On March 27 2015, Madonna graced the cover of New York gay magazine Next. The magazine included a four-page spread with an interview to the Queen of Queens by John Russell.
Here’s a snippet of the interview between Russell and Madonna:
I counted at least 13 different producers in the album’s liner notes, but it was never Madonna’s intention to work with so many different people on the album. The same health concerns that forced Avicii to cancel his tour in September also threw a wrench into his work on Rebel Heart. Madonna was forced to find other producers to work with on many of the songs they’d started writing together. Meanwhile, Diplo’s touring schedule and other projects meant that his time was limited as well.
“I ended up working with a lot of DJs—young DJs—and I naively didn’t think it through. Oh, it’s summertime, it’s the festivals, and they’re on tour, and I’ll be lucky if I get them for three days, so a lot of that had to factor in. OK, I can’t wait for three months for this dude to come back. I have to find somebody else.”
Of course, art never gets made in a vacuum, something Madonna knows and accepts. “I had to bend my knees and ride the waves.”
The result is an album that, at first, seems all over the map. But it’s tough to judge an album by an artist like Madonna after just one listen. Even if you’re only familiar with her hits, those past gems loom large in comparison to the new material. You’re listening for her next step and at the same time hoping she’ll retain whatever lighting in a bottle quality her early hits had. On first listen, Rebel Heart has its moments, sure. But it’s not until a week after hearing the full album, when I find myself humming Unapologetic Bitch and Ghosttown on the subway, that it really feels like the album clicks into place. Will anyone but diehard Madonna fans—and that’s not an insignificant demographic within her fanbase—listen to the whole album, start to finish, more than once or twice? Probably not. But I’m not sure that matters. Every pop album has to include some forgettable filler tracks—although with the way we consume music these days a la carte, who knows how much longer that model will last. But even at a whopping 19 tracks—23, plus two Living for Love remixes on the Super Deluxe edition—there’s not much fat to trim on Rebel Heart. As a whole, it’s probably Madonna’s most listenable since Confessions on a Dance Floor.
“I didn’t set out to write certain kinds of songs. I just set out to write good songs,” she says. There are dark turns on the album, also a bit of soul searching. And the ballads are particularly strong. Apparently, Madonna set out to write songs that, stripped of all their production, could also work on an acoustic level.
“When we run out of oil and we don’t have electricity, I can just light a candle and strum my guitar and sing you a song.”