19. Madonna – ‘Drowned World/Substitute For Love’ (1998)

“I travelled ’round the world
Looking for a home
I found myself in crowded rooms
Feeling so alone

I had so many lovers
Who settled for the thrill
Of basking in my spotlight
I never felt so happy”

Written by Madonna/William Orbit/Rod McKuen/Anita Kerr/David Collins

Produced by William Orbit/Madonna

Taken from the album Ray Of Light

Also released on GHV2

UK #10, AUS #16

‘Drowned World’ brings together the two halves that make up Ray Of Light. There is the quiet, soul-searching introspection of songs like ‘Mer Girl’, ‘Frozen’ and ‘The Power Of Goodbye’, but on the other hand there is the dangerous, frantic rush of the title track, ‘Nothing Really Matters’, ‘Candy Perfume Girl’. This song combines those elements, making it the perfect opening track on Madonna’s best album.

I’m not generally one who has much sympathy, if any, for celebrities who complain about being celebrities. Even Michael Jackson, whose treatment in the media really was disgusting, banged on about it too much (listened to ‘Privacy’ lately?). But what Madonna does here is different. She doesn’t paint a picture of a suffering artist who just want to express herself creatively, suddenly skyrocketing to fame and being the victim of a thousand press intrusions. Instead, she opens herself up completely, making it clear that it is nobodies fault but her own. She courted this fame, this attention, more than any artist, and now she realises it has been her substitute for real love. The song could be an angry/sad rant against the big bad media for treating her so bad and giving her such negative energy, but it’s an angry/sad rant against herself for inviting the negative energy in and serving it tea.

After the confessional first verses, the sunny guitars from ‘Ray Of Light’ show up to introduce the chorus, ushering in a more uplifting future. But it’s back to darkness afterwards, when the song descends into an instrumental cacophony, while vocally Madonna makes amazing use of her new, stronger, post-Evita voice. Released in certain territories with a video that made visual connections between Madonna and the recently killed Princess Diana, it was a slightly humourous juxtaposition (to use a word that Madonna loves). In this song and video about the evils of fame and being hungry for it, she did something that would invite attention and controversy and scrutiny, and most importantly draw attention to herself. Maybe the real message of ‘Drowned World’ is that no matter how many children you have, or how many spiritual awakenings you go through, you will always feel the pull of celebrity and the appeal of having all eyes on you.

Music video:

One Response to “19. Madonna – ‘Drowned World/Substitute For Love’ (1998)”

  1. Rabbitbunny Says:

    Once again, Lady Madonna outdoes herself. With the beautiful anti-fame Rock Ballad Drowned World/Substitute for Love, Our Lady struck A Different Pose. This was a different Madonna-not the Ciccone
    of Material Girl or Vogue but a much calmer Rebel-escaping the trappings and chains of fame and celebrity and into a world where Lola and the rest of us love her unconditianally without censure or fear. This beautiful Artwork took her in a rockier direction than past Madonna Artworks and served as a template for the rest of her music since. Madonna’s singing is brilliant and beautiful-a mixture of happy optimism
    and sad honesty-a realness in her voice that had hertofore existed only ittermittently. And when Madonna cries “And now I find/I’ve changed my mind/This love is my religion,” I know I believe her
    -and Madonna Ciccone I know wouldn’t have love-or fame-any other Way. A TRULY BEAUTIFUL MADONNA BALLAD/ART SONG!

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