Hard Candy is Madonna's 12th studio album that was released on April 19, 2008 by Warner Bros. Records.
It was her final album with Warner Bros. Records, marking the end of a 25-year recording history with the label.
- Candy Shop 4:15
- 4 Minutes (featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland) 4:04
- Give It 2 Me 4:48
- Heartbeat 4:04
- Miles Away 4:49
- She's Not Me 6:05
- Incredible 6:20
- Beat Goes On (featuring Kanye West) 4:27
- Dance 2night 5:03
- Spanish Lesson 3:36
- Devil Wouldn't Recognize You 5:09
- Voices 3:39
In February 2007, Timbaland said that he was working with Madonna for her upcoming eleventh studio album. It was Madonna's last studio album for Warner Bros. Records.
Following the release of a greatest hits collection ("Celebration"), she would join Live Nation Artists, a new initiative launched by concert promoter Live Nation.
The 10-year deal with Live Nation encompassed all of Madonna's future music and music-related businesses, including the exploitation of the Madonna brand, new studio albums, touring, merchandising, fan clubs/Web sites, DVDs, music-related television and film projects and associated sponsorship agreements.
In August of 2007, Timbaland spoke about the development of the album to MTV News. Together he and Justin Timberlake were confirmed to have worked on the album with Madonna and said that they wrote ten songs for her.
The songs confirmed to have been developed were "La, La" and "Candy Shop", which was written by Pharrell Williams.
Timbaland added: "Me and Justin did the records. [Madonna's] got a hot album. Her album is up there with Justin's album. [...] Ah, man, there's this one song, we taking it back to 'You must be my luck-eee starrrr!' ... Remember 'Ugly' by Bubba Sparxxx? I got a beat similar to that. The hook is no words. It's saying stuff named after coffee... The name of the song is 'La, La'. Pharrell did a hot one for her too called 'Candy Shop'."
Timbaland finished off by saying that the title of the album was not decided then, but he had to reconvene with Madonna to complete the record by September 2007.
MTV described the new album as moving in an urban direction. It had initially been defined as having "a lot of producers from a lot of genres in there."
Pet Shop Boys were originally asked by Warner to write and produce some songs for the album. Timbaland referred to the album as being "like 'Holiday' with an R&B groove."
"Hard Candy" features additional vocals by Timberlake, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West and production by Madonna, Timbaland, Timberlake, The Neptunes and Nate "Danja" Hills.
Previously, Madonna had worked with relatively unknown producers like William Orbit, Mirwais Ahmadzaï and Stuart Price; however, for the album, she decided to collaborate with producers and artists who were already well-known.
Talking to MTV, Madonna explained her decision to collaborate with well-known producers: "Because they're good, and I like their shit. [...] I mean, I don't like to repeat myself, and I was sitting around thinking, 'What music do I love right now?' And it was actually [Timberlake's] record FutureSex/LoveSounds. [...] I was listening to it obsessively."
Madonna had already started work on the album with Williams, and during one of her breaks from recording, her manager Guy Oseary spoke to Timberlake, suggesting that it "would be cool" if he recorded some songs with her.
Timberlake commented: "'That would be awesome,' but I thought, 'That'll never happen', [...] But it's a testament to Pharrell. He had already laid the groundwork where she was going with it. She played 'Candy Shop' for me, and a couple of other songs, and I thought, 'What a cool direction.' I thought she could essentially do the whole record with Pharrell if she wanted to, and I asked Tim, 'How do we fit in?' And it basically came down to how we did my record, co-producing, and just throwing Madonna in the mix."
The first track recorded by Madonna and Timberlake was "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You". Timberlake felt that the song, which Madonna had been working on for years before the Hard Candy project, was comparable to "Frozen." He wanted to turn the line "'The devil wouldn't recognize you, but I do" into a catchy hook and make it sound like a concept.
Timberlake was impressed by the amount of recording material Madonna would already have ready.
He said that he does not normally write down his lyrics, since the ideas come faster to him, but Madonna had "all these thoughts, riddles, poems, feelings, all written in huge notebooks ... she kept handing them over. It was amazing, taking these little bits here and there and putting them together like a puzzle."
For recording "Miles Away", Timberlake played a guitar riff for Madonna and asked, "How do we want to do this? What do we want it to be about? What do we want to say?"
Madonna decided to have discussions between herself and Timberlake to develop other ideas for the songs. One of the ideas they connected on was the universality of long-distance relationships, which they felt was too personal for them, but nevertheless used the concept in "Miles Away".
Madonna commented on the recorded version: "We put our stuff out there. [...] And after we did the song, everybody in the studio was like, 'Oh, I can relate to that.'"
With Interview magazine, Madonna explained her inspirations behind the songs and the music of "Hard Candy".
She said that "probably in many respects most of the songs [on Hard Candy] are [autobiographical]. But in more of an unconscious way. I don't really think about telling personal stories when I'm writing music. It just comes. And then a lot of times, six months later, eight months later, I go, 'Oh, that's what I wrote that song about.' But that's when I play the song for lots of people and they all go, 'Oh, I can totally relate to that.'" "Candy Shop" is the opening track of the album. Produced by Williams, the song uses the word candy as a metaphor for sex. Williams said, "We were just in a studio, [...] and [Madonna] was like, 'Look, give me some hot shit.' I was looking at her like, 'She's saying hot shit?' She was like, 'What?' And I'm like, 'OK.' So we just worked and made it."
The first single from the album, "4 Minutes", was initially known as "4 Minutes to Save the World". The song's development was motivated by a sense of urgency to save the planet from destruction, and how people can enjoy themselves in the process.
According to Madonna, the song inspired her to produce the documentary "I Am Because We Are."
The song features vocals by Timberlake and Timbaland. An uptempo dance song with an urban, hip hop style, it also incorporates Timbaland's bhangra beats. The instrumentation used in the song includes brass, foghorns and cow bells.
The song's lyrics carry a message of social awareness, inspired by Madonna's visit to Africa and the human suffering she witnessed.
In "Give It 2 Me", the album's second single, Madonna merged bounce-beats and a funky bassline. "If it's against the law, arrest me", she sings "If you can handle it, undress me." The song has a short interlude where Madonna continuously repeats the words "Get stupid", as Williams chants, "To the left, to the right".
"Give It 2 Me" was written by Madonna as an anthemic, self-manifesto song which, although it appears to be about dance and sex, is a reference to Madonna's career spanning three decades in the music industry.
Musically, it is an upbeat dance song, featuring instrumentation from West African percussion and cowbells. The backing vocals are provided by Williams.
The fourth track "Heartbeat" has Madonna singing breathlessly and also features an interlude where the music changes from its normal rhythm, just the sound of drums.
MTV said that "Miles Away", the third single from the album, was the most deceptively simple track because although it appeared straightforward on the surface, it had a lot of technical tricks underneath it. The song departs from the dance theme of the album and deals with the difficulties of long-distance relationships.
"Miles Away" is a melancholy electronic ballad, which, according to Madonna is autobiographical, and is inspired by her then husband Guy Ritchie.
The relationship themed lyrics continue in the next track "She's Not Me", which talks about Madonna being emulated by another woman, hence she utters the line "She started dressing like me and talking like me, It freaked me out, She started calling you up in the middle of the night, What's that about?"
The next track "Incredible" starts off like a love song and then transforms into a plea to someone to return to a relationship. The song changes rhythm at the interlude to mimic this change in tone.
In a promotional interview, Madonna described the song as full of "angst and desire" and "wanting to get back to a feeling of happiness and fulfillment," but also containing a feeling of abandonment.
In a review of the album on MTV, the shift in the structure of the song reflected Madonna's own confusion about how she felt about her lover in the song. "Can't get my head around it", she sang. "I, I need to think about it."
"Beat Goes On," featuring West, has a 70s R&B meeting 80s dance vibe and a rap interlude by West.
Williams has commented that Madonna's work ethic was different from other artists that he had worked with before. That is reflected in songs like "Spanish Lesson" where she sings the line "If you do your homework/ Baby I will give you more". It also has influences of Spanish music.
Groove inspired music is present in "Dance 2Night", which featured Timberlake.
"Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" was written by Madonna before the Hard Candy project started. The song has a sense of mystery and starts off softly and slowly with a piano introduction. It then becomes fast and melancholy, with Madonna singing: "Your eyes are full of surprises/ They cannot predict my fate".
The trip hop inspired "Voices" is the last track of the album, consisting of unresolved chords and sweeping strings, as the lyrics question who is really in control: "Are you walking the dog?/ Is the dog walking you?"
After its release, "Hard Candy" debuted at number-one in 37 countries and was the eleventh best-selling album worldwide in 2008, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. It has sold more than four million copies worldwide.
According to Nielsen SoundScan, the album sold 100,000 copies in the United States upon its first day of release. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with over 280,000 copies sold.
"Hard Candy" became Madonna's seventh number-one album, making her the female artist with the second most Billboard number one albums, behind only Barbra Streisand.
On June 4, 2008, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of 500,000 copies.
"Hard Candy" received generally favorable reviews.
The album received a score of 65/100 on Metacritic, which indicates "generally favorable reviews."
Mark Savage from the BBC commented on the composition of the tracks, saying "if a handful of the tracks had been delivered to more producers with a touch more subtlety, Hard Candy could have ranked alongside Madonna's best. [...] Over and over again, she subsumes her pop sensibilities to their arsenal of clattering beats, hollered raps and over-fussy production."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic felt that "There's a palpable sense of disinterest [in Hard Candy], as if she just handed the reins over to Pharrell and Timba-Lake, trusting them to polish up this piece of stale candy. Maybe she's not into the music, maybe she's just running out this last album for Warner before she moves onto the greener pastures of Live Nation—either way, Hard Candy is as a rare thing: a lifeless Madonna album."
Tom Young from Blender gave a positive review saying: "On Hard Candy, she's like an aging master thief sneaking into the temple of pop goodies for one last big score. Album 11 is good-naturedly smutty, not confrontationally nasty, but it's a veritable filth bath compared to the C-SPAN sermons and confessional strumming of 2003's dreadful American Life or the woozily self-actualized club trance of 2005's Confessions on a Dance Floor."
Kerri Mason from Billboard complimented the new sound and the musical direction taken by Madonna but felt that she had become a producer's puppet, leading her to comment that "Madonna makes producers, producers don't make Madonna."
Chris Willman from Entertainment Weekly gave the album a B+ and said "[Madonna] makes it work with this surprisingly rejuvenated set."
Mike Collett-White from Reuters reported: "As parting gifts go, Madonna's 11th studio album—and her last before she exits long-term record label Warner Bros.—is unusually generous, if early reviews are to be believed. [...] Hard Candy scored solidly among rock critics."
Caryn Ganz from Rolling Stone said that "Hard Candy" is the work of "a songwriting team of American chart royalty" that helps Madonna "revisit her roots as an urban-disco queen. [...] For Hard Candy, she lets top-shelf producers make her their plaything."
Ben Thompson from The Guardian commented on the music by saying that "Hard Candy is a tough, nuggety confection offering plenty for listeners to get their teeth into. [...] Whenever [it] threatens to get boring, something always happens to recapture your interest."
Sarah Hajibegari from The Times felt that while "Hard Candy is no disaster", the album's producers have "already done the same thing with Nelly Furtado, Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani."
Andy Gill from The Independent said that the album portrayed Madonna as "how a once diverse talent has ossified into simply satisfying the sweet tooth of functional dance-pop."
Thomas Hausner from PopMatters wrote that the album "is overpopulated with recycled pop that is indistinguishable and artificial, something Madonna's soothing arpeggiating vocals cannot alleviate."
Tom Ewing from Pitchfork wondered "after listening [to the album], the question's still open—nobody involved in Hard Candy is anywhere near their creative peak!"
Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine was disappointed with the album and said, "Madonna hasn't delivered this many vapid floor fillers on one disc since her debut, and maybe not even then. [...] There are few confessions here—nothing political, nothing too spiritual, no talk of fame, war, or the media. It's just what America ordered."
Wilfred Young from NME felt that it was "a solid enough album by the standards of most pop tarts, but from the mistress of innovation? Pretty mediocre."