Madonna Truth or Dare, 2012

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Perfumer Stephen Nilsen

Madonna’s schtick has been to tie her name and brand to concepts that are just new enough to be recognizable and exciting, but unformed enough that she can make them her own. She’s not the spark of innovation, she’s the gallon of gasoline poured on it. Take Vogue. Ball culture was a strictly formalized form of representation that came from a specific community of gender revolutionaries in Harlem in the 1970s-1980s. It was a cultural tradition for many before most of us had ever even heard the word “drag.” Madonna came along, removed it from its context, made a video and Bob’s your uncle.

Truth or Dare lands smack in the center of this question. Madonna flack would have you believe that this perfume is a tribute to classical perfumery. All it took was one word: Fracas. Nest this word in the yarn about the perfume that Madonna’s mother used to wear and the story just writes itself. It edifies Madonna’s current reformulation as Contempo-Classic British Lady, and solidifies her past, connoting a familial tradition of taste. Oh, if only wishes were horses.

A better frame of reference for Truth or Dare is Juicy Couture by Juicy Couture. Hardly the House of Windsor, I know. Despite the attempt to link ToD to Fracas via the use of tuberose, the note in Truth or Dare is a watered-down recreation of a shopping mall fragrance. The difference between the two is that Madonna aims high hoping that we won’t notice the low quality. Juicy Couture on the other hand, dazzles you with its spangle, makes you drop your expectations to the floor and then startles you with a gorgeous perfume. The horror here, and what should haunt perfume producers but apparently doesn’t, is that quality come as a surprise.

Sadly, Truth or Dare doesn’t surprise. At least not at first. A certain period of the heart notes has an eye-opening touch of Sécrétions Magnifiques. If this was intentional, bravo! But then again, the question: did Madge just ‘appropriate’ Sécrétions Magnifiques’s polluted port-of-call note from Etat Libre d’Orange as she did voguing from the 1980s Harlem Ball culture?

Madonna: petty thief or semantic genius?

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