What happened
Warner Bros. released Madonna’s Hard Candy on Tuesday, her 11th studio album. But some critics wonder if the 49-year-old pop icon can still compete in today’s youth-dominated music industry.

What the commentators said
Madonna “must fear irrelevance,” said James Hannaham in Salon, “but if so, her distress signals remain in the subtext.” Hard Candy “represents a high point in her Vatican II.” Madonna “sounds as honest as she’ll ever get,” and she’s “managed to throw parenthood into the mix without losing too much of her edge.” And now that she’s “becoming an elder stateswoman” in the “dance-pop world,” her “longevity becomes yet another attraction.”

Madonna’s image “used to be surprising and daring,” said Rashod D. Ollison in the Baltimore Sun. “But that was a long time ago.” On Hard Candy, she “seems to be playing catch-up with musical trends in urban-pop, which often look backward for inspiration.” Her latest is “a lifeless album in which Madonna’s disconnection with the material is palpable throughout,” and it “sounds as if she’d rather be doing yoga or writing another children’s book.”

Hard Candy “actually sounds youthful,” said Steven Mirkin in Variety. Madonna was smart to recruit producers the Neptunes, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, and "Timbaland protégé Nate ‘Danja’ Hills” to “give the album a very of-the-minute sheen.” There’s even “a melancholy vulnerability lurking in the songs’ corners, and when she lets down her guard,” her latest album “can stand up to her best work.” But it’s also “suffused with a predatory desperation that’s not pretty at any age—here, it’s as taut and affectless as the Botoxed faces of The Real Housewives of Orange County.”