Madonna’s legendary career has been defined by her persistent efforts to evolve. The days of “Like A Virgin” and “Material Girl” are long gone, as generations of fans have witnessed Madonna transform from a disco queen to an avant-garde pop star to a socially conscious dance artist. Each album is a unique chapter—a new side to Madonna’s personality, a new part of her artistic vision. Ranking them all is a daunting task, as it requires one to reflect on the past forty-plus years of pop music history and compare them all together in an objective manner. Madonna’s first eight albums (a distinct era unto themselves) are pure disco-pop bliss that have since inspired dozens of artists. While less appreciated by fans, her ninth album was a prelude for the musical direction she’d take in the future. As her age progressed, Madonna reinvented herself once again with MDNA. It’s an interesting yet failed experiment, one where songs are held back by poor production decisions. This article will rank every Madonna studio album from worst to best, examining the songs on each record and comparing them to one another. It is not a comparison of Madonna as an artist—how she has evolved over the years—but rather an evaluation of every album based purely on the songs themselves.
14. MDNA (2012)
MDNA is Madonna at her most out-of-touch. The socially conscious messages and uplifting dance beats are Gone, replaced by awkward club songs and uninteresting ballads. It’s not a bad album as such; there are some great songs on it ( “Gang Bang,” “I’m Addicted,” “Masterpiece” ), but all of it comes with a heavy dose of camp and ridiculousness, leaving less room for artistic merit.
13. Rebel Heart (2015)
Rebel Heart is a great record with some bad songs on it. When Madonna is at her best, she’s daring enough to include pieces that make people uncomfortable (“Holy Water,” “S.E.X.”). Unfortunately, this time around, she also had some questionable pop songs (“Bitch I’m Madonna”) and some underdeveloped ballads (“Joan of Arc,” “Ghosttown”).
12. Hard Candy (2008)
Hard Candy is Madonna at her most basic—it’s all generic pop music with no distinct identity. The record has some gems, namely “4 Minutes”, “Miles Away,” and “Give It 2 Me”. However, all-in-all, it’s a forgettable album only remembered for being the last to feature Timbaland.
11. Madonna (1983)
Madonna is a terrific debut with one amazing song after another (“Lucky Star,” “Borderline,” “Burning Up”). Unfortunately, it’s also very restrained; the production is limited, and Madonna’s vocals aren’t at their best.
10. Like A Virgin (1984)
Like a Virgin is Madonna’s most satisfying record. It has the perfect balance of uptempo songs and ballads, making it one of her best party/romantic albums. The highlights are numerous (“Material Girl,” “Angel,” “Dress You Up”). The only frustrating thing is that some bad songs were included as well (“Shoo-Bee-Doo,” “Think of Me”).
9. Music (2000)
Music is Madonna’s most iconic record. It contains her biggest hits (“Music,” “Don’t Tell Me,” “What It Feels Like For A Girl”) and has an extremely strong production. Other than being slightly too long, the only major flaw is that Madonna’s vocals are buried in the mix.
8. Madame X (2019)
Madame X is Madonna at her most experimental. It’s a record of counterculture with songs that are very much rooted in the current Zeitgeist (“Crave,” “Future,” “Dark Ballet”). The production is also quite diverse, making for some interesting arrangements (“Killers Who Are Partying,” “I Rise”).
7. Like A Prayer (1989)
Like a Prayer is Madonna’s masterpiece. It has her most iconic songs (the title track, “Express Yourself,” “Cherish”), and it’s also very cohesive—every piece flows from one to another perfectly. The record isn’t entirely flawless, though—the semi-ballad “Till Death Do Us Part” could have been cut out.
6. Erotica (1992)
Erotica is a very dark album that has to be listened to in its entirety; there are no standout songs. Further, Madonna’s vocals are at their most bizarre—it almost doesn’t even sound like she’s singing on some parts. Comparing it to her other 90s albums, Erotica is the most polarizing.
5. Bedtime Stories (1994)
Bedtime Stories is an underrated album (https://rateyourmusic.com/list/theblueheart/madonna_albums_in_order/) that deserves more recognition. It has some of Madonna’s best songs (“Secret,” “Human Nature”), and the production is strong enough to make up for her lackluster vocals. This record also contains one of the sexiest music videos in history—”Take a Bow.”
4. American Life (2003)
American Life is Madonna’s most underrated album, but not her best. The record contains some great songs (“Nothing Fails,” “Love Profusion,” “Mother and Father”) that mediocre ones overshadowed (“Hollywood,” “American Life”). Had the album been more coherent, it would be higher on this list.
3. True Blue (1986)
True Blue is the most complete Madonna record. It’s a perfect blend of dance-pop (“Open Your Heart,” “Live to Tell”) and ballads (“Papa Don’t Preach”). Madonna’s vocals are at their prime, while the production is immaculate (courtesy of Patrick Leonard). True Blue may not be Madonna’s most iconic record, but it’s one of her best.
2. Confessions On A Dance Floor (2005)
Confessions on a Dance Floor is Madonna’s best dance album. It contains so many great songs (“Hung Up,” “Get Together”) that make it easy to forget about the filler tracks. The production is flawless, with excellent beats and catchy melodies complementing each other perfectly.
1. Ray Of Light (1998)
Ray of Light is Madonna’s best record lyrically. It has the best balance of upbeat songs and chill tracks while also being one of her most spiritual records (“Frozen”, “The Power of Good-Bye”). Madonna’s vocals are at their absolute best on this one, while the production—courtesy William Orbit — is gorgeous.