Drowned World/Substitute for Love

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"Drowned World/Substitute for Love"
Single by Madonna
from the album Ray of Light
B-side "Sky Fits Heaven"
Released August 24, 1998
Recorded 1997
Length 5:09
  • Madonna
  • William Orbit
Madonna singles chronology
"Ray of Light"
"Drowned World/Substitute for Love"
"The Power of Good-Bye"

"Drowned World/Substitute for Love" is a song by American singer Madonna from her seventh studio album Ray of Light (1998). The song was written by Madonna, William Orbit, Rod McKuen, Anita Kerr and David Collins, while produced by Madonna and Orbit. Musically, the song is a pop ballad, which incorporates fused elements including trip hop, electronica and minor guitar riffs towards the end. The song samples the song "Why I Follow the Tigers" by The San Sebastian Strings. Lyrically, the song describes Madonna's spiritual transformation to seek authentic love over superficial dalliances. The song was released as the album's third single of the album on August 24, 1998, worldwide except in North America.

"Drowned World/Substitute for Love" received positive reviews from music critics, who noted its restrained and mature out bring from the album and enjoyed the song as an opener to the album. Commercially, the song had generally modest success, peaking in the top ten in countries including Spain, Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom. Although the song was not released in North America, resulting it not to chart, the B-side single "Sky Fits Heaven" managed to chart at number 41 on the US Hot Dance Club Songs.

An accompanying music video was released for the song, featuring Madonna running away from the paparazzi until she arrives at home. The video received controversy due to the scenes that feature Madonna being chased by paparazzi on motor-bikes, a scenario similar to Diana, Princess of Wales's death in 1997. The song was performed in two of Madonna's tours, these being the Drowned World Tour (2001) and the Confessions Tour (2006).


Faraway image of a woman in a short red skilt and black top standing on a stage. Smokes billow around her feet.
Madonna opening the Drowned World Tour with the performance of "Drowned World/Substitute for Love".

Before the production of Ray of Light commenced, Madonna started taking vocals lessons in preparation of her lead role in Evita (1996). She also gave birth to her daughter, Lourdes, that same year. During that same period of time, she enrolled in Kabbalah and studied Hinduism and yoga. According to the production of Ray of Light, another factor which inspired the record's conception was the vocal lessons Madonna took in preparation for Evita. Madonna felt that there was a "whole piece" of her voice left unused, which she decided to utilize for the album.[1] By May 1997, Madonna had started writing songs for the album. Then not long after, Maverick Records's partner Guy Oseary phoned British electronic musician William Orbit, and suggested that he send some songs to Madonna.[1]

"Drowned World/Substitute for Love" was written by Madonna, William Orbit, Rod McKuen, Anita Kerr and David Collins, and produced by Madonna and Orbit. The single was released on August 24, 1998 worldwide except in North America, where the album's second single "Ray of Light" was released with a one-month delay, which made Madonna's record label decide to release the single outside of North America so it was able to close the one-month gap between the next single "The Power of Good-Bye" (1998). The B-side of the song was "Sky Fits Heaven".


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"Drowned World/Substitute for Love" is a downtempo pop ballad,[2] which includes influences from jungle, drum and bass,[3] trip hop as well as electronica. The title is inspired by the J.G. Ballard's post-apocalyptic science fiction novel The Drowned World (1962).[3] The song also has guitar riffs towards the end of the song. According to the notes on Musicnotes.com, which was published by Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., the song is set in a B Major key.[4] Additionally, Madonna's vocals expand from F#3 to A4 notes.[4] The Michigan Daily had described Madonna's vocals and composition off the song as "soulful".[2] According to Lucy O'Brien, author of Madonna: Like an Icon, she stated that Madonna "reflects her compulsive desire for fame, how that burned through relationships and made them shallow and fleeting."[5] She also stated that her vocals possessed "bell-like clarity." She also told that the song "sets the tone for the album; as if a ghost of her former self is supplanted by the spirit of what she's to become."[5]

The original title for this song was "No Substitute For Love" which had slightly different lyrics to the completed version. A demo with the original lyrics and different musical set up has been leaked to the internet. This version was produced by William Orbit. Some differences in lyrics are: "I found a new religion. Face the truth; No substitute for love". The final song contains the lyrics "The face of you, My substitute for love". The song begins with a male voice saying "You see", which is a sample of the song "Why I Follow the Tigers", performed by The San Sebastian Strings.

The author of the song, Rod McKuen, explains:

"The voice belongs to Jesse Pearson and the repeated phrase is 'You see'. If you follow the lyrics on 'Drowned World' and 'Why I Follow the Tigers' you'll find 'Drowned' follows the plot line of 'Tigers', which is why Anita [Kerr] and I receive co-author credit on the song and not merely 'sampling mention'." [1]

Critical reception[edit]

"Drowned World/Substitute for Love" received generally positive reviews from most music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic had labelled the song as "swirling" and a "meditative opener".[6] In an individual review, the song was rated two-and-a-half out of five stars.[7] David Browne from Entertainment Weekly said with "Frozen" that it is "a wuthering-beats melodrama that's often breathtaking."[8] Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine commented saying ""Drowned World," the title of which was inspired by J. G. Ballard's apocalyptic novel of the same name, sums up much of Madonna's personal tribulations with fame: "I got exactly what I asked for/Running, rushing back for more...And now I find, I've changed my mind." The Michigan Daily praised the track, saying "[Drowned World] [Creates] a brilliant, ecstatic pop catharsis that all but eclipses every mistake she's ever made, including the virginal writhing, gold-tooth sporting and naked hitchhiking of her sordid past", which referred to Madonna's album Erotica.[2]

However, Rolling Stone gave it a more negative outlook of the song, saying "'Drowned World' comes on loud, tacky and ridiculous, but it lets Madonna do what she does best: show off." However, he did praise it as an opener to the album.[9] In a review for GHV2, PopMatters gave it a positive review, along with tracks "The Power of Goodbye", "Frozen", "Ray of Light", "Beautiful Stranger"; "are a testament to his ability to use gadgets and electronic wizardry not to alienate listeners, but to draw them in."[10] In 2003, Madonna fans were asked to vote for their Top 20 Madonna singles of all-time by Q. "Drowned World/Substitute for Love" was allocated the #17 spot.

Chart performance[edit]

In the United Kingdom the song debuted and peaked at number 10. The song sold 90,651 copies in the UK. In European countries, "Drowned World/Substitute for Love" entered the official Spanish Singles Chart at number 10 on the issue date August 29, 1998. The next week, it jumped to number one, where it stayed for one week.[11] The song also peaked at number five on the Italian Singles Chart. In Austria, the song peaked at number 34 staying in the charts for a sole week. In Switzerland, the song had peaked at number 31, staying in the charts for five weeks. The song had more success on the French Singles Chart, where it debuted at number 88, until finally peaking at number 42, staying in the charts for 17 weeks. In the Netherlands, the song debuted at number 63, and rose to number 43 for one week. In Sweden, the song debuted at number 41, until falling to number 57 the next week.

In Australia, the single debuted at number 74,[12] climbing to its peak of #16 the following week[13] before descending. On the New Zealand Singles Chart, the song debuted at number 30, until rising to number 21, but descended the way. Though the song wasn't released in North America, resulting the single not to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 or any other component charts, the B-Side single "Sky Fits Heaven" managed to chart at number 41 on the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play charts.

Music video[edit]

Madonna being chased by paparazzi in the music video for "Drowned World/Substitute for Love".

The music video was directed by Walter Stern and filmed on June 26–27, 1998 at London's famous Claridge's Hotel and Piccadilly Circus. The video features Madonna leaving her home and being chased by paparazzi. She is constantly running, even from the other celebrities in a hotel bar. In this scene all the celebrities' faces, except Madonna's, are distorted to make everyone look demonic. One of the most striking and memorable moments of the video occurs when Madonna passes a hotel maid, smiling at her. Madonna returns the smile. Then the camera goes off; the maid has just taken a picture of her. Madonna flees, running all the way home to her daughter's (not played by Madonna's real daughter, Lourdes) arms, singing that she's "changed her mind" about being a celebrity.

The video created a lot of controversy in 1998 due to the scenes that feature Madonna being chased by paparazzi on motor-bikes, a scenario similar to Diana, Princess of Wales's death in 1997.[14][15] A press representative for Madonna, however, told MTV News that the video had nothing to do with the late Princess' death and was instead about "Madonna’s relationship to fame".[14] The video premiered in Europe on July 25, 1998. It was included on the DVD compilation The Video Collection 93:99.

Live performances[edit]

Madonna performing an acoustic version of "Drowned World/Substitute for Love" during her Confessions Tour on 2006.

On November 23, 1998, Madonna appeared on the Spanish RTVE show A La Carta and performed "Drowned World/Substitute for Love", along with her other song "The Power of Good-Bye".[16] Three years later, Madonna named her 2001 Drowned World Tour after the song, which was also performed as the opening number. She entered the stage amidst billows of dry ice, dressed in a sleeveless black top, crossover top with one net sleeve, jeans with zips and bondage straps, a studded dog collar and a tartan kilt and performed the song standing on a rising platform on the middle of the stage.[17][18] Michael Hubbard from MusicOMH gave the performance a positive review, saying it was sung beautifully.[19] Also during this same tour, the last lyrics from the song ("Now, I find I changed my mind/This is my religion") were used at the end of the performance of "Ray of Light".[20]

During the Confessions Tour in 2006, Madonna sat down on the middle of the stage and performed an acoustic, stripped-down version of the song. She was joined by Yitzhak Sinwani of the London Kabbalah Centre, who had also been present earlier in the show for the performance of the song "Isaac".[21] The song was not included on the NBC special, The Confessions Tour - Live from London, which aired on November 22, 2006, but it was included on the full-length DVD release.[22] It was also performed on the Rebel Heart Tour, on December 2, 2015, at the London O2 Arena in memory of her late friend David Collins.[23]

Track listings and formats[edit]

UK 12" promo vinyl (3331 00003 7)[24]
EU 12" vinyl (9362 44552 0)[25]

Side A

  1. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" (BT & Sasha's Ashram Remix) — 9:28

Side B

  1. "Sky Fits Heaven" (Sasha Remix) — 7:21
  2. "Sky Fits Heaven" (Victor Calderone Remix Edit) — 5:50
EU promo CD single (3333 00054-2)[26]
  1. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" (radio edit) — 4:45
EU CD single (9362 17156 9)[27]
  1. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" (album version) — 5:09
  2. "Sky Fits Heaven" (Sasha Remix Edit) — 4:08
UK CD single 1 (W0453CD1)[28]
JP Maxi-CD (WPCR-1983)[29]
  1. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" (album version) — 5:09
  2. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" (BT & Sasha's Ashram Remix) — 9:28
  3. "Sky Fits Heaven" (Sasha Remix Edit) — 4:08
UK CD single 2 (W0453CD2)[30]
  1. "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" (album version) — 5:09
  2. "Sky Fits Heaven" (Sasha Remix) — 7:21
  3. "Sky Fits Heaven" (Victor Calderone Remix Edit) — 5:50


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b >Black, Johnny (August 2002). "Making of Ray of Light". Q (Bauer Media Group) 17 (8). ISSN 0955-4955. 
  2. ^ a b c The Michigan Daily Review Madonna - Ray of Light
  3. ^ a b Madonna: Ray Of Light | Music Review | Slant Magazine
  4. ^ a b Ciccone, Madonna. "Madonna Ciccone "Drowned World / Substitute for Love" Sheet Music - Download & Print". Musicnotes.com. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  5. ^ a b Like an Icon. Pg. 241.
  6. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine (1998-03-03). "Ray of Light - Madonna | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  7. ^ "Drowned World - Madonna | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. 1998-09-15. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  8. ^ David Browne on Mar 06, 1998 (1998-03-06). "Ray of Light Review | Music Reviews and News". EW.com. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  9. ^ (Posted: Apr 2, 1998) (1998-04-02). "Madonna: Ray Of Light : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone". Web.archive.org. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  10. ^ Robinson, Charlotte. "Madonna: Greatest Hits Volume 2". PopMatters. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  11. ^ a b Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  12. ^ "The ARIA Australian Top 100 Singles Chart - Week Ending 30 Aug 1998". Imgur. Archived from the original on 2015-10-02. Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  13. ^ "australian-charts.com > Madonna - Drowned World (Substitute For Love) (song)". Hung Medien. Retrieved 2015-10-02. 
  14. ^ a b "Madonna Video "Drowned" In Controversy - Music, Celebrity, Artist News". MTV.com. 1998-07-07. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  15. ^ "BBC News Entertainment". Madonna: Mad for Success at 40. August 15, 1998. Retrieved August 4, 2007. 
  16. ^ "Madonna con Miguel Bosé (23 de noviembre de 1998)". RTVE.es (in Spanish). RTVE. 1 September 2008. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  17. ^ Clerk 2002, p. 172
  18. ^ Moss, Cory (2001-06-11). "Few Hits, Many Costumes At Madonna Tour Launch". MTV (MTV Networks). Retrieved 2009-12-29. 
  19. ^ Hubbard, Michael (July 4, 2001). "Madonna @ Earl's Court, London". MusicOMH. Retrieved October 8, 2014. 
  20. ^ Madonna (2001). Drowned World Tour 2001 (VHS). Warner Home Video. 
  21. ^ "She gets into the groove - The Boston Globe". Boston.com. July 7, 2006. Retrieved December 20, 2013. 
  22. ^ Madonna (2007). The Confessions Tour (CD, DVD). Warner Music Vision. 
  23. ^ Parton, David (December 3, 2015). "“I finally made it to the top”, and don’t we know it: Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour, December 2nd 2015". The Oxford Student. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  24. ^ Madonna - Drowned World / Substitute For Love
  25. ^ Madonna - Drowned World / Substitute For Love
  26. ^ Madonna - Drowned World / Substitute For Love
  27. ^ Madonna - Drowned World / Substitute For Love
  28. ^ Madonna - Drowned World / Substitute For Love (CD1)
  29. ^ Madonna - Drowned World / Substitute For Love (Remixes)
  30. ^ Madonna - Drowned World/Substitute For Love
  31. ^ "Australian-charts.com – Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute for Love)". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  32. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute for Love)" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  33. ^ "Lescharts.com – Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute for Love)" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  34. ^ "Officialcharts.de – Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute for Love)". GfK Entertainment. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  35. ^ "Madonna: Discografia Italiana" (in Italian). Federation of the Italian Music Industry. 1984–1999. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  36. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Madonna search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  37. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute for Love)" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  38. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute for Love)". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  39. ^ "Archive Chart: August 30, 1998". Scottish Singles Top 40. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  40. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute for Love)". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  41. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Madonna – Drowned World (Substitute for Love)". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  42. ^ "Madonna: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
  43. ^ "Madonna – Chart history" Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs for Madonna. Retrieved 2014-12-11.