The Art of Stopping


Madonna’s new single does something totally and unexpectedly great—it stops. Repeatedly. Four full stops, and countless gaps between phrases, beats, even words. A blistering zeitgeist-negation, hostile and uneasy—as a single, a club track, a Bond theme. Her latest personality is an abrogation of personality: the merging of the individual into the dance massive so complete it nullifies the massive itself. Rhythm so intricate it becomes hook. Feminism so interrogatory it questions identity itself. “Sigmund Freud,” she whispers at the only sexy moment, “analyze this.”

Zeitgeist One: Microhouse. That German-spawned trend which strips out zooms and builds, reconstructing house from obsessively nuanced elements—the crisp snap of a snare, that syncopated instant it anticipates the bass kick; an uncertain half-step in a diva’s vocal run. Herbert’s latest album builds from samples of trash. Akufen’s from radio debris. “Die Another Day” (Warner Bros.) takes off from the orchestral synth-lure of a silky William Orbit track. Fragments turn in on themselves, clawing toward a cacophony of harmonics that don’t resolve but simply cease.

Zeitgeist Two: Electroclash. The hip club thing, with synths and hooks and filtered vocals. But that scene is sexy and messy, while this song paints sharp clean lines, celebrating not indulgence but its denial. When men merge into machines, it’s assumed they’re augmenting their dicks. But when women enter that territory, they desexualize, alienating the body entirely. Electro queens Peaches and Miss Kittin let fly with dirty mouths camouflaging fear and rejection of a hypersexualized world. Madonna announces “I’m gonna deny my pleasure” and there’s twice the rejection.

Zeitgeist Three: National unity, the closing of ranks, the forward march of good against evil. The enemy? Those who don’t agree. Madonna’s put her cowboy boots away and strapped on her Nancy Sinatra ones. “I’m gonna shake up the system/I’m gonna destroy my ego,” she chants in clipped martial syllables, a Lysistratan army of one. “I’m gonna close my body now.”

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