Song of 2020: I Know The End

Somewhere in Germany
but I can’t place it
Man, I hate this part of Texas

The comic sense of dislocation that opens I Know The End lands us right in 2020. Few of us have ventured far this year yet familiar surroundings have acquired darker hues as we’re confined with an oscillating mix of panic, fear, boredom and, on the good days, contentment. There are millions of people who’ve had it worse. We’re reminded of it every day. So there’s an odd guilt present too.

Phoebe Bridgers is queer and I think there’s a queer specificity in the alienation-you-have-to-laugh-at that permeates her songs. That’s been present in the pandemic too. Queer bars aren’t just places we go to drink, they’re places where we go to at least feel welcome and safe and, really, to find a sense of ourselves that we feel comfortable with after years growing up where that often seemed beyond our reach. Queers don’t need to hear the Queen telling us ‘we will meet again’ – we need to be together, dancing to our queens. There are lots of pop records I’ve loved in 2020 and I’ll never experience them ‘unfiltered’, as it were, on a dancefloor. When I’m finally able to hear them in The Glory, they will already be at least months old, and they’ll forever be The Pandemic Songs We Danced To In Our Rooms.

When I get back I’ll lay around
Then I’ll get up and lay back down
Romanticize a quiet life
There’s no place like my room

It’s been a fucked up time. However much we may enjoy our own company, being unable to socialise in order to ward off death, whether yours or other people’s, is not something we could ever have prepared for. What’s made the pandemic particularly cruel is that, in this strange time of forced separation, we’ve faced an onslaught of the stresses that we all endure at some point. Turbo-charged and tossed at us like confetti. Like so many others, I went through a redundancy process at work. I kept my job but with a workload that’s the most demanding I’ve ever experienced. My boyfriend lost the job he’s had for his entire adult life. My dad got ill and has been in and out of hospital. Christmas was the one time I was expecting to be able to see my parents and the government cancelled this with less than a week’s notice. It’s tough. It’s tough. What else can you do but try and find, or invent, some positives from being stuck at home? There’s no place like my room.

But you had to go, I know, I know, I know
Like a wave that crashed and melted on the shore
Not even the burnouts are out here anymore
And you had to go, I know, I know, I know

Phoebe Bridgers’ plaintive, delicate delivery here speaks to an ache inside me. Grief for things lost, yearning for better times, an understanding that I’ve had almost no control over any of this. A hope that this, too, shall pass.

So I gotta go, I know, I know, I know
When the sirens sound, you’ll hide under the floor
But I’m not gonna go down with my hometown in a tornado
I’m gonna chase it, I know, I know, I know
I gotta go now, I know, I know, I know

We are, together but apart, living through a historical disaster. Just trying to survive is enough, whatever that means for each of us. And we’ve had to learn, and keep learning, to go easy on ourselves. Sometimes the yearning ache for life has been so overpowering that we’ve wanted to race out onto the streets and hug the nearest stranger. By and large, though, that sense of reckless abandon has only been directed inwards, as we second-guess ourselves, feed our sense of guilt, want to scream like Meryl. We’re surviving and that’s enough. A thought that snaps me into focus when I get lost in the certainty that none of this makes sense, and none of this is fair. We’re surviving and that’s enough.

Driving out into the sun
Let the ultraviolet cover me up

I mean, we’re going to get through this. We have to get through this. Then you remember climate change really hitting, in the sense of irrevocably changing the life of everyone on the planet, in our lifetimes. And it’s hard not to think, ‘fuck this’.

Windows down, heater on
Big bolt of lightning hanging low
Over the coast, everyone’s convinced
It’s a government drone or an alien spaceship

I’m not sure if beliefs in conspiracy theories, and distrust of traditionally ‘authoritative’ sources, is greater than it’s ever been or it’s just never been easier for us to hear about it. It was going to very dark places even before the pandemic, and political expressions like Trump and Brexit seem barely anything more than anti-human cults. Yet after this year, it’s difficult to get particularly worked up at people who distrust authority to quite extreme degrees. Our government has chosen to use the pandemic to enrich its class with cronyism and corruption placed well, well above the population’s survival, both in terms of actually being alive and also being able to live a good life. Yet on both sides of the Atlantic this has been set against the inflaming of a petty, nativist nationalism which sees large swathes of people actually cheering it on because they somehow believe governments stuffed with millionaires are actually anti-government. Aliens don’t sound too bad in comparison. The end is here.

Either way, we’re not alone
I’ll find a new place to be from
A haunted house with a picket fence
To float around and ghost my friends

To return to the particular cruelties of the pandemic, we’ve been forced apart due to reasons that have meant we need each other more than ever. So we devised new ways to relate. Friends became faces on a screen as we chatted, quizzed and experienced the uniquely 21st century buzz of getting drunk on Zoom. Good friends are the ghosts of our past, our present and our yet-to-be and even in digital form, they’re worth more than we understood a year ago. Even if sometimes, you just pretend you’re having internet troubles. We’re all going to be scarred by this. If we can all speak openly of these scars, maybe it won’t seem so bad?

No, I’m not afraid to disappear
The billboard said “The End Is Near”
I turned around, there was nothing there
Yeah, I guess the end is here

I don’t need to say much about how this captures 2020, do I? The absurd thing being that it’s perfectly possible, maybe even likely, that we’ll experience years even more apocalyptic than this one. The end is here.

But what else are we going to do? Let’s keep living.

Songs of 2020

A Report

So, being a glutton for punishment, I actually read the EHRC report today. It was already clear that a lot of people were wanting it to say ‘Corbyn and the left are evil and must be destroyed’. It was also already clear that, in the absence of it saying that, they were just going to pretend that it did anyway. And that’s what we’ve witnessed today. The report is pretty thin gruel for those who were wedded to the idea that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour posed some existential threat. It documents a leadership taking over a dysfunctional party without an adequate complaints system, becoming bogged down in factionalism (which we’ve seen elsewhere saw Labour staff actively working against their own party, refusing to investigate complaints and dragging their feet on implementing the Chakrabti report), improving the complaints system (but not enough), pulling back into a bunker mentality and then being defeated. Corbyn very clearly made mistakes but the report explicitly acknowledges that the complaints system improved in his time. You won’t hear much about that today.

One of the main complaints is that the office of the Leader of the Opposition got involved in complaints a few times. One of these times is intervening to ask for harsher action to be taken against Ken Livingstone. Aside from ‘Corbyn demands Ken Livingstone be suspended’ not fitting the narrative, the entire criticism is grimly ironic as the last few years saw endless demands, from Tom Watson, from the Board of Deputies, from Campaign Against Antisemitism, from pretty much anyone being vocal on this, that Jeremy Corbyn intervene personally on high-profile complaints. Tom Watson even made a huge fuss about having compiled complaints into a dossier and demanding Corbyn personally review them. Now the EHRC tells us that the Leader getting involved at all is a very bad thing. You won’t hear much about that today beyond the vague implication that Jeremy Corbyn was demanding antisemites be let off, which is very firmly not in the report.

Jeremy Corbyn seems to have been suspended for saying that antisemitism is very bad and needs to be tackled, but was exaggerated and weaponised by political enemies. I honestly can’t see how anyone could deny this. Polls found that the general public believed that complaints about antisemitism had been made against at least a third of Labour members. The reality was less than 1%. The EHRC report itself is concerned with 70 complaints (remember, Labour had over 500,000 members at this time) and offers no opinion on the scale of the issue.

Antisemitism has unfortunately become a political tool for some very bad faith people. I’ve no doubt that there are sincere concerns amongst some but they get drowned out by the bullshit which pretends that mainstream politics is some bastion of anti-racism and socialists have poisoned it. If you care to look, the antisemitism of our government is evident. During the period of the ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’, our government was sitting in alliance with far-right racists in Europe and was one of the only ‘mainstream’ parties to vote against censuring the antisemitic government of Hungary. The Tories have invoked an ‘elite’ from ‘North London’ on numerous occasions. They still trot out attacks on ‘cultural Marxism’. These are all antisemitic and they are all met with tumbleweed. Pointing this out, and asking why, is not minimising a problem – it’s the exact opposite.

It’s not just the Tories, obviously. The racism of our entire politics is right there, bellowing at us, and few people involved in it will dare even identify it as real. Countless people, including children, die in the Channel trying to reach safety and our politicians suggest sending gunboats after them because they think it plays well with voters. Labour under Blair waged campaigns against ‘asylum seekers’ and Romany/Roma/traveller people for the same reason. Margaret Hodge campaigned for a ‘British first’ housing policy which garnered praise from the BNP, something Gordon Brown echoed in his ‘British jobs for British jobs’ promise. Ian Austin regularly attacked the Jewish Ed Miliband as an out-of-touch member of the ‘London elite’ while demanding he restrict immigration. We have the grotesque spectacle of the ‘Go Home’ vans and the fact that a British government waged war against its own citizens, the Windrush generation, solely to appeal to racist voters who despise immigration. And of course we have the decades-long demonisation of Muslims and policies of war, torture and terror defended on the basis that people who don’t look like white Britons are an existential threat.

The fact that many of the people not only implicated in all of this but who have been eager supporters of it now feel they can pontificate on ‘racism’ tells me everything I need to know about the sincerity of this ‘crisis’.

Keir Starmer appears to have come to the conclusion that his best chance of winning is by obsessing over the optics of opposition to deeply reactionary people whom I personally don’t believe will ever vote Labour. He hasn’t offered anything more than platitudes with regards to the people dying in the Channel. He, a human rights lawyer, is refusing to oppose government legislation which enables the military and the police to abuse their power with impunity because he thinks doing so can be portrayed as ‘not supporting our boys’. He took the knee for Black Lives Matter then, when quizzed on their substantive demands, dismissed them as ‘a nonsense’. This is not a progressive politician. I think he’s actually a very dangerous one who is aiding our country’s slide in a kleptocracy where bigotry, with racism at its centre, is used to keep much of the population on side. I think much of the hopes of the past few years, and indeed much of the hopes around Scottish independence, are for what seem like relatively easy shortcuts to a better society. I think it’s clearer than ever that there aren’t going to be any easy shortcuts. This is going to be a lifelong slog and the Labour Party isn’t going to be of any help in it for the foreseeable future.

Nothing that has happened today will have helped to address racism in the UK. Instead it has further cemented a facile, corrosive use of anti-racism which loses interest as soon as its political goals are reached. Anti-racism is all-consuming and it’s necessarily difficult and uncomfortable because we are all part of a white supremacist society. We cannot help but be steeped in racism and it’s a lifelong task to learn how to identify it, let alone dismantle it. I’m sure I have made mistakes on antisemitism but I am also sure that a sincere concern over it, and a powerful fight against it, is something that has been in short supply today. It’s disheartening to watch a politics, a society even, that so blatantly thrives on racism telling us that racism is something brought into being by the left. But it’s not. And we need to both remember that and keep our gaze firmly on speaking the truths of a politics that is profoundly sick while remembering what it’s all about: a better world, for all of us. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Solidarity, always.

Songs of 2019

My songs of 2019 are in no particular order except that I’d probably place God Control at number one. I think it’s one of the best things Madonna has ever done and find it remarkable she’s releasing music like this almost 40 years into her career. It’s a towering testament to what pop music is capable of and a necessary reminder of what Madonna brings to the game. If one of the current pop divas had released it I think it would be topping end of year lists everywhere, because it’s exactly what we need more of in these dark times: soaring, ambitious, political pop.

Vote Labour


I got an e-mail from someone regarding people who were planning on voting Liberal Democrat and some of the standard anti-Corbyn talking points you hear wheeled out: that he’s ‘weak’, that he ‘hasn’t done anything’, that Labour would be doing better under a different leader and all the rest. I started to write a paragraph in response and it turned into something a bit longer, so I thought I may as well post a slightly modified version of it here.

With regards to Corbyn being a ‘weak leader’ who has ‘destroyed the Labour Party’, let’s step back a bit. Tony Blair took over Labour in 1994 and inherited a poll lead of around 25 points. Labour was never going to lose the 1997 election. Labour then won an enormous landslide and, while it did many good things, it never used that power and goodwill to challenge the fundamentals of what the Tories had done to society since 1979. We’ve already seen how easily many of its gains have been dismantled. Labour lost 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010 and studies have shown that a significant number of these were working-class people who simply stopped voting, presumably disillusioned with what was on offer. Labour was in such a bad place that in 2015, after 5 years of a truly cruel austerity agenda which has hurt so many people, it basically stood still in the polls and the Tories actually increased their seats and won a majority.

When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Labour had suffered two election defeats in a row and was bobbing around in the late-20s/early-30s in the polls. Ed Miliband had hesitantly shifted the party ever so slightly to the left on some issues and this was viewed by many in the Labour establishment as why the party lost. Corbyn, then, was running against other leadership candidates who were all arguing variations of the same thing – that Labour had to accept some level of austerity, had to accept anti-immigration politics and had to move closer to the Tories.  The crossroads Labour faced in 2015 wasn’t ”the policies of 2019 with Corbyn, or the policies of 2019 with a more polished leader, it was Corbyn or a firm shift to a being a more reactionary, Tory-lite party. The brilliant, progressive agenda Labour currently has is because of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Since Corbyn took over, this ‘weak’ leader has faced furious, daily attacks in the media and a Parliamentary Labour Party largely to the right of him who have tried to undermine and remove him at every turn. In the face of such attacks, pretty unprecedented in our lifetime, he has shifted the Labour Party solidly to being a left-wing, progressive party with a truly transformative agenda that would fundamentally alter the UK for the better.

He has completely changed the narrative on austerity, which has gone from something widely viewed as necessary in 2015 to something which every single party now wants to distance themselves from. He has inflicted more defeats on the government than any other opposition leader in history, stopping cuts to disability benefits, cuts to tax credits, the repeal of the fox hunting ban, the return of grammar schools, the ‘dementia tax’, the removal of the pension triple lock, ensuring parliament got a ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit and then defeating the Tory Brexit deal again and again. In 2017 he oversaw the biggest increase in the Labour vote since 1945, without which the Tories would have won a majority and Tory Brexit would have happened long ago. This is not a ‘weak’ leader by any stretch of the imagination.

What have the Lib Dems done? Jo Swinson, Ed Davey and other senior Liberal Democrats were demanding an in/out EU referendum since at least 2008, and regularly attacked both the Tories and Labour for not wanting one. In 2010 they entered into government with the Tories for no reason other than having a common purpose, and then inflicted policies on the country which have seen poverty (including child poverty) soar, homelessness soar, NHS and education spending crash with the door to privatisation in both thrown open wide, wages stagnate, the biggest fall in living standards since records began, council funding cut to the bone, a huge increase in in-work poverty and a huge increase in self-employment which doesn’t pay enough to live on, zero-hour contracts and insecure agency work. This is the tip of the iceberg of the legacy of the coalition, which is all around us, and I don’t think anyone who truly understands it could ever vote for them again until it’s clear they have fundamentally changed.

They haven’t fundamentally changed. Jo Swinson supported everything the coalition did more than most Tory MPs did. She was still defending austerity during the Lib Dem leadership election. It’s because the Lib Dems, in helping the Tories ruin the country, so destroyed their own image as a ‘progressive’ party that they have clung desperately onto Brexit, now painting themselves as the party which wants to ignore the result of the referendum *they wanted and voted to have*. During the referendum campaign, the Lib Dems explicitly mocked the idea of a second referendum as ‘undemocratic’. They said that the result would be ‘the will of the people’. They said this because they thought remain would win, and the complete 180 on that is exactly the kind of bullshit which turns so many away from politics.

They have zero plan on Brexit beyond running around blaming everyone else and offering fantasy positions. They’ll revoke article 50 if they get a majority, knowing they will never get a majority. They want a second referendum, but they can’t say what the second option would be and refuse to support the only party which can actually deliver another referendum – Labour. They are targeting Labour MPs in marginal seats where the Tories are second, making it more likely that a Tory Party standing on a hard Brexit platform will win seats. They care about absolutely nothing but the survival of their party and are merrily screwing the country again to secure this.

In brief, I’d ask the kind of people you’re describing a few simple questions:

– Why has the narrative on austerity changed between 2010 and now, to the point where every party distances themselves from it?

– Why do the Lib Dems, under a leader who advocated, voted for and still defends the dismal record of the coalition and the misery it has wrought, deserve to be forgiven?

– Why do the Lib Dems, who wanted an in/out EU referendum before the Tories did and who voted for the 2016 referendum, deserve to be rewarded for now wanting to ignore that referendum?

– How will voting Lib Dem actually stop Brexit? What is the actual plan that doesn’t involve a Labour government? There isn’t one.

People are calling this the most important election in a generation. Some people mean that only because of Brexit but the truth of the matter is that it’s the election which offers the starkest choice over the direction of the UK which we’ve seen in my lifetime. The Tory party has moved even further right and fully embraced a reactionary, xenophobic, racist nationalism which it hopes it can ride to power. The Lib Dems just pump out lies and positions which don’t bear a moment’s scrutiny, hoping that enough people are so incapable of critical thinking that they have an almost Pavlovian response to ‘stop Brexit!’ In this they have unfortunately been joined by the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who have joined in the Unite to Remain pact which is supporting Tories like Stephen Dorrell (who served under Thatcher and Major), Sarah Wollastone (supporter of Phillip Lee’s motion to stop people with HIV settling in the UK) and targeting Labour MPs in marginal seats. And the SNP is going what the SNP always does, telling everyone that everything and anything that happens is a reason for Scotland to leave a union, and that everything will just be better if some magical forces are unleashed by doing so. Sound familiar?

I don’t think I ever voted Labour before 2010. When I did so then, it was because I knew that a Tory government was a real alternative. In 2015 I had more optimism about the potential of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister than many but I still had profound reservations. Corbyn’s Labour is far from perfect but it is the first time I can recall where a party has put forward a platform which I can positively advocate for, filled with hope and passion. The 2019 manifesto hasn’t yet been released but announcements over the past few months and the general direction of travel suggests it will be even more radical and transformative than in 2017.

Corbyn’s Labour understands that democracy in the UK required drastic and radical renewal. But it also understands that what really matters is offering change which gives people power – real power which, rather than replacing one set of politicians for another, allows people to live their lives with dignity, filled with opportunities and hope. Real power which removes from people the blight of worrying about how they are going to feed themselves and their families, how they are afford a safe and decent home, how they are going to pay the bills, when they are going to receive the operation they need, how they are going to get an hour or two away from work to take their mum to a hospital appointment. Real power which begins to give people a say in the direction of the places we work at every day, the running of the transport we use and how the wealth which we all create is spent.

I truly believe that this is the greatest opportunity I’ve seen in my lifetime to change the course we are on and demand something which is not only better, but something to feel enormous hope about. And all you have to do is vote. Vote Labour.

Madame X


I must confess that I am usually drawn to sadness and loneliness has never been a stranger to me

– Love Tried To Welcome Me, Madonna.

A lot has happened since 2015.  Trump was elected. Brexit. A general sense that the world is on fire. Bowie died. Prince died.  And Madonna reached the age of 60, living in Lisbon as one of the last remaining icons from an era where pop stars were globe-straddling alien creatures moulding pop culture in their own image.

2015 was when Madonna released her last album, Rebel Heart, and I wrote then about how ageism had joined misogyny in framing responses to her for daring to be “an ageing woman making contemporary pop/dance music”. Rebel Heart was far from perfect but it found an artist, who “has always taken pop music seriously and approached it sincerely”, determined not to become a nostalgia act or a camp relic. The album saw Madonna moving forward, but somewhat falteringly – she frequently referenced her past, almost finding strength from it in the midst of a bewildering pop culture landscape where she no longer ruled the roost. It was notable, however, that the song with the most profound things to say about this, the elegiac Queen, was removed from the album at the last minute. I’ve mused to others that perhaps it felt too resigned, too much like a full-stop on a glorious career, and the arrival of Madame X only lends weight to this theory.

Madonna has spoken about how Madame X has its roots in her move to Lisbon, a city where she found herself largely alone, and lonely. Others have already noted the parallel with her move to New York alone at the age of 19 and another jump into the unknown (albeit as an enormously famous and wealthy adult) seems to have rejuvenated Madonna. Fortune led her to a community of artists and musicians – music does indeed make the people come together – and Madonna not only found a home, she rediscovered herself . It makes sense, then, that the name ‘Madame X’ apparently harks back to her time spent as a teenager at Martha Graham’s dance school in New York. It’s something she makes clear in Madame X’s opening track, the understated Medellin:

I went back to my 17th year, allowed myself to be naïve, to be someone I’d never been…another me could now begin.

Where Rebel Heart was faltering, Madame X is bold and hungry. Living alone in Lisbon appears to have done wonders for Madonna’s sense  of who she is and why she’s an artist. As she sings in Extreme Occident, she’s realised that:

I wasn’t lost, it was a different feeling, a mix of lucidity and craziness. But I wasn’t lost, you believe me – I was right and I’ve got the right to choose my own life.

There’s a gorgeous moment on Crave, a modern ballad which would be a smash for any younger artist, where Madonna sings “This is how I’m made – I’m not afraid” and it feels like a key point on the album, a statement of both self-acceptance and intent.

What does Madonna understand that she does best, then? She told us in her moving speech accepting the Advocate for Change award from GLAAD, speaking about her response to the AIDS crisis:

I had to get in the frontline, whatever the cost…I decided to use my fame to make even more noise, to fight for more research and more money and more awareness and more compassion and provoke and make trouble. Because that’s what I do best.

She ends the speech by stating, ‘Madame X is a freedom fighter’ and on the album, Madonna’s creative hunger manifests itself not only in the daring music but also a determination to speak out about a United States of America, and a world, at a very dangerous point in history. In the GLAAD speech, she spoke of her frustration at wanting people to DO SOMETHING to fight AIDS. In Madame X, she has the same feeling about current politics. How can you prioritise your own commercial and critical acclaim when everything around you is exploding and you want to scream it from the rooftops? It’s no surprise, then, that Madonna returned to the producer Mirwais, with whom she made her most musically daring, and political, work. The foreboding Dark Ballet, one of the most experimental tracks she’s ever released, finds her declaring:

…keep your beautiful words cos I’m not concerned…cos your world is such a shame, cos your world’s obsessed with fame…cos your world is up in flames…can’t you hear outside of your Supreme hoodie, the wind that’s beginning to howl?

It leads directly into God Control, a glorious melange of disco, Tom Tom Club-style rapping and children’s choir which is a state of the nation address (“this is your wake-up call!”) that somehow feels both angry and euphoric. It is Madonna firing on all cylinders and the most adventurous she’s sounded in years.

Indeed, despite the sometimes dark and desperate themes of the album, Madonna sounds at ease with herself. I suppose she has to be. I wrote in 2015 about how her life as an artist would be a lot easier if she played the game and acted like the Madonna a lot of the general public want her to be – knocking out retreads of Confessions on a Dance Floor, doing greatest hits tours, keeping her opinions to herself and generally knowing her place. As she sang on the title track of Rebel Heart, “why can’t you be like the other girls? I said ‘oh no, that’s not me and I don’t think that it’ll ever be.” It’s a position she restates here but with a sense of assuredness. The electro-fado of Killers Who Are Partying has attracted much ire for her statements of solidarity with gay people, with Muslims, with the developing world, but it’s the chorus, where she tells us “I know what I am and I know what I’m not” and sings in Portugese “the world is wide, the path is lonely”, that is key. The joyful, airy-light Come Alive, meanwhile, testifies to her resurgent determination to forge her own path (“see the world, haven’t seen it all, I wanna see its dreams…I can’t react how you thought I’d react, I would never for you”).

It’s a theme most movingly expressed in I Don’t Search I Find, a deliberate nod to her early-90s house-influenced period which feels like an ‘I can still do this whenever I want’ nod to those who constantly demand ‘bangers’ from her, carrying a message that actually, she doesn’t really need their approval anymore:

…in the end, we accept it. We shake hands with our fate and we walk past. There’s no rest for us in this world. Finally, enough love.

Madonna knows the power of escapist music in dark times, going so far in the bonus track Funana to summon a litany of music icons who’ve left us:

We need Elvis and Bob Marley, we need Whitney, we need James Brown, tonight we go dancing, our souls are starving, let’s get together, happiness my darling.

But Madonna also knows, as she sings in Future, that “not everyone is coming to the future, not everyone is learning from the past”. When it comes to her, she’s ok with that – she has a much bigger future on her mind, one where she worries (as she asks The Batukadeiras Orchestra on feminist anthem Batuka) “when we can stop it all in the right way, will we stand together?”

Madame X is a Madonna taking flight and up for the fight. It’s no accident that the album ends with I Rise, an electronic power ballad which again references gun control and political engagement by opening with a clip of Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez. Madonna knows she has little to gain by speaking up. She knows that she’ll be attacked for being too old, too irrelevant, too out-of-touch, too desperate. She knows that and she doesn’t care because she feels her job as an artist is to speak up, no matter what.

Madame X has been largely well-received critically but it’s been notable how even many of the positive reviews have been begrudging “well this is a lot better than we would have expected from a 60-year old woman” shrugs rather than celebrations of an artist who is not only still taking creative risks but also addressing our times in a way which almost none of the artists dominating the charts in 2019 do. But no matter. Madonna’s legacy is secure and she nears her 5th decade as a pop star, she’s made a brave, vital and brilliant album. Madame X is alive and she’s taking no prisoners.