TALKING “CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE MUSICAL” WITH STAR LAUREN ZAKRIN

Cruel Intentions: The ’90s Musical Experience

Lauren ZakrinLAUREN ZAKRIN IS READY TO SHOW YOU HER DARK SIDE.

Fresh off playing the titular character’s understudy in Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, the Michigan-raised actress’ newest project is taking her deep into a corrupt world of secrets, seduction, and deception. As the dangerous and manipulative Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions: The Musical, Zakrin is transforming from an ingénue to a villain.

After two sold out runs in Los Angeles, Cruel Intentions: The Musical has arrived in New York City for a limited engagement (through February 19, 2018). Opening December 11th, the show is based on the 1999 cult-classic motion picture of the same name. Created by Jordan RossLindsey Rosin and the film’s director, Roger Kumble, this stage adaptation features a compilation of throwback hits, including some of the best-known tracks from the movie’s legendary soundtrack – including Counting Crows’ “Colorblind” and The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”

I spoke with Zakrin about getting to be a “bad guy” for the first time, her connection to the show’s source material, performing some of the biggest songs of the ‘90s, her musical theater dream roles, and more.

Cruel Intentions: The Musical

ALEX NAGORSKI: Growing up, were you a fan of the movie? What’s your first or favorite memory about the effect it had on you?

LAUREN ZAKRIN: I was absolutely a fan! And I hate to admit it, but I was on Team Kathryn. I don’t know what it says about me as a person, but the darkness and the power of her character fascinated me. I think I might have been a little young for it, so the movie felt like this dirty little secret that I hadn’t quite figured out yet.

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalAside from the movie itself, where/who else are you drawing inspiration from to shape your interpretation of Kathryn?

I think it would be easy to point the finger and say that I am drawing inspiration from girls who were unkind to me in high school, and of course I do. But it’s much more juicy to find the Kathryn that already lives within me. Even if she has never come out before, I think we all have a little Kathryn Merteuil inside, whether or not we would like to admit it.

Have you had an opportunity to meet and/or speak with Sarah Michelle Gellar (who played Kathryn in the film) about this role?

Unfortunately, I have not met Queen SMG. However, I have heard that she attended the show while it was running in LA! Everyone says she was lovely, and very supportive. If I do get to meet her, my inner Buffy-obsessed pre-teen self will probably freak out.

Kathryn and her stepbrother Sebastian have – to put it mildly – quite an unconventional relationship. How have you and your co-star Constantine Rousouli found the balance between passion and revenge that these two characters force one another to endure?

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalConstantine and I were fortunate enough to walk into the process already knowing each other. Nine years ago, we toured together in Legally Blonde, my very first job! It has been helpful to have a bit of history and trust in the bag when diving into a relationship as complicated as Kathryn and Sebastian’s. Everything else between our characters just seems to be falling into place. There is a natural flirtation and playfulness between us. We know how to poke fun at each other. And we also know when the other one needs support. Constantine has also already been on the Cruel Intentions ride for a couple of years now, and it’s been wonderful to have him holding my hand and guiding me through the world! It doesn’t hurt that he is devilishly handsome, either.

As an actor, how does getting to play a villain differ from some of your previous characters in musicals such as Wicked and Grease?

Kathryn is my very first villain, my first “mean girl.”  In the beginning, I was intimidated by her darkness, but now … I LOVE IT. I find it very therapeutic to expose all of the facets of her to an audience.

The film was based on the novel Dangerous Liaisons (which was also turned into a movie). What do you think it is about this story that has allowed it to live on in so many incarnations and mediums?

Everyone is capable of darkness. I think telling a story that exposes the ugliness of human nature, the selfishness, the jealously, the desire and the cruelty not only forces us to address the unkindnesses in the world around us and why they are happening, but to also acknowledge our own thoughts and actions. It forces us to address our own capabilities towards good and evil. Everyone has dirty little secrets and fantasies, and perhaps everyone has done a thing or two that they aren’t proud of … but pretending otherwise isn’t helpful, nor is slapping a quick label on it. We must address it and examine it, and find the why. I think these stories allow us to take the look that we might be too afraid to do on our own.

The musical is filled with some of the biggest hits of the 90’s – including songs by artists like Britney Spears, No Doubt, R.E.M., Christina Aguilera and Jewel. As a performer, how do you go about re-contextualizing these iconic songs within a musical theater narrative?

As a performer, you must strive to make each song as story driven as possible. Of course, when these songs drop in the show, the audience loves it. There is a lot of laughter and hooting and singing along, which is exactly how it should be. But as the storytellers, we have to try to resist falling into the trap of the joke. The song’s nostalgia is the joke, but the performance of it is not. That’s the only way to maintain the integrity of the story itself, while weaving in these fun 90’s hits.

The show takes place at renowned downtown Manhattan venue (le) Poisson Rouge, complete with bar and table service. How does performing in this type of nightlife environment contrast from being on stage in a more traditional theater?

Cruel Intentions: The MusicalAfter doing The Great Comet of 1812 in a tent in the Meatpacking District, I have found that I really thrive in a more interactive environment. I think we have this wonderful opportunity to push the boundaries and change the shape of how theater can be done or seen. Cruel Intentions is meant to be a dirty, wicked little party, so it fits perfectly into Le Poisson Rouge’s rock-and-roll world. It’s the perfect place to have a drink in your hand and be singing along to Ace of Base.

You made your Broadway debut in 2014 as Sherrie in Rock of Ages, a musical about the 1980s. Now that Cruel Intentions has taken you to the following decade, do you have more fun reliving and exploring the ‘80s or ‘90s through your work? 

was a child of the 90s, so revisiting them still brings me a little bit of shame when I have to look at some of my fashion and music choices. Doing something like Rock of Ages really let me feel like I was diving into another world that I got to learn about and explore.

You’ve been very vocal on social media about the absurdity, cruelty and chaos that defines our current presidential administration. Is it your hope that stepping into the nostalgia-tinged 90’s world of this immersive musical experience will provide audience members with a temporary pass for true escapism? Or are there larger lessons/takeaways that you’re hoping the audience leaves with?

I think we absolutely have an opportunity to comment on the current climate, and to point at things that may or may not have changed socially and politically. There are moments for escapism, but it is always a shame when the opportunity is missed to create change.  As I mentioned, I hope this story, at the very least, allows people to honestly observe, address, and examine the unkindnesses and cruelties within them and in the world around them.

I was fortunate enough to catch your phenomenal turn as Natasha in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 this past summer opposite Oak Onaodowan and Ingrid Michaelson. What were your thoughts/feelings on the show’s abrupt and controversial closing?

Thank you for your kind words! All I can say is that Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 has been the most rewarding and beautiful experience of my professional life, and I miss it every day!

In addition to Cruel Intentions, you’ve been a part of several other movie-to-musical adaptations – including Legally BlondeCatch Me If You Can, and Flashdance. In your experience, what are both the most rewarding and challenging aspects of bringing such beloved films to life on stage?

It is always helpful to begin a project that already has a built-in fan base. However, there can be some challenges in navigating how to maintain the things that people love about the movie while keeping the stage adaptation fresh and relevant. While we want to stay true to all of the iconic moments people are dying to see, it is important to know when change is necessary to best tell the story today. It is also important to avoid the trap of replicating or imitating a performance. The characters need to remain truthful in our bodies, and our interpretations of them grounded in honesty.

What is your musical theater dream role?

Natasha in The Great Comet of 1812. Christine in Phantom of the Opera. Clara in The Light in the Piazza. Marilyn Monroe. Or better yet, something new and all my own!

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets for Cruel Intentions: The Musical, playing now through February 19, 2018 at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York City.

Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BETTY WHO

betty-who-22013 has shaped up to be a huge year for Betty Who.

Following the April release of the 22-year-old Australian singer/songwriter’s debut EP, The Movement (iTunes), Who is hard at work on her upcoming first full-length album (slated to hit stores next year via RCA Records). Her song “Somebody Loves You” also serves as the soundtrack to a recent viral video of a flash mob marriage proposal, which has already garnered over 10,790,000 views on YouTube. And just last week, she churned out her first official remix (for Demi Lovato’s “Neon Lights”).

Taking a break from the studio, Who caught up with me about her musical origins, debut album, current tour, love of Britney Spears, the proposal seen around the globe, and more.

betty-who-1ALEX: For starters, where did the stage name Betty Who come from?

BETTY: I wrote a song when I was seventeen or eighteen in high school about this boy who didn’t really want to be with me because of moral stuff. You know, he was super conservative. He didn’t kind of like my lifestyle, I guess, which is really silly cause at eighteen my lifestyle was just like … I had gay friends. So I named this song “Betty Who” kind of randomly. Then I had this song that I was working with my producer a year later and we were talking about stage names and he was like, “Well, you’re going to have to have a name that you’re going to be comfortable being called for the rest of your life cause that’s how it’s going to happen.” And then I was like, “what about Betty Who?” and it just felt so right.

Where were you when you first saw the “Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal” video and how has it impacted your career?

I was at the hairdresser actually. I was sitting getting my hair done and my manager emailed me the video and I started to like cry at the hairdresser’s. It’s definitely, like totally changed my life. I told the boys that too. When they came out for the VH1 performance to New York, I got to meet them and I remember sitting down with them and just being like, “you’ve actually changed my life, like really.” So it’s been amazing. I love that if my music was going to stand for anything, you know, it would be this.

Absolutely. I’d say then that it’s safe to assume that you will be singing at their wedding?

I think that it’s definitely in the cards.

Your music as a whole has been very embraced by the gay community in particular. Do you think that there is some sort of specific reason for that?

I had a friend describe it to me this way once. I think that gay men like to emote and they like to dance and I do both of those things in my songs. That’s basically what I heard a friend say that and I think that’s a really good description of why my music is the way that it is.

You recently signed a record deal with RCA, which is home to some of the biggest names in pop. How does it feel to be joining the ranks of people like Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink? Is there a lot of pressure?

Yeah. There is. I was talking to RCA for a couple months before I signed with them. So when I walk down the halls of RCA now, I still kind of don’t really feel like its real yet and I don’t know if it will until like I have an album up on the wall or I have a picture up on the wall, you know what I mean? I think because I haven’t really released anything through RCA yet. It still doesn’t really feel real. So, I’m waiting. Like on the floor that the RCA offices are, you walk out of the elevator and there’s just like pictures of Justin Timberlake, Usher, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera – I’m waiting to have my photo up there and I’ll lose it, I’m sure.

That’s going to be so exciting!

I know, right?

So actually speaking of Britney Spears, you’re very open about your love for her. Do you have plans to check out her Vegas show and what are your thoughts on her new song, “Perfume”?

Yes, Britney! My queen! I would actually love to go to her Vegas residency but you know, I live in New York so it’s a little bit more difficult to go to than if I were to live in LA. But I definitely will make plans to sneak away for two days when I’m in LA sometime and drive to Vegas with friends and go see it. I also like any Britney song that comes out. Like I will buy and I will love. You know what I mean? I don’t know if Britney could make a bad record, so “Perfume” is great.

I totally agree! Part of what I love about your music is the glittery, feel-good, 80’s throwback vibe that I get from it. Who are some of your biggest musical influences and what is it about this era that made you want to put your own contemporary spin on it?

Sure. I loved Michael Jackson when I was growing up. And you know, I loved Madonna, I loved Cyndi Lauper, I loved Pat Benatar. I remember listening to “Love is A Battlefield” when I was like fourteen maybe and like yelling it in my room. I love that music from the 80’s and 90’s is really fun. I think that pop music got really dark in the last couple years, and I mean that’s fine too and that’s great, but I also miss the sparkle of “Like A Virgin.” So for me, it’s really fun to make music that touches on that, but also gives it a way to exist in the world now that doesn’t just sound like I’m making a sound alike record.

Would you say that in today’s pop landscape that’s what makes your music stand out and distinctively Betty Who?

I guess. You know, a lot of people are making music that also is like 80’s throwback. If you listen to “Treasure” by Bruno Mars, it sounds like a 80’s record. So you know, I don’t know if I could be honest and say that like “oh yeah, well, like I’m the only one doing it.” But I definitely think that there’s an honesty in my lyrics and in my writing that very much makes it me. I think that’s what makes it different because I write all the music and so much of me goes into it.

Of course. So, originally you had plans to follow up the release of The Movement with a second EP, but I understand that you’ve since scrapped that idea and are instead working on putting out a full length album. Can you confirm those rumors?

Right, yes all of that is true.

Will the album then be an extension of the sound that you introduced on The Movement or do you think fans will be surprised by what they hear?

I think it’s very much an extension of the EP. All the songs from the first EP will be on it.

Have you chosen a first single yet?

I haven’t. Lots depends on that so I don’t have a lot to say about that yet.

Will fans who are coming to see you on your current tour get a taste of some of the new songs that the upcoming record will offer?

Yes, absolutely.

What’s your favorite one to perform live?

There’s a song called “Heartbreak Dream” that is not out anywhere yet and it’s just like a really high-energy song and people have been responding to it really well. So I’m very excited to release that. Out of the older songs, “High Society” is my favorite to perform – just because the energy in it and the way that people like it. Now, when people sing a long, it’s really amazing – especially the “we’ll drink Chardonnay through the day ‘cause we say so” part.

Awesome! Do you have a title or a release date in mind yet for the album?

No, neither of those things.

Can you tell me a little bit about who you’ve been working on this record with? Is it the same team behind The Movement? Or are you also collaborating with some new faces?

Sure. It’s mostly just me and my producer from the first EP, Peter Thomas. He and I did almost the entirety of the record, and then there’s one song on it that I wrote with this band called Ghost Beach. I don’t know if you know Ghost Beach, they’re amazing. I played a couple of shows with them, that’s how I met them, and we’ve become friends, and we recorded this awesome song, so that song will be on the album.

Well I can’t wait to hear it! Did you dress up for Halloween this year?

I did.

What or who did you dress up as?

Well I was in LA, and I was in the studio all Halloween day and I got out at like maybe 5:30 or 6, so by the time that I was leaving, I was like, “I don’t have a costume, I’m running late to this party that my friends want me to go to. Like I’m just not going to have a costume.” And I texted my friend that and she was like, “Just come as one of the girls from The Craft with us.” And I was in a black velvet skirt and a white shirt already, so I was like, “oh, perfect.” So I just stopped by CVS, I picked up knee high socks, a costume necklace and some dark lipstick and I found a black velvet hoodie at CVS, which is like the grossest thing in the whole world. And I wore that. And I was like “It was perfect.” I was already in costume.

I love that. So what’s been your favorite pop song of 2013 so far?

Oooh, that’s a good question! I think “Rock N Roll” by Avril Lavigne.

Really?

It was the most underrated pop song of the year! It’s so amazing and so well written and has so much energy. I just yell that song in my shower and it didn’t even get a chance to be as great as it is, I think. So, that’s my answer.

 Originally published on PopBytes

ZZ WARD SHOWCASES HER DEBUT ALBUM IN NYC

In 2004, producer Danger Mouse gained notoriety when he decided to release a free viral album that married contemporary hip-hop to classic rock.

As bold as it was experimental, The Grey Album took the a cappella vocals of Jay’Z’s The Black Album and mashed them up with instrumentals created from a variety of samples from The Beatles’ 1968 classic The White Album. The result was a richly layered compilation of tracks that not only complimented their respective genres, but also blurred the line between them to create a refreshingly original sound. And despite appeals from The Beatles’ copyright holders to take it down, The Grey Album went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed (even taking the #1 spot on Entertainment Weekly’s list of best albums of 2004) and influential albums of the new millennium.

Since The Grey Album’s release, more and more artists have opted to pay homage to music’s earlier days by blending their own sounds with those of decades past. Indie artists such as Camera Obscura and She & Him mix their Lite FM-ready folk-tinged sound with that of 1960s girl groups and nostalgic doo-wop. In 2006, Christina Aguilera released Back To Basics, an album that combined her pop-star-of-today persona with both that of a flapper and a WW II-era pin-up girl. The following year, British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse exploded onto the scene with her international smash single, “Rehab.” Full of soul, slick jazz and sass, Winehouse masterfully blended the defining elements of Motown with the attitude of contemporary hip-hop. Her success inspired a whole wave of “new vintage” musicians such as Adele, whose album, 21, has remained on the Top 20 Billboard chart eighty-two weeks after its release.

The latest entry in this parade of husky-voiced chanteuses is Pennsylvania-born ZZ Ward. Confident, aggressive and sexy, Ward’s music goes down as smoothly as the last shot of Jameson at the end of the night. Her self-described “dirty blues with beats” signature sound should answer any question about how a Dr. Dre-produced Joss Stone song would resonate.

On October 16th, Ward will be releasing her first album, Til The Casket Drops (via Hollywood Records). And earlier this month, the singer released a 4-track EP to give listeners a taste of what to expect from her eagerly anticipated debut. These two releases come following a busy summer in which she toured across the country with Fitz & The Tantrums and Allen Stone.

Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending a showcase that Ward put on at New York City’s singer/songwriter hot-spot Joe’s Pub. Gearing up to the release of Til The Casket Drops, the set list was comprised of a generous sampling of the album’s offerings.

Immediately getting the audience pumped up, Ward opened the show with her upcoming record’s title track. A stomping love song marinated in retro flavors, “Til The Casket Drops” found Ward soulfully pledging her lifelong commitment to her partner.

“You asked me how long I’d stay by your side, so I answered with only just one reply,” Ward sang, building up to the song’s  warm, smoky chorus. “Til the casket drops, til my dying day, til my heartbeat stops, til my legs just break.”

On “Criminal,” Ward fused sultry nightclub jazz with ‘90s R&B in a way that would make you believe that Shirley Bassey and Lauryn Hill somehow had a lovechild. It’s basically what the James Bond theme Alicia Keys recorded (“Another Way To Die”) should have sounded like had it not been a collaboration with rocker Jack White.

Other standout selections from the evening included “Charlie Ain’t Home,” a cheeky modern response to Etta James’ “Waiting For Charlie To Come Home,” the somber and defeated break-up ballad “Last Love Song,” and the soaring and anthemic “Home,” which had the audience belting out the words to a song most were hearing for the very first time.

Yet no song had the crowd on its feet more than the one Ward played during her encore, “Blue Eyes Blind.” Clearly the track with the most mainstream radio potential from Til The Casket Drops, “Blue Eyes Blind” is an upbeat feel-good song that could easily do for Ward what “Mercy” did for Duffy. Showcasing the singer’s thick-as-honey voice and brazen swagger, this is a song that Ward will no doubt be closing her shows with for a long time to come.

With Til The Casket Drops, ZZ Ward has created an album that is as gorgeous as it is unique. It’s a record that will surely be remembered as one of the strongest debuts of the year.

Originally published on PopBytes

THE "AUTHENTICITY" OF LANA DEL REY

This past Sunday morning couldn’t have been pleasant for singer Lana Del Rey.

The already controversial up-and-comer had just made her American television performance debut as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. With this month’s upcoming release of her first major label album, Born To Die, there was much hype and anticipation before her SNL appearance. But her two performances (which you can watch here) were distinctly underwhelming.

Del Rey looked nervous and bored and had very little stage presence. Not to mention her vocals seemed off. All of a sudden, her post-SNL career seemed to have been given the AshleeSimpson-kiss-of-death before it had even really started. Across the web, Del Rey was panned from all angles.

But there’s just one problem: a large portion of the criticism of her failed to focus on her music. Which is why I say let’s not rush to judgment.

True, I haven’t yet been blown away by any of the songs I’ve heard from Del Rey. But I want to listen to Born To Die before forming my opinions. Sadly, I seem to be the exception here. Many people are all too eager to write her off before the record even has a chance to hit stores. Why? On the grounds that she is “inauthentic” – an adjective that has been used by Del Rey’s critics almost synonymously with her name.

But how exactly is Del Rey “inauthentic”? Because she was born as Lizzy Grant and opted to use a stage name for her pop persona? That argument really sucks. Think of Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and a substantial chunk of the rest of the entertainment industry. Stage names are everywhere and we love stars who use them, forgetting that they ever were called anything else.

Or is it because she had obvious plastic surgery? If Del Rey’s infamous pout had been enhanced by Photoshop on a magazine cover instead of by needles at a doctor’s office, we’d probably be okay with it. She’d be adhering to our cultural expectations of what a 25-year-old female singer should look like.

What so many people aren’t willing to admit is how petty and illogical many of the “authenticity” critiques of her really are. Or that the “identities” of other pop stars we culturally embrace are not carefully manufactured to maintain certain public perceptions of who they are.

Take Lady Gaga. One day, she’s Tisch alumn Stefani Germanotta playing open mic nights at piano bars on the Lower East Side. The next, she’s a global pop icon who can sell out three headlining shows at Madison Square Garden in just one hour.

Yet the fact that Gaga transformed herself into this expertly crafted piece of performance art when she released her debut record in 2008 never produced the charge that she wasn’t “being true to herself.” Instead, it got fans so interested in her that she’s selling millions of copies of her records and is the world’s most followed person on Twitter.

Lana Del Rey is no different. She is to Lizzy Grant what Lady Gaga is to Stefani Germanotta: a carefully crafted character who illustrates the side of her that she feels best represents the music she’s making. And there’s no arguing that the character of Lady Gaga is what put Stefani Germanotta on the map.

Then there’s Katy Perry. Before she was singing wretched songs about blacking out on Friday nights, she was gospel singer Katy Hudson. But when she wanted to rip off her wimple in favor of whipped cream shooting out of her chest, she started fresh by releasing her “debut” album under the pseudonym of Katy Perry. Now she’s a record-breaking pop sensation and international sex icon who couldn’t be more opposite from the wholesome pastor’s daughter character she was when she first entered the music scene. Yet of all the things that have been said and written about her, Perry has never been crucified (at least on a mainstream level) for her lack of authenticity.

So then why is Del Rey? If she had waited until she experienced Billboard success and then slapped “Sasha Fierce” to the title of her next album, would it have been okay for her to take on an alter ego? To be relevant in a continuously and rapidly evolving pop climate, you need to at least be open to the idea of revamping your image. Do you really think Madonna would be playing the halftime show at the Super Bowl in 2012 if she hadn’t reinvented her persona time and time again after her 1983 debut?

There’s a reason that artists like Christina Aguilera have entirely brand new looks with each new album they put out. It’s so that the focus of the conversation is on them. That doesn’t mean they’re not genuine. It means that they’re smart business people.

And that’s exactly what’s happening with Del Rey. Her first major album hasn’t even been released yet and she’s already been asked to be the musical guest on Saturday Night Live and has made countless headlines. She’s even got NBC news anchor Brian Williams sharing his opinion of her. How many people can make these claims? And despite the seemingly negative attention, Del Rey’s album sampler EP climbed to #2 on the iTunes charts (falling just under the adorably untouchable chart-hog Adele).

“It’s evident that the American public is now not only aware of this controversial new singer, but that they’re interested in learning more about who she is and what she sounds like,” wrote VH1 Managing Editor Mark Graham in a blog post following the SNL debacle. “In other words, mission accomplished for Team LDR.”

So if you want to dismiss Lana Del Rey, that’s obviously totally fine. Just realize that the criteria you should be judging her on is her music and her music alone. Her “authenticity” should play no role in how her songs are received. Sorry America, but as the genius South Park episode about Britney Spears pointed out, it’s not your job to dictate how pop stars should live their lives. Not to be that guy, but can we just for once collectively decide to let the music do the talking?

Born To Die is now available to pre-order from iTunes.

Originally published on PopBytes

And thank you to THE WEEK for linking to this article in this feature.

MADONNA SPILLS DETAILS ON NEW ALBUM AND SHARES OPINIONS ON LADY GAGA … AND HYDRANGEAS

by ALEX NAGORSKI

When it comes to successful pop music, 2011 has sparked a striking resemblance to an all-female commune – meaning there hasn’t been a male sighting in quite some time.

Since their live performances at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, sales have skyrocketed for artists like Beyoncé. After the show, her album, 4, had an 87% sales increase, making it the first time its numbers haven’t dropped since its initial release.

Following her heart wrenching performance, Adele’s latest single, “Someone Like You,” has just hit #1. Meanwhile, her album, 21, continues to cremate the sales of basically every other release this year, as it has done since it set up camp on top of the Billboard charts upon its debut in February.

But the VMAs aren’t the only thing that’s made ladies take over the industry. Even good ol’ Christina Aguilera recently got her first #1 single since 2001’s “Lady Marmalade.” Due to “Moves Like Jagger,” Aguilera now has a #1 single in each of the past three decades. I’ll give away a free copy of Bionic to anybody who saw that one coming.

With new singles just released by acts like Leona Lewis, JoJo and Kelly Clarkson (who today dropped the stunning cover art for her new album, Stronger) and upcoming albums by the likes of Demi Lovato and Rihanna, it looks as though the female reign of dominance won’t be letting up anytime soon.

But while all this girl power would make even the Spice Girls proud, there’s been a significant lack of the older women who defined the pop genre. The ones who paved the paths for all the little Selena Gomezes of the world. Namely: Madonna. Well folks, that’s all about to change.

As we prepare for the Holy Madge to descend upon us once more, I invite you to please join me as I usher in the parade to welcome a new era of pop music. Something I like to call, “meno-pop.”

Madonna is currently in the studio beginning work on her 12th studio album. While in Venice this past weekend promoting her directorial film debut, W.E., she spilled some details about the upcoming release (her first since leaving Warner Bros. Records and signing an exclusive, lavish contract with Live Nation).

In addition to confirming the rumors that she’ll be reuniting with Ray of Light and “Beautiful Stranger” producer, William Orbit, Madonna stated that the album’s lead single would be released in either February or March, followed by the full record later in the spring. Warning: the 2012 apocalypse may now come a few months early to regain the spotlight it lost upon this announcement.

So what other collaborators can we expect? Rumors have been circulating about involvement from French DJ extraordinaire David Guetta, although nothing has been officially confirmed. Yet. But one contemporary “it” act you most likely won’t be seeing on the album is Lady GaGa.

GaGa has always been an open Madonna fanatic. So much so that her biggest critics fuel on the allegations that she does nothing more than carbon copy Madonna’s early career. And despite appearing on SNL together, Madonna too seems less than flattered at GaGa’s standom. Or at the very least, confused by it.

“As for Lady GaGa, I have no comment to make about her obsessions having to do with me because I don’t know whether her behavior is rooted in something deep and meaningful or superficial,” Madonna allegedly told French newspaper Le Soir. Ouch.

In her own little passive aggressive bitch-quit-tryin-to-snatch-my-wig way, Madonna’s comments essentially just prove that GaGa is nothing but a hydrangea in her garden of followers. Some might be attracted to it and consider it a favorite, but Queen M? Oh no, she will not stand for it. Don’t know what I’m talking about? See for yourself with this (already viral) video from this past weekend.

But GaGa’s feelings shouldn’t be hurt for too long. Cher is reading the release of her next album with a lead single (rumored to hit airwaves this month) that is not only written by but also features GaGa. See Lady G? You can still get your slice of meno-pop pie.

When she returns to New York this fall, Madonna will be working on completing her as-of-yet untitled new album through the end of the year. While all other details about the record would be nothing more than speculation, one thing is certain: nobody knows what to expect.

Madonna’s sound has evolved dramatically with each album she’s put out. But no matter what this new album will end up sounding like, the time to start getting excited is now. After all, a new album usually a means a new tour, right?

And I hope for Adele’s sake, she has a nice little country home to retreat to full of fond memories and things that make her happy. Because once Madonna is back, there’ll be no room to share the throne.