"The Power of Good-Bye" is a song by American recording artist and songwriter Madonna, for her seventh studio albumRay of Light (1998). It was written by Madonna and Rick Nowels, and was additionally produced by Madonna, William Orbit and Patrick Leonard. The song was used as the fourth single from the album in 1998. "The Power of Good-Bye" was additionally released as a A-Side single in the United Kingdom with "Little Star". Lyrically, the song talks about a painful break-up. Musically, the song is a electronic inspired song, with a ballad tone.
"The Power of Good-Bye" received generally positive reviews from music critics, who took the song as more serious than her previous ballads. The song was a worldwide success, although it failed to match the success of her previous singles from the album, "Frozen" and "Ray of Light". It managed to peak at number one in Mexico, number four in Austria (only her sixth and also her last top 10 she scored there in the 1990s), Finland and Germany, while reaching the top ten in the majority of the territories where it has charted, including the United Kingdom; in the United States it peaked just outside the top ten at number 11, becoming Madonna's 37th top 20 hit.
In the UK, "The Power of Good-Bye" was released as a double A-side with "Little Star", a track from Ray of Light. In the rest of Europe, the song was included on the major single releases as a B-side. Also notable is that the European releases included several experimental remixes of the song by Luke Slater plus one remix by Dallas Austin, who previously worked with Madonna on her Bedtime Stories (1994) album.
"The Power of Good-Bye" is a ballad featuring numerous string instruments and an electronic music sound, with lyrics reflecting on a painful breakup. Australian music critic and friend of Madonna, Molly Meldrum, claimed the lyrics were about Sean Penn. The version that was released as a single and included on the album Ray of Light is quite different from the original demo version. In the summer of 2002, demos recorded during the Ray of Light recording sessions were leaked to the Internet, with one of the demos being for "The Power of Good-Bye". The demo version features a stronger rhythm and more drum and bass.
The lyrics are also different, including the sentence 'Walk away' instead of 'Do you wanna go higher' (in the album's booklet, the lyrics 'Walk away' were never changed) and the final message: 'God help me, learn to say goodbye, please give me the power of goodbye'. Lucy O'Brien, author of Like an Icon stated "When they wrote the song [The Power of Goodbye], for instance, he [Rick Nowells] was struck by her lyric writing." Nowells also admitted "It was deep, poetic and intelligent. When she's on and at her best she's on a par with Joni Mitchell or Paul Simon." He also stated that her songwriting was a benefit of her "voracious reading." The lyrical content was compared to William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. According to Nowells, he described the song as a "meditation." He added "[The song is] a beautiful poem. I was knocked out. Touched."
"The Power of Good-Bye" received generally positive reviews from music critics, who noted the song was more serious for a ballad. As a review from PopMatters, he had said along with "Frozen", "Drowned World/Substitute for Love", "Ray of Light" and "Beautiful Stranger" that they were "testament to [William Orbit's] ability to use gadgets and electronic wizardry not to alienate listeners, but to draw them in."Slant Magazine gave it a positive review, saying "Structured like your average Adult Contemporary ballad with enough electronic sheen to sound edgy, "The Power of Goodbye" was the ultimate in electronica-lite." They continued "Perhaps better left within the aural context of Ray of Light, the song peaked just outside the Top 10."
In the United Kingdom, the song debuted at number six and stayed on the singles chart for nine weeks, selling 180,000 copies. Elsewhere the song was also a success, usually charting within the top 20. Among the countries where the song charted in the top 20 are Mexico, Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States (peaking at number 11). "The Power of Good-Bye" debuted and peaked at number two on the Spanish Singles Chart, making it the only single from Ray of Light not to reach number one in Spain. The success of the song brought Ray of Light back into the top ten on many album charts more than seven months after its release. "The Power of Good-Bye" is one of the few singles that Madonna has performed on the BBC program Top of the Pops.
Madonna playing chess in the music video for "The Power of Good-Bye".
The music video for "The Power of Good-Bye" was directed by Matthew Rolston, and was filmed from August 8–10, 1998 at Silvertop House in Los Angeles, California and Malibu Beach. The video premiered on MTV on September 10, 1998, a few minutes before the MTV Video Music Awards show began. The video was occasionally played on The WB Network after the television show Felicity, which played the song as the background music during its TV ads. The video shows Madonna and her lover playing chess and ultimately Madonna destroying the chess board, symbolizing an end to their relationship. Madonna also goes walking by the sea, but it is unclear whether she drowns herself in the last scene. Throughout the video, there are the scenes of Madonna sitting, singing and slowly dancing in front of the curtain. Madonna's lover in the video is played by Croatian actor Goran Višnjić. The video is color graded to that of a blue-green tint.
The video created some controversy due to its ending. It is debatable, but many Madonna fans believe she commits suicide at the end of the video, drowning herself in the ocean. Just before the music video ends, Madonna is shown on the beach again, happier than before. Therefore, the drowning of her character may represent the element water, which represents rebirth. The use of water-images – as well as the use of the other three elements – was an important part of the album, with the theme appearing in songs, such as "Swim". The music video recreates the famous chess playing scene from 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair (with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway). The video was also influenced by the 1946 Joan Crawford film Humoresque, recreating the beach scenes where Crawford roams the ocean shore and passes a man walking his dog. Can also be related to section ii of The Wasteland, A Game Of Chess by T.S. Eliot resembling a relationship between a man and woman, struggling with their relationship.