Friday, March 1, 2013

Fifteen Years...."Quicker Than A Ray of Light"

Tomorrow, March 2nd, 2013, marks fifteen years since I first heard Madonna’s Ray of Light, a day before its official U.S. release. I do not know if any words can convey how highly anticipated this album was by her fans, nor how much excitement it generated in those early years of internet buzz. In 2012, I honored its fourteenth anniversary with a commemorative post, featuring my memories of that especially bright spot in Madonna’s career as well as YouTube clips of alternate, extended, and instrumental versions of the tracks that comprised her most celebrated record. This year, I thought I would once again employ the services of YouTube to provide further insight into “The Ray of Light Era” and Madonna’s creative process. For those who can relate to my nostalgia, as well as those who have never seen these TV appearances before, here are some of my favorite Madonna interviews, performances, and awards ceremonies from February 1998 through February 1999. That this represents only a portion of the ROL press tour speaks to just how busy Madonna kept herself during the twelve months that would redefine her music career and elevate her legend.

The weekend before the release of Ray of Light, MTV broadcast a slew of videos and vintage TV specials, along with this episode of UltraSound. It featured not only an interview on the set of Madonna's "Frozen" music video but also a fascinating, truly unprecedented look at Madonna in the recording studio.

Shortly after the release of Ray of Light, Madonna made her second of three memorable appearances on her BFF's The Rosie O'Donnell Show. It was the only time she ever performed on the show, but it's Madonna and Rosie's hilarious yoga session that makes this one my favorite episode! 


Madonna sat down with Oprah Winfrey for the second time in May 1998 in one of her most relaxed and entertaining interviews. It was the only time she performed on Oprah, delivering the first-ever televised performance of "Ray of Light" and, to date, the ONLY live performance of "Little Star". 

Madonna made her only appearance at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in 1998. I'm not sure if she was there because Rosie O'Donnell was hosting, because she was now a Mom, or because she was honoring the "tween" market that was digging her new material. I have to admit, that day, I was sorely jealous of the generation born after me: I SO wished Madonna made this appearance when I was still young enough to be a Nickelodeon viewer! 

A classic interview taken on the set of Madonna's iconic "Ray of Light" video, which marked her first collaboration with friend and Swedish film genius Jonas Akerlund. Akerlund would go on to direct her "Music" and "American Life" videos as well as the Grammy-nominated backstage documentary I'm Going To Tell You A Secret and the Grammy-winning The Confessions Tour: Live From London

A short but sweet and especially memorable pre-taped message that was broadcast to celebrate Tony Bennett's fifty years in show business during a live-by-request TV concert the legendary crooner performed in 1998. Bennett, a vocal and avowed Madonna fan, had been begging Madonna to record a duet for years. Fingers crossed that that dream collaboration comes true one day!

In September 1998, once again, Madonna stole the show at The MTV Video Music Awards. The show opened with what remains her ONLY televised performance of "Shanti/Ashtangi" and ended with superfan Geri Halliwell (making her first post-Spice Girls appearance in the U.S.) handing Madonna the trophy for Video of the Year. Excerpted here are the opening performance of "Shanti" and "Ray of Light", with the latter song featuring Lenny Kravitz and many of the dancers featured in the video. I was quite thrilled to find that two pre-show segments now live on in YouTube Land: a hilarious promo with Ben Stiller and Guy Oseary, and one of Madonna's last sit-down interviews with Kurt Loder. The interview is especially memorable because Madonna reveals that she doesn't know who Jennifer Love Hewett is....which made it particularly awkward when Hewett presented Madonna with an award later that night! 

Madonna made a splash at another awards ceremony shortly after the VMAs, when she gave her only live performance in America of "The Power of Good-Bye" and scooped up a handful of trophies at The 1998 VH1 Fashion & Music Awards. Madonna was being honored for her ever-changing appearance, including a lifetime achievement award from Donatella Versace for her immortal stylishness. So it should come as no surprise that Madonna wore three different outfits over the course of the night. Nor should it come as a surprise that her briefly infamous Hindi-inspired apparel was spoofed when Joan Allen portrayed Madonna the following weekend on Saturday Night Live. 

Madonna gave her only UK performance of "The Power Of Good-Bye" on this 1998 appearance on Top of the Pops--quite a stark contrast to her TOTP debut singing "Holiday" in 1984! It was one of the last times she ever performed the song live, having scrapped plans to sing it the following December at The 1998 Billboard Music Awards and seemingly barring it from every subsequent tour. Fingers crossed it finds its way into a future setlist, as it remains one of Madonna's most gorgeous and affecting ballads. 

(For those of us in the U.S. blocked from seeing the above performance, here's another live rendition from Fall '98!)

Madonna finally appeared on Larry King Live in January 1999, spending an hour discussing her life and career. The interview got off to an odd start, with King applauding Madonna for being so brave as to release her first album minus a last name (?), but despite a string of familiar questions the rapport between King and The Queen is warm, funny, and ultimately revealing. (Much to my disappointment, it appears only the first half of this interview is on YouTube.)

Had Madonna ever attended The Grammys prior to 1999? She had been nominated for eight Grammys, including Record of the Year for "Like A Prayer" and "Best Long Form Music Video" for her Blond Ambition Tour LaserDisc, the latter being her lone Grammy win for the first sixteen years of her career. I know she didn't show up in 1996 when Bedtime Stories was her first-ever album to be nominated for "Best Pop Vocal Album". But in 1999 Ray of Light would win the award in that category, the first and thus far only Madonna LP to do so. It was also the first and thus far only Madonna album ever to be nominated for "Album of the Year", which it lost to Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.  The single "Ray of Light" was Madonna's second of three (thus far) to be nominated for "Record of the Year". It lost in that category, but won the first-ever trophy for "Best Dance Recording", as well as giving Madonna her only win for "Best Short Form Music Video", a category in which she has been nominated four times. That year also marked the first time she ever performed at the Grammys and the last time she ever performed under the direction of her brother, Christopher Ciccone. As outlined in his infamous tell-all Life With My Sister Madonna, Christopher Ciccone had been Madonna's closest and most frequent collaborator from her New York days through directing The Girlie Show, which he acclaimed in his book as the respective peak in both of their careers. After The Girlie Show, however, his collaboration seems to have been limited to directing her only live performance of "Bedtime Story", at The 1995 Brit Awards, and her only live performance of "Nothing Really Matters", at The 1999 Grammy Awards. One hopes that their collaborations won't end there. In addition to that performance and Madonna's triumphant win of the "Best Pop Vocal Album" Grammy, you'll also find a snippet of Madonna's backstage flirtation with Ricky Martin. It came about shortly after Martin's performance that night of "La Copa De La Vida" preceded a Grammy win and instant superstardom. It lead to the collaboration "Cuidado Con Mi Corazon", a Madonna-William Orbit song written as a solo for Madonna but re-worked into a memorable Madonna-Martin duet for Ricky Martin's mega-successful 1999 album Ricky Martin. The final YouTube gem pairs coverage from both Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight of Madonna's post-Grammy high. It's Madonna at her giddiest and least reserved, truly as happy as she's ever been on camera. For those of us who had been on the journey with her from the album's release to the Grammys' redemption, it was euphoria as infectious as it was thoroughly deserved.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a great look back! I was traveling down memory lane- felt like I was 14/15 years old again in Highschool. I just love revisiting the '98/'99 Ray of Light years. I have all these clips recorded on VHS someplace. I was majorly obsessed during at this life basically revolved around Madonna! March 3 is officially a holiday for me every year...I consider it Madonna day and I spend it listening/watching M all day! I love this woman so much :) This Sunday is going to be fun! Holiday! Celebrate!