Yesterday (July 23) MTV unveiled the nominations for the 2019 VMAs. This year's show – which takes place August 26 – is shaping up to be particularly star-studded. Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift lead the field of nominees with 10 nods a piece. Following the incredible success of WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? and its accompanying singles, Billie Eilish trails closely with nine. Breakout hitmaker Lil Nas X is next up with eight to his name. Others in the running include Jonas Brothers, BTS, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. It's an impressive list. However, like every year, there are a couple glaring omissions.
Chief amongst those is Madonna. The Queen Of Pop is responsible for some of the VMAs most iconic moments. Not only that, but she released six videos this year in support of Madame X. Of those "God Control," a powerful and shocking demand for gun reform, is the clear highlight. It will go down as one of the most unforgettable releases of the year, but it wasn't nominated for a single award. Surely, it should have at least been up for Video For Good if not Video Of The Year. To be fair, the Jonas Åkerlund-directed opus may have come a little late to be recognized. It dropped at the very end of last month. But if so that doesn't excuse the equally offensive snub of "Medellín."
Speaking of people who have contributed to VMAs history, where the hell is Miley Cyrus? "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart," her Ashley O. video "On A Roll" and "Mother's Daughter" are all blockbusters that deserved some love. And it is puzzling to say the least that last year's Video Vanguard Award recipient Jennifer Lopez didn't make any of the categories. Her extravagant and visually stunning "Medicine" should at least be up for Best Pop. She didn't slay last year's performance to be totally forgotten. Cardi B had just as big of an impact on the 2018 VMAs. She went into the show with 12 nominations to her name and left with multiple wins.
This year she's up for four between "Money," "Taki Taki" and "Please Me." But where is "Press"? Also, "Money" should be represented beyond just Best Hip Hop. Furthermore, you cannot talk about the hip hop category without realizing that Iggy Azalea got done dirty. "Sally Walker" and "Started" are some of her best videos ever, yet she is nowhere to be found. It's been a massive year for women in the genre, so it would be nice to see them more recognized in general. For instance, Megan Thee Stallion and City Girls should have made the list.
It is great to see Normani's gorgeous "Waves" getting some love in the Best R&B category. But the breakout solo star likely needed more. The intergalactic masterpiece should be up for a couple of technical categories. That's not even considering her sleek Sam Smith collab "Dancing With A Stranger." That could have at least netted her a shot at Best Choreography. And the VMAs totally overlooked her and Camila's fellow Fifth Harmony alum Lauren Jauregui. Her sultry "More Than That" deserves better. On the topic of artists who got some but needed more nominations, that brings me to BTS.
The K-Pop superstars are represented in the newly created Best K-Pop section, Best Collaboration and two other categories. But their streaming giant "Boy With Luv" missed out on a well-deserved Video Of The Year nod. If nothing else, they should be up for Best Pop. Same for BLACKPINK's "Kill This Love." That is an already jam-packed category. But there are a couple other glaring absences. For instance, where is Katy Perry's "Never Really Over"? I'd also like to see MNEK's vibrant "Girlfriend," Tove Lo's innovative "Glad He's Gone," Bebe Rexha's bold "Last Hurrah" or Charli XCX and Troye Sivan's nostalgic "1999" in the mix.
Pink – another Vanguard Award winner – should have gotten a handful of nods for "Walk Me Home," too. Katy missed out on a couple other categories. Her Zedd collab "365" easily deserved a Best Collaboration or Best Dance nod. Speaking of Best Collaboration, Anitta and Becky G's cheeky "Banana" says hello. Frankly, both hitmakers are renowned for their mega-popular videos. So where are they? They could have also shown up in Best Latin. There, Bad Bunny is in the running with his Drake collab "MIA," but it would have been nice to see MTV show some love to his even more striking "Caro."
I've already mentioned the VMAs second new category – Video For Good. However, there are a couple other videos that should have made that list. For starters, Shawn and Khalid's inspiring "Youth." Then there's Kacey Musgraves's "Rainbow" and Marshmello and CHVRCHES's "Here With Me." Let's close out with a couple other videos from artists that are already nominated. Strangely, Billie's nightmarish "bury a friend" has been overlooked in favor of "bad guy." Also, in focusing almost exclusively on Ari's chart-toppers "thank u, next" and "7 rings," MTV missed out on some other deserving videos including "breathin" and "break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored." What else do you think the VMAs overlooked this year?
Two years ago, producer Patrick Leonard wrote an Instagram post, which informed us he still had a demo version of the unknown song 'Angels With Dirty Faces', written during the Like A Prayer recording sessions. Back then, he said he couldn't share the actual demo.
But today, that changed. The demo is also on one of the cassettes that is part of the infamous auction, organised by Madonna's former friend and art adviser Darlene Lutz. Since Madonna lost her lawsuit to Lutz, the items are being auctioned this week.
So Patrick Leonard has decided to share the demos online for free. Since he co-wrote the songs, he has the right to do that. LIsten to it below.
Here's what he said about the track in 2017:
'Angels' is a song called 'Angels With Dirty Faces' that M and I wrote for the album and ultimately must have decided wasn't good enough. Having said that, it's a finished song with her vocal that no one has ever heard and it's pretty darn good. Wish I could post it. Obviously I can't. Was crazy to hear it and vividly remember doing it. Just another song on another day of writing... then. Now it seems unreal that that's what we're up to...
Leonard also added the first demo version of Like A Prayer (from the day it was written) and of Cherish.
Madonna is emailing me, and I'm totally fine. Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. She's been the wallpaper on my phone, my dance tutor, the inspiration for long-expired passwords, and now we're emailing. Through intermediaries, and there's no FaceTime in the cards, but still. An artist and (I usually hate this word) icon I've loved, celebrated, analyzed, cited, and defended for 35 years, is answering some of my questions. Everything is absolutely chill, and I'm breathing normally. Keep your smelling salts.
The occasion: Refinery29 is exclusively premiering the video for "Batuka," off Madame X, Madonna's fourteenth studio album, which debuted at #1 last month on the Billboard 200. Like many critics and fans, I find Madame X to be particularly beautiful — her most cohesive and visionary LP since 2005's disco opus Confessions on a Dance Floor, and her weirdest, most emotional dare since 2003's woefully dismissed classic American Life. (Did I mention I'm a fan?)
Even more than Bush-era American Life, Madame X finds Madonna reckoning with a bleak global moment as she considers her own remarkable history. This time, much of the sound was inspired by the superstar's extended time with her children in Portugal, where she immersed herself in, and then interpreted, a range of musical traditions local to the region. That includes batuque, a style that emphasizes drumming, singing, and dancing, which was created by Black women from the island of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony with a central role in the slave trade.
"Batuka" — a defiant, joyful cry for rebellion with a rousing call-and-response structure — is Madonna's collaboration with the all-women Orquestra Batukadeiras, and they join her in the striking video, directed by Emmanuel Adjei and filmed off the coast of Lisbon. "I found them to be so strong, authentic, soulful, loving, generous, and kind," Madonna told Refinery29 of her collaborators.
The sixth video (so far) during this very cinematic Madame X era finds Madonna in a jam session with the Orquestra, with haunting shots of the coastline that reference the area's brutal history. We also get to marvel at stunning closeups of the women in the Orquestra — as well at the Queen of Pop dancing freestyle in a floral dress and combat boots. An undisputed master and innovator of the form since the advent of MTV in the 1980s (see: "Material Girl," "Papa Don't Preach," "Express Yourself," "Vogue"), Madonna, with "Batuka," has now starred in over 75 music videos.
Here's what Madonna told Refinery29 about recording and filming "Batuka," working with the women, her own forgotten history of drumming, and more. It's all very casual.
Refinery29: In the Inside Madame X short film, you spoke a bit about discovering Batuque and the Orquestra Batukadeiras, and then collaborating with the women on this song. What did these women teach you?
Madonna: "I learned a great deal from these women. Many of them came from very economically challenged backgrounds, without access to formal education. The ways we measure achievement and success in our conventional society fails to capture their singular brilliance and strength. I found them to be so strong, authentic, soulful, loving, generous, and kind. You can't learn these things in school. They taught me those things. It's a tough world out there, and it's inspiring to work with people who have been through the struggle but still manage to manifest and share joy with us all. That was a big part of the lesson."
The video serves to both recreate that recording experience and, it would seem, to evoke the painful-but-joyous history of Batuque, specifically its origins in Cape Verde and ties to slavery and suppression. How did you, your director Emmanuel Adjei, and the Orquestra work together to conceive of the visual narrative for the video?
"We wanted to honor how I met these women and our journey, with an organic and beautiful cinematic experience. We found a house that looked like a typical house that one would live in on the islands of Cape Verde next to the sea. Instead of me going to a small nightclub environment to meet them and hear them play, to then be invited into their circle, we choose a more natural and beautiful environment as the meeting place, ending up in the recording studio. It wasn't easy to replicate the significance of our first meeting and how it all happened. How they invited me in and gave me a leather drum, sat me down and said 'Join Us.' They took turns dancing and embracing me. They invited me into their world and made me feel extremely welcome. When I asked them to record with me it was the exact same experience. They were just as joyful, just as down to earth, just as open, just as loving. I tried to capture the simplicity of that exchange. I hope it captures the range of emotions that I felt coming from them, and their music. I wanted to show the strength and the history, and I felt like all of their faces were just so expressive. I wanted to capture that in all of their close-ups."
Your dancing here seems improvised. How did you approach it?
"I was completely and utterly inspired by them. And there was no need or call for choreography. The dancing was organic and fluid; I just watched them move and joined them."
Even your biggest fans might forget that in the beginning of your career, you were a drummer for the NYC band Breakfast Club. How did you draw upon this past work to approach "Batuka"?
"Drumming for me is connected to dancing, since they're both centered in rhythm. Moving at different times and different rhythms and different time signatures. That segue from playing the drums came easily for me, since that was my first job in a band. It was authentic for me, and I love it. I love playing percussion."
As you've described, "Madame X" takes on many disguises and persona. Who is she in "Batuka"?
"It's all part of the journey of Madame X. Traveling to different places, different worlds, different cultures, experiencing different folk music. Madame X discovers and respects the history of it, of being inspired by it, and ultimately shares it with the world."
Will the women join you onstage when you perform in a live setting?
"Yes, not only are they in my show, they are my choir in general. They're my choir in 'God Control,' 'Like a Prayer,' 'Come Alive,' and 'I Rise.' They're even dancing in my show; they've become fully integrated in so many ways. It's amazing. It's crazy how multitalented they all are and how ready they are to share this experience. It's been so great having them become a part of everything. They're going to blow people away; the world isn't ready."
In the past weeks, Madonna has posted many pictures and videos from the rehearsals of her upcoming Madame X Tour. Those teasers have given us a lot of hints on the songs that are being rehearsed.
From the new album Madame X, most of the songs have been rehearsed, including Medellín, Dark Ballet, God Control, Future, Batuka, Killers Who Are Partying, Crave, Crazy, I Don’t Search I Find, Looking For Mercy and I Rise.
Songs from previous albums that have been heard during rehearsals and considered for the setlist include Vogue, Like A Prayer, Justify My Love, Human Nature, Frozen, and American Life.
A recent post contained a very exciting teaser: the final lines of Rescue Me can be heard. The 1991 single has never been performed live and fans have been hoping for its premiere on stage. During a Madame X interview, Madonna hinted she was open to consider it but this is the first time it actually comes up during rehearsals. Fingers crossed that it will make the final setlist selection!
In another post, Madonna asked how to say 'You Must Love Me' in Portuguese (which is 'Tu tens que me amar'), so this Evita classic might be a possibility too.
In an Instagram post, Madonna has announced that we'll get another music video this coming Friday July 19. The new video will be for Batuka.
I remember seeing Madonna's "Don't Tell Me" on MTV in 2000 when I was 11 years old. It was mind-blowing. Growing up in New England, country music never hit close to home. It was all Garth Brooks singing about driving a truck with a fat engine and cracking a warm beer by the lake. But Madonna took the genre and spun it on its head in one of the most transportive videos of her career: steamy cowboys and a dark ranchero vibe, mixed up with a lot of sand-strewn cheek. (It was also the first time Madonna played guitar on an album.) It's almost hard to believe that the music video is almost 20 years old. "Don't Tell Me" was the OG beginnings of country music style breaking into the pop world. Subversive twang is going mainstream in the form of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road," Orville Peck's masked exploration of masculinity in country music, and Diplo brooding in a Nudie suit on Instagram. But let me remind you that Madonna was the first to pave the way for giddy-up pop.
We begin with Madonna walking down a desert highway; an 18-wheeler truck drives by, and her cowboy hat flies off. A few seconds later, the camera zooms out, and the viewers realize that Madonna is simply walking, hips cocking side-to-side, in front of an old-timey projector. Her dancers are ever-fabulous, muscular gyrating men, characters plucked out of that Vivienne Westwood "Cowboy" T-shirt. The sound is pared back but still addictive with an ironic plucking of a guitar.
Then the fashion! Madonna's cowboy hat is pulled down past her eyes. In the first half, she wears a simple unbuttoned plaid shirt with a bedazzled grommet belt. The dark-wash flares are stained with mud. Another look: a black leather cowboy shirt with puffed-up shoulders that reveal a slice of her belly. Her pants have chaps. Looking back at it now, the video and its wardrobe were deliciously sassy: Madonna took a good-natured country look and flipped it completely.
The genius behind Madonna's look was famed stylist and costume designer Arianne Phillips, who worked with the French director Jean-Baptiste Mondino to handle the Queen of Pop's foray into Western surreality. It was a fated match: When Phillips learned of the music video's theme, she had recently read Rodeo Girl by Lisa Eisner, a photography book that explored Eisner's hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the colorful rodeo culture that thrived there. "t was one of those synchronistic moments when I showed the book to Madonna, and I showed it to Mondino, and she loved it," says Phillips. "It was meant from a tongue-in-cheek place, and that really informed the video. [Madonna and Mondino], it was never literal. It was always with a wink and a nod."
In the video, Madonna's two Western outfits were made by Dsquared2, who were only making menswear at the time. "They were friends of ours, Dean and Dan [Caten], and they had yet to do anything for women," says Phillips. "They did these incredible jeans with mud splatter with a kind of fake mud [for their men's collection]. I asked if they would make a pair for Madonna, and they did." The designers also provided Madonna's "cowboy goth" look. "They also made the leather shirt, a Victorian kind of take on the cowboy shirt," says Phillips. "That was new for the boys of Dsquared2." That outfit appears in a pivotal moment: Once Madonna changes into it, she and her dancers let loose with a hypersexualized take on line dancing while a raccoon tail bounces from Madonna's belt loops.
Of course, the most iconic item was Madonna's cowboy hat. Aside from "Don't Tell Me," Madonna also wore it on the cover of Music and in the music video "Music," a non-country hit. "Putting Madonna in a cowboy hat had to be tongue-in-cheek. It was something that I wanted to be short-lived. We used it in the music video, and it became this ironic prop in a way. Then her fans really grabbed on to it," says Phillips. "I think, to this day, you can't go to a Madonna concert without a cowboy hat."
Madonna has started rehearsing for her Madame X Tour and posted several teasers on her Instagram.
In some of the Insta stories, we see the dancers Ahlamalik Williams, Sasha Mallory, Daniele Sibili, and Chaz Buzan.
Interestingly, another story shows Madonna and her son David, while holding a sheet that has the lyrics of Dark Ballet written on them. Attentive fans have noticed the titles of other songs in the same booklet: Vogue, I Don't Search I Find, and... Easy Ride!
It's very possible these songs are being rehearsed for the setlist. Although this doesn't mean they will make the final selection, it gives an exciting insight of the upcoming tour.
As the sun set on Pride weekend, marking the end of the celebration of 50 years since the Stonewall Riots ignited our movement, Madonna asked the audience a question she's been asking since 1990: "What are you looking at?"
Yes, the Queen of Pop began her headlining set with what might be her biggest hit, "Vogue," accompanied by a swarm of dancers all outfitted as Madame X in matching blonde wigs and trench coats. One sat at a typewriter, the sound of the keys filling in for the iconic snaps of the songs intro, flawlessly fusing her most iconic hit with her new era — in the music video for "God Control," released last week, Madonna writes her manifesto at the very same typewriter. That marriage of her classic songs and her new material was on display throughout her entire four-song set, which also included "American Life," "God Control," and the anthemic "I Rise."
The staging was beautifully choreographed and Madonna was in top form. Each song was perfectly interpreted for this exact performance. It felt special, like we were seeing a unique show that would only exist this one night. Despite the thousands of people in the crowd, it felt intimate. Between songs, Madonna spoke to the crowd, highlighting the history of Pier 97, which was once an infamous gay cruising spot. "God knows it has a lot of history."
Wearing custom Versace — Donatella was in attendance, Madame X told us as one of her leather daddy dancers changed her shoes onstage — the Material Girl was effusive about her love for the LGBTQ+ community, reflecting on the significance of World Pride and the anniversary of Stonewall. "Fifty years people. Fifty years of revolution, 50 years of freedom fighting, 50 years of putting up with discrimination, hatred and indifference, 50 years of blood, sweat and tears, 50 years of not bowing down to fear. That's what I'm talking about."
"We have been on this journey together, and I am so proud and honored to share this historical evening with you," she said. "You really don't know. Since I came to New York as a wee little girl, I have always been embraced by queer nation. I always felt like an outsider but you made me feel like an insider. You must know how much I love and appreciate everyone here tonight. All members of the LGBTQ community. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
I had never seen Madonna live, and I'll admit I was nervous. How could any one performer live up to the legend I'd seen in music videos my entire life? But that's the thing about Madonna: she is that legend, and the experience was better than I ever could have anticipated.
The only disappointing part of the evening was the crowd. Madonna's performance was so powerful and celebratory, but the energy from the audience was...well, chaotic is putting it nicely. Massive pride events like the Pride Island have steep ticket prices, which means they're filled with the most privileged in our community, and unfortunately that air of entitlement means that anyone who isn't a white cis muscle gay walking around shirtless can be made to feel extremely unwelcome — one friend I ran into told me how a group of white muscle gays had shoved him and called him ugly — during Pride! In our Lyft back to the W Hotel, my friend and I commiserated over how sad it was that the message of unity Madonna imparted during her set wasn't reflected by those privileged enough to share the experience.
But what an experience it was. After speaking with Madonna ahead of Pride and hearing the emotion in her voice when she spoke about her decades of queer activism, I was struck more than ever by the surety that Madonna isn't an ally. She's one of us, and there's no one I would rather have celebrated Pride with. To quote a friend, "Madame X is a faggot."
"What are you lookin' at?"
Well, at Pride Island 2019, the annual queer pier dance in Manhattan in conjunction with New York City Pride, revelers were looking at one of the most beloved and vociferous LBGTQ icons: Madonna.
Madame X closed out day 2 of Pride Island, which was especially packed considering that New York Pride -- already a massive event -- was more than doubled thanks to WorldPride taking up residence in NYC this year with June 28 marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, where Black trans women kicked off the modern fight for LGBTQ equality.
Madonna opened with her Harlem ballroom scene-indebted smash "Vogue," and the audience response was deafening. After that, the musical shapeshifter brought out a single it's safe to say no one expected to hear as part of a limited-length set: "American Life." That being said, while it's not one of her, say, 20 most renowned songs, the message of "American Life" has only grown more timely in the 16 years since its release, and its strangely compelling melange of squelching synths, strings and folk had the crowd rapt -- especially when she dove head-first into the "soy latte" rap (which reals Stans in the crowd parroted back to her perfectly).
Midway through her wind-whipped set, Madge spoke to the historicity of the moment and the significance to her life. "Fifty years, people," Madonna said. "Fifty years of freedom fighting. Fifty years of putting up with discrimination, hatred and intemperance. Fifty years of blood, sweat and tears. Fifty years of not bowing down to fear. We have been on this journey together, and I am so proud and honored to share this historical evening with you."
Before returning to performing, she shouted-out her early NYC days. "You really don't know. Since I came to New York as a wee little girl, I have always been embraced by queer nation. I always felt like an outsider but you made me feel like an insider. You must know how much I love and appreciate everyone here tonight."
After that, the cops busted in -- well, at least the police-themed dancers Madonna employs. They helped her create a visually powerful live performance of her Madame X highlight "God Control," replete with detailed choreography and a disco groove that had the crowd gyrating and shimmying. She closed with "I Rise," a powerful anthem for both gun control and LGBTQ rights, after which fireworks exploded over Pride Island as starry-eyed attendees headed home.
A new documentary, titled "Madonna - World of Madame X", is now available at Amazon Prime in the US and the UK. In the 22-minute film, directed by Nuno Xico, Madonna tells us how the album was created and she introduces us to some of the many collaborators, including Dino D'Santiago and the Batukadeiras. Song by song, we get to know which music and dance genres influenced the tracks, and which messages inspired the lyrics.