Madonna was close to two decades in her music career when she welcomed motherhood with open arms and gave birth to her first daughter Lourdes. She had found her spirituality in Kabbalah. I have little clue what the religion represents. But it gave her some ground to stand on and see the world differently. For a moment, she threw pleasure and fame out of the window. This is a feat, considering her ambition and unending pursuit of the world’s riches.
She ditched Babyface as a collaborator, and made William Orbit her partner-in-crime. She decided to go full electronica on her seventh studio album “Ray of Light”.
That was 20 years ago.
Meanwhile, I was eight and just starting my unhealthy consumption of music through MTV. My taste gravitated towards catchy beats and visually entertaining videos. Who cares if Aaron Carter just wanted candy?
I never bothered digesting the words artists sing of. “2 Become 1” by the Spice Girls was the perfect example of my ignorance.
Information and Internet wasn’t widespread then. The narratives surrounding a musician’s sound and history rarely mattered. Yes, I didn’t know Lauryn Hill came from The Fugees until a few years after The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
But I digress.
Madonna’s path and mine crossed when “Frozen” and “Ray of Light” hit the television screens. The latter was the catchiest piece of EDM you could get your hands on in the 90s, while the former was a visually stunning mystery that I obsessed about.
But what sustained my fanaticism was her video catalog being on loop during the MTV era. It demonstrated how unafraid she was to have a point of view, continually going outside her comfort zone, and intent on dominating the industry.
Today, I have a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for words. I know music outside of pop. And I’ve gone through tragic and heartbreaking experiences in my close to three decades of existence.
Madonna’s masterpiece resonates more today than it did before. Not only has the sound defied the aging process. But it beautifully captures the timeless experience of enlightenment and awakening.
It’s a bonus that “Drowned World/Substitute for Love”, “Nothing Really Matters” and “Ray of Light” opened the public’s eyes to her new persona. The real reward is how these tracks take you on your own journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. It acts as a catalyst in helping us sift through life’s wreckage.
Nothing on the radio sounds like “Frozen” – none then, none today. That, along with “The Power of Good-bye”, acts as a reminder that she’s not only good for disco. She is a balladeer and a real-life shape shifter. Never forget that she was behind the number one hit “Crazy for You”.
Now, it’s commonplace to draw inspiration from people in your personal life. Back then, and a few years into the TRL era, it only paid to be appealing to the teenage demographic discussing teenage problems.
But she chose to bare her vulnerabilities. Ray of Light is full of subjects that make her more naked than what Erotica or Sex could ever do. She would make a record (“Swim”) about overcoming darkness in this world, the same day her friend Gianni Versace got murdered. She sung about two women in her life that made her who she is today – her daughter and mother – in “Little Star” and “Mer Girl” respectively.
In my view, the two unsung heroes of this album are “Skin” and “Sky Fits Heaven”. If released then, these are club jams that would’ve murdered the dancefloor. It is the rare EDM experience that will not make your head bang but instead will put you in a mode of introspection. The sound elevates its listener into celestial territory. It almost feels like this is the kind of music they’d be playing in heaven.
I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t skip a track on the album. “Shanti/Ashtangi” is too unconventional for my taste. But that song cannot overcome the masterpiece that all the other tracks inherently are.
Ray of Light is a defining album for the Queen of Pop. Heck, it’s a defining album for any artist. To date, it still ranks as one of my all time favorites.
Album Spotify Link: