Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Few Words of Advice Ms Madonna

By the time Madonna finishes her next album, it will be almost four years since the opinion-dividing Hard Candy was released.  While it was by no means a flop – it was number one in 37 different countries – fans haven’t hailed it a classic like Confessions On A Dancefloor, Ray Of Light or Like A Prayer.

Even a two-part, two-year Sticky and Sweet tour that relied heavily on new Hard Candy material failed to re-ignite much interest in the album. It was, in short, all sugar and no substance.

In the time she’s been away, one name shines above all others in the world of female pop – Lady Gaga. While Britney, Christina, Kylie and a host of other Madonnabe’s failed to live up to the hype, Gaga has come the closest to stealing the Queen of Pop’s crown.

According to Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager, she returns to the recording studio next month with some as yet unnamed producers to start work on her 12th proper album.

Different Scene offers some words of advice in an open letter to Ms Ciccone on how to stay on top 28 years into her career.

1. Don’t forget the lyrics.
Sex, relationships, divorce, motherhood and fame – there’s not much your lyrics haven’t touched on. You had a lot, possibly too much, to say on American Life. You found a balance on Confessions On A Dancefloor. But Hard Candy’s lyrics were just banal. No, we didn’t want to see your 52-year-old booty get down; yes, we’re sure your sugar was raw and big deal, you had four minutes to save the world. In fact the lyrics were so Cascada-lite, you didn’t even bother reproducing them in your sleeve notes. You were at your lyrical best when you collaborated with Patrick Leonard on Ray Of Light and Like A Prayer and so much has happened since Hard Candy. You’ve directed a film, adopted two children, divorced Guy Ritchie, dated men young enough to be Rocco’s playmates (well, almost). Surely there’s some mileage in that? And please, no more with the ‘tick tocks’ or ‘waiting/ anticipating’ couplets. And while we’re thinking about it, leave your mother alone. She died, we get it, and we’re very sorry for you, but to be honest, we’re bored of hearing about it.

2. Steer clear of established producers.
Mirwais brought you an edge, Stuart Price helped you rediscover your dancefloor roots and William Orbit got you taken seriously and won you four Grammys. What did Timberlake, Timbaland and Pharrell do? They turned you into a bandwagon jumper. They were already past their creative peak when you hooked up with them; you had the off-cuts of songs others had already recorded as demos. 4 Minutes was a global hit, but can anyone other than a die-hard Madonna fan remember its follow up? (Give It 2 Me, by the way.) Oakenfold said Celebration was ‘the sound of tomorrow’ and he was right – if the tomorrow was 1995. And Frank E autotuned you and Lil Wayne on Revolver so much you sounded like Alvin and the Chipmunks. You’re at your most creative when you choose relative unknowns and those without egos to steer you in the right direction.

3. Don’t try and compete with Gaga.
Why? Because you can’t and if you do, you’ll fail. You just about got away with turning 50 and sporting a leotard and fishnets, so let’s not push it, shall we? Let Gaga wear dresses made of dead Bulgarian orphans and glue angular rhombuses to her shoulders with the tears of unicorns. You’re tool old for that, Madge. You’ll look like an old loon who’s covered herself in Velcro then run around a Help The Aged shop throwing herself at clothing rails. Gaga is flogging her wares like she knows the exact date when she’s going out of business. She’s yet to learn that less is more when it comes to self-promotion, and already the backlash has begun. But like any attention seeking hyperactive child, Gaga will burn herself out then need a nap or a stint in rehab. Then your time will come to remind us what feats you’re capable of.

4. Be age appropriate with your image.
You’re 52. We know it, you know it. While you might still be able to hold a twenty pence piece between those tightly clenched buttocks and could burst a balloon with your razor-sharp cheekbones, no-one wants to see their Nan in her knickers mooching about on an X Factor. Image has always been a carefully considered factor with your albums – you were a boy toy for Like A Virgin; sex-monkey for Erotica; earth mother for Ray Of Light and Jessie from Toy Story for Music. Think carefully before you drop your drawers for this new album.

5. Hit the road with your album for more than a week.
You seemed to lose interest in Hard Candy before the fans did and that’s never a good sign. A whirlwind of promotion, including Radio One’s Big Weekend, announced Hard Candy’s impending arrival, and then what? Nothing until the Sticky and Sweet tour, and let’s be honest, it was more Girlie Show than Blonde Ambition. Everyone knows that most tours these days don’t promote album sales, and gigs and merchandise make more money than albums ever do. But where’s the ‘artistic integrity’ you once harped on about in that?

6. Make us want you.
Madge, it’s time to bring your promotional strategy into the new millennium. It’s not 1985 – releasing just one song before your album is no longer enough to create demand. Sure, you have a built-in fan base, but it’s the casual buyers you also want to appeal to. Find innovative ways to do it via the Internet, join Twitter, give us teasers, offer it on multiple formats, and then make us buy it again six months later with bonus tracks. Just don’t cheapen the brand like Gaga and her $0.99 cents Amazon giveaways.

7. Promote yourself properly.
You don’t need to do a Beyonce, Rihanna or an Usher and throw song after song at iTunes in the hope one resonates with fans. Hire a young, innovative marketing team that will come up with some amazing ideas. And stop doing interviews just with arty publications like Pop or worthy magazines like Saturday’s Guardian. Their readers don’t buy your records – DS readers do! And when it comes to TV appearances, you can’t go wrong with X Factor. Til now you’ve shied away from appearing on it and shows like American Idol, but you need to appeal to a demographic that wasn’t born when you rolled around onstage at the MTV music awards in a wedding address begging to be touched for the very first time. If in doubt, ask Lourdes!

8. Make more videos – and make them memorable.
It’s understandable, I guess, when you’ve made more than 50 promos – some of which are the greatest of all time – you must have run out of ideas. So find a director to steer you in the right direction. Your output since the brilliant American Life video (which only saw the light of day online as you pulled it due to its controversial war themes) has been patchy. Yes, Hung Up and 4 Minutes were memorable. But what about Give It 2 Me, Get Together, Sorry and Love Profusion? Was that really the same woman who once bared her boobs in Vogue and had doves flying out of her chuff in Bedtime Story? And don’t get us started on the abominations that were Jump and Celebration. You made just two videos for Hard Candy despite having one in the can as the backdrop for your live performances of Beat Goes On/ Get Stupid. If Beyonce can make eight videos for her I Am Sasha Fierce project, you can stump up the cash for at least two more per project.

This is a make or break album for you Madonna. This is where we find out if your heart really still lies in music, or whether you’re best days are behind you. No-one’s saying if this album fails to deliver the goods then that’s it – look how many times Cher’s been written off before she comes back more sequined than ever. But is that really what you want, a residency at Caesar’s palace and countless drag acts paying homage to your better days? I think not. So we implore you Madge, come back and show us we’ve been going gaga over the wrong woman.