From “Everybody” To “Medellín,” Madonna’s Lead Singles Ranked
The Queen of Pop made a triumphant return this week with “Medellín.” Featuring Colombian heartthrob Maluma, the reggaeton banger is the lead single from Madame X (due June 24). It might seem odd that Madonna would kick off a new era with a collaboration, but she has done it before. Who could forget Justin Timberlake’s cameo on “4 Minutes” or Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.’s unexpected verses on “Gimme All Your Luvin'”? If there has been consistent thread throughout the 60-year-old’s career, it is her ability to deliver the unexpected.
To celebrate the start of the Madame X era, I have undertaken the Herculean task of ranking the lead singles of her 14 studio albums. (I’m Breathless is classified as a soundtrack, otherwise “Vogue” would — obviously — be very high on the list). As with any exercise of this nature, take the rankings with a grain of salt. The list contains some of the best pop songs of all time, so the difference between number five and number one, for example, is infinitesimal. Ok, here we go. May the best banger win!
14. “Give Me All Your Luvin'” (MDNA)
It’s only fitting that Madonna’s worst album was introduced by her worst lead single. Time has actually been rather kind to “Give Me All Your Luvin'” (as usual the pop icon was ahead of the curve), but nothing can change the fact that this was more of a marketing exercise than an artistic endeavor. That being said, the video is stunning and the cheerleader chanting is undeniably catchy.
13. “American Life” (American Life)
More than a decade later, and I’m still torn about this song. On the one hand, I love it when Madonna trolls her fans (and the public at large). On the other, the verses are so underwhelming in comparison to the majestic chorus. And then there’s the fact that there were so many better songs on American Life. The era might have turned out very differently if she had kicked things off with “Nothing Fails” or “Love Profusion.”
12. “Everybody” (Madonna)
This is technically considered to be the lead single from Madonna, even if it dropped a year before the album was released. Everything Madonna touched in the ’80s turned to gold and “Everybody” is no exception. It’s just not in the same league as classic bops like “Lucky Star” or “Borderline,” which were also on that album.
11. “Living For Love” (Rebel Heart)
Rebel Heart was a mangled trainwreck from the moment it leaked three months ahead of release. And it just got worse from there. “Living For Love” is actually a bop and could have been (a minor) hit, but someone had the great idea of making the video a SnapChat exclusive — thus taking all-important video streams out of the chart equation. By the time Madonna fell performing the song at the BRITS, the entire era felt cursed. Having said all that, the 60-year-old tried to give the gays exactly what they wanted (i.e. a club banger) and it’s not her fault that most of them had already illegally downloaded it on their phone.
10. “Medellín” (Madame X)
It’s a little too early to rank the Queen’s latest single. It could move up or down this list in a couple of months, but I’m currently in the honeymoon phase. I love how bizarre “Medellín” is. From the unexpected clash of cultures to the unusually slow tempo and lengthy running time, it’s Madonna’s most dynamic single in a decade. I just wish the chorus was a little beefier and Maluma’s role was somewhat reduced.
09. “4 Minutes” (Hard Candy)
Time has been rather unkind to “4 Minutes.” Like everything else Timbaland produced in the ’00s, it sounds a little dated. On the other hand, the song was a genuine pop culture moment. It was also the catchiest song on Hard Candy, so Madonna — and/or her label — made the right choice. I just wish it sounded more Madonna and less Nelly Furtado circa Loose.
08. “Like A Virgin” (Like A Virgin)
From this point on, the rankings are arbitrary. “Like A Virgin” is one of the most iconic pop songs of all time, and sheer fatigue from hearing it so often is the only reason it ranks so low on this list. However, if I had to choose one song that summed up Madonna’s mastery of shock value and the three-minute pop song, this would be it. The world hasn’t been the same since it dropped in 1984.
07. “Erotica” (Erotica)
Speaking of controversial anthems, “Erotica” is one of Madonna’s best. In retrospect, it was a wildly experimental single for the biggest pop star on the planet to release. And I’m not just talking about the highly sexualized lyrics. “Erotica” is more about mood and atmosphere than pop hooks. Which makes it one of the living legend’s most interesting lead singles. (I would argue that “Rain” would have been a wiser choice but that’s beside the point).
06. “Secret” (Bedtime Stories)
Is Bedtime Stories Madonna’s most underrated album? I’d say it’s a close tussle between this and American Life. An ever-evolving superstar, M was trying new things in the ’90s. She flirted with a more urban sound on “Secret,” but kept it just pop enough to appease the faithful. This is a dreamy, understated, rudely-forgotten gem.
05. “Music” (Music)
I really wore this CD single out. After pulling off a memorable comeback with Ray Of Light, Madonna kept the momentum going with Music. The title track topped the charts around the globe and stands out as one of her catchiest singles. More importantly, this feels quintessentially Madonna. In that it’s a balls-to-the-wall banger about letting go and having a good time. The stars truly aligned on this one.
04. “Live To Tell” (True Blue)
Contrary to popular belief, at least with next-gen fans, Madonna kicked off True Blue with “Live To Tell” instead of “Papa Don’t Preach.” While the latter was a bigger hit, “Live To Tell” showcased the pop star’s artistry and underrated vocal chops in a way we hadn’t seen before. It also deserves credit for being her only lead single that could be classified as a ballad. Not only that, but it still sounds flawless today. This has stood the test of time like the pyramids of Egypt.
03. “Frozen” (Ray Of Light)
Goth-donna was that girl and “Frozen” ranks as one of my favorite singles of the ’90s. At a time when grunge was all-powerful and singer/songwriters set the tone on pop radio, Madonna overhauled her sound to fit the alt-trend without losing herself in the process. It was also one of her most personal singles and demonstrated immense artistic growth. A moment of pop genius.
02. “Hung Up” (Confessions On A Dance Floor)
Has there ever been a better comeback single than “Hung Up”? (Ok, maybe Cher’s “Believe”). Madonna was knee-deep in drama and reeling from the backlash to American Life when Confessions On A Dance Floor dropped in 2005. It would take one of the best pop songs of all time to win back the general public and that’s exactly what she delivered with “Hung Up.” From the ABBA sample to the majestic chorus, everything about this is utter perfection.
01. “Like A Prayer” (Like A Prayer)
How do you decide between two of the best lead singles of all time? Well, you go with your gut. And when I think of Madonna’s most perfectly executed era, Like A Prayer comes to mind. The title track arrived in a blaze of outrage in 1989, setting the template for post bubblegum-pop Madonna with its controversial tone, religious imagery and lingering trace of sadness. In a perfect world, this would have won every Grammy.