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Ray Of Light turns 20: a track-by-track review

Source: Attitude - 19 Feb. 2018

Matthew Barton looks back at one of the Queen of Pop most career-defining records.

In 1997, Madonna was at a career crossroads. She had just turned in an acclaimed performance in the film version of Evita, was a new mother to daughter Lourdes… and hadn't released a new album of original material for nearly three years.

The bold and brazen sexuality of 1992's Erotica and its sister "coffee table" photobook, Sex, threatened to derail a career that had been in the firm ascendancy since 'Lucky Star' broke Madonna out of New York City's underground dance scene in 1983.

1994's low-key R&B LP Bedtime Stories, 1995's ballads collection Something to Remember, and 1996's Evita clawed back some of the credibility unfairly lost during the Erotica era by dialling down the sexual bravado, but just who was Madonna in 1997? What did she have to say? Where else was there left to turn?

It seemed that Madonna herself didn't have the answers. That spring, she convened with Bedtime Stories collaborator Babyface again on "'Take a Bow'-ish" new material, but, abhorring repetition, scrapped the sessions.

Madonna accepts the Artist Achievement Award at the 1996 Billboard Music Awards

Soon after, songwriting sessions with Rick Nowels yielded some notable fruit, but again much of the material remained unused as Madonna struggled for direction. Sessions with long-time songwriting partner Patrick Leonard, again, provided some inspiration but not the elusive sound Madonna craved.

It wasn't until her manager Guy Oseary introduced her to British producer William Orbit that the fundamentals of what later developed into Ray of Light came into focus. Marrying her pop instincts with a fresh, original electronic drive, a painstaking four-and-a-half month recording process produced a landmark opus, not just in Madonna's catalogue but in the landscape of modern pop music.

Released twenty years ago this month, Ray of Light changed the way electronica and EDM was interpolated into mainstream pop; the chameleonic Madonna expertly synthesised an array of influences from alternative and underground scenes and ushered in a bold new age.

Here, we look back at each of the thirteen songs that make up this classic record:

'Drowned World/Substitute for Love'

Madonna's audacious new sound is in evidence immediately as a soft, mid-tempo arrangement of burbling electronica, chiming guitars, and serene synth washes set a contemplative mood.

The soul-searching lyrics, where Madonna admits that she "never felt so happy" as when her "many lovers…settled for the thrill of basking in my spotlight," are a volte-face from the bullish tone of some of her other '90s records, and sets the tenor of introspection and reflection.

Vocally, the clear diction and rich timbre developed from her Evita vocal coaching sessions is in full flight. An aggressive bridge adds a further layer to this complex song of celebrity gone sour.

It became the album's third UK Top 10 hit in the summer of 1998 and gave its name to Madonna's breath-taking 2001 world tour.


The oceanic imagery continues with this beautiful slice of hazy trip-hop; murmuring guitars and low-key wave effects, with some keening background vocals, provide the bed on which Madonna intones her lyric of letting go of the past, of "[washing] away all our sins."

The water is regenerative, rather than ominous. The terrific vocal, however, is full of passion and fury and emotion - perhaps unsurprising given it was reportedly recorded on the day her friend Gianni Versace died. 

'Ray of Light'

By now, the listener has settled into the Ray of Light modus operandi – melodic guitars, synth washes, mid-tempo beauty – and the title track begins similarly…but then it storms into something else entirely, a bizarre and beautiful cacophony of sounds and styles that somehow fuses into something genuinely electrifying and life-affirming.

'Ray of Light' is exquisite – it's a bit dance, a bit pop, a bit electronica, a bit folk (listen out for 'Sepheryn' by folk duo Curtiss Maldoon, upon which 'Ray of Light' was based) and a bit mad – in a good way.

Lilting guitars, peculiar bleeps, bloops, and alarms, and rippling bass frame what is surely one of the greatest vocals of Madonna's career. She uses all of her range, power, and dexterity of tone here, screaming and growling and exultantly crying out the blissful chorus.

And that's before we get to the impeccable video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, which expertly immortalises in film the high-speed joyous chaos of the song. This kaleidoscope of sounds still thrills twenty years on.

'Candy Perfume Girl'

One of the record's most underrated songs, 'Candy Perfume Girl' is an unorthodox, off-kilter downbeat trip-hop experiment. Madonna's enigmatic lead vocal and spectral harmonies, coupled with the understated programming, create a brightly-lit end-of-the-world vibe.

Madonna sings like an intangible woman in a secret Japanese discotheque, her stream-of-consciousness imagery detailing a "velvet porcelain boy" and a "fever steam girl" who "throb the oceans."

There's a strange fairground-esque break before the arrangement suffocates under the weight of squalling grunge guitars, walls of vocals, and heavier programming. It's an unusual, eerie gem.


Once rumoured as a potential final single from Ray of Light, 'Skin' finds Madonna reunited with Patrick Leonard but in a very different setting.

The superior pop songwriting partnership that brought much of 1986's True Blue and most of 1989's Like a Prayer is subverted into a jungle of skittering beats, jittery electronics, stop-start rhythmic pulses, and offbeat Arabic flavours. It's dark and synth-based, and it sounds like a wild, sweaty flight through a nocturnal city.

'Skin' is anxious and wired, and only in the minor key chorus can you hear the classic Madonna/Leonard power ballad melancholy. This trance-like song is one of the best places to hear Orbit's complex production work.

'Nothing Really Matters'

'Nothing Really Matters' is a bit more of a traditional Madonna/Leonard composition, with a William Orbit sheen of synths and electronic gurgles for good measure.

Melodically, it's somewhat more classic and straightforward in a traditional EDM/pop vein, and dutifully it became the album's fifth UK Top 10 single in 1999 on the back of an iconic, sleek geisha-inspired video.

The chorus in particular has a high-energy soulful dance style, replete with backing vocals from Donna DeLory and Niki Harris, that harks back to 1990's Blond Ambition Tour as well as the Erotica album – proving that Ray of Light isn't an entire departure.

'Sky Fits Heaven'

"I think I'll follow my heart / it's a very good place to start," sings Madonna on this gorgeous song that fits the central Ray of Light themes of rebirth, regeneration, and self-reflection.

It's a light, airy, spacious piece that musically is more about mood, feeling, and atmosphere; but it's not as amorphous as it may initially seem, as it blooms into a classic chorus with a soaring Madonna/Leonard melody.


If ever a song typifies Madonna's burgeoning interest in Eastern mysticism, 'Shanti/Ashtangi' is it. A hypnotic melody sung in Sanskrit, it's a splendid production job by Orbit and the unconventional treatment on Madonna's vocal lends it an extra mesmerising vibe.

Madonna performed a version of this song at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards with Lenny Kravitz on guitar, and legend has it that the BBC arranged for Madonna to take elocution lessons with Sanskrit scholar Vagish Shashtri to perfect her pronunciations.


This magisterial jewel was the first missive from Ray of Light in early 1998 and became Madonna's first UK No.1 in eight years. It's a slow-burning, soaring Madonna/Leonard ballad with a majestic, desolate string arrangement that recalls Björk's 1997 LP Homogenic in its lush, romantic drama.

Orbit's glacial production is suitably spine-chilling, and twenty years later it's still a rush to recall how fresh, different, and unexpected this song was. The exquisite Chris Cunningham-helmed video, filmed in a bleak Mojave Desert, remains a high watermark of the genre.

And who can forget the iconic BBC National Lottery lip sync performance, with this enigmatic reinvention of Madonna, with henna on her hands, braids, a black corvine outfit, and wind machine? Stunning.

'The Power of Goodbye'

The first of a trio of Madonna/Rick Nowels co-writes that appear on the album, 'The Power of Goodbye' is as close to pure pop as Madonna gets – an archetypal, insistent pop melody, smooth verse/chorus transitions, and a heartbreak lyric, it's a microcosm of what Ray of Light as a whole deftly achieves – fusing modern synths and programming with guitars, strings, and striking melodies to stunning effect.

In another world, it could have been a late 90s Eurovision winner (and that is, of course, a compliment), such is its end-of-the-night power pop beauty. Extra points for the Joan Crawford beach scene reference in the dusky video.

'To Have and Not to Hold'

This early song from the sessions is the album's most sensual song, a hidden gem with a gently swaying, rhythmic quality. It has a shadowy, hazy Spanish feel, like a low-lit midnight alt-'La Isla Bonita', and wears its electronic influences subtly.

It's an unusual sort of song for both Madonna and Nowels, and Nowels told Songwriter Universe in 2015 that "working with Madonna was a career-changing experience for me."

'Little Star'

Several songs on the album allude to new motherhood and the preciousness of new life, but 'Little Star' is the album's only explicit ode to Madonna's baby daughter Lourdes.

"Having a child and questioning my own mortality and feeling incredibly responsible for someone else's life and being aware of how much my behaviour affects her – you have to step back and realise that we all affect each other," she told Spin in 1998.

Musically, it's a quirky fusion of lullaby and late 90s video game music – parts of it sound uncannily like a Japanese Playstation game. But the softly emotive chorus – "God gave a present to me, made of flesh and bone…" – is an undeniably heavenly melody.

'Mer Girl'

Ray of Light revolves around themes of regeneration, and water is a recurrent motif. 'Mer Girl' is the album's most inscrutable, mysterious piece, more of a sketch than a song, as Madonna's soft-focus vocal weaves around Orbit's restrained production.

It's a haunting and personal conclusion to a highly personal record. "I cursed the angels, I tasted my fears," she sings, in one of her most poetic lyrics. Understated, and all the better for it.

'Has to Be' (Japan bonus track)

Subtle, serene, beautiful, compelling – 'Has to Be' is possibly the essence of the Madonna/William Orbit/Patrick Leonard partnership and would have been a beautiful addition to the record – but Madonna insisted on only thirteen songs, as thirteen is a lucky number in the Kabbalah.

As it is, this elegant song of quiet, dignified yearning has become a justifiable fan favourite over the years.

The evolution of Madonna, Queen of Pop

"I wanted it to sound old and new at the same time," said Madonna of her intentions for Ray of Light, and it is evident that she adroitly succeeded. It wasn't a complete transformation – indeed, bringing back Patrick Leonard proved that Madonna was keen to incorporate her past into her present – but the pervading influence of Ray of Light on modern pop, by virtue of its freshness, cannot be understated.

Her long-standing reputation as a master of reinvention, a magpie collecting disparate sounds and styles and collating them and presenting them in an inventive new way, largely stems from her restless and courageous experimentation on this record.

At heart, the blissful, shimmering pop melodies were always what Madonna had done best anyway, but never had she utilised electronic production in such an integral way. Ray of Light also re-contextualises the rest of Madonna's catalogue, and brings the significance of Erotica and Bedtime Stories into sharp focus.

What were once derided in some quarters as sub-par, wrong turns, unedifying missteps are now celebrated as beacons of pop individuality and experimentation, of brave choices, of daring risks taken in the face of public consternation.

The interest in electronic dance production and subversive genre experiments makes more sense to both the Madonna and casual music fan with Ray of Light's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it also highlights the strength and core vision Madonna had always proudly adhered to.

The Madonna of the mid-1980s – the exuberant Madonna of 'Like a Virgin' and 'Material Girl' – subtly shifted, at 27, into the pop behemoth of True Blue, a status cemented by the artistic magnum opus of Like a Prayer where, for largely the first time, her critical stock matched her commercial fervour.

By the time of Erotica, Madonna had earned enough stripes to experiment but was roundly ridiculed, and in some cases reviled, for doing so. Ray of Light is the sound of a survivor, a pop maverick coming out the other side of a period in the wilderness at 39 with a perfect marriage of titanic pop smarts and alt-pop experimentation. It's arguably a twin peak in her catalogue along with Like a Prayer, and enabled Madonna to continue her pursuit of pop innovation through the next phase of her career.

It is debatable whether Madonna has, or will, scale the artistic heights of this era again, but regardless – 20 years later, Ray of Light still sounds as fresh, assured, bold, and beautiful as ever.

Drowned World and Frozen videos added to Madonna's Youtube channel

Source: Youtube - 18 Feb. 2018

To coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Ray Of Light album, the video of Drowned World has been added to Madonna's official Youtube channel. It was the only of the 5 singles that was still missing.

Two other new videos that were added are remix videos for Frozen: the Victor Calderone Remix video and the Stereo MC's Remix video.

Recently, for the 25th anniversary of Erotica, the missing videos of Erotica and Fever were also added.

Twenty years ago, Madonna was reborn in a 'Ray of Light'

Source: The Ringer - 18 Feb. 2018

The pop icon's stunning turn to electronic music showed a spiritual side we'd never seen before and was the last time we learned about her interior life

Madonna wrote what would become the last song on her 1998 album, Ray of Light, after going on a run. Her feet carried her, almost unwittingly, to her mother's grave. It was a hot summer day not long after she'd given birth to her daughter Lourdes; she was visiting her father in her home state of Michigan. "I didn't know where I was going," she later recalled. "I just ran, and ran, and ran. The sky opened up, I was soaking wet, and I found myself in the cemetery where my mother was buried." The grave "was grown over," she said. "It looked like it hadn't been visited in a while." She stayed in the cemetery for some time, then ran and ran and ran home and wrote the lyrics to "Mer Girl." It is a spooked, glitchy tone poem, a little reminiscent of the beloved Anne Sexton lines that haunted Madonna as a teenager. How unsettling that these are the last words that echo out across an internationally successful album:

And I smelled her burning flesh
Her rotting bones
Her decay
I ran and I ran
I'm still running away

Madonna Sr. died of breast cancer in 1963, when she was just 30 years old, and when her restless, destined-for-stardom daughter was 5. ("My mother is the only other person I have ever heard of named Madonna," the singer told Time magazine, proudly, in 1985.) The elder Madonna was a devout Catholic who worked as an X-ray technician, and many people believe that the cancer was a result of her work environment: "The protective lead-lined apron that is now obligatory was then rarely used," Madonna's biographer Lucy O'Brien notes. Madonna Sr. was pregnant with her daughter Melanie when she was diagnosed with cancer, and she postponed treatment until after the child was born — by which time it was too late. For the Ciccones' oldest daughter, who'd grow up to become one of the most famous women in the world, motherhood was subconsciously linked with self-sacrifice, death, and rigor mortis. Maybe that's why she's never stopped running.

"Obviously, you could say it has to do with my childhood, if you're going to psychoanalyze me," Madonna said a few years ago, when asked about her fabled obsession with control. And O'Brien did just that, quoting (quite convincingly) the psychologist John Bowlby in her 2007 biography, Madonna: Like an Icon. "The most frightening characteristic of a dead animal or a dead person is their immobility," Bowlby wrote. "What more natural, therefore, for a child who is afraid he may die than for him to keep moving."

Another man, another analysis: When he was dating her in the early '90s, and her body was toned taut, boy toy Warren Beatty (about 20 years her senior) used to tell Madonna that he thought she exercised to avoid depression. "And he thought I should just go ahead and stop exercising and allow myself to be depressed," she recalled. "And I'd say, 'Warren, I'll just be depressed and not exercising!'"

I ran and I ran
I'm still running away

"Madonna has now become 'toxic' figure for millennials," declared a headline in the U.K. paper The Independent two years ago. The evidence was a recently published USC study that polled 1,000 students about the relevance of 500 celebrities. The study's damning research showed that she "now ranks among the lowest of 500 celebrities, when the attributes 'honest', genuine' and 'cool' were tested." And yet, curiously, Madonna's was the only of those 500 celebrity names that made the headline. Even when griping about her, she strikes a nerve: We cannot stop talking about her, scrutinizing her famously on-display body, psychoanalyzing her open mind.

Especially given that generational shift in public opinion, it feels strange now, 20 years after its February 22, 1998, release, to think that Ray of Light was such a massively successful album. (It has sold 16 million copies worldwide and, though it was her seventh full-length, it was her first to win a Grammy.) Ray of Light is odd, dark, and a bit of a relic: Though it presented itself like a computer-generated transmission from the future, it did not accurately predict where pop music went. Madonna's next album, 2000's Music — with its compressed, cyborgy, and gloriously synthetic sound — was far more prescient. Though it came out only two years later, Music sounds far more modern than its predecessor. And yet I find Ray of Light infinitely more fascinating, challenging, and revealing than almost anything in her discography. If Music was Madonna's first posthuman album, that must mean that Ray of Light was her final human one.

Madonna sought out the underground British producer William Orbit to coproduce the album. She liked some of the remixes he'd done for her in the past, with their fusion of electronic beats and Eastern-influence sounds: "I wanted it to sound old and new at the same time," she told the U.K.'s Q Magazine. Over the four-month recording session in Los Angeles, there were usually more computers and machines in the room than live musicians — a novel concept for a Madonna album, at the time. (Though her name was sometimes synonymous with mass-produced pop, it's easy to forget that Nile Rodgers and some other members of Chic were her expert backing band on Like a Virgin.) As a result, there's a sense of isolation and loneliness to these songs, far from the gospel-choir assists of Like a Prayer. Still, Madonna didn't want the reliance on computers to make the album sound too sleek. "Don't gild the lily," she would tell Orbit in the studio. As in: Keep it a little rough around the edges, but also nature is a language, can't you read? He acquiesced, but the recording was a slow, arduous process. Madonna tends to work quickly and decisively, but Ray of Light took the longest of any of her albums to record.

The frenetic title track was the album's biggest hit, of course, but it's an outlier; there's not much more sun shining on the record. Most of it is more in line with the moody, macabre lead-off single "Frozen." "Swim" is a kind of electronic baptism, helmed by a sorrowful vocal that she recorded the day her friend Gianni Versace died. "Kiss me, I'm dying," she sings on the aqueous, thumping fifth track, which centers on the eerily imploring refrain, "Put your hand on my skin."

In retrospect, Ray of Light feels like a record about the anxieties of existing in a female body, in which time goes by so quickly and every tick of the second hand can be deafening. It is the sound of a woman on the brink of 40 — our culture's unfair and arbitrary expiration date for so many things, and a decade past the age her own mother died — trying to transcend the human body, to outlast upstarts half her age, to become something eternal. Who can blame Madonna for failing to achieve her own impossibly inhuman goals?

Twenty years ago, Madonna was reborn in a 'Ray of Light'

Ray of Light was the first album Madonna made after filming Evita, an experience that turned the key to a whole new space in her throat. While preparing to play the iconic Argentine first lady in the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical, Madonna subjected herself to rigorous lessons with the vocal coach Joan Lader. "Lader taught Madonna how to sing from her diaphragm," Lucy O'Brien writes. "Every night Madonna would go home, thrilled at the sounds she could create. She would call friends and sing to them over the phone at full volume." Humanizing stories about Madonna in the '90s aren't as easy to come by as they were a decade prior, but this is one of my favorites. I love picturing it: Madonna sending her human voice over distorted telephone wires just to prove to her friends that she was still growing, newly exhilarated by the things her body could do.

It is probably sacrilege to quote Dennis Rodman in an essay about Madonna, but what better way to honor Madonna than with a little sacrilege? "Madonna's a connoisseur of bodies," Rodman wrote in his autobiography (which pissed her off). "She studies them and watches them closely."

Madonna's body: What an all-American locus of controversy and conversation! It appealed to so many women in the mid-'80s on a visceral level because, at first, there seemed to be a contagious joy in it. "She didn't have a perfect body," Kim Gordon (who named one of her side projects Ciccone Youth) has written of Madonna. "She was a little soft, but sexy-soft, not overweight but not sculpted or as hard as she would later become. She was realistic about her body type, and she taunted it, and you could feel how happy she was inhabiting that body."

That carefree revelry didn't last much past the Like a Virgin album cycle, and I wonder if the "toxic" feelings Madonna evokes these days — the stereotype of the youth-obsessed, Pilates-toned cultural vampire — have something to do with that, the fact that what she became felt like such a betrayal. There was a radicalism to the way Madonna presented her body in the early '80s, but what she's accused of doing now — worshipping youth, dressing "half her age" as she's preparing for her 60th birthday — feels disappointingly conservative. "Madonna could not seem to escape the trap of America's conventional attitudes about aging," the critic Ann Powers wrote in her recent book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music. "Instead of using midlife as an opportunity to develop a new vision of mature sexuality, she still sought to be that material girl whose pleasure in feelings herself stimulated lust in others. That many found this stance implausible indicated that even Madonna's dares had their limits when it came to redefining American eroticism."

One of the most annoying, even tragic things about Madonna is that she is so often bested by (and complaining about) the very dynamics that she helped create. "I have to stay current," she said, sighing, to some friends not long after Ray of Light came out. "God help me, but I guess I have to share radio air time with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. What choice do I have?" Madonna turned 40 the year Ray of Light was released, just a few months before a then-17-year-old, like-a-virgin Britney Spears released her debut single, "…Baby One More Time." Madonna was suddenly forced to compete with a cadre of young, blond pop starlets less than half her age — but she was also partly responsible for the environment that created them.

I love Ray of Light and yet I blame it for a lot of bad music and terrible delusions of spiritual profundity that have plagued our modern pop stars, so maybe in the end, cosmically, its existence works out to a draw. It was the beginning of pop-star-as-guru-slash-lifestyle brand: You do not get Katy Perry's Witness without Ray of Light, nor do you get Katy Perry thinking she could dress like a geisha, or… Katy Perry's 24-hour livestream. We should have known that a kabbalah bracelet was not going to save Britney Spears.

And yet its anniversary is a good reason to revisit it: Ray of Light is infinitely stranger, better, and more uniquely personal than the "kabbalah album" stereotype. It is one of the rawest pop albums about motherhood that I can think of — a reckoning with death and life by a motherless new mom, a woman who seemed to have everything but was deeply haunted by the few absences in her life. Her mother's absence helps explain, more than any of her records, who Madonna has become, and from where her obsessive and sometimes alienating quest to perfect and transcend her perpetually moving body comes. There was a blank space in Madonna's story where a mother would have been. "Madonna did not grow up with a constant model of motherhood," O'Brien writes, "but in the end, that gave her an alternative way of looking at the world."

When Eva Perón was dying of cancer, at age 33, her husband decided that she would be embalmed and that her body would be put on display after her death. "Before she died," O'Brien writes, "Evita was injected with chemicals to preserve her organs and flesh, and not allowed painkillers that interfered with the process." The night of her death, the famed Spanish embalmer Dr. Pedro Ara performed a complicated process in which her blood was replaced with glycerine, making her seem like she was merely undergoing an "artistically rendered sleep." The morning after she died, he proudly proclaimed, "the body of Eva Peron was completely and infinitely incorruptible."

The movie (somewhat wisely) doesn't focus on these grotesque details. Still, as she was gestating the ideas that would become Ray of Light, Madonna was immersed in her study of Perón's short life and seemed to feel a deep connection with the tragic woman she was hell-bent on portraying. "I can only imagine how she must have suffered," Madonna wrote in a diary for Vanity Fair while filming Evita. She also claimed to dream of her frequently. "I was not outside watching her. I was her," she wrote. "I felt her sadness and her restlessness. I felt hungry and unsatisfied and in a hurry."

How Debra Messing pranked Madonna on the Will & Grace set

Source: DigitalSpy - 11 Feb. 2018

Fans of Will & Grace most likely remember a hilarious guest appearance from Madonna in the original series… but it's not clear if Madge actually has any recollection of it.

The Material Girl popped up in the NBC sitcom back in 2003, during a time when Will & Grace was attracting huge guest stars like Britney Spears, Ellen DeGeneres, Cher and Matt Damon on the regular.

But, 15 years later, Debra Messing and Eric McCormack have shared an anecdote on The Graham Norton Show about Madonna making it very obvious on set that she had no clue what she'd got herself into.

"Madonna didn't have a clue who we were and she could not remember our names so I told her mine was Rachal," Messing remembered.

"She said, 'Really? That is my Kabbalah name', I said like, 'How about that?!' so for the rest of the week she called me Rachal. When she finally realised that wasn't my name she sent me roses with a note written to 'Dear Debra'."

"The same thing happened to me," McCormack interjected. "She sent flowers and a note saying, 'If my husband would let me, I'd tattoo your name on my arm'."

How 'Ray of Light' brought a generation of gay men together

Source: Attitude - 4 Feb. 2018

It's 20 years since the Queen of Pop released the most savvy reinvention record of all time, writes Neil Symons

As 1997 moved into 1998, change was in the air. Pop music was becoming cool again. Spice Girls, Steps and even Gina G had put pop back on the radio.

For a generation of gay lads, 1997 also ushered in the G-A-Y and Heaven glory era - a year or so before Queer As Folk debuted and drove gaggles of hen parties to Soho - we discovered the gay super clubs, we discovered club remixes of our favourite songs, and most of us will remember what part of G-A-Y we were dancing in that cold February night in 1998 when the DJ dropped the Victor Calderone Club Mix of 'Frozen', the moment when the violins hit, the moment when the place exploded as loud as it did when Madonna herself finally hit the stage at the venue in 2005. 

It had felt like a homecoming of sorts. Those of us who were old enough to have gone to the Girlie Show had a tough few years after that - Erotica had put Madonna out of favour with the public, her music wasn't cool enough for school - although Evita and ballads album Something To Remember had reset her credibility with the mums - and it was with a degree of trepidation and hope that we welcomed the news of a new Madonna album, Ray Of Light.

How 'Ray of Light' brought a generation of gay men together

In these early days of the internet, most of us would rely on radio stations or TV for our Madonna news - in the era of information starvation, and with no social media to fill our immediate need, the wait for details was like Christmas.

After a long day of standing in the cold, a handful of us were led into the TV studio to watch Madonna perform 'Frozen' on the National Lottery show. At the time it was the most watched programme on TV. For many of us, this was the closest we'd seen Madonna whilst she was performing.

The reaction was fantastic from all quarters - the critical acclaim that she'd never tasted before was everywhere, from NME to Smash Hits, from BBC to Billboard, but more importantly, from people our own age. The friends that were mocking me during the Evita period were buying 'Frozen' because it had a Stereo MCs remix. The older fans were being eased into the new era because Frozen was still a ballad, albeit with a future proof sound. It was like our loyalty had been vindicated as we sat next to the radio on Sunday evening, recovering from last night at G-A-Y to hear the news that Madonna had knocked Celine Dion's epic 'My Heart Will Go On' from number 1.

The week after that when many of us stayed home from work to listen to Ray Of Light on its day of release was equally memorable - hearing loud guitars on a Madonna record combined with the electronic melodies was so new, so fresh. The album was just hit after hit.

My dear friend Tony described 'Skin', 'Nothing Really Matters' and 'Sky Fits Heaven' as 'the most glorious 15 continual minutes of her career'. Every lyric on the album meant something. Every song told a story. Every story could be visualised. The music was as close to 3D, living and breathing as music can be, it truly was the artist at the peak of her imperial phase, where critical and commercial acclaim met with a bolt of lightening to produce music perfection. 

Pop was back and Madonna was spear heading it with a sound that led the way. Whilst Steps, B*Witched, Billie Piper, Britney, Backstreet Boys, Cher and Five were also riding high in the charts, it felt like Madonna was once again leading the pack with a sound that both fitted and transcended the pop genre. 'Ray Of Light' as a single topped the charts around the world and ended up being one of the summer's biggest songs - with remixes from Sasha and Victor Calderone ensuring that no matter what club you were in you, you'd be hearing that scream.

How 'Ray of Light' brought a generation of gay men together

Since then, Madonna has elevated the track to signature song status alongside 'Like A Prayer', and it's always the song that gets the biggest reaction at not only her concerts but also the Madonna Fan Party events. The video to the track was released as a single in its own right, her first video single since 'Justify My Love' - and is still critically regarded as her greatest pop video, winning over 50 'Best Video' awards around the globe.

Triumphantly, Madonna hit the promo circuit again in the latter part of 1998 to promote 'The Power Of Goodbye', collecting armfuls of awards for the Ray Of Light album, and the single and video, where many of us got to see her up close in the the Top Of The Pops studio for the first time since 'You'll See' in 1996.

It was during this era that many of us made friendships in the gay community that we still hold close now. Those people who we'd go to G-A-Y or Heaven with every summer Saturday night in 1998 and dance like crazy with to 'Ray Of Light' with at 2am, then go home and put the CD on and listen to the opening bars of 'Drowned World' as the sun rose are still in our lives now - certainly we get told at the Madonna Fan Party events that many groups of friends who met during the Ray Of Light era still come together to the events, and Madonna shows, 20 years later. 

The 29th Madonna Fan Party will be held on Saturday 3rd March at G-A-Y Late, with doors opening at 2.30pm. The only UK event supported by Madonna's team, Madonna's biggest fans from all over the world travel to London for these events and have done now for 15 years.

The 29th event will be marking 20 years since the undisputed Queen of Pop released what's largely considered her greatest album, Ray Of Light, and for many gay Madonna fans, this will also mark 20 years of friendships with people they met in gay clubs that summer. 

We can't wait to welcome Madonna fans to G-A-Y Late on Saturday 3rd March, to bring back some memories of that glorious year and make you feel once again like you just got home.

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