The Queen of Pop's 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, dropped Tuesday, following a batch of leaked songs, a heavy promotional cycle, and an infamous tumble during the Brit Awards. So, after all this, how does Rebel Heart rank among Madonna's canon? Well, the superstar has set a pretty high bar for herself. See where her latest work falls in our definitive album ranking below.
Don't agree with our list? (Of course you don't.) Vote for Madonna's best album on the last page.
Lacking a central image or theme, 2012's MDNA instead relied on uninspiring beats and silly references to guns and partying. Singles like "Give Me All Your Luvin''" and "Girl Gone Wild" were so vapid, they made Taylor Swift songs look like cuts from a Joni Mitchell album. Almost instantly forgettable.
12: Hard Candy
Even with the catchy "4 Minutes" as a lead single, this 2008 album felt like a disheveled afterthought. Madonna threw everything at the wall: Timbaland (way past his producing prime), a boxing-themed cover, lyrics about Turkish Delight. The song "She's Not Me" was just embarrassing — you're Madonna, you don't need to remind us.
11: Rebel Heart
"Living for Love" is a stellar single for Madonna; catchy and uplifting, with a somewhat vague story behind it (Is it about Guy Ritchie, a more recent relationship, or even Gwyneth Paltrow?). Too bad "Living for Love" is the exception to Rebel Heart's confused, infantile rule. Too many songs name-check celebrities and drugs and contain insipid lyrics that the Madonna of 15 years ago would have laughed at. Where is our thoughtful icon? The parade of producers just crowd out her voice — which remains quite an instrument — and don't play to her strengths. Everything but "LFL" and "Ghosttown" are mostly disappointing, though "BodyShop" and "Unapologetic Bitch" are undeniably fun.
10: American Life
Possibly drunk with relevancy thanks to the critical and commercial success of Ray of Light and Music, Madonna took a big, brave risk with American Life — and failed. The lead single — oh, that rap — was pretentious pap. "I'm So Stupid" and "Intervention" were also misfires, but "Hollywood," "Love Profusion," and "Nothing Fails" salvaged the 2003 effort.
9: Like a Virgin
This could have been the best EP of the '80s, with generation-defining songs like the title track and "Material Girl" as well as the lovable "Angel," "Dress You Up," and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore." Instead it was a nine-song album with five great pop songs and four tracks that unbelievably escaped the cutting room floor. "Shoo-Bee-Doo," anyone?
Not as bad as the Sex book that accompanied it, Erotica still was overindulgent (a running theme for Madonna in 1993). But disregard "Where Life Begins" and "Thief of Hearts" and focus on tunes like "Deeper and Deeper" and "Bad Girl." One of the last singles, "Rain," remains one of the Queen's best songs, with a gorgeous video that stands the test of time.
The self-titled 1983 album that started it all. "Lucky Star," "Borderline," and "Holiday" remain enjoyable earworms, while "Burning Up" is one of the sexiest songs of the decade. Sadly, "I Know It," "Physical Attraction," and "Think of Me" sound like B-sides for a Lisa Lisa single.
6: Bedtime Stories
This R&B-influenced collection from 1994 had Madonna segueing into her late 30s, a time she seemed her most comfortable and confident. That translated into some truly enjoyable love-makin' music like "Survival," Sanctuary," and "Forbidden Love." "Take a Bow" may be her best ballad, and "Human Nature" is a hoot. The Björk-penned title track augured Madonna's avant-garde aspirations.
5: Confessions on a Dancefloor
Though it felt like a partial retreat after the disappointing reception to American Life, the all-dance Confessions was fun from start to finish. Sampling ABBA on "Hung Up" was inspired, turned the song into a hit, and Madonna landed at Coachella. But "Get Together" and "Jump" were just as good, with the latter featured prominently in The Devil Wears Prada. One gripe: "I Love New York." Yikes.
4: True Blue
Madonna was in a retro mood when she created this 1986 pop classic. Mid-century radio fluff was re-created in "Jimmy Jimmy," "Open Your Heart," and the exuberant title track, which still manages to charm with the line "I'm so excited 'cause you're my best friend." "Papa Don't Preach" may seem dated, but Madonna poured her heart into the vocals, which were mostly unchallenged prior to True Blue. This is the album that showed Madonna wasn't just a ditzy dance diva, thanks to "Live to Tell" and "La Isla Bonita." The beautiful Herb Ritts–shot artwork was just icing on the cake.
3: Like a Prayer
True Blue started changing minds about Madonna, but this late-'80s opus confirmed this woman was here to stay. How great is the title track, comparing sexual ecstasy to a religious experience? "Express Yourself" is mostly remembered for that epic Metropolis-themed video, but the song was a feminist, anticonsumerist anthem encouraging lovers to not "go for second best, baby" — this was not a sentiment sung too often in pop, then or now. Madonna got deep on "Oh Father," "'Til Death Do Us Part," and "Act of Contrition," but "Cherish" was there to remind everyone that Madonna was still fun. Pop music from an adult!
2: Ray of Light
To Grammy voters, this was Madonna's best moment. Clad in yoga pants and a tank top, Madonna nabbed four awards for this electronica-infused collection that won over everyone. There was the joyous title track, an electrifying first single ("Frozen"), gorgeous ballads ("The Power of Goodbye"), some far-out, Tori Amos–esque lyrics ("Candy Perfume Girl," "Mer Girl"), grown-up themes on celebrity, religion, and motherhood ("Substitute for Love," "Little Star"), and propulsive EDM ("Skin," "Shanti/Astangi") courtesy of master producer William Orbit. An incredible reinvention from the queen of the art form.
This is the collection that perfectly captured all the different sides of a complicated, intriguing, intelligent woman. Starting with an infectious, funky kick that was the title track and followed by the wacky and wild "Impressive Instant," Music doesn't flag, even when it gets to the slower, deeper moments. Even though the Madonna of late is enamored with writing songs about being super-famous and horny, the Madonna of 2000 sang about convincing herself she's worthy of love ("I Deserve It"), forgiving herself ("Nobody's Perfect"), and being a woman in a man's world ("What It Feels Like For a Girl"). She even displayed a profound vulnerability on "Don't Tell Me," her most gorgeous single to date (lyrics: "Tell me everything I'm not, but please don't tell me to stop.") The album ends with spooky, thoughtful, defiant whispers ("Paradise — Not For Me" and "Gone"). On "Gone," Madonna pledges that fame won't break her — and unlike most of her contemporaries, she's kept that promise. *Don't forget to vote below!