What It Feels Like for a Girl

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"What It Feels Like for a Girl"
Single by Madonna
from the album Music
B-side "Lo Que Siente La Mujer"
Released April 18, 2001
Recorded 2000
Length 4:43
Madonna singles chronology
"Don't Tell Me"
"What It Feels Like for a Girl"
"Die Another Day"

"What It Feels Like for a Girl" is a song by American singer-songwriter Madonna, taken from her eighth studio album Music (2000). The song was released as the third single from the album on April 17, 2001 by Maverick Records. The song was written by Madonna, Guy Sigsworth and David Torn, who was credited later, while production was handled by Madonna, Guy Sigsworth and Mark Stent.

The song has two official versions; the single version and the album version. Musically, the album version is a more demure pop and trip hop song, while the single version was remixed by Above and Beyond and leans more towards trance and dance-pop. Lyrically, the song describes the pressure women feel to conform to social norms of politeness and subservience. The song also attracted controversy after the duo Thunderpuss were hired to remix the single, but nearing the track's completion, it was rejected.

"What It Feels Like for a Girl" received positive reviews from music critics, praising Madonna's vocals and production, however some critics did not believe it was a strong single. Commercially, the song was successful in most music charts around the world, peaking in the top ten in countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan and the United Kingdom. Though it was a more low peak on the US Billboard Hot 100, it managed to have good success on component charts in the United States, and topped the US Hot Dance Club Play chart.

Madonna's then-husband Guy Ritchie had filmed the accompanying music video, which featured Madonna in a blonde bob wig as she was portraying a reckless woman on a crime spree. Critics criticized the music video for its depiction of violence and abuse, which caused MTV to ban it before 9pm. The single was also released on DVD and VHS containing the music video. The song was used as a video interlude and was performed in Spanish on the Drowned World Tour. The song was also covered by the Fox TV series Glee, which was commercially featured on the episode "The Power of Madonna", as well as the following EP.

Background and release[edit]

The song was written by Madonna and Guy Sigsworth and produced by Madonna, Sigsworth, and Mark "Spike" Stent. An additional composer credit is included in the I'm Going To Tell You A Secret CD inner notes, with David Torn being the third composer. The producer had sampled Torn's Cloud About Mercury album and, when Madonna found out, she had Torn added to the credits.[1] The track contains a spoken introduction by actress Charlotte Gainsbourg taken from the 1993 film version of the Ian McEwan novel, The Cement Garden.

A Spanish version of the song was specially recorded for inclusion on the single as the B-side. "Lo Que Siente la Mujer" was released as a promo-only single in Europe. Later it was added to the two-disc Tour Edition of Music and the Mexican edition of the album along with the remix of the same track replacing "American Pie", and was performed live on Madonna's Drowned World Tour in the same summer.


The official version included in the album Music.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

For the single version, "What It Feels Like for a Girl" is a trance and dance-pop inspired song, while the album version is a mid-tempo pop and trip hop song.[2] The album version, according to Musicnotes.com, which was published by Alfred Publishing Co., Inc, is set in the key Eb major.[3] Additionally, Madonna's vocals span from G3 to Bb4 notes.[3]

Lyrically, the song describes the pressure women feel to conform to social norms of politeness and subservience. The beginning of the song opens with the following dialogue from the 1993 British film, The Cement Garden, directed by Andrew Birkin starring his niece, Charlotte Gainsbourg:

"Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots. 'Cause it's OK to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading. 'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading. But secretly you'd love to know what it's like... Wouldn't you? What it feels like for a girl."

The Village Voice's Phil Dellio found the song the "answer song" to The Virgin Suicides, saying "[...] the perfect answer record to The Virgin Suicides (where boys indeed stand on the side of the street looking uncomprehendingly on girls), thanks in no small part to the gossamer-like synthesizer percolating in the background (Air bubbles?).[4] Jose F. Promis from Allmusic described it as a "semi-ballad", but praised the remix off the song calling it a "massive, deep arena club stomper."[5]

Thunderpuss controversy[edit]

The acclaimed remixing duo Thunderpuss was hired to do a remix of "What It Feels Like for a Girl". However, when they were almost finishing the mix, it was rejected because some people renamed an amateur remix of the song as "Thunderpuss Mix" and spread it on the Internet. The label thought the remix was leaked from Thunderpuss studio, after an employee claimed that he saw the Thunderpuss remix in rotation on the Internet already. Barry Harris (of Thunderpuss) talked about this episode in an interview at About.com.[6]

  • Thunderpuss Club Mix (11:22)
  • Thunderdub (11:06)
  • Thunderpuss Tribe-a-Pella (08:04)
  • Thunderpuss Radio Mix (3:46)

Critical reception[edit]

"What It Feels Like for a Girl" received generally favorable reviews from most music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic had checked the track as an album highlight. He also gave the song a separate rating, giving it two stars out of five. Jose F. Promis from Allmusic as well gave it a separate review. He gave it an alright review, but stated that the song was not known as a good single saying "although one wouldn't know [What It Feels like for a Girl] that from this single because it's chock-full of frenetic dance mixes."[7] Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine had said that Madonna had expressed a more "soul" tone towards to song, which is also towards her other single "Don't Tell Me".[8] Timothy Mark from NME gave it a positive review, as he concluded "Madonna, who has generously recorded this single for the benefit of anyone still curious as to what it really feels like for a girl. Thanks, your Madge-esty!!".[9] The Village Voice had labelled the song the best on Music saying "[...] a powerful hold that will forever remain a mystery to the boy because he'll never really know "What It Feels Like for a Girl." Which happens to be the name of my favorite song of all [...]"[4]

Chart performance[edit]

The song had peaked at number 23 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, becoming a more lower peak than average. The song however managed to top the Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts in the U.S. Elsewhere, it was successful. The song had debuted and peaked at number six on the Australian Singles Chart and was certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). It also debuted at number 50 on the New Zealand Singles Chart, until it rose to number 15. It was successful in Europe as well. It debuted at number 13 in Switzerland, until peaking at number 11. It debuted at number 40 on the French Singles Chart, until descending several times on the charts. It was very successful in Italy, where it peaked at number two until descending. It debuted at number seven in Finland, until peaking at number four for three consecutive weeks and peaked at number nine on the Danish Singles Chart. It also peaked at number seven on the UK Singles Chart.

Music video[edit]

Background and synopsis[edit]

Madonna and the elderly woman she picks up from the Ol Kuntz Guest Home in "What It Feels Like for a Girl" video.

The song attracted attention because of its music video, which premiered on America Online, but was banned from TV broadcasts in many parts of the world. It was directed by Madonna's then-husband, filmmaker Guy Ritchie in February 2001 and filmed throughout various parts of Los Angeles, including one location on W. Olympic Blvd and S. Wooster St. The video used an alternate remix edit by Above & Beyond which featured only the chorus of the original song. The remix can be found on the European single. PopMatters had described the plot off the music video:

"What It Feels Like for a Girl" opens with Madonna in a motel room, getting ready for a night out, and it all seems simple and pleasant enough. The video takes its first turn when Madonna picks up an old woman to accompany her in her drive around the city, and it quickly changes from there. Madonna rams her Camaro, into a car full of young men who were looking at her suggestively. From here, she tasers a man at an ATM machine and takes his money, pulls a realistic-looking water gun on two police officers and sprays them with water. After mowing down some roller-hockey players in a parking lot, she steals another car and blows up a gas station, all while still accompanied by the old woman. Finally, Madonna slams her stolen car into a cement pole in an apparent act of murder/suicide.[10]

Reception and controversy[edit]

Critics criticized the video for being overly violent and graphic. Madonna's spokesperson said that there was a lot of violence because it tells the story of a woman who had probably been abused. Madonna also explained that her character was acting out a "fantasy and doing things that girls are not allowed to do."[11] According to PopMatters, they explained the music video saying "While Madonna is one of MTV's darlings, she's still a woman, and the idea of a woman taking her aggressions out on men is something the network can just not have. That's what is so disturbing [...] And that really is what it feels like for a girl."[10] MSN had listed the song on "Madonna's Most Shocking Moments" and said the song was supporting a "pro-feminist image".[12]

The video was banned from most North American and European video stations including MTV[13] and VH1, receiving only early hours play.[14] The decision to ban the video was a source of argument, since it appeared to be no more violent than some television shows that aired at the time. Ironically, the video went into heavy rotation on Oh! Oxygen and was streamed on America Online frequently. It was also later played frequently on VH1 Madonna programs, but in an edited format. According to PopMatters, the reason why the video was possibly banned from MTV was due to the scene where it featured Madonna pointing a gun towards the police, as MTV had previously banned videos that contained guns.[10]


Madonna released the video as a DVD single on April 17, 2001. It became the biggest-selling DVD single of 2001.[15][16] The U.S. version of the DVD contains only the video, but in other countries, the DVD includes two audio remixes of the song that also appear on the CD single release. The video also was included in the 2001 Special Edition 2-CD release of the album Music.[17]

When aired on MTV and VH1, the video was given a TV-MA rating and when the DVD music video single was submitted to the MPAA, it received an R rating for "violent images". The DVD single received a 12 from the BBFC and a PG from the OFLC.

  • Director: Guy Ritchie
  • Producer: Lynn Zekanis
  • Executive producers: David Naylor, Sam Aslanian
  • Director of photography: Alex Barber
  • Editor: Michael Heldman
  • Visual effects producer: Sue Troyan
  • Visual effects executive producer: Neysa Horsburgh
  • Production company: DNA Inc.

Other versions[edit]

The Tracy Young remix contains a sample of the background music used during the Blitzball sequences in the Square-Enix PlayStation 2 video game Final Fantasy X.

The TV show Glee performed an all male cover of this song in their episode "The Power of Madonna" on April 20, 2010 (season 1, episode 15).

A remix is also used in the Drowned World Tour as a violent and sexually explicit video interlude, featuring footage from the anime film Perfect Blue.

Track listings and formats[edit]


Preceded by
"Club Tropicana" by Gypsy Teens
Spanish Singles Chart number-one single
April 26, 2001 – May 3, 2001
Succeeded by
"Dream On" by Depeche Mode
Preceded by
"Operation Blade (Bass in the Place...)" by Public Domain
Australian Dance Singles Chart number-one single
May 7–21, 2001
Succeeded by
"Operation Blade (Bass in the Place...)" by Public Domain
Preceded by
"All for You" by Janet Jackson
Billboard Hot Dance Club Play number-one single
June 2–8, 2001
Succeeded by
"Dream On" by Depeche Mode


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  2. ^ Madonna - Music Review www.allmusic.com.
  3. ^ a b Madonna - What It Feels Like For a Girl www.musicnotes.com.
  4. ^ a b Village Voice review of Music - Madonna
  5. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/what-it-feels-like-for-a-girl-mw0000005161
  6. ^ About.com
  7. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/what-it-feels-like-for-a-girl-us-cd12-r532143/review
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  12. ^ Madonna's most shocking moments www.msn.com
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External links[edit]