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Clipse - When The Last Time (Video)

2695. Madonna - ‘Candy Shop’ (2008)
My sugar is raw

from the album Hard Candy

There was perhaps no period of Madonna’s career in which she felt more like a legend than the mid-2000s, when she was riding high on the success of Confessions On A Dance Floor. ‘Hung Up’ had become one of the biggest hit singles of all time, the album sold double the amount of her previous LP, and the Confessions Tour was her greatest live achievement since Blond Ambition. Once ‘Hung Up’ had smashed, the rest of the Confessions era was a victory lap, celebrating the fact that Madonna had once again pulled off a successful reinvention.

Amid this global success, however, there was one sore spot: the US. While the album and tour were an unqualified success, the singles had underperformed - ‘Hung Up’ went to number one in 41 countries, breaking an all-time record, but on the Billboard Hot 100, it stalled at number seven, a poor result for a song that was inescapable everywhere else. The rest of the singles made very little impact outside of the dance charts. At 47, Madonna’s age was working against her, and 2005 just wasn’t a good time for dance-pop in America, with just one of the year’s Hot 100 number ones (Carrie Underwood’s American Idol coronation single ‘Inside Your Heaven’) originating outside the world of hip hop and R&B. Likely annoyed by this relative failure, Madonna did something she had very rarely done in the past, deciding, quite blatantly, to follow a trend.

As the biggest female pop star of all time, the expectations placed on Madonna are unreasonably high, especially back when she was a singles chart force. Fans and critics presumed that every album would be a revolution, a guiding light for every other pop diva, and when one of her projects fell short of that, the backlash would be fierce. When Hard Candy was released as the follow-up to Confessions in 2008, featuring collaborations with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, the reaction was largely resentful, even (or, let’s say especially) within Madonna’s fanbase. 

The main accusation was that Madonna and “urban” music were not a good fit. In this context “urban”, of course, is a synonym for black, and there were racial undertones to much of the disapproval surrounding Hard Candy, as if Madonna hadn’t been appropriating and interacting with black music since her debut single. Her self-titled debut album, ‘Vogue’, much of Erotica, all of Bedtime Stories and every disco reference on Confessions would not exist without the influence of black artists, so why was it such an issue now? Most likely, these pop fans were indignant that their icons were being shut out by a golden age of popularity for hip hop and R&B, and were resentful to see the queen of pop turn to artists from that scene for a commercial boost, conveniently ignoring all the other times she had done exactly that in the past. There was also the added “issue” of her age - she would turn 50 in 2008, and was once again challenging restrictions placed on older women by popular culture, especially when she was working with artists from genres associated heavily with youth. I’d love to say that these age-related objections came only from those outside of Madonna’s fanbase, but that was not the case.

The one song on Hard Candy that riled up the most closed-minded fans was the album opener, ‘Candy Shop’. The aural equivalent of the brilliantly confrontational album cover, ‘Candy Shop’ is overtly sexual and unapologetically indebted to its co-writer and co-producer, Pharrell, becoming one of the most fabulously defiant Madonna moments of all time. If you say she’s too old to be sexually explicit, she’ll do a whole song likening her body to confectionary, and if you say she can’t enter the world of R&B, she’ll throw herself into a stuttering, minimalist Neptunes beat, without so much as a backwards look at the pure pop of Confessions. Crucially, the song works not just as a statement of recalcitrant intent, but as a standalone track - the lyrics are as fun as they are enjoyably ridiculous, and, as with most of Hard Candy, the production is next-level, proving that Madonna always extracts greatness from her collaborators, even when those collaborators are seasoned veterans.

After all the drama and all of Madonna’s efforts to re-conquer America, Hard Candy was not a smash hit or a flop, neither an artistic masterpiece nor an embarrassment. Lead single ‘4 Minutes’ outdid ‘Hung Up’ in the US, and topped charts worldwide, a major hit by any measure, and the associated Sticky & Sweet Tour became the biggest solo tour ever, but overall, the era didn’t have the aura of gravitas and triumph that accompanied Confessions. The more traditional pop tracks on the album, like ‘Miles Away’ and ‘Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You’, got most of the critical recognition, but for me, ‘Candy Shop’ upstages them easily. Madonna seems to agree, wheeling it out (to the delicious outrage of its detractors) on every tour since Hard Candy’s release, and every time she gleefully skips across the stage singing about how sticky and sweet her lollipop is, I love the track just a little bit more.


‘Candy Shop’ audio:


Written by Richard Eric, 18/10/18

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What’s the problem?
You always complain, when it’s chicks that’s starvin’.
What type of game is this?
I used to support ya, I thought you’d appreciate
Some of these things that I bought ya:
Shoes from Milan, Louis Vuitton,
Animals on back and jewels on your arm.

Toni Braxton feat Loon - Hit the Freeway

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Snoop Dogg - Beautiful ft. Pharrell Williams

i just want you to know that you are really special