On "Give Me All Your Luvin," Madonna invited us to step into her world. That world was bright and sunny and poppy and maybe a little questionable in how much territory it granted Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., but still a pleasant place with a pleasant ambassador well worth being peers with "Into the Groove" or "Holiday" or Madonna's lighter hits. The next single is evidently MDNA's world after dark. It is no longer bright. It isn't sunny anymore. It's poppy, but only in the sense that the RedOne sludge that clubs resort to after 1 a.m. is poppy. It's a world where you're trapped on the dingy dance floor, claustrophobic by sound, and all around you are men who look more and more like Joe Francis perving through the crowd and tossing you from scabby arm to sweaty chest. It's a world where "Girl Gone Wild" never leaves the stereo.
Look. It's downright audacious to have your lead single boast "every record sounds the same, come on and step into my world" and then follow that up with something where the first synth groans directly bite Usher and Max Martin's slice-and-bake "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love"--part of Usher's now-abandoned faceless period, so don't think he cosigns this. The rest of Benny Benassi's track is exactly what he's best at: the sort of monotonous bosh designed to disguise the vacuum that replaces the personality of singers like Taio Cruz or Flo Rida, or to grease the comeback path for singers like Chris Brown with tracks as inoffensive as possible. Did Madonna realize this, ever? Is this why she drained all the verve from her voice, to emulate artists who are functionally replaceable with session singers? Even her supposedly sexy "forgive me" sounds like she mumbled it to a studio assistant after bumping the mic.
About that "forgive me." It's loud and clear about being transgressive! It's Catholicism appropriated for sex, a thing that nobody has ever done before, a thing that'd shock the church to its Vatican-buried bones! There's more where that came from, starting with the chorus and its phrase "good girl gone wild." ("Like a girl gone wild," even, which on this track could honestly either be an attempt to distance Madonna from actual girls gone actually wild or just sloppy songwriting.) Even if you discount the fact that the Girls Gone Wild franchise that coined the meme is possibly the worst thing ever, even if you discount the fact that it's cheap titillation, this is still a conceit that Madonna addressed and demolished decades ago. Madonna has been in the game since 1983. She practically invented the game, as it currently exists for pop artists. There are literally academic programs based on her career and its messages. Madonna has no business singing things like "good girls don't misbehave, but I'm a bad girl anyway," not because women shouldn't sing about sex and definitely not because older women shouldn't (I can already picture the YouTube comments and snarking squawking heads, and they make me want to yank my brains out through my forehead), but because she's been past this since she devised her persona. It's like a groundbreaking female artist deciding to finger-paint Tijuana bibles of herself for no reason except that's what the market wants, and y'know, it's not so bad, it's easy work. The other part of the chorus is hitched to "girls just wanna have some fun," a sentiment that required Cyndi Lauper's doctoring to charge its girl power in the first place. Madonna shouldn't have to borrow from Cyndi Lauper. And she definitely shouldn't have to borrow from the very cliche construction of sexuality that she's both teased and stomped to death.
"Girl Gone Wild" is probably going to get terrible reviews, the like not seen since "American Life," and they will all miss the point. Well, criticizing the music won't, but the lyrics will undoubtedly take more bullets than any preset Benny Benassi laid down. People will carp about pornification and tawdry sex and Madonna being overly wild and overly girly at this stage in her career; half the people saying "at this stage in her career" will really want to say "at this age in her career," and the other half will just say it outright. The irritating stan wars will continue to fog the discussions with smoke, and people will seriously think they can use the term "reductive" in comments-section diatribes and sound neutral. Joe Francis will continue his campaign of peacocking for attention. The Super Bowl decency police might get involved. It will be gruesome. And maybe one person will argue that Madonna's doing something deep and subversive and brave--but they'll also be wrong, because Madonna's already explained what she's doing. She is being "fun and ironic," where both are get-out-of-failure-free cards to explain anything. If you don't like "Girl Gone Wild," you're no fun; if you think it's fundamentally sad, you're taking her too seriously. And if you think Madonna is and has been so much better than this, you'll never be heard.