Madge? Adele? Singing ballads together? It might sound like a strange combination, but I'd welcome a change of pace
Reports suggesting that Madonna is planning to enlist Adele to write an album of "grown-up ballads" are likely to be met with a protracted groan from much of her fanbase, and I can see why. She's the woman responsible for Vogue, Like a Prayer and Ray of Light, so shouldn't she leave Adele songs to, you know, Adele? I'm a fan myself, and usually the prospect of a bangers-free Madonna album would fill me with dread too. But this time it's different.
I've always loved Madonna. I loved her as an obnoxious street urchin; I loved her as a gold-toothed dominatrix. I even loved her as a goth. But in recent years, I fear that she may have lost her way: I refer to this period as "the leotard era". It's become a cliche to call her the queen of reinvention, but for the last few years her career has become increasingly reliant on slutdropping to half-arsed EDM. I can't say I've revelled in this current blip, which has seen her flash a nipple at concerts in Paris and Istanbul for reasons best known to only her, release a song charmingly titled Gang Bang and – I can still barely bring myself to believe that this actually happened – perform with LMFAO.
It's not that I think she's too old for such nonsense (she's Madonna!) and not because it's unladylike or unsightly (she's Madonna!). The reason that I haven't got on board with this era is because as a fan I can't help but worry that it's stunts such as these that have begun to trivialise her own legacy.
When she proudly displayed her bits during the Erotica/Sex period it felt like she had something to say, however muddled the message. But when she thrusts her crotch at the camera these days, it feels like the opposite is true.
Of course, it would be farcical to be outraged at an artist famed for taking her clothes off for taking her clothes off; it's just that post-American Life it feels like her staunch commitment to exposing her naked form has become more about her than her audience. Worst of all, this approach has become boring. In the past she's been criticised for favouring style over substance, but anyone who's been paying even vague attention knows that she's released some of the most innovative, life-affirming and danceable pop music of the last 30 years. Admittedly, even the leotard era has yielded some great moments – Confessions on a Dancefloor was great – but it has since seen diminishing returns. I'm sad to have witnessed the reinventions drying up, and to a significant extent the music with them.
For most of her career Madonna has been ahead of the curve, so it's been an uncomfortable sight watching her chase a hit by any means, whether it be by trying her hand at hip-hop, dueting with Justin Timberlake and Nicki Minaj or chanting "My sugar is raw, sticky and sweet" with all the subtlety of Lee Ryan inviting two D-listers to join him for a threesome. Saddest of all, it hasn't worked. By her own standards, the albums haven't sold.
I'd hate to see her release an album of ballads just because that's what she's convinced will sell in a post-Adele world, or to pacify a public who believe an older woman's place in pop is standing next to a piano looking forlorn. But equally, some of her best pop moments, from Live to Tell to The Power of Goodbye, have been ballads. At this point, I'd welcome a change of pace. Changes of pace are what Madonna does (did?) best.
Of course, it's not really any of my business if she wants to pop a nipple out every now and then. I just hope that she hasn't forgotten all those other amazing things she's capable of. Come on, Madge. Give us Frozen, part two. Preferably without a video that features you doing the splits in a black tanga brief, surrounded by baffled crows in the desert.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Matthias Muehlbradt