Foreword by Roman Nurmemägi & Mary H Clarke
"It’s not like she hasn’t been political before. It is not as if she has not been controversial before. It’s not like she hasn’t gone against the establishment before. And it’s not like she hasn’t been Madonna before!"
Back when Entertainment Weekly inexplicably placed Madonna’s debut LP at #5 on its list of modern classics, aptly calling the eight post-disco, post-punk dance songs that comprise the album “scrappy,” it failed to acknowledge that Madonna (and her debut album) would likely have been forgotten had the album not been followed by at least a decade’s worth of some of the most captivating pop music ever recorded. Madonna seemed more interested in ruling the world than saving it back in 1983; two decades later, American Life found the pop singer at her most political, confrontational, and to many, abrasive. You’d never even know the same artist made both records. American Life was her first and, to date, only flop, scanning less than a million copies despite its platinum certification and sporting no hits besides the forward-thinking Bond theme “Die Another Day”.
While American Life certainly wasn't the kiss of death for Madonna, her ninth studio album did end one of the winningest streaks in the history of pop. Although the LP—which was released 16 years ago on April 21, 2003—did debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, it became the lowest-selling studio LP of her career up to that point. In addition, the reviews were mixed at best.
As with almost every Madonna album, save for the first one, it’s nearly impossible to talk about the music without addressing the cultural and social context that produced it. Some have claimed that’s why the singer’s image and marketing has always been the focus of her career, at the cost of fairly assessing the actual music, but I think this fact only strengthens the case for Madonna as a true artist. Art without cultural context is like war without a political one. And this time around, politics and war itself played a pivotal role in the construction, marketing, and ultimate perception and consumption (or lack thereof) of American Life—despite there being very little in the way of political commentary throughout the album.
The backlash Madonna likely would have suffered from an already-emboldened and not-so-far-anymore far right would have made the whipping she endured following Sex seem like harmless roleplay, but the video turned a trite, self-aggrandizing, and often awkward song about privilege into a startling comment on the obscenity of war and materialism—one that would have undoubtedly been looked back on as brave.
The original album’s ugliness has been vastly misunderstood and unappreciated; it’s stripped down, deconstructed aesthetic perfectly complements Madonna’s subversive messages. Beats abruptly stop and start. Guitars stutter. Synths drop in and out. The late Michel Colombier’s gorgeous string arrangements are sliced and diced. Madonna’s voice is left bare and unaffected—that is, when it’s not twisted and deformed until it sounds unrecognizable, even inhuman, like a Stepford wife on the fritz.
In hindsight, American Life isn’t the masterpiece that Erotica so quickly revealed itself to be. It’s frequently self-indulgent, misguided, unpleasant, difficult to listen to, silly yet somehow humourless, but it’s also consistent, uncompromising, and unapologetic. The album is a testament to the artist’s willingness to take risks and her refusal to stay inside her comfort zone. In the grand scheme of things, the album might rank as one of the weakest in Madonna’s extensive catalogue, and the ones that followed have been as good, if not better, but American Life stands as the last time Madonna seemed to make music without the primary objective of scoring a hit. It’s interesting to imagine what Madonna’s career would look like today had American Life been a success: For better or worse, that pink leotard and Justin duet might never have existed.
In retrospect, American Life—the last truly ambitious album that Madonna has made—also marked the end of a very important phase of her career. Having achieved new artistic depth with 1998’s Ray of Light and continued that creative spirit with Music, she was very much still in risk-taking mode on American Life. You might say those three albums—starting from an electronica base but veering in different directions—amounted to her Berlin Trilogy. On an aesthetic level, this period was Madonna at her Bowie-est.
American Life—which still sounds very modern and, in some ways, seems eerily prescient of Trump-era despair—feels more like the Madonna album for now than her recent efforts. It’s not a perfect album, but it’s the sound of Madonna challenging herself, and us.
The reason I brought up American Life is simple, we wanted to take everything good from that album and place it as a centrepiece of this project. We started planning the release of this remix album before it was known to us that Madonna's 14th studio album is going to be called Madame X and we didn't know what this album is going to be about.
With "Save My Soul" that was released prior, we didn't think much about themes and direction. We just wanted to make a statement, we wanted to make a compilation that was fresh and different, something to differentiate us from "The Project Remix, The Final Series", that was produced by Lukesavant and would mark his last major project like that. It was a difficult task, but we have pulled it off somehow.
With RAISON D'ÊTRE we not only wanted to make a statement, we wanted to highlight everything that Madonna stands for, what she's been fighting for. She said herself that the main reason she got into signing is because she had something to say, and as long as this is the case, she will be making music. We wanted to apply that idea to this remix album, take every influential song from Madonna's career with a strong message and make it more modern.
The first mix that we received was American Life, the title track from that album was her most underrated and most political to date. In a way, it was that mix, which has set the tone of the whole project. We wanted to take as much from that album as possible, but eventually we understood that two tracks from that LP was more than enough (American Life & Easy Ride). However, the mission remained the same, to start a conversation about the current political situation, how important it is to have freedom of speech, freedom of expression and how important it is to defend and fight for your rights.
It was important for us to highlight the importance of Madonna's existence in the industry, the fact that her presence has changed the face of Pop music so drastically and dramatically. She has been the advocate for human rights, she was breaking all sorts of boundaries throughout her career, she personified woman’s sexuality, she made it okay for girls to be sexual and not to be ashamed of it, and she made it okay for boys to love boys, for girls to love girls.
When it comes to overall design and artworks for this project, we decided also make a statement. We took aesthetics of the Roaring Twenties, the decades of the 1920s in Western society and Western culture. It was a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Western Europe, particularly in major.
In France, the decade was known as the "années folles", emphasizing the era's social, artistic and cultural dynamism. Jazz blossomed, the flapper redefined the modern look for British and American women, and Art Deco peaked. The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of novelty associated with modernity and a break with tradition. Women gained the right to vote in most countries. With their desire for freedom and independence came change in fashion. One of the more dramatic post-war changes in fashion was the woman's silhouette; the dress length went from floor length to ankle and knee length, becoming more bold and seductive. The new dress code emphasized youth: Corsets were left behind and clothing was looser, with lines that are more natural. The hourglass figure was not popular anymore, whereas a slimmer, boyish body type was considered appealing. I hope that we managed to capture all of that with designs for RAISON D'ÊTRE.
In a way, we were quite lucky that Madame X is so political and full of important topics and issues society is facing at the moment. With everything considered, you could say that the concept of her latest work, Madame X, comes from decades ago. The tracks we chose for RAISON D'ÊTRE are very important to her persona.
So let us not underestimate the power of music to bring people together. That is the most important thing. Music makes the people come together!
“I feel like when I started my career as an artist I was naive and that was a good thing. You don't think about judgement or what people are going to say or think about what you're doing. You are free and pure in your expression" - Madonna (May 2019)
So, with that said, we hope you appreciate and enjoy this album.
You can listen to Peace, Love and Freedom in any order that you like. In each one, through the skills of our Remixers, the message is clear.