Musically, if the Madonna brand stands for anything it’s for smart, up-to-date club pop. But there’s often been a side to her that’s attracted to pastiche, as if she wants to prove she can take on styles way outside her era and range and master them as slickly as she dealt with freestyle, R&B, and electronica. “Hanky Panky”; the Evita incident; and this bouncily backwards-looking girlpop tribute.
Can she do it? Formally speaking, of course she can: she has the songwriters and the work ethic and “True Blue” bubbles and blushes in all the correct places. It’s fun! But even discounting the wall-of-tin production it seems to lack conviction. The girl group sound Madonna is playing with worked not just because of its catchy sweetness but because – whether coded or not – there was an awful lot at stake in the songs: the best of them grab a moment or a situation and freeze-frame the immense ridiculous intensity of teenage feeling. Exactly what “Papa Don’t Preach” did, in other words, and to go from that song’s frustration and dread to lines like “I’m so excited that you’re my best friend” is a shift in emphasis from content to form that sacrifices a lot. Still she could have pulled it off – the opening exchanges with the backing singers hint at something tougher and sassier than the song we get. But the rest of “True Blue” is deliberately flimsy and brittle, and before the end Madonna sounds a little bored. Like most of her pastiches it feels like a distraction.