When word got out that Madonna would be kicking off the MDNA album cycle with a collaboration with M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, expectations ran high -- it was either going to be oddball pop perfection or misguided, posturing garbage. The last thing we expected here at SoulBounce HQ was to be underwhelmed by something not really worth an impassioned response one way or the other.
But having forced myself to give a damn about this snoozer long enough to analyze it, here are five reasons why Madonna's return falls short of triumphant.
1. We've Been Here Before
I'll say this for "Give Me All Your Luvin'" -- it's not an exercise in trend-hopping. Though her choice of co-stars (both on the song and Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI performance) suggest her A&R folks called up everyone who's been hot since Hard Candy, she seems to have learned from her stint as Justin Timberlake's backup singer and opted to record a song that's distinctly her this time around. Rather than jump on either of the last two genres to dominate the pop charts -- Euro-style dance or hip-hop/R&B (two she's flirted with in the recent past, with varying degrees of success), she goes for a sanitized new-wave pop that's two parts "Material Girl" and one part "Beautiful Stranger." Thus, "Luvin'" feels refreshing in its refusal to pander to its audience -- and for anyone familiar with Madonna's history, that's saying a lot. But while I appreciate her authenticity this time around, I don't appreciate being served Microwave Madonna when I asked for, to quote Sammy Jack, "some gourmet shit."
Though technically impressive with its numerous sight gags and attempts at faux mise-en-scene, the video is neither terribly original nor particularly great. Considering its assemblage of three formidable music-video mavens, the outcome is far less than a sum of its parts. And the all-too-coincidental football theme, perfectly aligning with her scheduled Super Bowl halftime performance just feels coldly cynical, even for Madonna.
3. Guilty Pleasure, Hold the Pleasure
Forget artistic innovation or daring songwriting. If you're out to make a great piece of earcrack, one of the few key elements you'll need is an undeniable hook. "Give Me All Your Luvin'" doesn't swell in intensity or change in direction nearly enough to let us all know the moment we're supposed to stand on our chairs and belt the shit out of the next few lines. When I first heard it, I didn't even realize I was listening to the hook until she'd already uttered the song's title a couple times. And then I was in no hurry to hear it again.
4. The Criminal Underuse of Minaj and M.I.A.
It's telling of the power dynamic in this trio, that two artists ranking among the boldest female personas in contemporary pop music are reduced to the flanking girls whose popularity depends entirely on their subservience to head-cheerleader Madonna. The last time Minaj was this stripped-down in a video, she was paired with Madonna's equally popular (but far less feared) cheer nemesis Mariah. This time, however, the visual restraint is matched by an aural temperance that amounts to a complete waste of both featured acts. While the song fits squarely into neither artist's specific genre sandbox, it's clear both would have jumped at the chance to guest with Madonna on a Polka record. So why the lack of gusto on both their oddly short appearances? Sure, I wasn't expecting the fire of some of their harder-edged tracks, but this wasn't even "Super Bass" or "Galang"-grade stuff.
5. Lack of Commitment to Sparkle Motion
If you've ever spent much time in both the bleachers on a sports field and a dark, mirrored cavern of carnal comforts, you'll know that half-assed cheerleaders are a lot like half-assed strippers: depressing, thought-provoking for all the wrong reasons, and considering the physical feats they are expected to perform, a danger to themselves and others. On "Give Me All Your Luvin'," the cheer section is clearly not Gabby Union's sassy, spirited crew from Bring It On. It isn't even Kirsten Dunst's troupe of peppy perfectionists. Rather, it's about as exciting as Madea's group of Christian Calisthenics dancers in Tyler Perry Presents: Bring It On 7: Shakin' It For The Lawwd. It feels like filler material used to plump up a song with no discernible personality. Worse, by referencing the beloved American tradition of hyper-sexualizing teenagers, Madonna has opened herself up to comparisons to more successful cheer executions by far less interesting artists. Listening to this only made me want to hear "Hollaback Girl" for the first time in five years. Worse still, it made me say out loud, the words "Avril and Lil' Mama did it better." And that's something no one should ever have to do.