Today in Madonna History: October 7, 2000

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On October 7 2000, Madonna’s MUSIC album debuted at #1 in the USA with sales of 420,000 copies.

Dimitri Ehrlich from Vibe described the album as “a masterpiece of brilliantly arranged keyboards, futuristic drums, and electronica dressings. With folky acoustic guitars and a vaguely spiritual bend to her lyrics (like those on Ray of Light), it’s a weird and fresh-sounding album.”

Today in Madonna History: September 22, 1998

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On September 22 1998, The Power of Good-Bye was released as the third North American single from the Ray Of Light album. It was the fourth single in international markets that opted to release Drowned World/Substitute For Love as the album’s third single.

In the UK, the release was promoted as a double A-side single with Little Star.

The Power Of Good-Bye was written by Madonna & Rick Nowels and was produced by Madonna, William Orbit & Patrick Leonard. An earlier demo version of the track, believed to have been produced by Madonna & Leonard prior to Orbit’s involvement in the project, leaked in 2002.

Today in Madonna History: September 18, 2019

On September 18 2019, the New York Times published a review (Jon Pareles) of Madonna’s opening Madame X Tour show held the night before at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn:

Madonna Is Still Taking Chances

Her Madame X show reimagines pop spectacle for a theater stage, merging her newest music and calls for political awareness with striking intimacy.

“I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to be free,” Madonna declared to a packed, adoring audience on Tuesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. It was the premiere of her Madame X Tour, named after the album she released in June that she has said was influenced by the music in Lisbon, her adopted home. The show follows her decades of arena spectacles by scaling the same kind of razzle-dazzle — dancers! costumes! video! choir! — for a theater stage.

Unlike jukebox musicals or “Springsteen on Broadway,” Madame X is a concert focusing on new songs and the present moment. In other words, Madonna is still taking chances. She will reach arena-size attendance in only a handful of venues on the eight-city tour, but with much longer engagements; the Gilman Opera House holds 2,098, and she booked 17 shows there, through Oct. 12. Onstage, “selling” a selfie Polaroid to an audience member who happened to be Rosie O’Donnell, she claimed, “I’m not making a dime on this show.”

Concertgoers arrived to what was billed as a phone-free experience. Cellphones and smart watches were locked into bags at the door, though quickly unlocked afterward. It helped prevent online spoilers; it certainly removed the distractions of waving screens. (No photography was permitted, including press.)

As both album and show, Madame X is Madonna’s latest declaration of a defiant, self-assured, flexible identity that’s entirely comfortable with dualities: attentive parent and sexual adventurer, lapsed Catholic and spiritual seeker, party girl and political voice, self-described “icon” and self-described “soccer mom,” an American and — more than ever — a world traveler.

Yes, she is 61, but her music remains determinedly contemporary, with the drum-machine sounds of trap, collaborations with hip-hop vocalists (Quavo and Swae Lee, shown on video) and the bilingual, reggaeton-flavored Latin pop sometimes called urbano (with the Colombian singer Maluma, also shown on video). The concert, with most of its music drawn from the Madame X album, was packed with pronouncements, symbols and enigmatic vignettes to frame the songs. Madonna often wore an eye patch with an X on it, no doubt a challenge to her depth perception as a dancer.

By the time Madonna had completed just the first two songs, she had already presented an epigraph from James Baldwin — “Artists are here to disturb the peace” — that was knocked out onstage by one of the concert’s recurring figures, a woman (sometimes Madonna herself) at a typewriter.

Gunshots introduced God Control, which moves from bitter mourning about gun deaths to happy memories of string-laden 1970s disco, while Madonna and dancers appeared in glittery versions of Revolutionary War finery, complete with feathered tricorn hats, only to be confronted by police with riot shields. Dark Ballet had Joan of Arc references, a montage of gothic cathedrals and scary priests, a synthesizer excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and Madonna grappling with masked dancers, until cops pulled her off the piano she had been perched on. The signifiers were already piling up.

And there were more. Film-noir detectives pursued and interrogated Madonna in another disco-tinged song, I Don’t Search I Find; Crave, which warns, “My cravings get dangerous,” flaunted a full-sized disco ball. A pair of robotic but sinuous dancers, with red lights for eyes, flanked Madonna as she sat at a piano for the ominous Future, while the video screen filled with images of urban and environmental destruction. She surrounded herself with a choir of brightly robed women and geometric Arabic designs in Come Alive, which used the metal castanets and triplet rhythm of Moroccan gnawa music to back her as, once again, Madonna’s lyrics rejected unwanted opinions and restrictions.

The songs Madonna chose from her past were mostly exhortations and pushbacks, sometimes coupled with direct political statements. She sang part of Papa Don’t Preach, reversing its decision to “keep my baby,” then spoke directly about supporting abortion rights. Dancing while surrounded by video imagery of pointing fingers, she revived Human Nature, which already testified — a full 25 years ago — to Madonna’s tenacity and determination to express herself uncensored. When it ended, her daughters Mercy James, Estere and Stella were onstage, and the singers and a full-throated audience shared an a cappella Express Yourself.

The concert’s unquestioned showstopper was Frozen, a somber ballad from the 1998 album Ray Of Light that offers healing: “If I could melt your heart, we’d never be apart.” Madonna appeared as a tiny figure onstage, surrounded by giant video projections of a dancer moving from a self-protective clutch to a tentative, then joyful unfurling and back. It was her oldest daughter, Lourdes, affirming the family connection in movement.

Since 2017 Madonna has lived in Lisbon, where her son David plays soccer, and she spoke about savoring the city’s music: the Portuguese tradition of fado and music from Portugal’s former empire, particularly from the Cape Verde Islands near Senegal. One of the show’s most elaborate backdrops simulated a club in Lisbon.

But appreciation doesn’t equal mastery. Madonna was backed by the Portuguese guitarra player Gaspar Varela, the grandson of the fado singer Celeste Rodrigues, in an earnest, awkward fado-rooted song, Killers Who Are Partying from the Madame X album; she also performed a Cape Verdean classic, Sodade, made famous by Cesária Évora.

Reminding the audience that she had sung in Cape Verdean Creole and other languages, Madonna boasted, “This is a girl who gets around. This is a girl who does her homework.” But in the songs themselves, she only sounded like a well-meaning tourist.

Madonna was more suited to the harder beat of Batuka a song based on the matriarchal, call-and-response Cape Verdean tradition of batuque. Backed by more than a dozen batuque drummers and singers — Orquestra Batukadeiras — and doing some hip-shimmying batuque moves, Madonna conveyed the delight of her discovery, even as the hand-played beat gave way to electronic percussion.

Forty-one musicians, dancers and singers appeared throughout the two-hour-plus show, which came with the same wardrobe changes as any of Madonna’s large-scale extravaganzas (one, before Vogue, was executed before the audience, shielded by a dressing table). The singer wasn’t onstage for one of the most powerful dance moments, a break between acts when a row of performers convulsed gracefully at the lip of the stage to irregular breaths, set to a recording of Madonna intoning lyrics from Rescue Me.

Madonna spoke to and with the audience repeatedly, taking advantage of the intimacy of the room to tell bawdy jokes, apologize for starting the show late and sip a fan’s beer. But in songs and stage patter, she sometimes conflated self-realization and self-absorption with social progress. Contrasting freedom and slavery after Come Alive, she announced that slavery “begins with ourselves,” forgetting that the slave trade was not the same as being “slaves to our phones.”

Yet with Madonna, the spirit is more about sounds and images than literalism. I Rise, which ends both the album and the concert, samples a speech by Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. then goes on to some clumsy lyrics. But in a small theater, with a gospelly beat, raised fists, images of protests worldwide, a rainbow flag, and Madonna and her troupe parading up the aisle — close enough for fans to touch — there was no denying the conviction.

Set List: 

  • God Control
  • Dark Ballet
  • Human Nature
  • Express Yourself
  • Madame X Manifesto (video interlude)
  • Vogue
  • I Don’t Search I Find
  • Papa Don’t Preach / American Life
  • Coffin (video interlude)
  • Batuka
  • Fado Pechincha (with Gasper Varela)
  • Killers Who Are Partying
  • Crazy
  • Welcome to My Fado Club / La Isla Bonita
  • Sodade
  • Medellín
  • Extreme Occident
  • Rescue Me” (video interlude)
  • Frozen
  • Come Alive
  • Future
  • Crave
  • Like a Prayer
  • I Rise

Today in Madonna History: June 30, 1997

On June 30 1997, Madonna began recording sessions for what would become her Ray Of Light album at Larrabee North Recording Studios, Universal City, Los Angeles.

Madonna had already spent several months writing songs and producing demos with Patrick Leonard, Rick Nowels and Babyface (although none of the Babyface material would make the final cut) by the time she entered the studio with co-producers William Orbit and Marius De Vries. Leonard would return to the project to assist with arrangements, earning him a co-producer’s credit on four of the album’s tracks. Madonna would add lyrics and melody to at least a half-dozen previously composed Orbit demos during these sessions as well, with six of their songs making the final cut.

One song that came very close to being included on the album, Has To Be, was dropped due to Madonna’s desire to limit the number of songs on the album to lucky number thirteen. In a final toss-up between Has To Be and To Have And Not To Hold, the former was nixed in favor of the latter. Has To Be would fortunately make it to the ears of fans, however, due to its inclusion as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the Ray Of Light album, and as the international b-side to the Ray Of Light single.

Has To Be was born as a collaboration between Madonna and Patrick Leonard. Recently surfaced demos from their writing session include two early versions of the song – the first is a piano-based arrangement in a similar style to the previous Madonna/Leonard collaboration, Something To Remember, while the second demo is an experimental synth-based reworking.

After entering the studio with William Orbit, Madonna adapted Has To Be to one of Orbit’s previously composed electronic soundscapes. Although the original Orbit instrumental piece with celestial voices has never been commercially released, it had previously aired on Orbit’s weekly radio series, Stereo Odyssey, on California’s KCRW prior to his involvement with Madonna. A sound file of the original instrumental that has circulated among fans is a recording from one of these broadcasts.

Although the released version of Has To Be is substantially different from the early Leonard demos, enough elements from its original melody lines (which were based on Leonard’s piano phrases) were carried over to warrant a three-way publishing split between Madonna/Orbit/Leonard for its official release.

Despite its relative obscurity, in fan circles Has To Be often ranks among her most beloved ballads.

Today in Madonna History: June 29, 1998

Ray of Light Canadian CD Single cover insert back Ray of Light Canadian CD Single tray insertRay of Light Canadian CD Single disc

On June 29 1998, Madonna’s Ray of Light single peaked at #3 on RPM’s Top 100 Canadian Singles chart.

As with all the Canadian singles from the Ray of Light album, the title track was issued by Warner Music Canada as a 2-track CD single and as a CD maxi-single. In the U.S., the album’s CD singles were issued in cardboard sleeves with “draw pack” trays and the CD maxi-singles in “FLP digipak” cases, while in Canada the two configurations for each of the album’s four domestic singles were packaged in standard CD jewel cases with printed inserts.

Today in Madonna History: May 18, 2005

On May 18 2005, Madonna issued a statement in support of fellow pop singer Kylie Minogue, wishing her a quick recovery from her battle with breast cancer:

“I was saddened to learn about Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer diagnosis. I’m so grateful that they found it early. (Yet another reminder for all women to have annual mammograms.) Aside from being tremendously talented, Kylie’s a fighter and I know this is a battle she will win. Let’s all pray for her speedy recovery and send all of our best wishes her way. With love and light to you Kylie…Madonna.”

Following her surgery and recovery, Kylie’s 2006 return to the stage was captured in the behind-the-scenes documentary, White Diamond. The film included Kylie’s version of an unreleased Madonna/Rick Nowels collaboration from the Ray Of Light sessions, titled Alone Again. Kylie had recorded the track as a potential b-side to her 2002 single, Come Into My World, but for unknown reasons it remained shelved until its use in the documentary several years later. Madonna received special thanks from Kylie in the film’s closing credits.

Today In Madonna History: March 27, 1999

During the week of March 27 1999, Madonna’s The Power Of Good-Bye spent a final week on Billboard’s Hot Adult Contemporary chart in the USA.

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