American Life (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the song by Madonna. For the song by Primus, see Sailing the Seas of Cheese.
"American Life"
Bust of a serious woman, who looks forward. Her hair is black and straight. She wears a black beret and a black jacket half-open. Over her left face are two lines, painted in red. Behind her, upper left, eight black lines are seen. On them, appreciate thinner lines. Beside, ten black stars are on them. Below her, the words "Madonna" and "American Life" are written in capital letters in red color.
Single by Madonna
from the album American Life
B-side "Die Another Day"
Released April 8, 2003 (2003-04-08)
Format
Recorded 2002; Olympic Recording Studios (Barnes, London)
Length 4:57
Label
Writer(s)
Producer(s)
  • Madonna
  • Mirwais Ahmadzaï
Madonna singles chronology
"Die Another Day"
(2002)
"American Life"
(2003)
"Hollywood"
(2003)

"American Life" is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Madonna for her ninth studio album of the same name (2003). It was written and produced by Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzaï, and was released digitally as the lead single from the album on April 8, 2003 by Maverick Records. The lyrics to "American Life" feature violent transitions and a political and religious view from Madonna. She questions the shallowness of modern life and the American dream under President George W. Bush's conservative watch. Towards the end of the song, Madonna raps naming the people who were working for her.

"American Life" was universally panned by music critics, with Billboard criticizing Madonna's rapping, and Blender naming it as the ninth worst song of all time. Despite receiving mostly negative reviews from music commentators, "American Life" reached number one in Canada, Denmark, Italy, Japan and Switzerland, and the top ten in Australia, where the song was certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). However, the song peaked at number 37 in the US Billboard Hot 100, staying in the chart for eight weeks, while it debuted and peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart.

Two music videos were shot for the song, both directed by Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund. The first one featured Madonna at a military-themed fashion show, cavorting with a brigade of female soldiers and in the end, she throws a hand grenade at George W. Bush. Prior its release, it caused controversy regarding its political, racial, violence and religious views, leading Madonna to release a statement explaining its concept. After the invasion of Iraq started, Madonna cancelled the release of the original music video, because of the political climate of the country at the time, and released an alternative version, featuring her in front of a backdrop of flags from around the world. The song was performed on her American Life Promo Tour (2003) and on the Re-Invention World Tour (2004).

Background and release[edit]

In April 2003, Madonna discussed her motivations behind "American Life" with VH1 while talking about her experience in the music industry. She stated "I look back at the 20 years behind me and I realized that a lot of things that I'd valued weren't important", in response to the non-materialistic themes of the record.[1] Discussing the album, Madonna said about "American Life":

"[The song] was like a trip down memory lane, looking back at everything I've accomplished and all the things I once valued and all the things that were important to me. What is my perspective now? I've fought for so many things, I've tried so hard to be number one and to stay on top, to look good, to be the best. And I realized that a lot of things that last and the things that matter are none of those things."

To counter illegal Internet downloads of the song both before and after the single's release, Madonna's associates created a number of false song files of similar length and size. Some of these files delivered a brief message from Madonna saying "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" followed by minutes of silence.[2] However, the song leaked online one day before its official premiere.[3] "American Life" premiered on March 25, 2003, through AOL.[4] The song was released in the United States on April 8, 2003.[5] "American Life" went on sale two days later, through digital services Liquid Audio, RioPort, and also through Madonna's website in MP3 format.[6]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

A 29-second sample of the song's chorus, where Madonna can be heard questioning "Am I gonna be a star", "should I change my name", that is a complaint about modern-day life.[7]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

"American Life" was written and produced by Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzaï. "I could be having a guitar lesson and something will just come to me," the former observed. "Or Mirwais will send me over music – rough stuff that doesn't have an arrangement: basic chord progressions. 'American Life' itself came about like that."[8]

Starting with Madonna's voice multi-tracked questioning – "Am I gonna be a star?", "Should I change my name?" – the lyrics develop into what Rikky Rooksby of The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna states is a complaint about modern-day life.[7] She also questions the shallowness of modern life and the "American dream."[9] "I know it sounds clichéd," she admitted. "But I've had 20 years of fame and fortune, and I feel that I have the right to an opinion on what it is and isn't. All everyone is obsessed about now is being a celebrity. I'm saying that's bullshit, and who knows better than me? Before it happens, you have all kinds of notions about how wonderful celebrity is and how much joy it's going to bring you. Then you arrive… In America, more than any other place in the world, you have the freedom to be anything you want to be. Which is all well and good, but it only works if you have a value system – and we seem not to have one anymore. It's, 'Whatever it takes to get to the top, that's what you gotta do.' It's the allure of the beautiful life: 'Look like this, you're gonna be happy. Drive this car, you're gonna be popular. Wear these clothes and people are gonna want to fuck you.' It's a very powerful illusion and people are caught up in it, including myself. Or I was."[10]

After three minutes, Madonna performs a rap naming the people who are working for her.[7] Basically, we [she and Ahmadzaï] had recorded the whole song and we had this instrumental thing at the end," said Madonna, "and Mirwais was like, 'You know what, you have to go and do a rap.' And I was like, 'Get out of here, I don't rap.' And he was like, 'Yeah you do. Just go in there, just do it.' He totally encouraged me. I had nothing planned, nothing written, and he just told me to do stream-of-consciousness, whatever I was thinking. Because I was always drinking soy lattes in the studio, and I drive my Mini Cooper to the studio, I was just like, 'OK, let me just talk about the things that I like.' So I went and it was just total improv and obviously it was sloppy at first, but I got out all my thoughts and then I wrote everything down that I said and then I perfected the timing of it. So it was totally spontaneous."[11]

The repeated acoustic guitar riff "adds a touch of pathos" to the song, according to biographer Carol Gnojewski.[9] The lyrics accompany a "punchy octave synth figure" synchronized with a drum and bass beat.[7] "American Life" is written in the time signature of common time with a moderate tempo of 102 beats per minute. It is composed in the key of F-sharp minor with Madonna's voice spanning from C3 to B4.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

Madonna performing the first verse of "American Life" while standing on top of a structure made up of TV sets on the Re-Invention World Tour in 2004.

"American Life" was met with generally negative reception from music critics. Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine labeled it a "trite, self-aggrandizing and often awkward song about privilege" and a "dour and robotic" track.[13] Stylus Magazine gave a negative review and said that when one of the world's richest women complains about commercialism and the emptiness of entertainment culture, it seems hypocritical rather than insightful. He also noted that in the song, she's raging against the life she herself is leading.[14] Chuck Taylor of Billboard gave a negative review for the song, criticizing Madonna's rapping and calling the song "a blurry snarl of style and composition that's sounds more like a disjointed medley than a song."[15] Alexis Petridis from The Guardian was disappointed by the lyrics saying that "what on earth might her extreme point of view involve? That the world is ruled by a shadowy cabal of super-intelligent lizards?... Sadly not. Her extreme point of view turns out to be that money can't buy you happiness and that fame isn't all it's cracked up to be." He also panned the lyric "I like to express my extreme point of view", saying that it's difficult to hear that line without feeling a prickle of excitement.[16]

Entertainment Weekly called the song a list of celeb perks: trainer, butler, assistant, three nannies, a bodyguard or five. It seems, at first, not like the clever self-twitting she clearly intended, but rather a facile confirmation of her haters' conviction: that the middle-aged Madonna does not have a worldview beyond her next Pilates appointment.[17] In 2004, Blender magazine listed the song at number nine on the list of the 50 Worst Songs Ever, stating that Madonna "updates the 'Material Girl'-era satire of commercialism and spiritual emptiness... with what is hands-down the most embarrassing rap ever recorded. Nervous and choppy, she makes Debbie Harry sound as smooth as Jay-Z." The magazine also said that the worst moment of the song is when after rapping, Madonna sings 'Nothing is what it seems' with no profundity.[18] Stephen Thompson of The A.V. Club considered the song to be "jittery, tuneless, and shallow to the point of self-parody".[19] In 2010, Matthew Wilkening of AOL Radio labeled the song at number 58 on the list of the 100 Worst Songs Ever, stating that Madonna tries to get serious by pairing a stiff beat with a high-school-level political rant.[20]

Chart performance[edit]

"American Life" debuted at number 90 on the US Billboard Hot 100 on the week of April 5, 2003.[3] A few weeks later on April 26, 2003, the song peaked at number 37, being the greatest gainer song of that week.[21] In Canada, the song peaked at number one on the singles chart.[22] In Australia, "American Life" debuted at its peak of number seven, during the week of April 24, 2003.[23] In the following week, the song began its decline, and experienced a total chart trajectory of eight weeks.[24] The song was certified Gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).[25] In the New Zealand, the song peaked at number 33, and remained on the chart for one week.[24] On the UK Singles Chart, "American Life" debuted at its peak of number two on the week of April 26, 2003.[26]

On April 27, 2003, "American Life" debuted at number seven on the Ö3 Austria Top 40 chart, spending a total of 11 weeks in the chart.[24] The song achieved moderate chart positions in both the Flemish and Wallonian territories in Belgium, peaking at numbers 12 and 10, respectively.[24] Making its debut at its peak position of number 61, "American Life" charted for a total of 11 weeks in France, before falling out on July 6, 2003.[24] The song was certified Silver by the Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique (SNEP).[27] On the Dutch Top 40 chart, the song made its debut at number 34.[24] The following week it rose to number 21 and peaked at number 4, before the ending of its eleven-week run.[24] On April 24, 2003, "American Life" debuted at number three on the Swedish Singles Chart.[24] Similarly in Switzerland, the song debuted at number one on the Swiss Singles Chart, spending 13 weeks on the chart.[24]

Music videos[edit]

Madonna crashes the fashion runaway while riding on a Mini Cooper, in the original "American Life" music video.

There are two different music videos for "American Life", the first of which was not released by Madonna. It was shot in the first week of February 2003 at Los Angeles Center Studios in Los Angeles, California by Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund, who worked with Madonna in the videos for "Ray of Light" (1998) and "Music" (2000).[28] Madonna had the idea for the music video in November 2002, then she and Åkerlund developed the idea to make an anti-war and anti-fashion mini-movie.[11] With "American Life", she took her music videos to a different level by focusing on war, politics and, according to media interpretation, the then-upcoming invasion of Iraq.[29] "It is an antiwar statement…" she subsequently clarified, "but it's not necessarily against this war. At any given moment there's at least 30 wars going on in this world and I'm against all of them."[30] Shortly after it was filmed, Warner Bros. Records released a statement regarding the music video: "[The video] expresses a panoramic view of our culture and looming war through the view of a female superhero portrayed by Madonna. Starting as a runway show of couture army fatigues, the fashion show escalates into a mad frenzy depicting the catastrophic repercussions and horrors of war."[31] An exclusive sneak peek of the video was available on VH1's program Backstage at the Grammys.[28]

The video begins with several male and female models dressed up as soldiers on a fashion runway, wearing military garb and gas masks with one male model sports a shirt that reads "Fashion Victim" while it is inter-cut with scenes of Madonna singing in front of a black background.[32] In the second chorus, middle-eastern children are seen walking on the runway, and being bullied by the soldier models.[32] During the bridge, Madonna and her group prepare to enter the runway in a restroom, while she carves "Protect Me" on the partition of a stall and dances angrily with them to the song. The women also are seen dancing in front of surveillance cameras. When the rap section starts, Madonna is seen crashing into the show driving a Mini Cooper and pummel the photographers with an industrial-strength water hose, while rapping and dancing on top of the car with her gang.[32] In the end of the video, Madonna frantically drives out of the runway into the amused audience, and pull a hand grenade with her teeth and then throws it to George W. Bush, and the video ends with him using it to light up his cigar.[32]

"I feel lucky to be an American citizen for many reasons – one of which is the right to express myself freely, especially in my work. I understand that there have been reports about my upcoming video 'American Life' in the media – much of which is inaccurate. I am not Anti-Bush. I am not pro-Iraq. I am pro peace. I have written a song and created a video which expresses my feelings about our culture and values and the illusions of what many people believe is the American dream – the perfect life. As an artist, I hope that this provokes thought and dialogue. I don't expect everyone to agree with my point of view."

—Madonna talking about the controversy surrounding the music video prior its release.[28]

Due to the political climate of the country at the time after the Dixie Chicks made some anti-war comments,[33] on April 1, 2003, Madonna pulled the video and released a statement explaining why: "I have decided not to release my new video. It was filmed before the war started and I do not believe it is appropriate to air it at this time. Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video."[28][34] After pulling the original video, Madonna then released an edited version that premiered on April 16, 2003 on VH1, immediately after a special program called Madonna Speaks.[1] This version features Madonna singing in front of a backdrop of ever-changing flags of different countries.[35]

In 2005, a director cut of the video leaked onto the Internet.[36] It shows heavier scenes, like wounded and maimed soldiers, war scenes, images of poverty and death.[36] In 2010, Slant Magazine placed this alternate video on the nineteenth place of decade's fifty best music videos list, stating: "It isn't like either the video's message about viewing war as a form of popular entertainment or its striking, loaded images leave much room for misinterpretation. Prescient? Yes. Relevant? Surely. Subtle? Not so much."[37] This version of the video ends with the tossed grenade landing on the catwalk and Madonna putting her hands on her ears.[37]

Live performances[edit]

Madonna and her dancers performing "American Life" on top of a suspended catwalk on the Re-Invention World Tour in 2004.

To promote American Life, Madonna embarked on the American Life Promo Tour. A performance on Tower's Fourth Street in Manhattan was presented to around 400 people;[38] the set started with Madonna, wearing black beret, polka-dot blouse, black trousers and heels, performing an acoustic performance of "American Life" followed by the track "X-Static Process".[38] The promotional show also saw Madonna perform two other tracks from the album being "Mother and Father" and "Hollywood", before performing an "impromptu" performance of "Like a Virgin", and lastly performing the album version of "American Life".[38] A stage was built in preparation for the performances with long dark drapes and large speakers, and according to Billboard was so that over one thousand fans nearby could hear the performance.[38] Madonna also performed the song at HMV store in Oxford to around 500 people.[39]

The following year, "American Life" was included on her Re-Invention World Tour. It opened the Military-Army segment and started with the sound of a helicopter in the background as Madonna's backup dancers, dressed as soldiers, crawled on their bellies as though in the middle of battle, then hugged each other as if saying goodbye. Madonna appeared onstage, on top of a structure made up of TV sets, wearing camouflage pants, an olive army jacket and black beret. She started performing the song as war footage of death and destruction flashed on screens behind her. At the end of the song, it showed a George W. Bush look-alike lovingly resting his head on the shoulder of a Saddam Hussein look-alike, as though the pair were waiting for a marriage license.[40] During the performance, Madonna ran down a lengthy V-shaped catwalk that descended from the ceiling and allowed her to reach the middle of the stadium.[40] Toronto Sun's Jane Stevenson praised the performance, but called the background images "sober".[41] The performance was included in the I'm Going to Tell You a Secret live album and documentary.[42]

Track listings and formats[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits and personnel adapted from American Life album liner notes.[48]

Charts and certifications[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "'Madonna Speaks' For The First Time To VH1 On New 'American Life' Album". VH1. PR Newswire. April 16, 2003. Retrieved April 29, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Hacked: Madonna's Web Site Defaced". The Smoking Gun. Turner-SI Digital Network. April 18, 2003. Retrieved February 16, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Singles Minded 115 (14). New York: Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. April 5, 2003. p. 55. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  4. ^ P. Hull 2004, p. 256
  5. ^ "American Life / Die Another Day (Single)". Amazon.com. Retrieved July 27, 2012. 
  6. ^ Garrity, Brian (April 12, 2003). "Madonna's 'American Life' Single Available As Download, MP3". Billboard (New York: Nielsen Business Media, Inc) 115 (15): 34. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d Rooksby 2004, p. 61
  8. ^ Rees, Paul: 'Listen very carefully, I will say this only once', Q, May 2003, pp84-92
  9. ^ a b Gnojewski 2007, pp. 129
  10. ^ Rees, Paul: 'Listen very carefully, I will say this only once', Q, May 2003, pp84-92
  11. ^ a b Norris, John. "Madonna Her American Life". MTV News. MTV Networks. Retrieved November 4, 2010. 
  12. ^ Ciccone, Madonna; Ahmadzaï, Mirwais (2003). "Digital Sheet Music – Madonna – American Life". Musicnotes.com. Alfred Publishing. 
  13. ^ Cinquemani, Sal (July 11, 2008). "Madonna: American Life". Slant Magazine. Retrieved August 11, 2011. 
  14. ^ Howard, Ed (September 1, 2003). "Madonna "American Life"". Stylus Magazine. Todd Burns. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  15. ^ Taylor, Chuck (April 12, 2012). Reviews & Previews: Spotlights 110 (15). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. p. 29. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved April 30, 2012. 
  16. ^ Petridis, Alexis (April 11, 2003). "CD: Madonna: American Life". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  17. ^ Tucker, Ken (April 25, 2003). "American Life Review". Entertainment Weekly (Time Inc). Retrieved October 1, 2011. 
  18. ^ Staff, TMZ (June 21, 2006). "Madonna, Clay Aiken in Top 50 Worst Songs Ever". TMZ. EHM Productions, Inc. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  19. ^ Thompson, Stephen (April 23, 2003). "Madonna "American Life". The A.V. Club. The Onion, Inc. Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  20. ^ Wilkening, Matthew (September 11, 2010). "100 Worst Songs Ever – Part Three of Five". AOL Radio. Retrieved December 21, 2010. 
  21. ^ a b c d e "Billboard Hot 100". Billboard (New York: Nielsen Business Media, Inc) 115 (37): 65. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved May 18, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Madonna Chart History". Billboard. Promethus Global Media. Retrieved February 10, 2010. 
  23. ^ a b "Madonna – American Life". ARIA Charts. Hung Medien. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Madonna – American Life". Ö3 Austria Top 40. Hung Medien. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  25. ^ a b "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2003 Singles". Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  26. ^ a b c "2003 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive". UK Singles Chart. Official Charts Company. April 26, 2003. Retrieved April 29, 2012. 
  27. ^ a b "Disque en France". Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique. Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  28. ^ a b c d Wiederhorn, Jon (February 14, 2003). "Madonna Defends Her Violent 'American Life' Video". MTV News. MTV Networks. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  29. ^ Lamb, Bill. "Top 10 Madonna Music Videos". About.com. IAC. Retrieved April 29, 2012. 
  30. ^ Rees, Paul: 'Listen very carefully, I will say this only once', Q, May 2003, pp84-92
  31. ^ Kaufman, Gil (February 10, 2003). "Madonna Box Set Will Mark 20th Anniversary Of Her First LP". MTV News. MTV Networks. Retrieved August 12, 2009. 
  32. ^ a b c d Cinquemani, Sal. "Top Singles of the Year 2003". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on December 12, 2003. Retrieved July 30, 2013. 
  33. ^ Clarke, Betty (March 19, 2003). "The Dixie Chicks". The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved April 29, 2012. 
  34. ^ Susman, Gary (April 1, 2003). "Miss 'American' | News". Entertainment Weekly (Time Inc). Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  35. ^ "Madonna Online – Videos" (in Portuguese). MTV Brasil. Grupo Abril. Retrieved May 2, 2012. 
  36. ^ a b "Madonna Online – Videos" (in Portuguese). MTV Brasil. Grupo Abril. Retrieved May 2, 2012. 
  37. ^ a b "Best of the Aughts: Music Videos". Slant Magazine. January 20, 2010. Retrieved October 1, 2011. 
  38. ^ a b c d Christman, Ed (May 10, 2003). Retail Track: Madonna Makes Music 115 (19). Billboard. Promethus Global Media. p. 45. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  39. ^ Davies, Hugh (May 10, 2003). "HMV? More like a Virgin". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  40. ^ a b Segal, David (June 15, 2004). "Prime Madonna". The Washington Post (The Washington Post Company). Retrieved October 29, 2009. 
  41. ^ Stevenson, Jane. "Into the groove (tour spoiler)". Icon: Official Madonna Website. Madonna.com. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  42. ^ Madonna (2005). I'm Going to Tell You a Secret (DVD). Warner Home Video. 
  43. ^ American Life (US Maxi single inlay). Madonna. Maverick Records. Warner Bros. Records. 2003. 5362 42615-2. 
  44. ^ American Life (UK 2 x 12" vinyl inlay). Madonna. Maverick Records. Warner Bros. Records. 2003. 16658-2. 
  45. ^ American Life (US CD single inlay). Madonna. Maverick Records. Warner Bros. Records. 2003. 9362 42616 2. 
  46. ^ American Life (UK Maxi single 1 inlay). Madonna. Maverick Records. Warner Bros. Records. 2003. W603T2. 
  47. ^ American Life (UK Maxi single 2 inlay). Madonna. Maverick Records. Warner Bros. Records. 2003. 
  48. ^ American Life (Liner notes). Madonna. Maverick Records. 2003. 93624-84392-4. 
  49. ^ "Madonna – American Life". French Singles Chart. Hung Medien. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  50. ^ "Keresés lista és dátum szerint". Mahasz. Retrieved April 29, 2012. 
  51. ^ "Hits of the World: Spain". Billboard (Promethus Global Media) 115 (18): 54. May 3, 2003. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved August 24, 2010. 
  52. ^ "Jaaroverzichten 2003". Ultratop (in Dutch). Hung Medien. 2003. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  53. ^ "Le Bilan des Ventes de Singles en 2003". French Singles Chart (in French). Hung Medien. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  54. ^ "I singoli più venduti del 2003". Italian Singles Chart (in Italian). Hung Medien. Retrieved December 21, 2011. 
  55. ^ "Årslista Singlar – År 2003". Sverigetopplistan. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  56. ^ "Årslista Singlar – År 2003". Swiss Music Charts. Hung Medien. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  57. ^ "The Official UK Singles Chart" (PDF). UKChartsPlus. Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]