I have a rule about female pop recording artists returning to work after a long absence. That rule is: if an artist doesn’t release an album within three years after her most recent album, the artist should not be allowed to return to music.
Does that seem a little harsh? I don’t care. Let’s take a look at Madonna.
MDNA, her new album, is good. It’s decent... I sing along to it in the car, but that’s not the point. Compare her new album to her past albums. At least half of the songs on MDNA are produced for fans of today’s pop music. The rest are somewhat similar to her 11 other albums.
Why does this matter? Music changes. It changes constantly! As older artists go into hiding, new artists like Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, and Christina Perri get a chance in the spotlight. Sometimes, like in Gaga’s case, that chance turns into something that becomes a worldwide phenomenon. Other artists get pushed aside because of returning artists that everyone already loves.
When a pop singer becomes famous, the type of music she makes is typically “mainstream;” it sounds similar to everything else on the radio. Then after a handful of albums, the artist disappears. She grew with music and kept up with the mainstream, but now she’s gone.
That is, until she comes back, pretends she never disappeared, and releases current mainstream music that hadn’t even been thought of before she went on vacation.
Madonna has broken my rule twice. She released Bedtime Stories in 1994 and waited until 1998 to release Ray Of Light. Before MDNA hit stores this year, she hadn’t released anything since 2008’s Hard Candy.
There are two points to my rule. The first, as discussed above, is that fantastic musicians are kicked aside for old-as-dirt, autotune-whoring artists. The second is that an artist shouldn’t stay relevant if she’s absent for an entire era-shift in music. An artist’s fan-base begins with her first two albums and grows as the albums continue, but if an artist disappears for three years, then the fan-base has begun connecting new styles of digital music to newer artists.
I’m ranting. I apologize. I probably sound like I’m mental.
This isn’t just about Madonna, either. Britney Spears broke my rule between 1994 and 1998. However, she hasn’t left the scene again yet and then begged to come back. When Britney did leave and come back, it was, miraculously, like your puppy died and came back to life as a full-grown dog that learned during death how to sit, beg, and fetch.
To be honest, despite not breaking the “rule of three” between Circus and Femme Fatale, Britney’s transition between those albums was the worst, in my opinion. It took what felt like a decade for me to approve of the stutter-filled, digitally-altered voice on the Femme Fatale tracks.
This is my message to you: find some artists you love who left the scene for longer than three years and listen to the music production changes between those spread-out albums. Also, don’t forget to wear underwear.
Love and stutters and rays of light,
Your Gay Best Friend
Message From Your Gay Best Friend No. 06: Pop, the Rule of Three