Two weeks after its release, Madonna’s 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, sank to No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 200 Album Chart after debuting at No. 2 the week before. It’s a dispiriting moment for many fans who are also avid chart watchers, myself included, especially considering that Madonna’s previous five albums all debuted on top and had considerably more staying power (beginning with 2000’s Music and ending with 2012’s MDNA).
At this rate, with no major hit to sustain it (“Living For Love” failed to impact the Billboard Hot 100, and follow-up “Ghosttown” is on shaky ground), Rebel Heart will likely fall off the album chart entirely in another two weeks or so. Let’s call a spade a spade: she flopped. Hard. Someone hold me as I weep.
Seriously, though, I’m not all that worked up about it. Unlike other rabid fans, my self-esteem and self-worth aren’t attached to Madonna’s success (or lack thereof). I don’t care if she’s No. 1 or No. 92. I would still be a fan, and would still enjoy the music and the fact that she keeps making it and finding new ways to make things musically interesting.
Still, it would’ve been nice if the album got a better reception from the public than it did in terms of sales. I’m sure Madonna is feeling the same way. Who wouldn’t want their work to perform well? Knowing how competitive she is, I am sure that she, too, was disappointed by Rebel Heart‘s underwhelming performance.
It’s tempting to make a laundry list of what went wrong with this project like many other fans, armchair critics and pundits have already done. Rather than do that, I am going to follow Madonna’s lead and look forward to the future.
Bring on the next album!
Here are a few things that I believe Madonna should seriously consider if she wants to prevent another sales disaster like Rebel Heart. I’m not saying these will guarantee the success of her next album, but I think they would definitely help her in the grand scheme of things.
Buckle down on security.
The leaks that happened months before Rebel Heart‘s official release definitely did a LOT of the damage and hurt the album’s sales – why would anyone have any reason to buy an album that’s already been available for free for months? There is some speculation that someone on the inside was deliberately working to sabotage the album. Whatever the case may be, it’s definitely time for Madonna to clean up house and re-evaluate her security network. There is a snake in her midst and she needs to find it and get rid of it, pronto. Beyoncé was able to pull off a surprise album release without ever suffering leakage. Maybe get together with King Bey, have some tea and crumpets, and pick her brains on album leakage prevention? It can’t be that hard.
The response to the leaks in December last year left a lot to be desired. “Living For Love” should have been serviced immediately to radio to get some traction and momentum. Instead, they waited until February. By then, public interest in the song had already waned and it was way too late to rekindle it. Lead singles are important. They set the tone for the entire album. If “Living For Love” hadn’t fizzled, Rebel Heart probably would’ve done better. Madonna needs a better management team capable of thinking on its feet when dealing with the challenges of a continuously evolving music industry. The solutions that worked in the past don’t always work in the present, and there need to be people who can deliver forward-thinking solutions that serve her long-term interests.
Trim down on collaborators.
Madonna needs to hunker down with one or two major collaborators like she used to do, instead of running around with an assembly line, an approach that is not only hard and time-consuming (she said so herself in countless interviews) but also leaves her wide open for a security breach. Working with only one or two collaborators gives her focus and produces consistency in the sound and theme of the project. Her best works (True Blue, Like A Prayer, Erotica, Ray Of Light, Music, Confessions On A Dance Floor) were the results of such collaborations. Come on, Madonna, time to find yourself another Mirwais and make another masterpiece that will take everyone’s breath away!