Four years before she was waving her pom-poms onstage next to Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. at the Super Bowl (the most-watched halftime show in history, for the record), Madonna was already working up a sweat (and flaunting her vascularity) in the middle of a boxing ring to the tune of her crunchy, workout-ready collection of electro-pop treats: Hard Candy, originally released in April 2008.
Unlike 2005′s immaculate return-to-roots record, Confessions On A Dance Floor (produced by Stuart Price), Hard Candy saw the Queen of Pop turn away from thundering club anthems and opt for a trendier Top 40 radio troupe to achieve a more modern sound (or as Britney Spears might say, “something more urban”), taking on the cheeky-yet-cringe-inducing moniker “M-Dolla” and enlisting Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West and Timbaland.
True to its name, Hard Candy is a mixed bag of sugary-sweet pop offerings (Turkish delights, and so much more!), somber electro-ballads, mid-tempos saturated in Timbaland’s (oft-grating) beatboxin, and playful dips into funky, old school disco territory. When she’s not defending her position on the throne (“Give It 2 Me”) or encouraging a certain heightened awareness (“4 Minutes”), Madonna mostly seems to be having a blast: “See my booty get down like!” she taunts on “Heartbeat” — easy material for the detractors who would angrily accuse her of attempting to stay “hip,” sure, but still more than enough fun for the fans who’d rather just dance.
Yet the album’s more sobering moments — including “Miles Away,” “Voices” and “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” — would later reveal themselves to be very real frustrations set to song, building up to what would become her divorce record: 2012′s chilly, synth-heavy and oft-menacing MDNA.
Five years later, the record still holds as a mixed candy jar. Some confections have become a bit less tasty, while others prove to be far stickier, sweeter and far more fresh than their expected shelf life.
We asked some of Madonna’s biggest fans to go track-by-track through Hard Candy. Join us now in rediscovering the rawness of Madonna’s sugar. Hurry, you only got 4 minutes! Just kidding. Take your time, and leave a comment below with your thoughts on Hard Candy.