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Watch Madonna Absurdly Cover Elliott Smith’s ‘Between the Bars’

Madonna, Elliott Smith, "Between the Bars," secretprojectrevolution, cover, video, performance art

Madonna’s catalog of hits is ironclad, but a recent performance found the pop empress wearing decidedly fewer clothes. Figuratively speaking, at least. As points out, the Material Girl covered Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars” at a launch party for her secretprojectrevolution short film. Billed as a performance art piece targeting the prison-industrial complex, the September 24 rendition at New York’s Gagosian Gallery is something of a trainwreck.

Okay, sure, Madonna is still in fine voice here, theatrical touches recalling her Evita work as she sings sans Auto-Tune, backed by piano. But gonna go out on a limb here: The MDNA heroine’s connection with Smith’s downcast lament is not a deep one. Leave aside the performance-art conceit, which finds her doing the whole song on her knees as a masked figure dances around her. She barely seems to know the lyrics: “I’ll make them away,” she intones at one point, nonsensically.

The idea of “people … that you don’t want around anymore” being kept “still” can certainly be applied to corporate prison operators, but it requires ignoring the rest of the song, the palpable, confessional quality of which remains a major part of its allure. (And which in its own quiet way remains more revolutionary than yet another super-rich celebrity ponderously spouting radical-chic slogans.)

As for secretprojectrevolution, watch the 17-minute agit-pop short film below, or download it free via BitTorrent — even though Madonna says in the video that the revolution will not be downloadable. “You better be prepared to die for what you believe in,” she also proclaims, among other things. Block that metaphor: “We’re all in this ship together, sailing like a burning spear across the sea, burn baby burn.” ¡Viva la Revolución! Viva La Vida! “Livin’ La Vida Loca.”

We’ve come a long way from “Miss Misery” at the Oscars.