Ray of Light (song)

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"Ray of Light"
Single by Madonna
from the album Ray of Light
B-side "Has to Be"
Released May 6, 1998
Format CD, maxi-single, video single, cassette, 7", 12"
Recorded 1997
Genre Electronic, dance-pop, techno, tech house
Length 5:21 (album version)
4:34 (radio edit)
  • Madonna
  • William Orbit
  • Clive Muldoon
  • Dave Curtiss
  • Christine Leach
  • Madonna
  • William Orbit
Madonna singles chronology
"Ray of Light"
"Drowned World/Substitute for Love"

"Ray of Light" is the second single by American singer-songwriter Madonna from her 1998 album of the same name, and is based on Curtiss Maldoon's "Sepheryn". The song was written by Madonna, William Orbit, Clive Muldoon, Dave Curtiss and Christine Leach, and was produced by Madonna and Orbit.

An up-tempo electronic song with techno, trance, European dance and disco influences,[1][2][3][4] "Ray of Light" contains elements of rock music, which have drawn comparison to the work of Oasis,[5] as well as several sound effects such as whistles, bleeps and bells,[1][6] the usage of electric guitar,[1] and underlying synthesizers.[5] Lyrically, the song has a theme of freedom.[1] The song has received positive critical reception, being acclaimed for its club-friendly, electronic sound as well as its greater level of lyrical maturity, "emotional warmth",[4] and the way in which it shows a more spiritual side to Madonna.[1] Critics also praised the fact that the song was a departure from Madonna's previous work; "Ray of Light" is oriented in Madonna's dance roots, yet, it goes deeper, and incorporates more underground genres.[4] The song also received several nominations and awards; it was nominated for three Grammy Awards, for Record of the Year, Best Dance Recording, and Best Short Form Music Video, winning the last two. "Ray of Light" entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number five, becoming Madonna's highest debut on the chart to date. It also reached the top five in Canada, Finland, Italy and the United Kingdom, and peaked at number one in Spain.

The music video for the song was directed by Jonas Åkerlund; shot in different metropolises around the world, it is essentially a high-speed time-lapse, showing the daily life of people. The video for "Ray of Light" was also critically acclaimed, ranked as one of the greatest music videos of all time,[7] receiving the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video, as well as receiving eight nominations and eventually winning five awards at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year and Best Female Video. Despite this, the music video prompted a lawsuit from Stefano Salvati who claimed that the video copied the concept of his music video for "Non è Mai Stato Subito", the 1994 single of Italian singer Biagio Antonacci.[8]

The song has been performed in three of Madonna's concert tours, as well as several notable performances such as at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards, Live 8, Live Earth and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The song has left a legacy, often being ranked as being one of the best songs of the 1990s.[4][9] It has been credited as influencing contemporary pop, as well as helping bring electronic dance into mainstream American popular music.[1][9] The song has been covered numerous times, and has been featured in several elements of popular culture, such as on the Fox TV show Glee and the animated television series Family Guy, as well as different advertising campaigns.


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A high-speed electronic dance song, "Ray of Light" has received stylistic comparisons to rave, psychedelic and acid music.[6] The track contains strong techno elements, as well as disco, trance and Eurodance influences, and it sees Madonna deepen her dance roots and go for a more electronic sound. The song is based on the track "Sepheryn", written by Clive Maldoon and Dave Curtiss, but with its melody and instrumentation altered. All five (Madonna, Orbit, Maldoon, Curtiss and Leach) are credited for the song. The song was remixed by Victor Calderone, Sasha and Orbit. According to sheet music published by Muscinotes.com at Alfred Publishing, the song is written in the key of B♭ major and has a tempo of 126 beats per minute.[10] The song starts off with an electric guitar riff which has been compared to British alternative rock/Britpop band Oasis, after which the fast techno melody begins, which, according to Lucy O'Brien in her book Madonna: Like an Icon, has been described as having a "bubbling psychedelic undertow", as well as combining "melodic pop with bleep-driven techno".[6] Throughout the composition, there are numerous electronic sound effects, including whistles, bells and bleeps. Its beat has been described as "restless".[4] Towards the middle of the track, the electric guitar riff is repeated in which Madonna sings the same line as the start of the song, until the dance section returns, and the song gradually ends. According to some sources, Madonna's vocals on the song span from B♭3 to B♭5, with the latter note sung on the ah vocalization near the end of the song. Madonna's "breathlessly"[4] delivered vocals on the song are noted to be different from the ones featured in her singles before the 1996 film Evita.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

"Ray of Light" has received acclaim from critics ever since its release. Liana Jonas of Allmusic called the track a "wickedly good club song", as well as claiming that it was "sonically progressive yet listener-friendly"; she also praised Madonna's vocals, comparing them to those of a "club diva to celestial goddess".[1] In a separate Allmusic review for the album as a whole, Stephen Thomas Erlewine described the track as "swirling".[11] Rob Sheffield in his review for the album as a whole, wrote that, alongside other tracks such as "Swim" and "Drowned World/Substitute For Love", Madonna is "positively ferocious".[5] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine wrote that the song was a "celebratory tech-frenzy", and noted Madonna's "elation" in the song, giving it an "A" rating.[12] In a Slant Magazine list of the best singles of the 1990s, in which the song was placed 16th, it was written that the song's "beat is restless", and that "Ray of Light" is "a standout single even in a catalogue as replete with classics as Madonna's" due to the song's "emotional warmth".[4] Bill Lamb of About.com, described the song and the music of the album as "fresh, new and invigorating".[9] In her book Madonna: Like an Icon, Lucy O'Brien described the song as "speedy acid electronica" and an "ecstatic hymn to the skies" and noted that the song was composed a semitone higher than the singer's vocal comfort zone, but claimed that "the strain really helped".[6]

In 1999, "Ray of Light" won two Grammy Awards for Best Dance Recording and Best Short Form Music Video. It was also nominated for Record of the Year, but lost to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On." About.com named the song as the fifth "Top 100 Pop Songs of the 1990s".[9] In 2005, the song placed at No. 401 on Blender Magazine's "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born".[13] Slant Magazine listed "Ray of Light" as 16th "Best Singles of the '90s"[4] Furthermore, The Village Voice ranked the single as the fourth best in 1998 in their Pazz & Jop critics' poll.[14]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United States "Ray of Light" debuted and peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100, staying of the chart for a total of twenty weeks.[15] Starting on June 20, 1998, it topped the U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs Chart for a total of three consecutive weeks. On September 10, 1998, it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipments of over 500,000 units. In the United Kingdom, it peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart, being held off the number one spot by All Saints's "Under the Bridge / Lady Marmalade". It was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry(BPI) on April 24, 1998. According to The Official Charts Company, the song has sold 275,000 copies in the United Kingdom.[16] In Australia, "Ray of Light" debuted on the ARIA Singles Chart at its peak of number six on May 24, 1998, and was present for a total of 17 weeks on the chart.[17] It was later certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), for shipments of over 35,000 units. It also peaked at number three in Canada, number five in Japan, number two in Finland and Italy and number nine on the European Hot 100 singles chart. In Spain, "Ray of Light" debuted at number one on the AFYVE singles chart on May 6, 1998, replacing Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On". It stayed on the top spot for three weeks before descending the chart.[18]

Music video[edit]


The video was directed by Jonas Åkerlund, with Madonna's scenes being shot on March 25–26, 1998 at Raleigh Studios and Florentine Gardens nightclub in downtown Los Angeles. The images of various cities include Los Angeles, New York, London, Las Vegas and Stockholm. It also features a couple of clips from the Swedish television game show Bingolotto, which is broadcast from Gothenburg. Alternate remix versions, set to Sasha's Ultraviolet Mix and Victor Calderone's Club Mix of the track feature additional footage of both Madonna and of the environment. Footage from the making of this video was also used for the screen projection of "Runaway Lover" during the Don't Tell Me Promo Tour.


Madonna, dressed in jeans while dancing in front of the clouds in the "Ray of Light" music video.

The music video starts over the land of sunset with the rising of the sun, until it progresses into a Koyaanisqatsi-esque section, featuring time-lapse images of daily life, from people riding a subway, ordering food, bowling, and children in a classroom to sped-up city-scapes and freeways at night. It should be noted that in almost every scene with people in it, such as in the club or classroom, one person is staring directly at the camera, while everyone else goes on with their daily lives. Madonna, dressed in jeans, a simple white tank top, and golden blonde hair, can be seen dancing at the same time. As the video goes on, night starts to fall, and high-speed images of Madonna dancing in a discothèque progress, until she is seen falling asleep on the dance floor.


The video was ranked No. 40 on VH1's 100 Greatest Videos, listed No. 1 on Back In... 98's Top 5 Best Videos, ranked No. 7 on Listed's Top 40 Memorable Videos Pt. 1 & 2, on MuchMoreMusic, and ranked No. 26 on MuchMusic's 100 Best Videos. It was ranked at number four on "The Top 100 Videos That Broke The Rules", issued by MTV on the channel's 25th anniversary in August 2006.[19]

The video received a total of eight MTV Video Music Awards nominations, becoming Madonna's second most-nominated video at the award show, after "Vogue" in 1990. It won five awards for Video of the Year, Best Female Video, Best Direction, Best Editing and Best Choreography, becoming her most-winning song at the show.

Video release[edit]

On June 23, 1998, the music video of "Ray of Light" was released on VHS as a limited edition of 40,000 copies by Warner Music Vision. The VHS tape released was a new state of the art model offering a clearer, sharper picture and superior sound quality. Each edition came with a numbered card and bound in a jet black card slip case, neatly labelled with two satin-finished stickers. A live performance video of "Ray of Light" was released on January 25, 2007 to promote The Confessions Tour CD+DVD. It was filmed on August 16, 2006 at Wembley Arena in London, England. The video was made available to download on iTunes (UK), Spike (US), MuchMusic and MusiMax (Canada) and shown on many music channels. Another live performance video of "Ray of Light" was released March 25, 2010 on Yahoo! Music to promote Sticky & Sweet Tour CD+DVD. It was filmed in December 2008 at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina.


In June 1998 Italian director Stefano Salvati accused Madonna's Warner Bros. Records imprint Maverick Records of plagiarizing the concept of a music video he directed for Biagio Antonacci's 1994 single "Non è Mai Stato Subito."[20] According to Salvati copies of his videos were submitted to Maverick before the "Ray of Light" video was shot and requested that the clip be pulled from distribution.[21] Both videos featured the respective singers performing at regular speed against a backdrop of high-speed images.[20]

Live performances[edit]

Madonna, flanked by her back-up dancers, performs "Ray of Light" at the 2006 Confessions Tour

Madonna has performed "Ray of Light" several times. In 1998, Madonna appeared on several TV Shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show to promote the album, and would sometimes perform the song. During the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards Madonna started performing her song "Shanti/Ashtangi", sporting black hair and wearing an Indian sari, Lenny Kravitz then appeared playing the guitar, which paved way to "Ray of Light". That same evening the song's music video would go on to win several awards including "Best Female Video" and "Video of the Year". 3 years later, "Ray of Light" was included as the fifth song of Madonna's 2001 Drowned World Tour, and the last one of the opening Neo-Punk segment, which featured Madonna and her dancers wearing punk inspired clothing, this time with the electric guitar being played by Monte Pittman. In 2005 Madonna performed "Ray of Light" during the Live 8 benefit concert. That same year while doing a set of short promotional performances for her tenth studio album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna sang "Ray of light several times, including at the 2006 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California.

During her 2006 Confessions Tour Madonna included a rock version of "Ray of Light" as the second song of the show's third act, the Glam-Punk segment. For this performance Madonna played the electric guitar (which featured an "I Love New York" guitar strap) and urged all the fans to jump all through the song, it also featured 6 male backup dancers, dressed in black outfits and white ties doing a synchronized choreography. "Ray of Light" was also performed by Madonna during the 2007 Live Earth concert in London's Wembley Stadium. For the 2008 Sticky & Sweet Tour, "Ray of Light" was included as the third song of the show's final segment. This time, Madonna played the electric guitar and wore a futuristic outfit with a breastplate and a short wig. She was accompanied by her dancers who were dressed in futuristic outfits and performed a robotic choreography. During the tour's 2009 European leg, "Ray of Light" became the show's penultimate song. "Ray of Light" was rumored to be part of Madonna's 2012 Super Bowl setlist, but ultimately was not performed. [22] A brief excerpt of the song was used during the "Turning Up the Hits" interlude on the MDNA Tour.


The song has been influential, featuring in different advertising campaigns, and is also credited for helping bring electronic dance music into mainstream pop and radio. The song has featured in numerous advertising campaigns; was used by Microsoft in its 2001 advertising campaign for Windows XP, in combination with an image named Bliss, as well as a campaign for Sunsilk shampoo in 2008. Premiering on Super Bowl Sunday, the Sunsilk ad included shots of Marilyn Monroe and Shakira with songs well known by them, and ends with several video shots of Madonna to the sounds of "Ray of Light". Most recently, the song was used in a promo for the 2011 season of Masterchef Australia.

Cover versions, live cover performances, etc.[edit]

  • The 2000 compilation Virgin Voices: A Tribute To Madonna, Vol. 2 features a cover by Sigue Sigue Sputnik.[23]
  • On the 2004 compilation Platinum Blonde NRG, Vol. 2: Nrgised Madonna Classics, a Hi-NRG cover is performed by Future Force.
  • Natasha Bedingfield recorded a cover version of "Ray of Light" for BBC Radio 1's 40th anniversary. It was played during the Chris Moyles Show on Wednesday September 19, 2007 and can be found on the Radio 1. Established 1967 compilation CD released shortly afterwards. She said "I have so much respect for Madonna after learning how hard it is to sing that song. She has an amazing voice – the range you need to sing the song is incredible".[24]
  • In 2008, Iggy Pop and The Stooges played "Ray of Light" (along with "Burning Up") during Madonna's induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[25]
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's medley Polka Power! from the album Running With Scissors includes a polka version of the chorus.
  • In 2010, Glee tribute episode The Power of Madonna featured "Ray of Light" playing in the background as the school's cheerleading team performed a complicated stilts routine.
  • In 2010, the song was played in the film Burlesque while Ali (Christina Aguilera) was rehearsing for her new position as a dancer in the Burlesque Lounge, owned by Cher's character Tess.
  • In the 2011 Family Guy episode New Kidney in Town, Peter is seen in the Ray of Light video after drinking his first energy drink (Red Bull).
  • Microsoft used "Ray of Light" in an advertising campaign for its computer operating system, Windows XP. The company started airing the advertisements on October 15, 2001.[26]

Track listings and formats[edit]

Credits and Personnel[edit]

  • Written by Madonna, William Orbit, Clive Muldoon, Dave Curtis, and Christine Leach.
  • Produced by Madonna and William Orbit.
  • Engineered by Pat McCarthy.
  • Art Direction/design by Kevin Reagan.
  • Photography by Mario Testino.

Charts and certifications[edit]

Preceded by
"My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion
Spanish Singles Chart number-one single
May 6, 1998 – May 20, 1998
Succeeded by
"Corazón prohibido" by Gloria Estefan
Preceded by
"Sunchyme" by Dario G
Billboard Hot Dance Club Play number-one single
June 20, 1998 – July 11, 1998
Succeeded by
"Sweet Freedom" by Shawn Christopher


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