Forget that the latest song to be released from Madonna’s upcoming album MDNA is biting its title from a noxious DVD series run by one of the worst people ever to be hailed as a “celebrity” by American culture (a pretty impressive feat, that); never mind that it rhymes “fire” and “desire” on its prechorus, despite the peppy track being absolutely nowhere near as good as The System’s sparkling “Don’t Disturb This Groove” and thus failing the “does this track have enough redeeming qualities to allow me to overlook the No. 1 lyric cliché of all time?” test. No, the most glaring quality of “Girl Gone Wild,” which hit the web yesterday, is the way that Madonna seems to be pretty absent from the track.
Madonna’s music has been synonymous with the dancefloor since the “Burning Up” days, so not too surprising that Madonna is dabbling in the let-the-beat-hit-’em clubpop that’s dominating airwaves at the moment. It is a bit disappointing, though, that “Wild” is helmed by the always-going-for-the-LCD Benny Benassi instead of someone who has a more forward-thinking attitude w/r/t what sort of pop-music boundaries can be pushed at this particular point, and by this particular artist. What is surprising is how her voice, which has definitely changed over the years but which still has had a recognizable burr to it throughout her career, is muted and fiddled with to the extent that it’s nearly unrecognizable. (It’s probably a big reason why, on first listen, I misheard the line about losing inhibitions as “my ambition’s gone away.”)
Of course, as Voice contributor Michaelangelo Matos pointed out to me yesterday, the “anonymous diva” ideal in dance music isn’t a new thing in any sense. But what’s notable to me is the way that already-existing pop personae are getting caught up in this trend; think about Nicki Minaj’s processed-cheese vocals on her David Guetta collaboration “Turn Me On,” or the way Rihanna’s vocals shape-shift from post-“Umbrella” single to post-“Umbrella” single. We’re in a bit of a moment where there are a lot of prominent female pop stars out there, yet the currency that should theoretically get them to their place in the pantheon—their voices—are being made subservient to the beat, or even becoming nearly anonymized, as their public profiles get ever louder and more dominant.
Sure, Madonna, who’s nothing if not a savvy businesswoman, probably witnessed the soft top-40 radio landing of the two top-flight pop artists who did put out housepop-trend-bucking albums last year—Beyoncé’s confidently lush 4 and Lady Gaga’s all-over-the-map Born This Way—and made arrangements to avoid a similar purgatorial fate on the charts. That this devil’s bargain resulted in one of the last 30-odd years’ biggest and most important pop personalities being seemingly left out of her own song, though, is annoying and sad—and it will be even more so should her gamble pay off.