Don't Tell Me (Madonna song)

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"Don't Tell Me"
Madonna, Don't Tell Me cover.png
Single by Madonna
from the album Music
B-side "Cyber-Raga"
Released November 21, 2000[1]
Recorded 2000
Length 4:40
  • Madonna
  • Mirwais Ahmadzaï
Madonna singles chronology
"Don't Tell Me"
"What It Feels Like for a Girl"
"Don't Tell Me"
"What It Feels Like for a Girl"
Music video
"Don't Tell Me" on YouTube

"Don't Tell Me" is a song by American singer Madonna from her eighth studio album Music (2000). It was written by Madonna, Mirwais Ahmadzaï and Joe Henry, while being produced by the former two. "Don't Tell Me" is a country and dance song, with elements of trip hop and folk within its composition, and its lyrical content features "don't-tell-me-what-to-do" lyrics, where Madonna asks her lover to not tell her who she should love, or how she should love. It was released as the second single from the album on November 21, 2000 by Maverick Records. The song was also included on the compilation albums GHV2 (2001) and Celebration (2009).

"Don't Tell Me" received positive reviews from music critics, who cited the song as one of the album's standouts and praised Madonna's "soulful" vocals performance. Madonna also received comparisons to Sheryl Crow on the track. It was commercially successful, reaching the number one in Canada, Italy and New Zealand, as well as the top five in several regions. In the United States, "Don't Tell Me" reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); She became tied with The Beatles and stayed only behind Elvis Presley for the most top-ten singles and most gold singles in the history.

The accompanying music video for "Don't Tell Me" was directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino and featured Madonna as a cowgirl walking down an automated treadmill walkway in front of a projection screen, with cowboys dancing and playing on the sand in the video played on the screen behind her. The video received two nominations on the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards, while also being nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Music Video, Short Form. Madonna performed the song live on the Drowned World Tour, Re-Invention World Tour and Rebel Heart Tour, and also as a mashup with Miley Cyrus' song "We Can't Stop" when she appeared on Cyrus' MTV Unplugged special. The song has been covered multiple times.

Background and release[edit]

"Don't Tell Me" was originally written by Madonna's brother-in-law Joe Henry as "Stop".

In September 1999, it was announced that Madonna had reteamed with producer William Orbit for a possible follow-up to her seventh studio album Ray of Light (1998), according to the singer's spokesperson. Madonna also signed to be on the film The Next Best Thing and contribute to its soundtrack.[2] In January 2000, Madonna announced that she was going to experiment with electronica on her then-upcoming album and was said to be venturing into the popular European dance style known as trance.[3] The next month, Madonna released a cover of Don McLean's "American Pie" as a single to the soundtrack of The Next Best Thing,[4] while in April 2000, it was announced that French musician Mirwais Ahmadzaï was creating a melding of dance and pop songs with a disco feel for the album.[5]

"Don't Tell Me" was written by Madonna, Mirwais Ahmadzaï and Joe Henry, Madonna's brother-in-law. The demo of the song, entitled "Stop", was first created by Henry at his home studio with string samples.[6] Later, Henry played the demo for his wife and she said, "You know, I can really hear Madonna singing this song. You should send it to her, you know, she's making a record in London right now." However, he claimed, "If I was going to pitch something to her, I could probably dig something up, but it certainly wouldn't be this." Later, his wife sent Madonna a copy of the demo, but it was so musically different from the record she was making that she didn't know how she could make any use out of it.[7] After some time, he was talking to Madonna on the phone and she asked to rearrange the track to fit in better with the album, recording the song months later. Henry claimed in an interview that he was surprised that, lyrically, it remained completely intact.[7] "Don't Tell Me" was released as the second single from the album on November 14, 2000.[1][8]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"Don't Tell Me" was written by Madonna, Mirwais Ahmadzaï, Joe Henry, with the former two also producing it. Ahmadzaï also provided programming, acoustic guitars and keyboards, while Michel Colombier arranged strings. It was composed using common time in the key of D major, with a moderate tempo of 100 beats per minute. Madonna's vocals range from the lower octave of G3 to the higher note of A4.[9] Sonically, "Don't Tell Me" was considered "a country meets dance" track with trip hop beats infused with an acoustic "folksy" riff.[10] During an interview for Interview Magazine, in March 2001, Madonna discussed the lyrics, stating, "To me it is a romantic song. Just, you know, rip my skin off, do not tell me who I should love, or how I should love. Don’t tell me to give up. To me, in a way it’s like that Frank Sinatra song, 'If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere'."[11]

Critical reception[edit]

Many critics compared the song to Sheryl Crow's music.[12][13][14]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic called it a "stunner"; an "intricate, sensual [and] folk-psych" track.[15] Ben Greenbank of Sputnikmusic wrote that the combination of two rabidly different genres works excellently."[10] A writer for NME considered the song an "alt-alt-country, hacked-up acoustic guitar over knife-sharp beats," comparing her to Sheryl Crow.[13] Gary Crossing of Dot agreed, writing that the song has "a touch of Sheryl Crow perhaps with nice Massive Attack-ish string arrangement, oddball stop-start beats," but considered the track "quite forgettable otherwise."[14] Danny Eccleston of Q also saw similarities to Sheryl Crow, calling the song "Music's closest cousin to the internal landscapes of Ray of Light," also noting that the song has "a masterful ending – as a rhythm of insectoid whirrs and bendy ARP-style ‘wowp!’s join the guitar while Michel Colombier’s strings ape the peal of church bells."[12] Cynthia Fuchs from PopMatters wrote that the song "is another near miss, with admirable attitude but, well, laughable lyrics."[16] Regis D'Angiolini of CD Now was more critical with the song, calling it an "oddball amalgamation of folk and electronica that doesn't work."[17] While reviewing her second compilation album, Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine commented about the track:

"'Don't Tell Me' was the most unlikely follow-up to 2000's 'Music'. Stop-and-go guitar riffs, an atypical structure and peculiar lyrics ('Tell the bed not to lay/Like the open mouth of a grave/Not to stare up at me/Like a calf down on its knees') made it an unlikely hit to boot. But a hit is exactly what it was, earning Madonna her 27th Top 5 hit and 24th gold single (tying the Beatles). "Don't Tell Me" found Madonna at her most soulful, with a vocal performance reminiscent of the forceful tone of "Express Yourself."[18]


In 2003, Madonna fans were asked to vote for their top 20 favorite Madonna singles of all time by Q magazine, and "Don't Tell Me" won the number 13 spot.[19] In 2005, the song was placed at number 285 on Blender magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born".[20] In 2013, Keith Caulfield of Billboard listed "Don't Tell Me" at number 26 on "Madonna's 40 Biggest Billboard Hits" list.[21] Amanda Hutchinson of MetroLyrics placed the song at number 7 on her "Playlistin': 10 Best Madonna Songs" list, writing that "Everything about Madonna's 2000 hit "Don't Tell Me" is awesome: the sassy don't-tell-me-what-to-do lyrics, the 'Sweet Home Alabama'-style guitar licks, and Madge's amazing cowboy look in the music video."[22] Website HowStuffWorks ranked the song as one of her top 25 songs from the 2000s decade.[23]

While listing "The 100 Greatest Madonna Songs", Louis Virtel of The Backlot ranked the song at number 25, writing that on the song "Madonna's a lonesome troubadour defending her very being while invoking some tried-and-true country music imagery. The whole whirs and gyrates like a lasso, and it’s an unmistakable radio moment of the early 2000s."[24] Mark Graham of VH1 placed the song at number 20 on his "53 Favorite Madonna Songs", in honor of her 53rd birthday,[25] and Bill Lamb of listed the track at number 34 on his "Madonna's 38 Top 10 Pop Songs".[26] Matthew Jacobs of Huffington Post listed "The Definitive Ranking Of Madonna Singles" and "Don't Tell Me" was picked as her 20th, with Jacobs writing that the song is "one of the standouts from the 'Music' album," noting that "the country-inspired 'Don't Tell Me' thrived because it was such an unlikely follow-up to the electronic-infused title single."[27] In 2009, Pitchfork Media ranked the song at number 434 in their list of The Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s.[28]

Chart performance[edit]

Madonna performing "Don't Tell Me" on the Re-Invention World Tour, 2004

"Don't Tell Me" debuted at number 78 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, on the week ending December 9, 2000.[29] It climbed to number 54 the following week, while in its third week, it reached the top-forty at number 35.[30] After its commercial release, the single climbed from number 16 to number four, giving the singer her 34th top-ten hit.[31] The feat made her tie with The Beatles and put her within reach Elvis Presley's record of 36 top-ten hits at the time;[31] however, Madonna surpassed both when she released "4 Minutes" in 2008, becoming the artist with most top-ten singles in Billboard history.[32] On the Hot Dance Club Songs, it managed to remain for 14 weeks on the chart,[33] outlasting "Music" and tying with "Ray of Light" as Madonna's longest running club hit since "Bedtime Story" (1995).[34] In addition, "Don't Tell Me" is Madonna's biggest hit on the Adult Top 40 chart, where it peaked at number four.[35] On March 28, 2001, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified "Don't Tell Me" gold, becoming her 24th gold single and tying her with The Beatles for the second spot of most gold records in the United States.[36]

The song was also a huge commercial success around the world, peaking in the top five in many countries. It hit the number one spot in Canada,[37] New Zealand,[38] becoming her twentieth number-one single in Canada and fourth consecutive (following "Beautiful Stranger", "American Pie" and "Music"),[39] while in New Zealand, it became her fifth number-one and second consecutive (following "Music").[38] In the United Kingdom, "Don't Tell Me" reached the number four slot, on December 8, 2000, becoming her twelfth consecutive top-ten single.[40] According to the Official Charts Company, the song has sold 185,000 copies there.[41] In Australia, "Don't Tell Me" peaked at number seven[42] and it was certified platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for shipments of 70,000 units.[43] In Italy, "Don't Tell Me" peaked at number one on the FIMI Singles Chart,[44] in Finland, it reached number three,[45] while in Norway, the song managed to reach number six.[46]

Music video[edit]

Madonna and her dancers dressed as cowboys, do a line dance routine similar to the music video, during the performance of the song on the Drowned World Tour, 2001

The music video for "Don't Tell Me" was directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who worked with Madonna in her videos for "Open Your Heart", "Justify My Love", "Human Nature" and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore", and filmed in October 2000. The choreography was done by Alex Magno, who also collaborated on the Drowned World Tour. The tour designers DSquared² and Arianne Phillips also designed Madonna's cowgirl costume. The video features Madonna walking down an automated treadmill walkway in front of a projection screen, while cowboys dance and play on the sand in the video played on the screen behind her. Later, they join Madonna in front of the screen in a choreographed dance routine. The iconic final scene of the video depicts a cowboy riding a Skewbald horse in slow motion getting thrown to the ground, and getting up again.[22][26]

Author Judith Periano, on her book Listening to the Sirens: Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to Hedwig, compared the music video to Judy Garland's "Get Happy"; "in which the gay icon was similarly surrounded by gay-coded dancers [...] just as in Garland's chorus line, they fall about her at various times in choreographed adoration". Periano also wrote that the song and its video presumed Madonna's queer audience the most.[47] Author Alejandro L. Madrid felt that with the video Madonna managed to make an impact on the nortec fashion culture; he wrote on his book Nor-tec Rifa!: Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World that "Jean-Baptiste Mondino's accompanying music video for 'Don't Tell Me' launched a worldwide cowboy vogue [...] Madonna's country fad, where she wore a tejano hat, had already started and the fans also began to wear hats."[48] The video was nominated for two awards on the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards: Best Female Video and Best Choreography (Jamie King), while also being nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Music Video, Short Form.[49] It was also voted Madonna's 10th sexiest video by Extra and 37th best music video by The Backlot.[50][51]

Live performances[edit]

Madonna performing "Don't Tell Me" during the Rebel Heart Tour, 2015

In order to promote Music and "Don't Tell Me", Madonna appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman in November 2000, being the first time since her controversial appearance in 1994, where she performed a slower, acoustic version of the song, accompanying herself on guitar along with co-writer Joe Henry. It the first time Madonna performed guitar herself in public.[52] She later went to Europe to promote the single on German game-show Wetten, dass..?,[53] and later performed "Don't Tell Me" on British television program Top of The Pops, along with previous single "Music".[54] She also performed the latter songs live on French television program Nulle Part Ailleurs,[55][56] and sang only "Don't Tell Me" on Carràmba! Che fortuna in Italy.[57] The song was also part of the promotional shows for Music.[58] The first of these, was on November 5, 2000, at Roseland Ballroom in New York City, and the other on November 29, 2000, at Brixton Academy in London.[59] During the performance of New York, she wore a black tank top with "Britney Spears" written on it, along with cowboy hats and boots.[58][59] Roseland's secondary stage was used for the performance and was decked as a neo-Western wonderland.[60] Madonna performed the song sitting on a bale of hay while Mirwais Ahmadzaï played the acoustic guitar.[58]

One year later, Madonna included "Don't Tell Me" on her Drowned World Tour, where it was performed as the second song of the third segment. Dressed as a cowgirl, wearing a stars and stripes vest, and wearing a raccoon's tail as an accessory, she did line dancing with her dancers, who dressed as cowboys.[61] The performance of the song on August 26, 2001, at The Palace of Auburn Hills was recorded and released in the live video album, Drowned World Tour 2001.[62] Three years later, Madonna performed a "funked-up" version of the song on the Re-Invention World Tour as the second song from the acoustic segment. Wearing a black Stella McCartney suit, she recreated the original choreography from the song's video with her dancers.[63] Two versions of the song were performed throughout the tour – a French video backdrop version for the American leg and Paris shows, and one that sampled The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" for the other tour stops.[64] In January 2014, Madonna appeared as a special guest during Miley Cyrus' MTV Unplugged special. She sang a mash-up of "Don't Tell Me" with Cyrus' song "We Can't Stop". According to Cyrus, "Don't Tell Me" is one of her most favorite songs to karaoke to.[65] Madonna performed the song on her 2015–16 Rebel Heart Tour in selected dates.[66][67][68]

Cover versions and usage in media[edit]

At the 2001 MTV Movie Awards as hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Kirsten Dunst, a parody of the song (and video) were performed by the hosts, as they detailed the anticipated events of the evening. Fallon at one moment dropped to the floor to bathe himself in sand, like Madonna in the video.[69] Rock band The Androids recorded a song entitled "Do It with Madonna", where they detail how they would prefer sex with the titular star as opposed to more recently unveiled pop idols. In the song, the band says that one of the reasons Madonna is appealing is a music video where she's wearing "cowboy hat and [...] kicking the dirt", a clear reference to the video for "Don't Tell Me".[70] In 2015, TV show host Ellen DeGeneres re-created "Don't Tell Me" video with herself as a backup dancer.[71]

In 2001, Joe Henry released "Stop" for his eighth studio album, Scar (2001).[6] Singer Lizz Wright recorded a jazzy take on "Stop" which she included in her 2005 release, Dreaming Wide Awake.[72]

Track listings and formats[edit]



Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[109] Platinum 70,000^
France (SNEP)[110] Silver 125,000*
United States (RIAA)[111] Gold 500,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[112] Silver 200,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]