborator Patrick Leonard pulling at the strings of a Steinway in the corner of a studio. The ballad has already been tapped as the second single with its bombastic, soaring and infectious chorus. “Ghosttown” is easily head and shoulders above anything Madonna has done in years and Rebel Heart’s crown jewel.