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Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Videography of Madonna - Top 10

I have to say that I am always fascinated by the longevity that some artists seem to have regarding the music industry.  In an industry which can churn out one album wonders and one hit wonders, I am absolutely impressed at artists who managed to have a career lasting 10, 20, 30, even 40 years in the ever-changing world of music.

So, I thought that for today's blog entry, we would celebrate one artist whose career has spanned a total of thirty-three years!  She's had hits in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s.

And coming up in March 2015, she is set to release her thirteenth studio album.

It's no secret that Madonna has been at the top of the pop music pyramid for quite some time, and whether you love her or loathe her, you have to admit that she's managed to find staying power where so many others have not.

Over the course of her career, Madonna has released twelve studio albums (her thirteenth album, "Rebel Heart" is set for release on March 10, 2015), three greatest hits albums, several soundtrack albums, two documentaries, ten concert videos, and sixty-seven music videos!

And, that's what we're going to talk about today.  The music videos of Madonna.

Ever since Madonna released her self-titled debut album in 1982, she made her music noticeable by creating video masterpieces that have earned her several MTV Video Music Awards.  And I am old enough to remember when people were absolutely excited over the prospect of a new Madonna video, as again, whether you loved her or loathed her, you have to admit that she's a creative genius when it comes to planning the perfect music video.

But which ones were her best ones?  Which ones were the most memorable?

Well, that's a really hard question to answer, but I decide to take on the challenge.  In the spirit of Madonna's upcoming album, I chose what I think are Madonna's best ten videos.  You can feel free to agree or disagree with my picks if you like, but I'd like to hear your own thoughts on the subject.

(Oh, and just to keep the blog PG, I've eliminated the three videos that were banned from MTV - 1990's "Justify My Love", 1992's "Erotica", and 2001's "What It Feels Like For A Girl".  Not that I find myself offended by them in the slightest.  I just don't want to take any chances.  It's just as well anyway, since none of those videos made my top 10 anyway.)

(And, some of these videos may not be available to watch online, so I'll post links to the song instead.)

Okay, here we go with #10.

Released:  February 13, 1995
From:  Bedtime Stories (1994)
Director:  Mark Romanek

The only reason I ranked this video so low is because this isn't really my favourite Madonna song.  But this single (in which Bjork is credited as a co-writer) has one very complex and astonishing video that tells all of us that "words are useless, especially sentences."

Uh, yeah.  Maybe just ignore that for a second.

Anyway, this video cost over $5 million to make, and beginning in 1996, it was featured in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Again, the song is quite weird, and the video even more so.  But it did turn out fantastic.  So that's why it's on my list at #10.

Released:  May 6, 1998
From:  Ray of Light (1998)
Director:  Jonas Akerlund

I have to admit, the whole "Ray of Light" album was a departure from Madonna's pop tart infused past...but pleasantly so.  The whole album - likely sparked by the birth of Madonna's first child, Lourdes - showcased a more mature Madonna who used her newfound association with Kabbalah to create an album that won a lot of critical acclaim and earned her a lot of respect in the process.

I chose this video as #9 because the song is infectious, and because the video is quite brilliant in its simplicity.  I normally don't like videos that use green-screen technology, but in this video showing a 24 hour day in four and a half minutes, it works.

Released:  June 6, 2006
From:  Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005)
Director:  Logan

This is the most recent Madonna video on my Top 10 list, and there's a bit of a story behind the creation of this video.  The plan was for Madonna to film a video, but as the single was released during the time that Madonna was on tour, there was no time to put a video together.  Enter directing/animation team Logan.  They took video recorded from a Madonna performance in London and animated it to look kind of like that film "A Scanner Darkly".  It's very Daft Punk like.  And, I have to admit.  I like this video a lot.

Released:  August 21, 2000
From:  Music (2000)
Director:  Jonas Akerlund

I suppose Madonna was quite impressed by Jonas Akerlund's work enough to work with him again in this music video, and really, there's a lot going on in this video despite the fact that when this video was filmed, Madonna was heavily pregnant with second child, Rocco.  Hence the need to include an animated sequence in the video.  However, the animated sequence provided a nice little retrospective of Madonna's past.  Get a look at the street signs on each of the buildings.  Do any of them look familiar to you?

And, hey, get a load of the cameo that Sacha Baron Cohen makes as Ali G!  If anything, this video helped get Cohen some attention in the United States.

So, hey, I suppose if you wanted to blame someone for "Borat", you could indirectly blame Madonna.

Released:  November 30, 1984
From:  Like a Virgin (1984)
Director:  Mary Lambert

This is not the first video that Madonna worked on with Mary Lambert, and it certainly would not be the last.  What makes this video work is the irony that is displayed within the video.  Madonna sings about being a material girl in her throwback to Marilyn Monroe music video, but when the cameras are off, she doesn't get impressed by expensive gifts.  And Keith Carradine manages to impress Madonna by giving her daisies and taking her out in an old pick-up truck.  The twist?  He pays a fortune to rent the truck, proving that we really do live in a material world.

But that's okay.  The video is playful and funny.  And reportedly a song that Madonna absolutely regrets recording today!

Released:  June 11, 1986
From:  True Blue (1986)
Director:  James Foley

James Foley directed the videos for the first three singles from Madonna's "True Blue" album, and this video is my #5 pick of best Madonna videos of all time.  It's certainly a powerful song, but also very controversial.  You see, the subject deals with teen pregnancy, and Madonna (who is 27 in this video) gets pregnant by her boyfriend because "Italians Do It Better".  Or something like that.  She and her boyfriend plan on getting married and raising the baby together, but one obstacle stands in her way - Papa Danny Aiello.

The song certainly divided audiences and the content of the song caused the Vatican to boycott Madonna after she dedicated the song to Pope John Paul II!  Nevertheless, the video tells a concrete story from start to finish, and during a time in which some videos made no sense whatsoever, this video was refreshing.

Released:  February 22, 1993
From:  Erotica (1992)
Director:  David Fincher

I'll come right out and say it.  David Fincher has probably made some of the best videos that Madonna has ever done.  We're at #4, and I have two more videos directed by him on this list. 

So, why did I put "Bad Girl" - a song that flopped on the Billboard charts - so high on the list?  Well, I absolutely love videos that tell a story, and this video depicts the tragic life of a woman who drifts from man to man while dealing with an addiction to cigarettes and alcohol.  It certainly is one of the more depressing videos she has done, but the cinematography that Fincher uses throughout the whole video makes it a masterpiece to behold.

And, hey, Christopher Walken is Madonna's guardian angel!  Enough said.

Released:  May 9, 1989
From:  Like a Prayer (1989)
Director:  David Fincher

I think that if I had to pick just one Madonna album to listen to over and over again, it would be "Like a Prayer".  At the time, it was Madonna's most personal album, and the track listing was arranged in such a way that you never really knew what you were going to get.

Such as this single about empowerment and not settling for second best.  Considering that this single was released just months after divorcing Sean Penn, this single could have been Madonna's new anthem.

And this video - based on the 1928 film "Metropolis" - was eye candy right from the very beginning.  Three black cats, half a dozen costume changes, and a controversial shot of Madonna chained to a bed certainly had everyone talking.  And it was the most expensive music video of the 1980s, costing five million dollars...which she likely got from...oh, well, let's hold onto that thought for a minute.

Released:  March 20, 1990
From:  I'm Breathless (1990)
Director:  David Fincher

This could be one of Madonna's signature hits.  She performed this song at every concert since the Blond Ambition tour, she performed it at the Super Bowl in 2012, and it hit #1 in practically half of the planet in May 1990.

I think part of it comes from the fact that the video was a black and white celebration of old school Hollywood, combined with the modern 1980s/1990s dance style known as "voguing".

(Which to me is basically pretending to be a mime stuck in a box moving in perfect time to the music, but I digress.)

Interesting fact.  The song was originally a B-side to Madonna single "Keep It Together", but record executives felt it too good to be a B side, so the single was added to the "Dick Tracy" soundtrack, which starred both Madonna and Warren Beatty.  Interestingly enough, both of them embarked on a passionate love affair during the filming of the movie.

Sadly, none of the sixteen celebrities that Madonna name drops in the song are alive.  The last of the bunch, Lauren Bacall, died in August of last year.

Released:  March 3, 1989
From:  Like a Prayer (1989)
Director:  Mary Lambert

Yeah, remember how I said that "Express Yourself" was the most expensive music video of the 1980s, and how we wondered how Madonna got the five million bucks to pay for it?  Well, Madonna inked a deal with Pepsi back in 1989 which saw Madonna make a television commercial for Pepsi while promoting her newest single "Like a Prayer" which earned her five million bucks.

The commercial was pulled after the video for "Like a Prayer" was released, probably because of the religious imagery that is featured in the video, and Madonna dancing in front of burning crosses, and other things that got people riled up.  However, I list this video as my favourite Madonna video because it got people talking, and it actually delivers a powerful message dealing with racism and doing the right thing.  Seriously, just watch the video in its entirety and make your own mind up.  I think it's creative artistry at its finest, and this video was powerful, yet crystal clear in the message it delivered.

So, that's my list.  What's yours?

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