Madonna – “Music”

Released: 8.21.00

Peak: #1

Musically, the three great pop superstars to come of age in the ’80s–Michael, Madonna, Prince– were above all solipsists and sensualists. (Note to quibblers: Bruce was a rock superstar, and of a generation earlier at that.) Their arresting visual styles, their facility with deploying an array of symbols in ways that suggested meaning without pinning it down (abetted by the efforts of cultural studies stenographers), and above all their massive success–all overshadowed the fact that these three were musicians before they were celebrities or even entertainers. And as with Prince, the artistic high points in Madonna’s forties came when she re-immersed herself the only thing she loved more than herself–a discovery we can only regret that Michael was too far gone to make.

The more the actual lived 80s shrink in our rear view mirrors, the more the defining hit of Madonna’s heyday seems not the image-making “Like a Virgin” or the dynamite electro hits that predated it, but the home-alone rumpshaker “Into the Groove,” which contemplates dancing with yourself more fully than Billy Idol ever did. With that track, Madonna answered every parent who wondered why the kids didn’t jitterbug in couples anymore, conceptualizing dance not as mating ritual, but as solitary self-expression, an intimate relation between you and your mirror.

“Music” is more social than that, and more utopian. Like “Holiday,” it dreams that the solo dancer’s epiphany of self-possession can be multiplied communally on the dance floor–Madonna always did take the chintzy spiritual bromides of disco to heart. Fortunately, the song’s homier than all that: I love the way “Hey Mr. DJ, put a record on, I wanna dance with my baby” deflates the superstar pretenses of DJ culture.”Music,” then, is a “return to roots” by the sort of phony who isn’t supposed to have ’em.

The begrudging, backhanded compliments that became de rigeur among non-fans once Madonna’s success was undeniable (“She’s a smart businesswoman, I’ll give her that”–fuck off already) ignored her true gift. Like any pop impresario who outlasts her immediate moment, Madonna had a great ear, and an ability to synthesize disparate elements in way that amplified the most pleasurable bits of each. In addition to Mirwais’ French disco, “Music” also reminds us of the oft-overlooked First Age of Autotune at the turn of the millennium (Cher’s fault, iirc). Oh, and those pastel cowgirl hats.  As for that line about “the bourgeoisie and the rebel,” I dunno–maybe she just felt obliged to reassure Camille Paglia that she’d held on to a pretension or two.

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