Synopsis: 2 DVD collection features 47 videos, including unedited and never before seen footage of ‘Justify My Love’ along with 18 Madonna videos to be released on a 2 disc DVD compilation for the very first time including ‘Into The Groove’ and ‘Give It 2 Me’ as well as the just completed video of Madonna’s new single ‘Celebration.’
eyelights: Bedtime Story. Die Another Day. Get Together. Human Nature. Secret.
eyesores: Jump. Hollywood. Miles Away. Music. Ray of Light. What it Feels Like for a Girl
“Express yourself, don’t repress yourself.”
I grew up on Madonna. Under normal circumstances, I’d likely have to say “on Madonna’s music”, but, being an ’80s child, it went far beyond that: Madonna was an experience. She was everywhere, affecting North American culture in ways rarely seen before.
She was nearly omnipresent: Her music played everywhere. Her image was emblazoned on everything. Her videos played in heavy rotation on most TV screens. Her tours were events. Her boundary-pushing created long-lasting ripples in our daily lives.
It wasn’t just about the radio hits, of which she had many: unlike any other celebrity from that era, she had a tremendous impact on the way we viewed the world – and ourselves. She questioned the status quo and reframed our perspectives on many subjects.
She became entrenched in our societal make-up.
But, by the early ’90s, immediately after her greatest victories yet, she seemed to go astray a little bit; when you’ve reached the top, there no other peaks to set your sights on and it’s easy to lose your focus. Her behaviour became erratic and her output was mixed.
Like many, I briefly lost interest in Madonna.
For a few years, the Queen of Pop seemed to be destined for decline if not for the dustbin: ‘Erotica’ had yielded a couple of popular singles, but they paled in comparison to previous efforts, and ‘Bedtime Stories’ found her scattered in a desperate quest for relevance.
Then came ‘Ray of Light’, without a doubt her greatest effort aside for ‘Like a Prayer’. I was back in the fold right at the onset, with “Frozen”. It was a near marvel of a comeback, a complete rejuvenation of Madonna’s image and sound. She was stronger than ever!
As had become habitual, every other album bore mixed fruit. I liked large chunks of ‘Music’, but found ‘American Life‘ boring. ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor‘ was even greater than ‘Ray of Light’ and is her unsung masterpiece. Then ‘Hard Candy’ fell a bit flat.
And so forth and so on.
But, beyond the music, are the videos. if there’s anything that Madonna did well was to not just to reinvent herself musically, but also visually; her calling card has been her chameleonic nature, changing not just from album to album, but often from single to single.
This transfers to her videos, which, over time, became more elaborate and/or creative.
In 2009, in tandem with her 25 years in the business, Warner Bros. released a nearly-comprehensive collection of Madonna’s videos. Called ‘Celebration‘, it features 47 of her videos, selected by her and her fans – a large number of them making their debut on home video.
Many of these videos I had never seen before watching this DVD: by the mid-’90s, I no longer watched television – and certainly didn’t have access to music video channels. I had seen snippets of some of them (Madonna still played everywhere, after all), but that was it.
It was 110 minutes of pure delight.
(nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video.)
1. Secret: “Secret” was the lead single to Madonna’s 1994 album ‘Bedtime Stories’. The last couple of years had been turbulent to say the least and she came back with a more mainstream sound and approach, enlisting current R&B producers. I was never a big fan of the song, as it’s too mild for my taste (I always thought it was a B-list track, not a single – let alone a leading single), but I really loved it accompanied by the video.
Shot in black and white, it finds Madonna sitting on the edge of a stage in a cabaret, singing to a backing band. She’s a bit trashy-looking but pretty. There are tons of interwoven inserts of non-white males on New York City streets, men playing pool in a bar, a drag queen, a woman kissing a man, and women together. The rest of the video finds her lying on the floor in a white nighty, caressing herself while being sprayed with holy water, and walking down the street. It’s a lovely, intimate, classy video. 7.75/8.0
2. Take a Bow: After “Secret”, Madonna finally got a huge hit with “Take a Bow”, which is a beautiful ballad. It’s probably the strongest track on the album – even though it’s hardly her best material. Personally, I love the song all on its own. But I’m not sure that it fits the video.
The video begins with sepia-toned shots of a Mexican/Spanish setting, filled with bullfighters and various people. Madonna’s in a near-empty apartment, watching her intended prepare for his bullfight on TV. There are some hot shots of her in her underwear, cavorting on the bed in front of the TV. She’s also shown driving out to the stadium to watch him in action. But, later shots of her, dishevelled, with smeared lipstick, crouching in a corner, suggests that he beat her. Hmmm. Not sure. It’s a good video despite its confusing message. 7.75/7.75
3. Bedtime Story: This is another of those songs that just didn’t work. Madonna was experimenting during this period, seemingly trying to find her way, and this is a breathy, spacey number that doesn’t go anywhere. It’s decent, don’t get me wrong, but she’s not in her element here; another artist would have benefited from this song more. Let’s call this her “Björk” song, as it sounds vaguely like “Violently Happy”.
The video is bookended with awkward shots of Madonna waking up in a futuristic room, surrounded by screens. Is she a robot? A clone? Who knows. The rest consists of trippy visuals: her blonde, dishevelled “The Little Prince” hairdo, Buddhist imagery, Sufi whirling, CGI effects, …etc. She even releases doves from her belly at one point. I mean, it works with the song, which is about metaphysical experiences, but it’s out there for Madge. Still, the song works better accompanied by the video. 7.5/7.75
4. Human Nature: This was the fourth and final single from ‘Bedtime Stories’. It’s an R&B number with super-heavy bass that sounds like Madonna’s response to all the criticism she’d received in recent years. I love the message of the song, but the music is rudimentary and the lyrics are mundane, even copping from “Express Yourself”. Like its predecessor, “Bedtime Story”, it didn’t crack the Top 40.
The video is equally simplistic. It finds Madonna dressed in a tight vinyl outfit, sporting black cornrows. In some parts, she’s in a white space, sitting on a chair, surrounded by dancers, doing slow, choreographed moves, sometimes against a mirror. There are inserts of her and/or the dancers in white boxes, a little like Björk’s “Violently Happy” video. There’s a lot of bondage imagery (ex: being tied to a chair, teasing woman in a spreader bar). Simplistic though it may be, the video’s more enjoyable than the song. 6.75/7.75
5. I Want You: This one’s a cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 hit single. Interestingly, it wasn’t intended to be a Madonna track, let alone a single: it was originally supposed to feature Chaka Khan on vocals, but that didn’t work out and Massive Attack were recommended Madonna. The song was destined to be on a Marvin Gaye cover album, but it ended up as the lead single to her ballads compilation, ‘Something to Remember’. Sadly, this version is dull as !@#$, ruining the collection.
The black and white video finds Madonna alone in an apartment. It consists of her pining sadly by the phone, as she awaits a call. She wanders about the room, sings against the door frame and, when the phone finally rings, picks it up, reconsiders and hangs up. She looks relieved by her gesture but, the rest of the time, a feeling of loneliness and desperation burdens the video. It’s not bad, but I can’t say that this was compelling in any way. 4.5/6.5
6. You’ll See: The second of two new tracks for ‘Something to Remember’, it’s an empowerment ballad backed by a driving bass line and Spanish guitars. It’s a decent song, though not her best, with an excellent chorus; it fits in the collection well. What’s surprising is that it was the second single, not the first, as it’s much stronger stuff than “I Want You”.
The video finds her sitting on a park bench in Autumn; orange leaves blow off the ground, float everywhere. It’s a direct sequel to her video for “Take a Bow”; it finds her thinking of the bullfighter. She’s on a train singing to him through the window while he’s being driven on a road next to her. She’s alone in the train cart. He’s alone in stadium, drawing his sword. Then he’s wandering the streets, regretful. Though she’s sad, she’s committed to leaving him behind. It ends with her leaving on a plane, while he stands on the beach, watching her fly away. It’s a beautiful video, and it’s a good companion to the song. 7.0/7.75
7. Frozen: When I first heard this song on the radio, I couldn’t believe my ears. It was like, “This is Madonna?!”. I totally freaked. The song was gorgeous, catchy and modern. And she sang more beautifully than ever on it. I was in love with Madonna again. I wasn’t alone: the lead single to her forthcoming album, ‘Ray of Light’ was a massive hit around the globe. It remains one of my all-time favourite tracks of hers: it’s sumptuous, elegant and exotic. And a surprising first single.
The video, however, is a mixed bag: set in a blue-green, deserted landscape, Madonna is floating above the ground, singing, in a black robe and sporting a super long black coiffe. She falls and breaks into murder of crap CGI crows and then multiple versions of her are poorly CGI-ed into picture. There’s a black dog running, and she floats in the night sky, dances in the dark while doing Indian hand gestures. Based on the movement of her robe and cape, some of it must have been shot in reverse. There’s some very cool stuff in here, despite the CGI nonsense. 8.5/7.75
8. Ray of Light: The title track to Madonna’s comeback album is a superb mixture of electronica, pop and groove. Add a guitar strings hook and it’s pretty infectious. This was just such an amazing follow-up to “Frozen”, which had already shattered expectations. With this one, Madonna was in uncharted waters – she had never put out a song like this before. She’d reinvented herself.
The video, unfortunately, is a bit bland: It essentially follows the activities of regular folks from morning to night, starting with the sun rising in fast-forward over the city and ending on a dance floor. Everything is hyper fast. Meanwhile, Madonna is superimposed at regular speed, ghost-like, dancing. There are also shots of her dancing in front of the sky, sometimes moving in jerks sometimes hyper-fast. It’s a bit odd. Interestingly, she’s dressed in a simple jean jacket and pants, no shirt, sporting long blonde, curly hair. There’s no glamour here, but it worked for her. 8.0/5.0
9. The Power of Goodbye: This was the fourth single from ‘Ray of Light’ and, though an excellent song, it’s a bit middle-of-the-road on such a strong album. The highlights aren’t the vocals or melodies but the arrangements and production (of course, one could argue the same for much of the album), with lush “strings” and electronic groove backing it.
The video starts with a pan across a coast, flying over a hilly region. Madonna’s a brunette again, wandering an empty, blueish hall; she’s sultry, sexy. There are inserts of her playing chess with her boyfriend/lover. She sweeps the board and they kiss, after which she pushes him away. Some of the images are distorted, like a mirage, which is a neat effect. At the end she walks on the beach and she sits in sand. It’s alright, but lacks cohesion or significant originality. 7.75/7.75
10. Beautiful Stranger: Madonna was really on a hot streak during this period, recording a song for the ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me‘ soundtrack. It’s a mixture of pop, electronica and late ’60s psychedelia (complete with flute solos!). It’s super catchy and was understandably a big hit – even though it wasn’t officially released as a single in the United States. It’s that good.
The video finds Austin Powers driving his Shaguar, being sent to capture an enemy agent who’s a master of disguise (Hmmm… I wonder who could be so chameleonic?). He infiltrates a Madonna concert. While she’s singing and moving seductively at the audience, he imagines her with him in his car; he keeps imagining a car ride while she’s trying to seduce him. It ends with them in car. It’s a very simple video, but that’s to be expected for a non-single. On an amusing note, at the concert it was funny watching people moving to the wrong beat. 8.0/7.5
11. American Pie: Another huge hit for Madonna, this Don McLean cover was featured on the soundtrack to her latest attempt at movie stardom, ‘The Next Best Thing’. The picture was okay, but forgettable. However, the single was number one around the world – though, again, it wasn’t officially released in the U.S. This version has not aged well: it’s very digital, and repetitious. But I still like it, catchy as it is.
The video is as rudimentary as it gets: She’s on a theatre stage, coming out from behind an American flag in a loose top, jeans and a tiara. She sings along to the song while we see inserts of “average Americans” of all walks of life next to an American flag. That’s it; there’s not much to it. 7.0/6.5
12. Music: This was the title track and first single to Madonna’s 2000 album. Though the album was a mixed effort, this was a very strong start to it, with a nice groove and catchy vocal hook. It’s all about the production gimmickry, though, and almost any artist could have done this track.
The video starts with Ali G in his pimped up limo, listening to tunes. Then Madonna shows up, gives him a CD of “Music”, convincing him to let her ride along with two friends. She’s dressed in a pimped up cowboy-themed outfit. They go to the club to dance and key words pop up on the screen, cartoon-like. Then the video turns into a cartoon of Madonna as a superheroine. WTF. Afterwards, she and her two friends go to a strip joint to watch girls shake it. It’s a really bad video, cheesy as !@#$. I still like the song; it’s very catchy, though it’s repetitious and digital. 7.5/4.5
13. Don’t Tell Me: Admittedly, ‘Music’ wasn’t a strong singles album, but I was surprised when the second single was “Don’t Tell Me”, which is good, but not especially remarkable. I probably would have released “Impressive Instant”. Anyway, it’s got a cool guitar hook, but it gets annoying after a while (especially since it’s near-omnipresent), which is too bad given that the rest of the song is actually quite catchy.
In the video, Madonna is walking down a highway in a cowboy outfit in front of a rear screen. It’s a sexy outfit for her, but the Western theme seems out of place. She proceeds to doing line dancing moves by herself. There are also inserts of men dancing on a screen in western outfits. Later she does her moves with them following her on the screen behind her. It ends with Madge riding a mechanical bull and walking down a road. It’s an okay video. Its only really neat aspect, though, is a visual cue to accompany the choppy guitar string. 7.5/7.5
14. What it Feels Like for a Girl: This is a nice slow song, with nice production touches and an excellent message of female empowerment, but it’s hardly single material. The worst of it is that, for the radio and video, a dance remix of the song was released instead, ruining the original track.
The video was super controversial for its violence. It finds Madonna driving around in a yellow Camaro, picking up (presumably) her grandma and taking her for a ride. She’s eyed by guys at a light and proceeds to crashing into them on purpose. Then she stuns a guy at a cash machine, takes his money and gives it to a witness. Then she shoots a water pistol at cops. She drives recklessly, steals a guy’s Firebird. There are inserts of her patching herself up in a motel room, changing her ID card. I love the message that girls are held to different standards, but the video is misguided. Add to this the remix and the package completely falls flat. 3.0/6.0
15. Die Another Day: Yet again, after Madonna stumbles, she gets back up stronger than ever, with a monster radio hit. “Die Another Day” was the theme song for 2002’s eponymous James Bond film. Though it’s perhaps the least “Bond” 007 theme song ever, being an artificial and cold electroclash number, it’s an amazing dance song. Again, as was the case during that period, it’s all in the audio gimmickry. But it’s terrific ear candy.
In this very violent James Bond-themed video, Madonna is dragged into an interrogation room and tortured. It emulates opening scenes from the picture. She dances to the song in the interrogation room, fences with herself (a black-clad Madonna vs a white-clad Madonna), is tied to an electric chair and fights back. There are lots of tongue-in-cheek 007 references and even an homage to ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘ during the fencing scene. Naturally, it closes with a 007 gun-barrel view. 8.25/7.75
16. Hollywood: After “American Life”, the debut single and title track of Madonna’s 2003 album fizzled, amidst some controversy, “Hollywood” was released. It’s an okay song, but it’s very a middle-of-the-road tune for Madonna: a mid-tempo track with a guitar hook not that far removed from “Don’t Tell Me”. Don’t get me wrong: it’s catchy, but it feels déjà vu somehow.
The video is also uninspired, with Madonna straddling a TV, lying on the floor with a telephone, dancing in front of a mirror, getting Botox injections, in different looks and outfits. It’s really just a pastiche of quick cuts with no story, no clear homage to Hollywood. It’s all very ’70s looking, colour and fashion-wise, but that’s about as interesting as it gets. 7.0/5.5
17. Love Profusion: Another guitar-driven pop song, “Love Profusion” is okay, but again middle-of-the-road fare. I’m not sure what was going on with Madonna at this juncture, but she really missed the boat with ‘American Life’. It’s probably the only album I don’t have, even though I have the maxi singles.
The Luc Besson video finds her in two settings: One in which she’s walking down a darkened city street, and another where she’s in a sandy path, surrounded by CGI flowers and sea. The video alternates between both, giving us a light/dark contrast. Watch her crawl out on the sea and roll on it, but without moving the water or getting wet. It looks weird. There are cool shots of her singing down at us as though we were underwater, but the video is too CGI and fake, like a bad fairytale. Her performance is excellent, though. 7.0/6.0
18. Hung Up: And, with yet another comeback, Madonna takes the radio by storm with the first single from ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’, one of her greatest albums. Lifting from ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”, this super ridiculously catchy song was her best in years. With the ticking clock starting up the song, we can’t help but get caught up in its infectious modern disco grooves. It was a worldwide smash, one of the best selling singles of all time. So yummy!
The video finds her dressed in a pink outfit with knee socks, turning on the lights in a dance studio, bringing in her boombox and starting to dance. There are also inserts of street youths dancing, driving in their car to the beat, and break-dancing in a small diner. Later she’s walking down darkened streets, then exchanging sexy slow-motion moves with youths in an alley. She winds up on a dance floor, straddling a boombox. Interestingly, the video has a ’70s style, but one kid has modern headphones. Anyway, it’s an enjoyable video. 8.5/7.5
19. Sorry: Another disco-influenced dance number, “Sorry” is a super catchy track, nearly as much as “Hung Up”. Surprisingly, this one didn’t fare nearly as well, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of her strongest numbers in years.
The video is a direct sequel to “Hung Up”, using some of the same cast. After her night out with the girls, Madonna gets in a van, where they change into sexy roller girl-type outfits. Then they proceed to pick up men and taking then for rides, partying in the van. There are also inserts of her singing to the audience in front of purple lights and inserts of a cage dancing battle between a bunch of youths. The video ends at a roller rink, where she and two others choreograph in the middle of the crowd on roller-skates. Not too bad, if meaningless. 8.25/7.75
20. Get Together: “Get Together” is also from ‘Confessions’ and it’s sandwiched between “Hung Up” and “Sorry” on the album. You can just imagine how strong of a start the album has (truly, it’s a marvelous album – nearly from start to finish). This is a super fun dance number, with a catchy lyric.
The video is simple but effective: It begins with shadows of skyscrapers as cameras pass between them. Madonna is singing in a two-tone image to ’70s-inspired effects. The background is black with moving white dots. Other dancers are inserted into the picture and there are inserts of a city too. It’s a simple but beautiful video, quite eye-catching, vibrant. 8.0/8.25
21. Jump: “Jump” was the fourth and final single from ‘Confessions’ and it’s another doozy. It’s another dance number and it’s propelled by Madonna’s deep vocal and a bouncy chorus. Wow, four amazing singles in a row, that’s incredibly rare – and a fine return to form for Madonna. Sadly, for the video, they used a weak single edit.
The video, however, is garbage: Set in Japan, it offers shots of parkour athletes, jumping around. There are static inserts of her performing in flat, bleached hair – a bit more street, not quite ’70s anymore. Her bits hark back to the videos of her early years (though it’s more colourful, what with the CGI-ed city signs in the background), dating her. Meh. Plus which her performance is weak, thanks to poor lipsynch. And, as cool as parkour is, a dance-floor video would have been better for this song. 7.75/4.5
22. 4 Minutes: Madonna returned from her triumphant ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’ with this nugget from 2008’s ‘Hard Candy’, featuring Justin Timberlake (before he was a true solo star). Anticipation was high, but it’s a truly underwhelming number. We only get 4 minutes to save world? WTF? It has catchy music but it’s a weak duet (JT’s vocals are totally generic) and it’s a simply bewildering number. Worst thing is: the album version of song is a bit over the 4-minute mark. Duh. Whatev: it was still a hit.
The video begins with a rapper in front of a brightly-lit 4:00:00 countdown display. Then Madge, dressed in a tight-fitting all-black outfit, appears in front of a car. She goes to a hotel room, where she is met by Justin Timberlake. In the same room, a young couple are making out and we can see inside their skulls, as though they were cut in half. Not sure why. Then Madonna and JT hop about on cars, she runs through a grocery store and they end up dancing together in front of the countdown display as time runs out. It’s an energetic video, but I don’t understand its relation to the song – which is already nonsensical. 7.0/7.5
23. Give it 2 Me: This is a really bouncy number with a catchy vocal melody. The bridge, in which she sort of raps, is really stupid, though; it kind of kills the moment. Interestingly, it works way better on its own than as a music video, where it came off as repetitive and nothing special.
Madge is in a dance studio, doing moves in front of a mirror. Throw in inserts of her singing at the screen, in various outfits, and inserts of Pharrell Williams singing background vocals (sadly, his vocals are buried in the mix, aside for his “what” later). There are so many quick cuts that I just couldn’t keep up. The video suits the song well, as it’s equally forgettable. 6.0/6.0
24. Miles Away: The third and final single from ‘Hard Candy’, “Miles Away” is a guitar-based ballad with a heavy beat that finds Madonna layering her vocals. It’s nothing remarkable. It’s a nice song, but is it single-worthy? Not so sure. Then again, very little on that album was top-notch, so…
The video consists of shots of a stadium full of people at one of Madonna’s concerts, with her playing, plus inserts of the road and touring. It’s one of very few live videos for her. It’s bland. Plus which, they mixed the studio track with live footage, which is weird, discrepant. 7.0/5.0
25. Celebration: For her 2009 ‘Celebration’ compilation, Madonna recorded this sole new track. What? A house music synth lick? A generic dance number? This is how Madonna celebrated 25 years in the business? Wow… whatta letdown. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a huge hit.
The video begins with a black guy sporting a Mohawk and wearing a visor while dancing topless. Meanwhile, Madonna is dancing in an insert in a black and silver dress, and thigh-high black boots. Other guys are inserted into the picture. They’re all separate but quickly cut together. It goes well with the music, but both are generic, nothing special. It ends with a bunch of youth having a dance off. Meh. 6.0/6.75
What I found interesting about watching this second set of music videos is that the creativity that was poured into them for a short while seems to just dissipate towards the end; Madonna pounded out a series of uninspired songs backed by the most generic types of visuals.
Were her filmmaking career and family life diverting her attention from music-making, or did she just lose her spark after a while? I mean, few artists retain their potency for as long a she has, so this wouldn’t be surprising; declines do take place. But it’s unfortunate to see.
Knowing Madonna, though, another comeback is on the way.
In any event, I found the ‘Bedtime Stories’ videos one of the most appealing period, though their songs were a mixed bag. And, interestingly, the albums I find the most consistent, ‘Ray of Light’ and ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’, both feature a fairly mixed array of videos.
Still, all told, this is an excellent collection – though I still wish it were complete, as tons of videos are missing (Wiki lists 68 and this two disc set “only” contains 46!). I truly hope that, someday, a comprehensive set will be released in high-resolution audio and video.
Ultimately, ‘Celebration’ is a pretty awesome Madonna party mix, with hours’ worth of terrific music and eye-popping visuals. For me, it was a real treat to sit down and watch the short films that accompanied many of my favourite songs. I look forward to doing it again.
And I’m eager to see what Madonna’s got in store for us in the future.
Dates of viewings: October 10-12, 2017