We ranked every single Madonna album from worst to best

So… where does Madame X place?

We’ve ranked many pop divas albums here at GAY TIMES, from Britney Spears to Lady Gaga, from Pink to Katy Perry, but one global superstar has so far remained strangely absent: the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna. But really… can you blame us?

Aside from having an astonishing 14 studio albums to discuss, Madonna’s career is so varied and divisive that every fan has their own favourite, whether it’s classic Like A Prayer, spiritual Ray Of Light, or club-ready Confessions On A Dance Floor.

In celebration of the release of her 14th studio album Madame X, we ranked every single one of Madonna’s albums from worst to best. In the grand scheme of things, how well does the new release hold up in comparison to the rest of her discography?

14. MDNA (2012)

Standout tracks: Girl Gone Wild, Falling Free, Beautiful Killer

While fans could no doubt argue to the end of time over which Madonna album deserves the top spot on this list, we’re pretty sure most will agree that MDNA is rightly placed at the bottom. As far as pop albums go, it’s still decent, with some great pop bangers like Girl Gone Wild and I Don’t Give A, and a trio of genuinely moving ballads in Love Spent, Masterpiece and Falling Free. Meanwhile, Beautiful Killer, which was criminally relegated to bonus track status, is a slice of No Doubt-influenced pop which deserves way more recognition. DM

13. Rebel Heart (2015)

Standout tracks: Living For Love, Ghosttown, Joan Of Arc 

Rebel Heart was an improvement over previous album MDNA, and Madonna certainly seemed more passionate about the concept. Living For Love was a great house-inspired first single, and follow-up Ghosttown is one of the best ballads in her discography. It suffered from a lack of curation, though, especially when the Super Deluxe edition featured a whopping 23 tracks – and at points it feels like two separate albums chucked together. There are low points, including S.E.X. and Body Shop, but while we loved Bitch I’m Madonna ironically at the start, we now understand how brilliant it actually is – something you’ll never truly appreciate until you’ve performed it drunk at karaoke… which we have. DM

12. Hard Candy (2008)

Standout tracks: Give It 2 Me, Miles Away, Beat Goes On

In the eyes of many fans (and critics), Hard Candy was the first time in her career that Madonna stopped creating trends and starting chasing them instead. That’s not inherently a terrible thing, of course, and any other artist would probably be given a free pass to do so – but as the most influential pop star in the world, fans holds Madonna to higher standards. Still, it’s a great album, and sees Madge blend R&B and hip-hop elements with her signature poppy hooks – and has welcome guest appearances from Kanye West and Justin Timberlake, as well as producers Timbaland, Danja and The Neptunes. DM

11. Madonna (1983)

Standout tracks: Holiday, Borderline, Lucky Star

It’s safe to say the current landscape of pop would look immensely different without Madonna’s self-titled debut. After her debut single, Everybody, failed to chart in any country upon release in 1982, Madonna tried again with the underrated dance-rock anthem, Burning Up. But like its predecessor, the song failed to put Madonna on the map, and it wasn’t until the third single Holiday in which she would achieve acclaim and chart success. It became her first top 20 entry on the Billboard Hot 100 and a top ten hit in countries such as Australia, Germany, Ireland and the UK. Her momentum continued with iconic jams such as Lucky Star and Borderline, the latter of which became her first music video to receive heavy rotation by MTV. The album is a classic, but because it was Madonna’s first, it lacked the innovation and direction of her later works. It’s also her shortest album to date – with only eight songs – hence its 11th place rank. SD

10. Like A Virgin (1984)

Standout tracks: Like a Virgin, Into the Groove, Material Girl

While Madonna’s self-titled debut was an enormous success and launched her career, her sophomore effort Like a Virgin was where she cemented herself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of pop. The title track became Madonna’s first number one single on the Billboard Hot 100, while Into the Groove became her first UK chart topper. The album’s second single, Material Girl, also became one of her signature tracks and its accompanying Marilyn Monroe-inspired clip is still one of her most iconic and recognised videos to date. Although it remains one of the best selling albums in history, we’ve placed it quite low because it’s not one we revisit much, besides the singles. That’s not to say it’s a bad album of course, but like her debut, it lacks the innovative sounds of albums such as Ray of Light and Confessions Of A Dancefloor. It was quite safe. SD

9. Music (2000)

Standout tracks: Music, Amazing, Runaway Lover

After garnering massive acclaim and chart success with Ray of Light – which is often recognised as one of the best albums in history – Madonna once again reinvented her image and sound for her eighth studio album, Music. The era saw Madonna incorporate a cowgirl aesthetic (Joanne could never!) and country-slash-funk vibe with her sound, and while it didn’t live up to ROL, it continued her streak of hits and critical acclaim. The album’s disco-funk title track became Madonna’s 12th number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 (fun fact: it’s her last chart-topper there) and is often regarded as one of the best songs of the 2000s. While Don’t Tell Me and What It Feels Like For a Girl are standouts in Madonna’s discography, the album also featured incredible hidden gems such as Amazing and Runaway Lover (both by ROL’s primary producer, William Orbit). SD

8. Madame X (2019)

Standout tracks: God Control, Crave, I Don’t Search I Find

After three albums of radio-friendly pop music, but little in the way of innovation, we were hesitant to get our hopes too high for Madame X. Then we found out she was working with Mirwais, the genius producer behind much of Music and American Life, and suddenly a genuinely exciting, forward-thinking Madonna album seemed like an actual possibility. But no one could predict what the Queen of Pop delivered. Singing Portugese on a carnival-inspired track with Brazilian pop star Anitta? Yep, it’s Faz Gostoso. Revisiting the iconic finger snap from Vogue on a house track that sounds like Deeper And Deeper and Rescue Me had a lovechild? That’ll be I Don’t Search I Find. Refusing to renounce her faith in God over a manic sample of Dance Of The Reed Pipes from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite? That’s here too, in Dark Ballet. It’s one of her most divisive releases in over a decade which, when it comes to Madonna, has never been a bad thing. She previously described the record as a “continuation” of American Life, a comparison which has a lot of merit, although there are a few too many dud tracks for it to match up to the former’s glory. DM

7. Like A Prayer (1989)

Standout tracks: Like a Prayer, Express Yourself, Cherish

Although Madonna’s fourth studio album didn’t sell like her previous effort, True Blue, Like a Prayer was where the star became known for her creative – and controversial – vision. The video for the album’s lead single and title track portrayed Madonna as a witness to a crime in which a black man has been falsely accused because of his skin colour, and also included scenes of religious allegory. It was widely shocking at the time, and led to Madonna being criticised by the Vatican and religious groups, and her dismissal by Pepsi, who had used the song in one of their commercials. Fans and critics then noted Madonna as an artist, rather than a pop performer. Its follow-up, Express Yourself, also became one of her biggest career hits and has since become an anthem for the LGBTQ community. It’s hard to imagine what Madonna’s career would’ve become without Like a Prayer. SD

6. Erotica (1992)

Standout tracks: Erotica, Deeper And Deeper, Words

Madonna’s no stranger to controversy – she practically invented the word – and controversies don’t come much bigger than Erotica. She’d already challenged racial divides and discovered a career-long fetish for religious symbolism on Like A Prayer, but Erotica became one of the biggest affronts to white, Christian, middle-class America ever to appear in pop music when it dropped in 1992. Decades before artists like Rihanna and Britney Spears openly celebrated S&M and threesomes in their chart hits, Madonna became dominatrix alter-ego Mistress Dita, turning the listener into a voyeur of all things pleasurable – or ‘deviant’ in the eyes of conservatives. Sonically, the album does sound quite dated, but the lyrics and themes, including a heartbreaking song about friends lost to AIDS, were ahead of their time. She went one step further with the release of her explicit SEX book, a double-punch which had potential to destroy her career, but instead solidified her place as pop culture’s greatest icon. DM

5. Bedtime Stories (1994)

Standout tracks: Secret, Human Nature, Bedtime Story

Out of every Madonna album, Bedtime Stories remains the most criminally underrated, and arguably her most important. Human Nature (both the song and the video) is one of her finest singles of all time, giving a solid middle finger to her critics and those who attempt to suppress female sexuality in the aftermath of her controversial Erotica era, while its more experimental moments including Sanctuary and the Björk-penned Bedtime Story are pure bliss to the ears. Placing it above fan favourites like Erotica and Like A Prayer may raise a few eyebrows, but listened to in the current musical landscape, the album’s R&B/Pop sound sounds remarkably current – more so than any other early-to-mid Madonna release. Take A Bow, beautifully backed by a full orchestra, remains a staple in Madonna’s greatest hits, and helped tone down her image for an offended public. DM

4. American Life (2003)

Standout tracks: Nothing Fails, X-Static Process, Easy Ride

When it was released in 2003, American Life received a mixed response from critics and fans, many of whom didn’t quite get the album thanks to its experimental production, controversy-courting music videos and largely un-relatable lyrics. But in retrospect, the album has fared more favourably, with many considering it a highlight in Madonna’s career and praising the risks she took both in sound and politics – even the rap in title track American Life, which was once seemingly unforgivable, has since gained iconic status. Madonna’s often at her most divisive when she has something to say, but that’s also when her true genius shines. DM

3. True Blue (1986)

Standout tracks: True Blue, Papa Don’t Preach, La Isla Bonita

Her best selling studio album to date – after compilation album The Immaculate Collection – True Blue was inspired by her relationship with her then husband, Sean Penn, and saw the star dial down her iconic high-pitched tone in favour of a bubblegum pop voice. In order to engage an older audience, Madonna incorporated classical music with dance-pop, which is evident on groundbreaking singles Papa Don’t Preach and La Isla Bonita. True Blue eventually became the biggest selling album of the 80s by a female artist, and spawned five top five singles on the Billboard Hot 100 – including three number ones. True Blue is nine tracks of 80s pop perfection, and is, without a shadow of a doubt, Madonna’s strongest effort from that decade.

2. Confessions On A Dance Floor (2005)

Standout tracks: Hung Up, Sorry, Isaac

Can you imagine a more perfect lead single than Hung Up? Seriously, give it ago. We’ll wait… No? Didn’t think so. It’s famously only the second time Swedish supergroup ABBA have allowed their music to be sampled, and thank god they did, as the song kicked off what was arguably Madonna’s most beloved era of all time – and without a doubt her gayest yet. The album, which plays out like one incredible non-stop mix (which you can actually find on Spotify), is pure joy from start to finish, tossing out the ballads – the closest we get is mid-tempo Forbidden Love, and even that features glittering synths – and truly giving the gays what they want: non-stop bangers. The decision to release a 70s disco album in the era of R&B-pop was further proof of Madonna’s ability to constantly reinvent herself, as well as her ability to take something unexpected and turn it into mainstream success. During the Confessions era, the Queen of Pop could do no wrong – a perfect dance-pop album, iconic visuals, and one of the greatest live tours of all time. In fact, there’s only one album that could possibly outrank it… DM

1. Ray Of Light (1998)

Standout tracks: Drowned World/Substitute For Love, Frozen, Nothing Really Matters

Ray of Light is widely regarded as Madonna’s magnum opus, and with good reason. After a string of controversies and cries that the Queen of Pop was ‘over’ – thanks in no small part to Erotica and the Sex book in the early 90s – she made a vague attempt to win back the public with follow-up album Bedtime Stories and the ballad collection Something To Remember. While both great releases, they lacked the sonic innovation and cultural impact that fans had come to expect from her albums. To many minds, Madonna’s best days were behind her. And then there was Ray Of Light. Launching a new era with a slow-burning, cinematic ballad that’s over six minutes long was a risk, but it paid off with Frozen, which was an instant hit and is fondly remembered as one of her greatest contributions to music. Suddenly, Madonna was back on top where she belongs. Follow-up title track Ray Of Light, with its pulsating beats and Eurodance influences, was the soundtrack to many queer people’s youth. But where the album shines best is when it’s consumed as a whole body of work, taking listeners on a spiritual journey through electronica, trip-hop, techno and trance, thanks to Madonna’s embrace of Kabbalah and an inspired decision to team up with then-unknown producer William Orbit. Together, they made magic, and it sounded like nothing anyone had ever heard from the Queen of Pop. Consistently surprising, experimental and, perhaps most importantly, cohesive; Ray of Light is proof that pop music can be art. DM

Words Sam Damshenas & Daniel Megarry

Published at Mon, 17 Jun 2019 17:19:43 +0000