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Madonna's New Single, 'Medellin,' Is A Self-Aware Nostalgia Trip

The first single from Madonna's upcoming Madame Xsuggests that the doyenne of dance pop is making canny decisions in her 60 th year. "Medellin" is a carefully dosed combination of the coolly narcotic dance-pop she's often made with the track's producer, Mirwais, and the energetic reggaetón of the track's featured guest, the Colombian star Maluma, and suggests this global pop sound will be the foundation of her fourteenth studio album. Starting with a whispered "one, two, cha cha cha" from Queen Madge that lends the arrangement a witty vintage feel, the song proceeds to relate a fantasy that's both sexy and slightly nostalgic. "I took a pill and had a dream," Madonna murmurs, her voice artfully Auto-tuned. "I went back to my seventeenth year."

Madonna's reverie transports her to the Colombian mountain city where, in what some might consider the song's most dubious lyric, she and Maluma have "built a cartel just for love." The line, however, makes sense in the larger scheme of Madame X, due out June 14. The singer promises that the album will have the feel of a spy movie, giving Madonna the chance to inhabit many identities – a few she's listed on Instagram include "a teacher, a nun, a cabaret singer, a saint, a prostitute" and many more. Madonna as secret agent, assuming myriad identities but never settling into one? That's a brilliant way to deal with questions the pop superstar has faced in recent years about both cultural appropriation and her refusal to embrace her status as a mature woman and artist.

The fantasy of "Medellin" could belong to a woman of any age, race or social status. Its dreaminess makes it accessible to all without making any claims on authenticity. Grounded in a minimalist take on reggaetón's ubiquitous tresillo rhythm, "Medellin" lets Madonna lay back in the groove while giving the waggish, husky-voiced Maluma plenty of room to spin out his rhymes in Spanish. Madonna and Mirwais are clearly thinking of "Despacito" here, integrating English and Spanish seamlessly in a song meant for a global marketplace.

Intended to be a celebration of the connections among musicians across borders, Madame X features several other collaborations, some intriguing (the Brazilian singer Anitta) and others possibly a bit on the nose (Diplo, Migos). Madonna has said that the album's global perspective was inspired by her life in Portugal, where she's lived since 2017, but of course, the Latin connection has been a major aspect of her work since her earliest days. "Medellin" is, in some ways, a return to her happy place, definitively portrayed in her 1986 single "La Isla Bonita" — only this time with a woozy feel more redolent of a time when synthetic drugs and virtual realities dominate the cultural conversation. Let's hope the rest of Madame X is this playful and charming.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.