Nothing Really Matters
|"Nothing Really Matters"|
The CD, FLP, and vinyl cover sleeve.
|Single by Madonna|
|from the album Ray of Light|
|B-side||"To Have and Not to Hold"|
|Released||March 2, 1999|
|Recorded||Larrabee North Studio
(North Hollywood, California)
|Madonna singles chronology|
"Nothing Really Matters" is a song recorded by American singer Madonna for her seventh studio album, Ray of Light (1998). It was written by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, and was produced by herself alongside William Orbit and additional production by Marius De Vries. The song was released as the fifth and final single from the album on March 2, 1999 by Maverick Records and Warner Bros. Records. A dance and house on which Madonna experimented with different musical genres, "Nothing Really Matters" includes ambient and non-diegetic sound noises and sounds that were provided by De Vries. Despite this, Madonna and Orbit reluctantly allowed De Vries additional production into the song. The lyrical content is about Madonna's first daughter Lourdes Leon, alongside themes of selfishness, affection, and motherhood.
"Nothing Really Matters" received positive reviews from most music critics, who commended the song's lyrical content and composition. Many critics believe it is one of her most personal efforts; however, some critics felt the song was tepid and lacklustre compared to other tracks from Ray of Light. In the United States, the song remains Madonna's lowest entry on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 93. Despite this, it became her twenty-third number-one on the US Dance Club Songs chart. Its low chart position on the Hot 100 was a result to a lack of airplay, where the chart restricted its sales limit; it resulted into many of Madonna's fans protesting about the issue. Despite this, it reached the top spot in Spain, and entered the top ten in countries including Canada, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
An accompanying music video was directed by Swedish director Johan Renck, and was released on February 13, 1999. Inspired by the Arthur Golden 1997 novel Memoirs of a Geisha, it has Madonna depict as a geisha in a small room dancing. Other inter cut scenes have Japanese people performing butoh dance moves inside a small unit. The red kimono in the video, designed by French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, was used again in her Drowned World Tour and performed the song in it at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards. The song has garned a legacy for being one of Madonna's most underrated singles to date, alongside with it being listed as one of her best songs by music publications. The costume and music video has been cited by several publications and music critics as one of her most iconic and best re-inventions.
- 1 Background and writing
- 2 Recording and composition
- 3 Release details
- 4 Critical reception
- 5 Chart performance
- 6 Music video
- 7 Live performance
- 8 Legacy and other usage in media
- 9 Track listings and formats
- 10 Credits and personnel
- 11 Charts and certifications
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Background and writing
"Nothing Really Matters" was written by Madonna and American producer and songwriter Patrick Leonard, and was produced by herself alongside British's producer's William Orbit and additional production by Marius De Vries. The song was inspired by Madonna's daughter Lourdes Leon, who she gave birth to in 1996. These events inspired a period of introspection. "That was a big catalyst for me. It took me on a search for answers to questions I'd never asked myself before," she said to Q magazine, in 2002. Madonna begun writing the song alongside Leonard, who had produced her albums in the 1980s. However, unlike the process of her previous work, Leonard had little input during studio sessions and only wrote four songs to the album, including "Nothing Really Matters". As a result, Madonna did not require him to produce the song. Madonna's manager, Guy Oseary, then phoned Orbit, and suggested that he send some songs to Madonna. Orbit sent a 13-track digital audio tape to Madonna, which included a demo version of "Nothing Really Matters". According to Madonna, she had been a fan of Orbit's for a long time and was pleased the demo version and started to re-produced some parts of it.
De Vries, who worked on the initial demo version of "Nothing Really Matters", approached Orbit and asked to help produce the track with Madonna. As a result, Orbit and Madonna accepted his offer. According to Like an Icon writer Lucy O'Brien, De Vries and Orbit had originally composed and produced the track before Madonna's 1998 album and the song's parent album Ray of Light had been conceived. During the sessions, Orbit found De Vries' contribution "off-putting", but De Vries' said; "On all the collaborations I'd left a lot of space for him, but for this I wanted to put something on the table and say, "This is what I think." De Vries had added electronic noise frequencies during the first chorus of the song, stating that he had a "vision on how the song should be finished...". Orbit was disappointed in the result of his contribution, declaring that he "hated the noise" and sounded like the "DAT's broken." However, De Vries defended his contribution saying that it was supposed to be "like that... It's quite slow for a dance tune of that nature, not a pacey tune." Madonna had enjoyed all three of their contributions to the track, and as a result, Oribt reluctantly left it on.
In J. Randy Taraborrelli's book Madonna: An Intimate Biography, she said that the main inspiration behind "Nothing Really Matters", and "The Power of Good-Bye" from the same album, was other people judging and dissecting her creative process. Elaborating on the statement, she added:
"I don't really want to [allow others] to dissect my creative process too much. What's the point, really? In 'Nothing Really Matters' and 'The Power of Good-Bye', I want people to have a visceral and emotional reaction to things, rather than to have in their mind where all my stuff comes from. With the songs, I wanted to say that it does not matter really what you think or do, just think by yourself, and not judge and dissect others. You know if I see a bug crawling across the floor and it inspired me to write the most incredible love poem, I don't want people to be thinking about their relationship, and then think of my bug crawling across the floor. It's then that the power of good-bye becomes better than the power of acceptance."
Recording and composition
"Nothing Really Matters" was recorded alongside the rest of the album at Larrabee North Studio in North Hollywood, California. Only three other people were in the studio with Madonna during the recording of the song and album: Orbit, engineer named Pat McCarthy, and his assistant engineer, Matt Silva. The song featured no live instrumentation, and was part of a machinery issue that delayed initial recording as Orbit preferred working with sample loops and synth-based instrumentation. As a result, it took a while until they could finishing production of the song and accompanying album until the computers were repaired. The song was mastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling Studios in New York, and included background vocalists Donna DeLory and Niki Harris.
A 26 second sample of "Nothing Really Matters"
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"Nothing Really Matters" is an up-tempo dance-pop song which contains influences of techno, downtempo, and house music. It was composed using common time in the key of F major, with a moderate tempo of 104 beats per minute. Madonna's vocals range from the lower octave of F3 to the higher note of A♭4. Greg Kot from Chicago Tribute labelled the production as a "worldly, and weary Madonna". David Browne from Entertainment Weekly noticed that the "hard-step beats and synth washes make the romantic-physical yearnings (and hooks) of 'Skin' and 'Nothing Really Matters' even tauter...". J.D. Considine from Baltimore Sun felt the song was a "smart, groove-intensive tunes like the tart, house-inflected "Nothing Really Matters". Chuck Taylor from Billboard magazine compared the composition of "Nothing Really Matters" to the "disco-encrusted" "Vogue", a 1990 Madonna single. However, he found that the "core" important part of the song was its "sweetly-spiritual" and "simple" lyrical content.
The song starts with a "strange, electronic, slightly broken noise" that spans between the start of the song up until 54 seconds. The chorus starts with a fast-pacing dance sound, with the chorus spanning the lyrics; "Nothing really matters / love is all we need / everything I give you / all comes back to me." Throughout the entire song, it includes two verses, three choruses, one bridge section, and an outro chorus. The outro chorus has Madonna sing the same lyrics from the chorus, but is slow down and echoed longer until the music fades out. Based on the lyrical content, Bryan Lark from The Michigan Daily reviewed the parent album, and stated because the single "Ray of Light" was about confronting the past, he stated that "Nothing Really Matters" is "moving onward."
The lyrical content of the song was about the birth of her daughter Lourdes, and the realization of motherhood. In an interview with the Wesleyan University Press, Madonna stated; "There's a song on the album called 'Nothing Really Matters', and it is very much inspired by my daughter. it's just realizing that at the end of the day, the most important thing is loving people and sharing love. The birth of my daughter has been a huge influence. It's different to look at life through the eyes of a child, and suddenly you have a whole new respect for life and you kind of get your innocence back. It's this realisation which I incorporated in 'Nothing Really Matters', 'Little Star' and 'Mer Girl'."
"Nothing Really Matters" was selected as the fifth and final single from Ray of Light, and was released on March 2, 1999 by Maverick Records and Warner Bros. Records. "Nothing Really Matters" was released in six major formats; a 12 inch vinyl, two CD singles, one maxi CD, a cassette tape, and a digital download. A promotional 7 inch vinyl was issued to several clubs in North America, and included the original album version and the b-side and parent album track "To Have and Not To Hold". Two 12 inch vinyl formats were issued in North America; one included four vinyl's that include two tracks on each, while the second was re-issued with new artwork and track list placement. A CD maxi was issued worldwide; this included the album version, and two remixes by the late Austrian disc jockey Peter Rauhofer (under the alias Club 69). Two CD singles were issued worldwide except for North America; the first CD includes the album version, one remix by Rauhofer, and one remix by Peter Kruder & Richard Dorfmeister, whilst the second includes three remixes by Rauhofer. A cassette tape was issued in the United Kingdom; this includes the album version and one remix by Rauhofer, presented on both sides of the recording tape.
"Nothing Really Matters" received generally positive reviews from most music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic highlighted the song as one of the album's best tracks. Erlewine, who also wrote Madonna's the biography on the publication, highlighted the song as one of Madonna's career stand outs. Chris Gernard from Metro Weekly highlighted the song as one of the best tracks from Ray of Light. Andy Richardson from Native Monster listed "Nothing Really Matters" as one of the important tracks on the album, and listed it on his download list. Patrick from InThe90s.com highlighted "Nothing Really Matters" as one of the album's best tracks. Kevin C. Johnson from St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlighted "Nothing Really Matters" as one of the album's best tracks.
Chuck Taylor from Billboard was positive towards the song, labelling the song a "gem" and commended the "irresistible hook". From the same publication, the Billboard Staff said "What if the suave dance of "Nothing Really Matters," the eye-popping "Ray of Light" music video or the stark beauty of "Frozen" never existed? Luckily, we never need to find out." The staff from Rolling Stone listed the album as one of the greatest albums of all time, but stated about the song saying "Songs like the title track and "Nothing Really Matters" are filled with warmth and wonder." Stephen Thompson from The A.V. Club was positive in his review, stating that the "chugging" chorus and composition "should ring across dance floors for years to come...". Nathan Smith from Houston Press was very positive in his review, stating "Few singles illustrated this change in approach better than "Nothing Really Matters,". He concluded "It's a great, bouncy dance track that never received the love it deserved, and its family-friendly themes are a good fit for the event."
However, Enio Chiola from PopMatters felt the song's commercial appeal and production was inferior to other album tracks, and stated that "Skin" (which is a song of Ray of Light) would have been a better release stating it "looked over for the much worse "The Power of Goodbye" and "Nothing Really Matters" (the latter of which became Madonna’s worst single ever in the US)". Jose F. Promis from Allmusic reviewed the single release, and awarded it two-and-a-half stars out of five. He labelled that the original album version was somewhat "tepid", and further commented "This single is a case of where the production supersedes the song, which in and of itself is among Madonna's simplest and least interesting tunes." However, she commended many remixes for including an "Eastern Asian" influence, "chillout" and "several club cuts". The single was her third-equal highest rated single from the Ray of Light era; the other two being the title track and "Drowned World/Substitute for Love".
At the 2000 ASCAP Rhythm and Soul Awards, "Nothing Really Matters" was nominated for the Award-Winning Dance Song award; this was Madonna's first nomination in that category, and was her second nomination at the awards since the previous year (her song "Ray of Light" was nominated, and eventually won the Top Dance Song award). "Nothing Really Matters" eventually won the award, becoming her first win in that category and was her final until she won it again in 2002 for "Don't Tell Me".
In the United States, "Nothing Really Matters" debuted at number 93 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it her lowest entry on the chart. It fell to 99 the following week, and was present for two weeks overall. "Nothing Really Matters" topped the Dance Club Songs chart and stayed there for two weeks, whilst peaking at number 25 on the Pop Songs chart. In Canada, the song reached a peak of number six on the RPM Singles Chart. Jose F. Promis from Allmusic believed the single's lack of charting success in North America was due "to the terrible timing of the single's release, which was much after radio and club airplay had peaked." Another reason was Billboard's eligibility changes in the Hot 100 chart, which restricted to a limited amount of CD sales and increased airplay for higher chart prospects. Many fans in North America blamed Warner Bros. Records' marketing strategy for the song's poor charting.
In the United Kingdom, "Nothing Really Matters" entered the UK Singles Chart at number seven on March 13, 1999. It was later certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipments of 200,000 units. According to Official Charts Company, the song has sold 128,137 copies. In Belgium's region of Flanders, the song debuted and peaked at number 43 on March 13, 1999, while in the Wallonia region, the song debuted and peaked at number 43, spending a sole week on the chart. In the Netherlands, the song debuted at number 73 on the Single Top 100 chart, and reached a peak of 34 on March 13, 1999. The song reached a peak of number 38 in Germany, spending a total of nine weeks on the chart. In Finland, the song debuted at number six on the Finnish Singles Chart, and spent two weeks overall. In Spain, the song debuted at number one on the Spanish Singles Chart and stayed there for three consecutive weeks from March 13 to March 30, 1999.
In Australia, "Nothing Really Matters" debuted on the ARIA Singles Chart at its peak of number 15 on March 4, 1999. The next week it descended at number 22, until it continued descending to a final peak of number 49. It was present for a total of six weeks on the chart. In New Zealand, the song debuted at number seven on the New Zealand Singles Chart on April 11, 1999. It stayed there for two weeks, until descending to number 45. It rose to number 26 on its final peaking week, and was present for a total of nine weeks on the chart.
Background and inspiration
The music video was directed by Johan Renck and filmed in January 1999 at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, New York. According to a behind-the-scenes interview with Entertainment Tonight, Madonna stated that the inspiration behind the video was from the 1997 Arthur Golden novel Memoirs of a Geisha. Madonna later stated; "The whole idea of a geisha is a straight metaphor for being an entertainer because, on one hand you're privileged to be a geisha, but on the other hand you're a prisoner..." Madonna also choreographed her own moves on the video, as she stated "I don't like how other people say how I should move, I'm my own best choreographer." In an interview with American broadcaster and journalist Larry King, Madonna commented about the geisha depiction; "...there was a character in the book called Hatsumomo and she's been my muse for the past six months. So I don't know." She stated that her daughter at the time called Madonna the novel's character, Hatsumomo, which Madonna found intriguing yet bizarre.
The red kimono that Madonna wore in the music video was created by French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. The entire look for the video consists of Madonna having a black bob, wearing the red kimono and ankle high boots. The kimono was tailored by a large red leather belt. Madonna wore the kimono again at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards, which she performed at. The look was then re-designed by Gaultier and the Italian fashion duo Dean and Dan Caten for Madonna's 2001 Drowned World Tour. "Nothing Really Matters" premiered on MTV on February 13, 1999.
Synopsis and reception
The video opens with an empty room with a fish painting, then shows Madonna holding to what looks like a baby but is actually a bag of water, and alternately in a red and black kimono dancing to the song. Then, a scene features a group of white-clad Swedes of Asian heritage, who walk down a dark hallway. As Madonna sings the song in a black kimono, she grips onto the bag of water. When the chorus starts, it features Madonna in a red kimono while dancing to the song. Scenes like this carry on through the rest of the song. There are multiple scenes of Japanese people dancing to the song, performing butoh dance moves while it was shot in the decommissioned R1 Reactor below the Royal Institute of Technology in central Stockholm. The ending scene has Madonna sitting while someone is painting her back and slowly rests her body on the group. It finishes with Madonna in her red kimono walking towards the camera as it slowly descends away from her.
The music video received favorable reviews from critics. Soman S. Chainani from The Crimson was positive in his review, stating "The video is deliciously subversive. In a sense, Madonna consciously sheds layers of her post-modern act during the 4:25 minute video, daring us to piece together its clues." Labelling it a "surreal" video with "angular" imagery and direction, he concluded "Random? Of course not. Realizing it's all the pieces of a puzzle, we grasp the stunning answer.Madonna is, in all truth, a modern-day Geisha. She is trapped within her corridor, without the least privacy, but she is free to perform." A reviewer from HitFix commented "is a gorgeous futuristic creation and one of Madonna's most underrated videos. Dark and hypnotic, "Matters" features unconventional choreography that was initially off putting to many (at least for 1999), but in actuality director Johan Renck has created a visual spectacle that demands repeat viewing. It also features one of Madonna's more inspired video performances." Reporting from The Huffington Post, American drag queen and reality TV actor Pandora Boxx stated that the music video was "amazingly artistic and utterly bizarre."
At the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, Renck, Bjorn Benckert and Tor-Bjorn Olsson were all nominated for Best Special Effects in a Video. This was Madonna's second sub-credited nomination in that category, having been nominated, and eventually won for the same award a year prior with her single "Frozen". Madonna was also nominated three times for her single "Beautiful Stranger" that same year. However, Renck, Benckert, and Olsson lost to Sean Broughton, Stuart D. Gordon and Paul Simpson of Digital Domain with their work on "Special" by British band Garbage; this remains Madonna's final video to be nominated in that category.
On February 24, 1999, Madonna performed "Nothing Really Matters" at the 1999 41st Annual Grammy Awards as the opening number from the show. The performance was held and recorded at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. For the performance, the stage had two large Japanese infrastructures on the left and right side, whilst having a semi-large bench where Madonna stood on and a large back screen. The performance opened with the lights beaming on Madonna, who wore the red Gaultier kimono, red platform boots, and black bob hairstyle. The chorus starts with four back-up dancers holding plastic bag, similar to the Japanese people in the music video, and a background dancer being project on screen. By the second chorus, it has two back-up vocalists performing on small benches whilst in red kimonos. During the song's bridge interlude, a man enters the stage and starts performing with flamed rope on the right part of the stage. The outro is different from the original composition, but has Madonna lifting her hands and everyone on stage bows to the audience's applause. When Madonna won the award for Best Pop Vocal Album at the same ceremony, Madonna, alongside William Orbit, came back out to accept the award in the red kimono.
The live performance received positive reviews from most music critics; Jason Kaufman from NY Rock commented about the performance: "Her constant nationality morphing has got to go. With her geisha-girl-gone-club-hopping outfit last night, [...] the woman proved she's a walking Epcot Center, long on fashion and short on culture. And what were those women dancing behind her in her musical number holding? The objects looked like fetuses from last week's The X-Files". Bradley Stern from Idolator hosted a poll, asking viewers what was their best Madonna Grammy performance. Including the 1999 Grammys, Stern listed Madonna's performances at the 2001 43rd Annual Grammy Awards with "Music", the 2006 48th Annual Grammy Awards with "Hung Up", and 2014 56th Annual Grammy Awards with "Same Love" and "Open Your Heart". As a result, "Nothing Really Matters" came third with 102 votes. InStyle Staff highlighted the performance as one of the best Grammy performance to date.
Legacy and other usage in media
"Nothing Really Matters" has been noted as one of Madonna's most underrated singles to date. Louis Virtel from NewNowNext listed the song at number 94 on their Top 100 Madonna Songs list; he stated "Copping both new-age maxims and Beatle sentiments (“Everything I give you all comes back to me”), “Nothing Really Matters” is as queer and curious as a red patent-leather geisha costume." Poshy2005 from Retro Daze listed the song at number eight on their best Madonna songs list, stating "“Nothing Really Matters” makes me want to nod my head along with the beat and sing right along." Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic, who also wrote Madonna's the biography on the publication, highlighted the song as one of Madonna's career stand outs. The Gaultier kimono has be cited by several publications as one of Madonna's most notable re-inventions and looks. Alongside this, the kimono has been recognized as one of the Grammy's best and worst looks.
The music video has been listed on several publications as one of Madonna's most iconic performances. Virtel listed the video at number 49 on his Best 55 Music Videos by Madonna. Julien Sauvalle from Out listed the video at number eight on his Top 20 Most Stylist Madonna music videos list. Nicole Sta from Idolator listed the video as one of Madonna's best music videos. Nikki Ogunnaike from Glamour magazine listed the video as one of Madonna's Top 5 Most Fashionable music videos. Erik Anderson from Awards Watch ranked the video alongside the video for Madonna's single "Bedtime Story" as her tenth best videos; for the former, he said "Yeah, so I’m cheating a bit having two together but this pair of truly avant-garde videos are great examples of Madonna going off book and subverting expectations and succeeding enormously in the process... Renck’s direction of the video was creative and brilliant...".
The geisha look was further produced for Madonna's appearance on the May–June 1999 issue of Harper's Bazaar magazine. Madonna took partial creative control of the issue, and requested photographer of the shoot Patrick Demarchelier to incorporate elements of the novel Memoirs of a Geisha into it, both visually and typographically. Three covers were produced to different regions around the world, and incorporate a photo shoot with Madonna wearing several Japanese–inspired gowns and kimono's. In 2016, the geisha look was adapted on the Logo TV series RuPaul's Drag Race. The shows host, RuPaul, announced that contestants had to create a gown that was inspired by Madonna's iconic looks. Four drag queen contestants wore the geisha look (one contestant wore a geisha look from Madonna's video "Paradise (Not for Me)"). A fifth contestant decided on wearing a kimono from the video of "Nothing Really Matters", but changed. This runway show was criticized by Vulture, for the lack of variety of Madonna's iconic looks outside of "Nothing Really Matters".
Track listings and formats
Credits and personnel
- Lead vocals – Madonna
- Background vocals – Donna DeLory, Niki Haris
- Drum programming – Steve Sidelnyk
- Audio engineers – Mark Endert, Jon Ingoldsby, Patrick McCarthy, Dave Reitzas, Matt Silva
- Mastering – Ted Jensen
- Art direction & design – Kevin Reagan
- Photography – Luis Sanchez
Credits adapted from Ray of Light album liner notes.
Charts and certifications
- List of Madonna tribute albums
- List of number-one singles of 1999 (Spain)
- List of number-one dance singles of 1999 (U.S.)
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