Madonna's Albums Ranked From Worst to Best

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Madonna

With the release of 'Rebel Heart,' Billboard looks back at the Material Girl's entire catalog.

With the release of Rebel Heart this week, the Billboard staff has been seized with Madonna fever lately. Around the same time we compiled our list of 15 Favorite Madonna songs, we also took on the daunting task of ranking Madonna's studio albums.

Unlike the process for choosing our favorite songs, we relied solely on a weighted voting system – no discussion changed the rankings after we tallied up the results. (The two lists do, however, share the same No. 1.)

Here's Madonna's studio albums, ranked from least to most favorite.

13. MDNA (2012)

The tragedy of ranking our favorite Madonna albums is that one record had to fall into the unenviable last place. But make no mistake – that's not a diss on MDNA. While it didn't quite seem to resonate emotionally with fans upon its release, it certainly has its moments. And given that it's Madonna's most recent, it might just take some time to grow on us. – Joe Lynch

12. American Life (2003)

Not as bad as some detractors would have you believe, American Life nevertheless is an uneven album. Still, you have to applaud the album's adventurous melange of electronica, folk and pop music – not to mention the incisive, skeptical lyrics. – Lynch

11. Hard Candy (2008)

Madonna (aka M-dolla's) Sticky & Sweet album – she referred to it as a juxtaposition of hardness and sweetness – was assisted by an all-star team of modern hitmakers. Standout tracks include "4 Minutes" featuring Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, "Give It 2 Me" featuring Pharrell, "Devil Wouldn't Recognize You" and "Beat Goes On" featuring Kanye West. The album peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. – Leslie Richin

10. I'm Breathless (1990)

While Madonna doesn't count this as one of her proper studio albums, we've included it here. After all, there was a Dick Tracy soundtrack, and this isn't it. And unlike other Madonna soundtracks, everything on I'm Breathless is 1) Sung by Madonna and 2) Written for the album or the film that inspired it. While it's not one of her finest, the cheeky "Hanky Panky," the gorgeous "Something to Remember" and the immortal "Vogue" are some of her finest vocal performances. – Lynch

9. Music (2000)

Following the commercial triumph of Ray of Light, Madonna's Music was a return to the superstar's more experimental side, with trance, warped electronics, Vocoder and country music (check that hat on the cover!) all incorporated into the mix. That doesn't mean that Music was hard to get into, though: The title track remains a chart-topping triumph that united the bourgeoisie and the rebel, "Impressive Instant" sounds like Madonna mashed up with a lost cut from Daft Punk's Homework album, and "Don't Tell Me" – with its looped guitar lick and subtle vocal take – is one of Madge's most underappreciated singles ever. Time has been good to Music, an album where Madonna expanded her worldview while remaining true to her core. – Jason Lipshutz

8. True Blue (1986)

From 1986-87 Madonna was busy promoting her third album, True Blue, and her Who's That Girl film/world tour. It was this album – which gave her three No. 1s on the Hot 100 – and tour that made her an international superstar. (BTW: Can you imagine Cyndi Lauper singing "Open Your Heart?" It almost happened.) Standout tracks on the album – dedicated to her then-husband Sean Penn – include "Live to Tell," "Papa Don't Preach," "Open Your Heart" and "La Isla Bonita." – Richin

7. Like a Virgin (1984)

Not many performances on the planet are as iconic as the one that found Madonna writhing on the floor in a wedding dress while singing "Like a Virgin" at the 1984 VMAs. That career-making performance introduced her to the world of controversy that she willingly courts up until this day. With her wedding dress and "boy toy" belt, she set the fashion tone for half of the '80s. Standout tracks on her first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 include "Like a Virgin," "Material Girl," "Love Don't Live Here Anymore," "Angel" and "Dress You Up." – Richin

6. Bedtime Stories (1994)

"Express yourself/Don't repress yourself," Madonna coos at the top of "Human Nature," a quick reminder that her Bedtime Stories album – while not as hardcore as 1992's Erotica – certainly wasn't a mea culpa for her polarizing previous project. Instead, the 1994 album captured Madonna in transition, swiveling away from explicit sexuality and relying on R&B and balladry before she dove headfirst into dance music four years later. Songs like "Human Nature," "Secret" and "I'd Rather Be Your Lover" proved more compelling than most of the New Jack music being released in the mid-’90s, and "Take a Bow" added a classic slow jam to Madge's canon. Lipshutz

5. Erotica (1992)

Madonna's sexual journey hit its peak in 1992 with Erotica, released alongside her book of erotic photos, fittingly called Sex. Madonna's alter ego, Mistress Dita, invites you into a world of S&M and love that earned her a temporary nickname: "Queen of the obscene." Standout tracks include her dance-floor update of "Fever," "Deeper and Deeper," "Rain," "Bad Girl" and "In This Life." The album hit its own peak at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. – Richin

4. Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005)

Madonna needed a crowd-pleasing project following the divisive American Life, and Confessions on a Dance Floor reunited the polarized masses under a bulging disco ball. The ABBA-sampling "Hung Up" not only was a tremendous lead single that topped charts worldwide but also proved a perfect gateway into the slick dance-pop of the rest of Confessions. Tracks like "Future Lovers," "Jump" and "Let It Will Be" keep the album sounding fresh and immediate nearly 10 years after its release. – Lipshutz

3. Madonna (1983)

While it's certainly not her most mature album, Madonna's self-titled debut shows the nascent pop star at her most ebullient. Madonna is one of the most exciting debut albums in pop music history, and she seems to know it – her voice crackles with joy, hunger and boundless energy on this stone-cold classic. – Lynch

2. Ray of Light (1998)

The beautiful thing about Ray of Light is that it does what a successful pop album is supposed to do: commit to one aesthetic, explore that set of principles from several unique angles and never lose its sense of cohesion. Working closely with William Orbit, Madonna synthesizes '90s techno and classic pop through a spiritual lens, once again reinventing herself with a series of distinctive bangers. What if the suave dance of "Nothing Really Matters," the eye-popping "Ray of Light" music video or the stark beauty of "Frozen" never existed? Luckily, we never need to find out. – Lipshutz

1. Like a Prayer (1989)

Madonna's Like a Prayer is 11 songs long, but it's hard not to linger on those first two – and it's equally difficult to find a pop album with a stronger opening one-two punch than "Like a Prayer" and "Express Yourself." Closing out her '80s run on a gloriously high note, Madonna turned inward on Like a Prayer and challenged her audience to recognize her boldly autobiographical lyrics and confident adulthood while delivering some of the most euphoric anthems ever. Past those opening smashes is a wealth of fantastic material, from the finger-snapping romp of "Cherish" to the tear stains of "Oh Father" to the vulnerable bounce of "Keep It Together." A pivotal release in her amazing run, Like a Prayer continues to inspire decades later and remains Madonna's thrilling high-water mark. – Lipshutz

This story first appeared on Billboard.com

 

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