Following one of her most controversial periods, which saw the release of the Sex coffee table book and Erotica, Madonna toned things down considerably in light of the backlash. This continued in the mid-90s in an effort to convince director Alan Parker to cast her in the starring role of Evita. After she landed the role along with a Golden Globe for her performance, she reinvented herself once again embracing her spiritual side. This led to one of her most unique and successful eras. Let’s take a look back at some of her most ambitious and dull videos of the era.
Around this time Madonna became interested in spiritualism and mysticism, which she used as a basis for this video. Sporting a gorgeous Gothic look, the singer is in the desert, gracefully moving her hands covered in mehndi, as she tries to reach her cold lover. Directed by Chris Cunningham, the clip features some great, eerie visuals, like Madonna falling and shattering into a flock of birds, splitting herself into three, and transforming into a dog. The whole thing is hypnotizing especially with the intricate movements of her hands and arms. It’s a departure from everything she’d done before and it gained the adoration of critics and fans alike. The imagery is visually stunning and so haunting it both fascinated and creeped me out the first time I saw it. Still a stellar video 21 years later.
“What It Feels Like For a Girl” (2001)
Directed by her then-husband Guy Ritchie, Madonna recreates Grand Theft Auto in real life. The action-packed video is nothing but the singer raising hell and wreaking havoc wherever she goes. It starts with her hotwiring a car and stealing an old woman from a nursing home. From there she drives recklessly, uses a stun gun to mug someone at an ATM, fucks with the cops by spraying water pistols at them, and ruins a street hockey game by driving into it. She then steals another car, runs over the owner, and goes out in a blaze of glory by crashing into a pole. The video caused a lot of controversy due to its violent nature. Many thought it was excessive and glorified violence. Some also called it shocking and disturbing. Madonna fought back saying it’s acting out a fantasy. Even though she’s acting badly and committing all sorts of crimes, it’s still a thrilling video that stands out for its cinematic quality.
“Nothing Really Matters” (1999)
Inspired by the 1997 novel Memoirs of a Geisha, this video features a lot of weird, surreal imagery. Wearing a red Kimono designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, Madonna twists and dances in a jerky manner as she sings the song which was inspired by her daughter. Apparently, she did her own choreography and it shows – it’s kind of awkward. But things get weird when Madonna and the other dancers twitch and shudder holding bags of water, which is supposed to represent materialism. The way some of the dancers begin floating, scream, and rolling their eyes in the back of their head is freaky. It’s one of those videos that tries way too hard to have deep symbolism. The whole thing is confusing, but I still enjoy it for its creepy imagery.
“Don’t Tell Me” (2000)
Only Madonna can make country Western attire look so cool. Madonna appears to be walking through a Western setting, but the camera pans back to show her walking on a conveyor belt in front of a green screen. Madonna and her dancers do a bit of line dancing but give it a modern update with lots of gyrating hips. There’s also a lot of sand they keep throwing around, which they probably weren’t happy about later. The clip ends with a shot of a cowboy riding a Skewbald horse who gets tossed off and gets up again. It’s not a flashy video, but the cool choreography and Madonna’s S&M take on cowboy attire make give it a stylish flair. It’s a cool looking video that launched people all over to buy cowboy hats and tighter fitting flannel shirts. Hell, even I had one. It seems Bret Michaels didn’t get the memos that the hat trend is over.
“Beautiful Stranger” (1999)
Typically, I think videos for songs featured in movies are boring. It’s usually nothing but a bland performance clip mixed with footage from the film. Luckily, “Beautiful Stranger” goes beyond that. Instead of shoving movie clips in your face, it creates a fun, silly scenario in the Austin Powers universe. Here, Madonna plays a “master of disguise” who is responsible for seducing and taking out spies. In steps Austin Powers who is sure he can handle the situation. Of course, he falls for Madonna’s whims and fantasizes the two of them being naughty in his car. With a flirtatious Madonna and a hilarious Michael Meyers, the video is sexy and funny proving that there was a time when Austin Powers wasn’t stale and clichéd.
“Drowned World/Substitute for Love” (1998)
We all know how vicious and disgusting the paparazzi can be thanks to shows like TMZ, but since that wasn’t around in the late 90s, Madonna shows us how awful they can be. The singer is followed by the pap and rabid fans as she leaves her home and arrives at a theater. Just when she thinks she can find some solace, someone snaps her picture. Things get worse when she arrives at a party. The faces of those around her begin to distort and wrap causing her to run away only to be met with more resistance. She finally reaches home where her daughter is waiting for her comforting embrace. Madonna gives the camera one last hard look and sings “This is my religion” while holding her daughter. Though you wouldn’t think it, the video got some flak for the scenes where she’s running from the pap on bikes, which many compared to Princess Diana’s death the year before. It was later revealed the video had nothing to do with her death. Despite this, it’s still one of her underrated videos that shows us the downsides of being a celebrity.
“Die Another Day” (2002)
With every new Bond film comes a new theme song and Madonna got that honor in 2002. While the song is subpar, the video is thrilling. It opens with her being tortured, beaten up, and nearly executed by a group of villains. The rest of the video is a grueling battle with herself. The best part comes when the two Madonna’s duke it out in a room filled with references to the other Bond films: a mannequin painted gold, the bond cat, and a replica of a bond babe. There’s even a guy sporting the same grill as Jaws. It remains the second most expensive video ever made with Michael Jackson holding on to the top spot. While I don’t think it’s her best of the era, it’s still exciting and has some fun easter eggs for James Bond fans.
“Ray of Light” (1998)
“Ray of Light” marked another huge moment for the Queen of Reinvention. The video is primarily made of footage of the singer gyrating on screen and people going about their daily lives in a blur of motion. It ends with her dancing away the night in a club looking liberated and loving life. The clip stands out for its use of time-lapse technology, which gives it a dizzying feeling. It may not be her best video, but it’s one of her most creative and it didn’t go unrecognized. That year it took home five VMAs including Video of the Year.
“The Power of Good-Bye” (1998)
Directed by Matthew Rolston, this gorgeously shot video shows Madonna in the midst of an emotional breakup. Aside from footage of her singing, we see her and her lover, played by Croatian actor Goran Visnjic playing a game of chess. She destroys the chess board and ultimately leaves despite his attempts to make her stay. The final scene shows her sitting on the beach. Though it’s not one of her stronger videos, it looks beautiful and has a dramatic story. Still, I had to laugh at the cheesy smoldering looks to the camera and the cliched symbolism. It feels too phony at times, but it’s not bad.
I was never a fan of this video. Everything about the video is gaudy from Madonna’s look to Ali G’s lame attempt at comedy. Madonna and friends hang out in the back of a limo, driven by a virtually unknown Ali G, as they party and visit strip clubs. In the middle of the action, a cartoon segment appears where she turns into a superhero and begins fighting bad guys. Everything about this video feels sleazy from the cheesy outfits to Madonna’s greasy look. It’s supposed to show off her rebellious, devil may care, but everything is so unappealing instead. The most interesting thing about the video is how the singer was pregnant with her second child.
“Another Suitcase in Another Hall” (1996)
This is the performance footage taken from Evita and it features Madonna with a dark hairdo getting kicked out of her home and drowning her sorrows in a bar figuring out her next move. She also has a mini duet with Antonio Banderas, who plays the bartender. Later on, it seems like she does to find a job only to be rejected. She leaves, holding her head high, and tries to find another home. Out of all the videos released for the movie, this is the least mind-numbing. It has an interesting plot, but is still pretty dull, unless you like the movie.
“Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” (1996)
Madonna originally recorded this song for her 1984 album Like a Virgin. Since it’s one of her favorite ballads, she later remixed and re-recorded the song for her Something to Remember compilation. Madonna sings the song in an elegant empty room. As the camera slowly zooms in on her, her performance gets more emotional as she twists and turns. It’s gorgeously shot, and Madonna looks beautiful, but it’s so bland. I can appreciate how it looks, but it’s not very entertaining.
“You Must Love Me” (1996)
If you thought most of Madonna’s videos from the mid-90s were very simple, tame, and dull, they’re nothing compared to the ones made to promote Evita. To win the role of Eva Peron, Madonna reinvented herself in a more modest, elegant image. Continuing to push this image, Madonna sings passionately next to a piano with clips from the movie are mixed in. It’s another beautiful looking video, but unless you enjoyed the film, it’s quite boring. It’s a typical music video made to promote a movie. There’s nothing exciting about this clip.
“Don’t Cry For Me” (1996)
Here’s yet another video from Evita. Madonna sings as Eva Peron from a hotel window to the people of Argentina waiting for her below. While her vocal performance is impressive, the video is not unless you’re a fan of the musical, which I’m not. I was never interested in this film and I find all the videos made to promote it tediously boring. Not to mention, I don’t care for Madonna’s acting though critics were even impressed with her Evita performance. Unfortunately, her successful acting streak wouldn’t last long as her next starring role proved.
“American Pie” (2000)
This boring is as dull and vapid as Madonna’s cover. It’s mostly her singing and dancing in front of an American flag while wearing a tiara. The rest of the video features a diverse group of people in front of the flag including farmers, kids, firefighters, bodybuilders, and gay couples. The most entertaining bit is when an old woman in a leotard begins wrestling with another woman. Otherwise, the video is just boring. It’s well-meaning with its message of we’re all Americans, but it’s cliché and dull. Not to mention the cover itself is bland. It’s almost as bad as Sherly Crow’s cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” There’s another version of the video that features different cuts and a lesbian kiss. This is yet another video made to promote a film, The Next Best Thing starring Madonna and Rupert Everett, who is also in the video.
There are more Madonna videos to look at, so stay tuned for the next part of Rank the Videos: Madonna. And make sure to check out part one and two if you missed them. Let me know which one of these are your favorite or least favorite in the comments.