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The Power of Good-Bye

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"The Power of Good-Bye"
Two images of Madonna, with golden flowing hair and head tilted on opposite sides, are superimposed on each other.
Single by Madonna
from the album Ray of Light
A-side"Little Star" (United Kingdom)
B-side"Mer Girl"
ReleasedSeptember 22, 1998
StudioLarrabee North
(Universal City, California)
Madonna singles chronology
"Drowned World/Substitute for Love"
"The Power of Good-Bye"
"Nothing Really Matters"

"The Power of Good-Bye" is a song by American singer Madonna, taken from her seventh studio album Ray of Light (1998). It was written by Madonna and Rick Nowels, and was produced by the singer with William Orbit and Patrick Leonard. The song was released as the fourth single from the album on September 22, 1998, being additionally distributed as a double A-Side single in the United Kingdom with "Little Star". Lyrically, the track talks about how free and empowering saying good-bye or ending a relationship can feel. The melancholy electronica ballad features shuffle beats, acoustic guitars and sweeping strings arranged by Craig Armstrong.

"The Power of Good-Bye" received acclaim from music critics, who went on to recognize the song as one of the best on Ray of Light, with praise going to its instrumentation and electronic vibe, as well as Madonna's vocals which were compared to "Frozen" (1998). The song attained commercial success across Europe, reaching the top 10 of the charts in over nine countries, including Austria, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Spain and the United Kingdom, while in the United States it reached number 11, becoming Madonna's 37th top 20 hit and her seventh-highest debut at the time. Its blue-green tinted music video was directed by Matthew Rolston in Malibu, California and features actor Goran Višnjić as her love interest. Madonna performed the song live on several award shows and during various appearances on television.

Background and release[edit]

Since 1996, Madonna went through a number of "life-changing experiences" including giving birth to her daughter Lourdes, interest in Eastern mysticism and Kabbalah, as well as playing the title role in the film adaptation of the musical Evita (1996).[1] A year later, following the promotion of the Evita soundtrack, she started working on Ray of Light; the album would reflect her changed perspectives about life. Madonna wrote songs with William Orbit, Patrick Leonard and Rick Nowels.[1]

It was a career-changing experience for me. Before that I had always done my co-writing with friends. But working with Madonna  [...] it was the first time I had ever written one-on-one with a great artist/writer. After that I changed gears a little, and now I mostly collaborate directly with artists.

—Nowels talking about the experience of writing the song with Madonna.[2]

In the meantime, Madonna had written "The Power of Good-Bye" with Nowels; it was one of the nine songs they had written for the album. Nowels had always wanted to work with Madonna, admiring her previous work with Leonard, Stephen Bray as well as Nile Rodgers. The songwriter was in New York for the Grammy Awards, and during a shopping expedition in Barneys, he met Madonna. Nowels commended the singer on her songwriting skills, being later invited to Los Angeles for writing sessions.[2] According to Lucy O'Brien, author of Madonna: Like an Icon, "[Nowels] was struck by [Madonna's] lyric writing", admitting that, "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 the singer's songwriting prowess was benefited from her "voracious reading".[3] Three songs from their sessions were selected for the final track list, "The Power of Good-Bye", "Little Star" and "To Have and Not to Hold".[2]

After issuing "Drowned World/Substitute for Love" as the album's third single worldwide,[4] "The Power of Good-Bye" was chosen to be released as the album's fourth single, since "radio programmers and diehard fans [had] long been clamoring [for it]."[5] In the United States, the song was the album's third single, available from September 22, 1998 in a two-track format.[6] In the United Kingdom, "The Power of Good-Bye" was distributed as a double A-side with "Little Star".[7] In the rest of Europe, the latter was included on the single releases as a B-side. In the European maxi-singles, several experimental remixes of the track by Luke Slater and an additional remix by Dallas Austin, who previously worked with Madonna on her Bedtime Stories (1994) album, were included. As noted by AllMusic's Jose F. Promis, the "Luke Slater's Super Luper Mix" "turns the ballad into a thumping deep house anthem, making it sound like a completely different song." Meanwhile, "Fabien's Good God Mix" is described as "an electronic, tripped-out, drum'n'bass-heavy mix which keeps the integrity of the original song", Promis noted.[6]

Recording and composition[edit]

After the songwriting sessions ended with Nowels, Madonna started collaborating with Orbit and Leonard for recording the tracks. However, since Leonard could not delve much studio time, Madonna worked solely with Orbit.[8] Around June 1997, the singer entered the Larrabee North Studio, Universal City, California to record the album, accompanied by Orbit, an engineer and a tape operator. According to Orbit, "Most of the tracks pre-existed, so Madonna would work on vocals and lyrics at home, or driving around in her car." The producer was initially uncomfortable with the singer around the studio checking the recording process, but gradually entered into a work dynamics with her. However, his disorganized nature almost got him fired when he reached Madonna's house to play "The Power of Goodbye" and realized that he had carried the wrong DAT file. Madonna was not impressed and Orbit had to "virtually" remain in the studio for a week and deliver the final track.[1]

"The Power of Good-Bye" features production credit from Madonna, Orbit and Leonard, while Craig Armstrong was responsible for string arrangement.[9] It was written in the time signature of common time, and is composed in the key of F minor with a moderate tempo of 80 beats per minute. Madonna's vocals range from G3 to C5 and the song follows a basic sequence of Fm–D–A–E as its chord progression.[10] It is an electronica melancholy ballad, with its arrangement being "anchored by a crisp shuffle beat and sweetened by occasional orchestral string flourishes and contrasting acoustic guitar strumming.[5][11]

According to Rikky Rooksby, author of The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna, "The Power of Good-Bye" begins with a four-chord arpeggio sequence. It has "catchy" melody phrases during the verses and a synth trumpet at the end of the first chorus, as well as Armstrong's strings present in the background. It also contains sustained notes on the instrumental sections, a characteristic for the songs on Ray of Light. Doubled acoustic guitar chords give an organic vibe during the beginning of the second verse, following a brief coda.[12] The song also infuses computer blips and techno effect sounds,[13] which Orbit achieved by using a Korg MS-20 analog synthesizer. The producer explained that "[t]here's something about [the MS-20's] transient peaks that are very spiky. And you can make that machine scream. Its two filters are very severe".[14]

Lyrically, "The Power of Good-Bye" talks the strength that comes in letting go,[15] and it was considered "a sort of sonic sister to 'Frozen'", since both deal with themes of a heart closed towards love.[16] This is emphasized in the lyrics, "Your heart is not open so I must go" as well as "Freedom comes when you learn to let go, Creation comes when you learn to say no".[17][18] The idea for using detachment as the inspiration for the song stemmed from Madonna's interest in Buddhist philosophy, as well as practicing Yoga.[19] Nowels described the lyrics as "stunning" and commended its confessional nature.[16] He also described the track as a "meditation" and "a beautiful poem". Australian music critic and friend of Madonna, Molly Meldrum, claimed the lyrics were about the singer's former husband Sean Penn. The lyrical content was also compared to literary works of William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

"Madonna imitating Jennifer Rush and Belinda Carlisle in a power ballad that will always give you the feeling that she could have done much better, but ['The Power of Good-Bye'] is so well built and is so epic that we firmly believe that it would sound good even with Katy Perry."

—Guillermo Alonso from Vanity Fair during a ranking of Madonna's singles.[20]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic picked "The Power of Good-Bye" as one of Ray of Light's highlights,[21] while Amy Pettifer of The Quietus called it "one of [the singer]'s finest moments".[22] Larry Flick of Billboard praised the fact that "[Madonna] brilliantly nestles a dewy love ballad within a cutting-edge electronic pop framework." He noted that "[one] can listen to this track a dozen times and still pluck something new from the richly layered arrangement", while highlighting Madonna's vocals, writing that she "performs with a confidence that allows her to flawlessly merge a widened vocal range with a considerable dose of raw emotion and soul."[5]

Bryan Lark of The Michigan Daily picked the song and "Frozen" as "the album's best two tracks", noting that both proved that "[Madonna] still likes to get into the groove, explaining why this a techno album and not part of the 'Mood' series."[17] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune felt that the "rapturous sweep of '[The] Power of Good-Bye' [proves that] Madonna has succeeded where all of her pop peers have failed: She's made not just street-smart disco, but smart pop."[23] Authors Allen Metz and Carol Benson wrote in The Madonna Companion that the track, along with "Frozen" and "To Have and Not to Hold" from the album, formed a "dream trilogy" during which Madonna does a monologue with herself, talking about divinity.[24]

Rachel Brodsky of Spin remarked that both "The Power of Good-Bye" and "Frozen" were able to "cement the mainstream crossover of a dance culture once relegated to illegal basement parties".[13] Elysa Gardner of the Los Angeles Times perceived that "Madonna's enduring knack for incorporating hip and exotic textures into accessible pop tunes is evident on avant-leaning dance tracks such as 'Nothing Really Matters' and 'The Power of Good-bye'."[25] Charlotte Robinson of PopMatters praised the inclusion of the recording and other Orbit tracks on Madonna's 2001 compilation album, GHV2, for representing "a testament to [the producer's] ability to use gadgets and electronic wizardry not to alienate listeners, but to draw them in".[26] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine gave an A– grade to the song for its composition, writing that it was "[s]tructured like your average adult contemporary ballad with enough electronic sheen to sound edgy, 'The Power of Goodbye' was the ultimate in electronica-lite."[11] While ranking Madonna's singles in honor of her 60th birthday, The Guardian's Jude Rogers placed the track at number 29, calling it one of Ray of Light's "many powerful sub-aquatic electronic" ballads.[27] Similarly, Entertainment Weekly's Chuck Arnold listed "The Power of Good-Bye" as the singer's 41st best single, writing that "a knowing reference to the wide-eyed plea of her earlier hit 'Open Your Heart', this gorgeous goodbye almost makes the heartache worth it".[28]

Chart performance[edit]

"The Power of Good-Bye" entered the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 24 on the issue for the week ending October 17, 1998, becoming Madonna's 16th single to debut inside the top 40 and also her 38th overall top 40 hit. It also became the seventh-highest debut of her career.[29] It eventually peaked at number 11 on the week ending November 28, 1998.[30] According to Jose F. Promis of AllMusic, what kept the song from reaching the top 10 was because "[its maxi CD], unfortunately, never saw the light of day in the U.S."[6] "The Power of Good-Bye" was present for a total of 19 weeks on the Hot 100.[31] In Canada, the song debuted at number 87 on the RPM Top Singles chart.[32] It reached a peak of number 16 on the chart after 10 weeks.[33]

In the United Kingdom, the song had better chart placement. The A-side with "Little Star" debuted at number six on the UK Singles Chart, and was present for a total of 11 weeks, selling 175,095 copies as of August 2008, according to the Official Charts Company.[34][35] It became Madonna's 36th best-selling single in that country and in May 2018 was certified Silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).[36][37] The CD version of the song charted separately, debuting and peaking at number 91.[34]

In countries like Austria, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Scotland, Spain and Switzerland "The Power of Good-Bye" was able to reach the top 10.[38] Its high chart placements enabled the track to debut at number two on the pan-Eurochart Hot 100 Singles, behind "Believe" (1998) by singer Cher.[39] It further attained Gold certifications from Austria, Germany and Sweden.[40][41][42] In Spain, "The Power of Good-Bye" was the only single from Ray of Light to not reach number one,[43] meanwhile in Australia the song was her first single since "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" (1996) to miss the top 20 peaking at number 33.[38]

Music video[edit]

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.[44] According to Entertainment Tonight, the filming was emotional for Madonna due to the song's meaning of break-up and "love story gone wrong". She wanted to make the visual's storyline dramatic, hence chose Rolston as the director and together they concocted the emotional narrative of the clip. Although she respected the director's vision of the clip, Madonna nevertheless wanted to be a part of the creative process of the videotaping. The scenes of the singer walking along the beach were shot with her actually walking on a treadmill.[45]

Refer to caption.
Madonna playing chess in the music video for "The Power of Good-Bye". The scene was inspired by the 1968 heist film, The Thomas Crown Affair.

Madonna's lover in the video is played by Croatian actor Goran Višnjić, who was selected by the singer after she saw his acting in the British film, Welcome to Sarajevo (1997). Calling him "the sexiest male working today", Madonna explained that "[she] was looking for an actor to be in [the] video and his face came right into my head".[46] The video premiered on MTV on September 10, 1998, a few minutes before the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards show began.[45] It was occasionally played on The Warner Bros. Network after the television show Felicity, which played the song as the background music during its TV ads.[4][47]

The video shows Madonna and Višnjić playing chess and ultimately the singer destroying the chess board, symbolizing an end to their relationship. She then goes walking by the sea, passing a man walking his dog on the beach. Intercut are scenes of Madonna singing the song in front of a curtain. The video is color graded to a blue-green tint and the chess scene was inspired by that in the 1968 heist film, The Thomas Crown Affair (with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway). Listing the clip at number 23 on their countdown of "Madonna's 55 Best Videos", Louis Virtel from The Backlot said that the singer looked "startlingly gorgeous, and her throes of agony at video's end occur in only the loveliest, bluest light."[48]

The scenes showing Madonna walking alone on the beach was an homage to actress Joan Crawford in the 1946 film, Humoresque.[49] Christopher Rosa from VH1 listed it as one of Madonna's 10 Most Underrated Videos. He compared the blue-tinged visuals to the video for "Frozen", but found the plot to be more complex. Rosa also noted that the ending showing Madonna walking towards the sea was purposefully ambiguous. "Does Madonna drown herself in the ocean? Does she move on from her lover? Whatever the case, there is no denying this moody video is one of Madge's most effective ever," he concluded.[50] The video can be found on the Madonna compilations, The Video Collection 93:99 (1999) and Celebration: The Video Collection (2009).[51][52]

Live performances[edit]

Madonna first performed "The Power of Good-Bye" on October 23, 1998, during the VH1 and Vogue Fashion Awards, dressed in black latex and leather, accompanied by the children of Opus 118 from The Harlem School of the Arts.[53][54] On November 12, the singer performed the song on the 1998 MTV Europe Music Awards in Assago, Italy, dressed in black. John Dingwall from Daily Record noted that Madonna "struggled" on delivering the performance, as she seemed nervous.[55] "The Power of Good-Bye" was also one of the few singles that Madonna has performed on the BBC program Top of the Pops, which aired seven days later.[56] On November 23, 1998, she appeared on the Spanish RTVE show A La Carta and performed "The Power of Good-Bye", along with her European single, "Drowned World/Substitute for Love".[57]

Track listings and formats[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Ray of Light.[9]



Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Austria (IFPI Austria)[40] Gold 25,000*
Germany (BVMI)[41] Gold 250,000^
Sweden (GLF)[42] Gold 15,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[37] 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]