Is “Living for Love” The Beginning of the End for Madonna?

The original promotional strategy for "Living for Love" would have seen the song being released just five days ago, on Valentine's Day, so this week should have been it's first chance to impact on the charts. In reality, of course, the track has actually been knocking about since late December, when the first six tracks from 'Rebel Heart' were dropped in an effort to quell the leaks which have plagued Madonna's 13th studio album.

Needless to say, the tactic didn't work - almost two months later and an astronomical 37 tracks in almost 60 different states of demo have found their way onto the internet, despite a high-profile arrest in Israel last month which should theoretically ended the seemingly endless torrent of unreleased material. The leaks were more detrimental than just giving the fans access to music long before the official release date, they completely took the wind out of 'Rebel Heart's' sails. When people heard the (unfinished) material, they weren't talking about how good it was or wasn't, they were talking about how Madonna would recover from such a calamity. That's a problem.

It's easy to look at the chaos of 'Rebel Heart' and assume that the messiness surrounding the project is responsible for "Living for Love"'s lukewarm reception, but the truth may actually be more problematic than one badly handled album.

The first issue seems to be that, as people adore pointing out as if it's a total revelation, Madonna is ageing. Yes, that's right people, time is passing and Madonna is getting older - it's shocking I know, take a couple of deep breaths. It would seem that rather than acknowledging this and listening to her music anyway, the general public are unable to even endure to the "Hung Up" star's new material because she is simply much too old to enjoy and as a woman over 50 she should sit down and be quiet. Or be shot. Ideally, she should be shot.

The furore of over Madonna's 'old lady hands' (which are now always conspicuously covered by fingerless gloves) or jabs that label her 'geriatric,' 'Grandma' and 'haggard' amongst many other such inspired insults are as much a staple of the press as they are the comments on her YouTube videos, which is testimony to the part that her perceived physical deterioration now plays in public discourse. It feels like Madonna became synonymous with 'washed-up' long before she did leaked material.

Indeed, the drama over at BBC's Radio 1 this week may have been outrageous, irresponsible and potentially litigious, but it's an undeniable part of a bigger picture in which Madonna's age seems to cancel out the musical merit of her latest endeavour. An endeavour which incidentally has produced far better material than, for example, "Gimme All Your Luvin'" which peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Madonna's age seems to be the latest piece of evidence her neigh-sayers have gathered in the quest to prove that the mother of four is actually a big phoney, her many re-inventions merely different masks that the material girl has tried on during her unrivalled career in order to flog albums and concert tickets. A simple survey of reality will tell you, of course, that Madonna - like all of us - has simply changed over the last 30-odd years and each album represents said change, but that's a truth which is consistently ignored.

Instead, people see Madge at 56 making exactly the kind of music she wants to make, wearing precisely what she wants to wear and dancing however the hell she likes and accuse her of desperation and youth-pandering. Music fans are so jaded that they witness genuine artistic freedom and automatically assume there's some ulterior motive, some play for power, a grab being made for the long-coveted and endlessly-debated pop crown.

And these were the same kinds of accusations lobbied at Madonna in 2012 when she came out and infamously labeled "Born This Way" and implicitly Lady Gaga herself "reductive." We can't overlook how important this is in Madonna's struggle to remain relevant today, there's a case to be made for saying that Madonna's frank words about Gaga - the biggest popstar on the planet at the time - were one of the biggest missteps in her career. Okay, yeah, not quite as dramatic a failing as the SEX book, or "American Life's" ill-timed stand against the Iraqi war, but it's up there.

Whilst M undoubtedly railed up Little Monsters everywhere and made herself a target for hatred from Gaga's fans, it was the message that she sent to the media and music consumers everywhere that was more damaging. Whether or not this is the case, she appeared to be using Gaga's name to garner publicity and inciting a feud for headlines, a move that reeks of desperation. Moreover, for the first time, she appeared to be nervous. Another performer had seemingly shaken her iron grip on the throne. Don't you remember how she kissed Janet Jackson off after she called her classless? Or how magnificently she put down Mariah Carey? How flawlessly she ignored so many pop girls who called her out, who tried to drag her. That wasn't what this was. It was the first sign that she'd lost faith in her own relevancy.

And as Madonna lost faith, so did the world. Suddenly her controversial antics - showing her breasts on the MDNA tour, posing topless for Interview magazine - didn't seem like usual Madonna behavior, they seemed desperate. She was no longer a fuck-free ring-leader but an 'irrelevant flop,' to borrow phrase from just about every one of her online detractors.

So what should the "Holiday" star do now? What she's always done. Dust it off, carry on. Madonna needs to take her own advice, she needs to pick up her crown and put it back on her head, reminding everyone why she was on top for so long. Something she appears to be doing pretty well, if her Grammy performance is anything to go by.

Hopefully with time people will start to remember why they loved Madonna in the first place, new fans will begin to discover her discography and there'll be a Madonna Renaissance. A Madonnassance, if you will. However, if people think she's too old at 56... Time might not be going be slowly enough for Madonna after all.