Rebel Heart is Madonna's 13th studio album that was released on March 6, 2015 by Interscope Records.
- Living For Love 3:39
- Devil Pray 4:06
- Ghosttown 4:09
- Unapologetic Bitch 3:51
- Illuminati 3:44
- Bitch I'm Madonna (featuring Nicki Minaj) 3:47
- Hold Tight 3:37
- Joan Of Arc 4:02
- Iconic (featuring Chance the Rapper and Mike Tyson) 4:33
- HeartBreakCity 3:34
- Body Shop 3:39
- Holy Water 4:09
- Inside Out 4:23
- Wash All Over Me 4:01
Following the release of her twelfth studio album, "MDNA", Madonna embarked on The MDNA Tour to promote it.
The tour created widespread controversy over her statements on violence, human rights, politics, her use of fake firearms, and her on-stage nudity. She was threatened with several lawsuits.
Madonna was enraged by many world events, which she claimed were acts of "injustice" against humanity
In September 2013, she released secretprojectrevolution, a short film she directed with Steven Klein, dealing with artistic freedom and human rights. The film launched a global initiative known as Art for Freedom to promote freedom of expression.
Madonna said in a L'Uomo Vogue interview her next album would be connected with Art for Freedom.
By December 2013, Madonna's manager Guy Oseary commented that the singer was "eager to get started" on her next album; however, she had another project in mind: developing the screenplay for a film adaptation of Andrew Sean Greer's novel "The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells."
Madonna decided to split her time between writing the screenplay and writing songs for the new album. In February 2014, she confirmed that she had begun working on her 13th studio album. Her previous work had been produced with a small core group of people developing the music.
Working with many collaborators on "Rebel Heart", Madonna encountered problems keeping a cohesive sound and creative direction for it.
She observed that many of the people she enlisted to work on the album could not stay in one city for any length of time due to their schedules; this resulted her not finishing songs in one session. She said, "It was challenging ... with people coming and going in a revolving door of creativity.
In March 2014, Madonna began posting a number of images on Instagram hinting at possible songwriters and collaborators with hashtag captions. First, she posted about going into the recording studio with Swedish DJ and producer Avicii.
Record producer Carl Falk spoke with the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in April 2014 about these sessions. He recalled that eleven demos with acoustic guitars and piano were recorded within a week at Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood. Avicii's manager Arash "Ash" Pour Nouri selected six people.
They were divided into two groups, the first consisted of Falk, Rami Yacoub, and Savan Kotecha; the second consisted of Salem Al Fakir, Vincent Pontare, and Magnus Lidehäll.
Avicii worked with both groups to create the demo songs, while Madonna arrived at the studio in the afternoon and stayed until 7:00 am. She worked closely with both teams while writing and changing melodies, and was in charge of the process.
A few days later, Madonna posted an image of a sunset with the words "Rebel Heart" on them, and a caption which the media interpreted as lyrics from a new song. The lines posted were: "Day turns into night. I won't give up the fight. Don't want to get to the end of my days... saying I wasn't amazed."
Additional images showed Madonna with singer Natalia Kills in front of a microphone, and with Martin Kierszenbaum, the founder and chairman of Cherrytree Records, and senior executive of A&R for Interscope Records, Madonna's label.
By mid-April 2014, she had also revealed on Instagram the names of songwriters Toby Gad and Mozella and record producer Symbolyc One with images of the group working in studio.
The list of personnel grew to include producer Ariel Rechtshaid and sound engineer Nick Rowe.
In an interview with Sirius XM Radio, Kierszenbaum described the recording process: "We were supposed to be with her in the studio for a couple of days. She kindly invited us to stay a little longer. We don't know what's going to end up on the album but it was an absolute you know honor... For me being such a fan for so long it was so exciting to hear her vocal in the room right next to me, coming out of her head really sounding exactly like all those records we all love and she's a pleasure to work with because she's so in tune with who she is and what she wants to sing. I don't know. It's really great collaborating with her and Natalia is such a great writer."
In May 2014, Madonna posted a selfie in which she talked about working with American DJ Diplo. She had invited him for her annual Oscar party, but he could not attend. They eventually started talking about music through texts and decided to collaborate on the album.
Madonna asked him to provide his "craziest record" for the album. Together they wrote and recorded seven songs.
Diplo added: "Those records are gonna be crazy-sounding. We really pushed the envelope with some of the stuff we were doing... [S]he was up for anything. I love when an artist gives a producer the confidence he needs to work with them, and Madonna was very open-minded to my ideas."
One song was composed using a hook Madonna had sung in the studio; Diplo described it as "super weird".
Another song (later confirmed as "Living for Love") had nearly twenty versions recorded ranging from a piano ballad to an EDM version.
Ultimately, Madonna and Diplo compromised on a version midway between the two styles. Rechtshaid and British singer MNEK also joined their writing sessions, improving the song's verses.
Diplo also confirmed another track (known as "Bitch I'm Madonna") which he believed would push the lyrical boundaries for a pop song.
Both Alicia Keys and Ryan Tedder said they had worked on the album and contributed to the songwriting. Keys played piano on "Living for Love". Madonna confirmed two other songs, "Messiah" and "Devil Pray", in different interviews.
"Rebel Heart" opens with the song "Living for Love". Composed in the house genre, it begins with Madonna singing over a "regal" piano line, eventually joined by percussion. Although it's a breakup song, it talks about being triumphant and hopeful.
According to Dean Piper of The Daily Telegraph, the song has "some classic Madonna traits: religious references, a gospel choir, 90s piano beats and a whirling bass". It was compared to her 1989 singles, "Like a Prayer" and "Express Yourself" by Jason Lipshutz of Billboard.
The second track, "Devil Pray", was inspired by how one could be enticed to partake of narcotics to achieve a higher level of consciousness and connect to God. Lyrically, it asks for salvation from a variety of drug abuses, making allusions to Saint Mary and Lucifer, as well as the pain of healing from drug abuse.
Produced by Madonna with Falk, Avicii, DJ Dahi, and Blood Diamonds, "Devil Pray" starts with gentle guitar sounds which build up to an electropop production, accompanied by a house beat.
"Ghosttown" talks about civilizations ending and the world encountering an armageddon, but humans seeing hope amid the destruction.
Written with Jason Evigan, Evan Bogart, and Sean Douglas, it is a power ballad song, which Madonna sings in "piercing" and "warm" vocals like those of Karen Carpenter; the production is comparable to her 1986 single, "Live to Tell".
According to Douglas, "Ghosttown" was written in three days, after Madonna personally requested studio time with him and the other songwriters.
The fourth track, "Unapologetic Bitch", has reggae, dancehall, and dubstep influences. It is a ska song where Madonna speaks negatively about a break-up and her lover, with lyrics such as: "It might sound like I'm an Unapologetic Bitch but sometimes you have to call it like it is." Madonna explained that the song is about having fun regardless of the situation one is in.
"Illuminati", the fifth song, was inspired after Madonna learnt that she was considered one of the Illuminati's members. She decided to research the real Illuminati and then wrote the song.
Lyrically it refers to the Illuminati conspiracy theory, the Egyptian pyramids, the Phoenix, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Eye of Providence among others, with the chorus' lyrics: "It's like everybody in this party is shining like Illuminati."
According to Madonna, Kanye West, who produced the track, loved the melody and changed the composition adding his own spin to it.
Minaj appears on the sixth track, "Bitch I'm Madonna", where she raps, asking everybody to "go hard or go home", while Madonna shouts lyrics like: "I just want to have fun tonight, I wanna blow up this house tonight."
Produced by Diplo and Sophie, the track has a tearing sound alongside the "bleepy electro" and "churning dubstep" composition.
During the writing sessions, Minaj had to rewrite the lyrics until she got the sentiment Madonna wanted.
"Hold Tight" consists of an "arresting" chorus and a drum beat sound, described by Sam C. Mac of Slant Magazine as: "innocuous, lyrically platitudinous pop that briefly works itself up into something exciting when it threatens to become a gospelized stomp."
The eighth track "Joan of Arc", is a ballad where Madonna sings about the media scrutiny of her life, singing: "Each time they take a photograph, I lose a part of me I can't get back." It also references the Roman Catholic saint of the same name.
Madonna's hushed, vibrato-tinged vocals, and confessional lyrics on "Joan of Arc", are enhanced by a new beat instrumentation that utilizes strings and acoustic guitars in the bridge.
"Iconic" features Chance the Rapper and boxer Mike Tyson. Tyson does a spoken word introduction to the song, similar to his addition to Canibus' debut single, "Second Round K.O."
Madonna invited him to the recording studio where he talked about his life; he recorded the introduction in one take.
Consisting of a "weird" beat, "Iconic"'s lyrics find Madonna embracing herself as an icon. "HeartBreakCity" follows "Iconic". A piano ballad talking about lost love, Madonna sings in a deeper vocal register, inspired by baroque pop.
With its synths, banjo sounds, and hollow drums, "Body Shop" describes love as a damaged car on a highway, requiring a body repair to be alive.
West also produced the next track, "Holy Water", where the singer compares her bodily fluids to the title.
With hedonistic sound effects, the song is reminiscent of Madonna's 1990 single, "Justify My Love" and contains a lyrical excerpt from "Vogue." A bassline accompanies the chorus, consisting of moaning sounds, arcade game music, and synths.
"Inside Out" was produced by Mike Dean, and features Madonna's vocals with reverb, accompanied by piano sounds and restrained chords. "Wash All Over Me" follows, and is the last track on the standard version of the album.
Baroque piano sounds, and a steady military beat, lead up to the chorus as Madonna sings about the world changing, heartbreaks, and acceptance. A gospel choir and minimum synths back the song's sound.
The deluxe version of "Rebel Heart" begins with the track "Best Night", an 80s electro composition reminiscent of Sade's songs with drums and Indian flute instrumentation.
Madonna begins the song with the line, "You can call me M tonight" but her voice is not discernible in the chorus, only in the harmonies. There is another reference to "Justify My Love" at one point during the intermediate bridge.
"Veni Vidi Vici" appears next, and is a rap "origin story song" with its lyrics built around Madonna's songs: "I expressed myself, came like a virgin down the aisle / Exposed my naked ass, and I did it with a smile / And when it came to sex, I knew I walked the borderline / and when I struck a pose, all the gay boys lost their minds." Madonna sings the chorus over simple guitar beats, uttering "I came, I saw, I conquered", the English translation of the song's title.
Nas appears for a guest verse talking about his own life as Diplo backs it with shotgun and crunching horn sounds. "S.E.X." is the next track where Madonna asks sarcastically "tell me what you know about sex" over sounds of bass, synths and a string arpeggio.
Near the end she lists a number of bondage items like: "Twisted rope, handcuffs, blindfold, string of pearls".
Described as both an embodiment and critique of the act, "S.E.X." talks about the lack of intimacy with Madonna rapping in a "dispassionate" voice; she purposely made it sound like she had a lisp as she articulated the words.
"Messiah" is a dramatic pop ballad with an orchestra backing and violins. Madonna sings in a "deeper velvety" tone.
The lyrics talk about lighting candles, necromancy, and casting love spells. The title track finishes the deluxe version and was changed completely from its leaked demo. It consists of acoustic guitar and violins, with autobiographical lyrics.
Amy Pettifer of The Quietus noted, "'Rebel Heart' quietly [acknowledges Madonna's] part in building the scene and popularizing stylistics that are the foundation of current trends."
The super deluxe version presents tracks like "Graffiti Heart", where Madonna drew inspiration from her pre-fame friends like artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring evoking the power of art in gaining freedom.
The song was described by the Pretty Much Amazing blog as a "a galloping love letter to creativity", while "Beautiful Scars" is a disco-lite throwback track.
"Borrowed Time" deals with war and social issues while "Auto-Tune Baby" features a baby wailing in the background.
"Rebel Heart" debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart with 121,000 album equivalent units, behind the soundtrack of the TV series "Empire."
While it was the best-selling album of the week—ranking number one on Billboard's Top Album Sales chart with pure album sales of 116,000 copies (96% of overall units), it fell behind the soundtrack when it came to streaming and track equivalent album units, with just over 1,000 and 4,000 units respectively.
The album became Madonna's 21st top-ten album, but it her first studio release not to debut atop the chart since 1998's "Ray of Light."
The album's concert tour bundle amounted to less than 10,000 copies compared to the 180,000 copies sold for her previous album, "MDNA."
The release also saw Madonna debut at number seven on the Billboard Artist 100 chart, moving up by 2,919% in overall Artist 100 points and gaining 31% in social media activity.
Billboard reported sales dropped by 78% to 26,000 units, a reflection of the high pre-orders during the first week.
The album was present for a total of 11 weeks on the chart, and ranked at number 151 on the Billboard 200 year end chart for 2015.
As of December 2016, "Rebel Heart" has sold 238,000 copies in the US according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album ended 2015 as the 39th best-selling album of the year with sales of 900,000 copies. By March 2016, it sold an estimated one million copies worldwide.
On its release, "Rebel Heart" received positive critical reviews. At Metacritic, the album received an average score of 68, based on 29 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews."
The Daily Telegraph writer Neil McCormick, Andy Gill of The Independent, AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine, and Lauren Murphy of The Irish Times each gave the album 4 out of 5 stars.
McCormick felt that "(f)or the first time in years, [Madonna] doesn't sound desperate", praising it in comparison to "Hard Candy" and "MDNA."
Murphy wrote "the indisputable pop icon is back with a tentative bang" after MDNA had "few memorable pop hits".
For Gill, the most impressive aspect of "Rebel Heart" was Madonna's vocals while Erlewine found the album a revival of Madonna's defiant side and her confessional mood.
Saeed Saeed of The National called it: "a fine collection of sturdy pop tunes in which Madonna finally allows herself to look back and sometimes pilfer from her peak periods of the late 80s and early 2000s."
Writing for The Quietus, Amy Pettifer praised the album, describing it as: "a darker return to the club culture roots [for Madonna], and it seems—on some level—to face up to the missteps of her more recent releases.
Giving it 3.5 out of 4 stars, USA Today writer Elysa Gardner described the album's sound and lyrics as "piercingly direct".
Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot and Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times awarded it 3 out of 4 stars. Kot believed the album would have been better without the songs referencing sexuality, but still considered it "fascinating". Roberts believed that the album stood out "sturdily" because of its production.
Writing for The Boston Globe, James Reed opined that the album was a, "welcome detour in the artist's recent discography... her most satisfying effort in a decade and nimbly connects the dots between Madonna's various eras and guises."
Joey Guerra of the Houston Chronicle called the album "a complex, consistently strong album."
Slant Magazine editor Sal Cinquemani, Joe Levy of Billboard, and Caryn Ganz of Rolling Stone each awarded the album 3.5 out of 5 stars. Cinquemani wrote that the album was "all over the map", yet felt it was "a surprisingly coherent one".
Levy wrote that the album was "subtle" compared to "current standards", adding that: "These songs unfold slowly, building through foreplay-like intros before hooks are displayed over a shifting series of textures".
Ganz felt that Rebel Heart "is at its strongest when Madonna shoves everyone to the side and just tells it to us straight", adding: "Deep down, Madonna does have a rebel heart – and you can't fault her for reminding us that pop music is all the better for it."
Jamieson Cox of Time commended the album for its consistent production and sound, and for Madonna's vocals and songwriting.
Giving it a rating of "B", Kyle Anderson and Adam Markovitz of Entertainment Weekly called the album "Madonna's best outing since 2000's Music."
Alexis Petridis of The Guardian and Time Out writer Nick Levine gave the album 3 out of 5 stars. Petridis felt that the two contrasting sides of the album did not "quite gel", reasoning that: "the former might represent the music Madonna wants to make, while the latter is the music she feels obliged to make".
Levine wrote: "'Rebel Heart' may lack cohesion, but she's definitely not down for the count: this contains some of the best music Madonna's made in a decade."
Annie Zalesky of The A.V. Club said the record had its "fair share of those head scratching moments", but found it to be a move in the right direction musically.
Spin writer Andrew Unterberger gave "Rebel Heart" a 6 out of 10 rating. While calling it "clunky", he felt the album "contains a number of Madonna's best songs in years."
Medium's Richard LaBeau called it a "wildly uneven 22-track epic with some truly brilliant songs". Instinct's Samuel Murrian opined that "[Rebel Heart] might have been something like a home run if it were a few tracks shorter."
Writing for The New Zealand Herald, Lydia Jenkin gave it a mixed review, deeming the album a "bit of a mess" and "confused".
Lindsay Zoladz of New York magazine was disappointed, feeling the songs sounded "safe", adding that: "Madonna of Rebel Heart [has] succeeded once again in the increasingly empty goal of sounding current".
Gavin Haynes of NME panned the album, saying that it "feels like a wasted opportunity. Trite self-empowerment anthem 'Iconic' informs us that there's only two letters difference between Icon and I Can't. Sadly, there are also two letters between class and ass."