Today in Madonna History: June 23, 1998

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On June 23 1998, the music video for Ray of Light was released by Warner Reprise Video as a limited edition video single of 40,000 VHS copies. It sold 7,381 copies within its first month of release, becoming one of the best-selling video singles of the Nielsen SoundScan era. Madonna’s previous video single release, Justify My Love, which predated SoundScan, was certified quadruple-Platinum by the RIAA (for shipment of over 200,000 copies).

The reason behind Ray of Light being issued as a video single were twofold. Madonna was very pleased with the outcome of her first collaboration with director Jonas Åkerlund and her record company felt that there would be enough interest to warrant its commercial release. Secondly, Warner’s marketing team correctly sensed that the song’s then-experimental sound would be a tough sell at radio, so the decision was made to pull out all the stops to ensure the release outperformed on the sales chart. Another prong in this strategy was the inclusion of album outtake Has To Be as the b-side to the two-track single, while excluding it from the maxi-single in an attempt to persuade fans to purchase the single in multiple formats. The strategy proved successful, with the song’s number-five debut and peak on the Billboard Hot 100 mainly due to its sales strength. According to Billboard, the music video single boosted its first-week sales by roughly 7%, helping it to secure its place in the top-five.

Shortly after Ray of Light‘s release as a video single, Billboard magazine published an article musing on whether renewed interest in the relatively obscure format could ever prove lucrative for the music industry. A video buyer for a major retail chained remarked:

“Madonna’s Ray of Light video single is a success because she has a fervent fan base. There are very few artists with videos that consistently get people’s attention, but Madonna is one of those artists. It’s too early to tell if there’s a true market for video singles. Right now, it seems like record companies are trying video singles to see what happens. I think we’re going to see the lines becoming more blurred in how audio and video singles are marketed.”

Indeed. Within the next five years (and two Madonna video singles later), the emergence of online file sharing would obliterate the physical singles market in North America, and video streaming sites would soon spell an end to the prospect of marketing music video singles as a physical format. In digital form, however, music video singles may be selling in larger numbers than ever due to increased availability through iTunes. Strangely, however, sales of music videos through iTunes are not reported to Billboard and no longer count towards a single’s chart position (reportedly due to iTunes’ monopoly on digital sales of the format), while streams of music videos through sites like YouTube and Vevo are used in Billboard’s chart methodology.

Today in Madonna History: May 27, 2015

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On May 27 2015, Forbes magazine announced that Madonna topped the annual list of top-earning musicians and also claimed the No. 28 spot on their list of America’s richest self-made women.

Here’s what Forbes had to say:

The wealthiest musician on the list, Madonna has an estimated net worth of $520 million, with her main source being from music, clothing, and real estate  One of the top pop divas of all time. Her tours have grossed an estimated $1.2 billion over the years, including $305 million from her 2012 MDNA tour. That helped her earn an estimated $125 million during the ensuing 12-month period during which Forbes calculated celebrity earnings, more than any other musician. Look for another bump when she goes on the road with her latest album, Rebel Heart, in August.

Today in Madonna History: May 15, 2015

On May 15 2015, Madonna introduced her pink hair tips from the set of the Bitch I’m Madonna music video.

Madonna’s message to her fans on Instagram:

“Rise and shine New York!”

Today in Madonna History: May 8, 2015

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On May 8 2015, Madonna replied by saying “um, thanks” to Marilyn Manson’s tweet that he’d like to fornicate with her:

I’m kind of interested in this Madonna record.  She looks hotter than ever.  I’d also like to let it be known that I still have a crush on Madonna and I would definitely fornicate with her.

Today in Madonna History: April 14, 2015

On April 14 2015, USA Today published an article to clear up the controversy swirling around the Drake/Madonna kiss that took place at Coachella:

We all know the story at this point: Madonna showed up at Drake’s headlining performance at Coachella Sunday to perform a few songs, Drake ended up in a chair, and the rest is history.

Drake shared his thoughts on Instagram, claiming that he was totally into the kiss and that we’re all “[misinterpreting] his shock.”

Today in Madonna History: April 8, 2015

On April 8 2015, Madonna’s Ghosttown music video premiered on VEVO. The music video was filmed in Los Angeles, directed by Jonas Åkerlund and co-starred Terrence Howard.

Today in Madonna History: March 27, 2015

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On March 27 2015, Madonna graced the cover of New York gay magazine Next.  The magazine included a four-page spread with an interview to the Queen of Queens by John Russell.

Here’s a snippet of the interview between Russell and Madonna:

I counted at least 13 different producers in the album’s liner notes, but it was never Madonna’s intention to work with so many different people on the album. The same health concerns that forced Avicii to cancel his tour in September also threw a wrench into his work on Rebel Heart. Madonna was forced to find other producers to work with on many of the songs they’d started writing together. Meanwhile, Diplo’s touring schedule and other projects meant that his time was limited as well.

“I ended up working with a lot of DJs—young DJs—and I naively didn’t think it through. Oh, it’s summertime, it’s the festivals, and they’re on tour, and I’ll be lucky if I get them for three days, so a lot of that had to factor in. OK, I can’t wait for three months for this dude to come back. I have to find somebody else.”

Of course, art never gets made in a vacuum, something Madonna knows and accepts. “I had to bend my knees and ride the waves.”

The result is an album that, at first, seems all over the map. But it’s tough to judge an album by an artist like Madonna after just one listen. Even if you’re only familiar with her hits, those past gems loom large in comparison to the new material. You’re listening for her next step and at the same time hoping she’ll retain whatever lighting in a bottle quality her early hits had. On first listen, Rebel Heart has its moments, sure. But it’s not until a week after hearing the full album, when I find myself humming Unapologetic Bitch and Ghosttown on the subway, that it really feels like the album clicks into place. Will anyone but diehard Madonna fans—and that’s not an insignificant demographic within her fanbase—listen to the whole album, start to finish, more than once or twice? Probably not. But I’m not sure that matters. Every pop album has to include some forgettable filler tracks—although with the way we consume music these days a la carte, who knows how much longer that model will last. But even at a whopping 19 tracks—23, plus two Living for Love remixes on the Super Deluxe edition—there’s not much fat to trim on Rebel Heart. As a whole, it’s probably Madonna’s most listenable since Confessions on a Dance Floor.

“I didn’t set out to write certain kinds of songs. I just set out to write good songs,” she says. There are dark turns on the album, also a bit of soul searching. And the ballads are particularly strong. Apparently, Madonna set out to write songs that, stripped of all their production, could also work on an acoustic level.

“When we run out of oil and we don’t have electricity, I can just light a candle and strum my guitar and sing you a song.”

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