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Mon. May 25th, 2020

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 10 – ‘CONFESSIONS ON A DANCE FLOOR’ (2005)

Call it a comeback, call it a departure. Call it whatever you want but Confessions on a Dance Floor was a bonafide hit. After angrily and vulnerably pouring her heart and anger out on American Life, Madonna, in true fashion, subverted everyone’s expectations with a pop-disco flashback whose influence and impact is still being felt 15 years later.

When I wrote American Life, I was very agitated by what was going on in the world around me, […] I was angry. I had a lot to get off my chest. I made a lot of political statements. But now, I feel that I just want to have fun; I want to dance; I want to feel buoyant. And I want to give other people the same feeling. There’s a lot of madness in the world around us, and I want people to be happy.

Madonna to MTV News

Although she began working with American Life producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï on Confessions (he still pops up a few places here) she abandoned the path quickly and moved over to Stuart Price, who she had collaborated with on the Drowned World Tour as its musical director and as constant fixture in her 2000s era of remixes. The duo moved to a disco-heavy throwback album and one that was made to play through with no gaps between songs.

We spent five or six weeks in my apartment; the studio used to be upstairs in the loft. I would work on a track overnight, then she would come in and we’d start messing around. She would do vocal melodies and I would come up with a few ideas, and then she’d go, ‘Okay, I’m gonna go home and think about it.’ Then she’d come back the next day and have the hook for “Hung Up” or the chorus for “Sorry.” Then I would carry on working on more tracks to keep us going. It was more of a really fluid and almost childlike environment than anything that seemed too serious.

Stuart Price on collaborating with Madonna for Vice magazine

The album was a critical and commercial return to success for Madonna, becoming her first album to hit #1 in all major territories. The lead single, “Hung Up,” with its legendary ABBA sample, still holds the world record for being #1 in the most countries ever (41) yet peaked only at #7 in the US. Dua Lipa’s 2019 album, Future Nostalgia, also produced by Price, was influenced by Confessions on a Dance Floor.

HUNG UP

AN: I have a strange relationship to Confessions, because so many Madonna fans I know express their desire for her to make Confessions 2.0, which sometimes makes me feel defensive of my own favorite Madonna album, American Life, which this is very much an answer to. But every time I revisit this album, I’m reminded that there’s no reason to hold it in opposition to American Life. They’re both brilliant. Madonna’s relationship to dance music is so strong, and here she delivers an album that takes a more mature look at dance music. “Hung Up” is masterful. If anyone was gonna be allowed to sample Abba, it’s Madonna, the heir to their pop perfection. And I love that she doesn’t just cover them. She speeds the sample up to make it her own, and adds her own melody atop it. It’s an undeniable song, and an incredibly influential song and album, as anyone paying attention to the new disco moment we’re having could tell you. Hi, Dua!

EA: Don’t call it a comeback, she’s been here for years! Ok, this was definitely a comeback for Madonna after American Life, both critically and commercially, which was kind of a mixed blessing. With American Life she was really trying to push some personal and professional boundaries so one could see Confessions as a bit of reverse course. It might be but it was also a massive cultural reset in pop music. It’s a brilliant, masterful party album – it plays through with no gaps but overlaps song to song that you can play in a gorgeous loop. One fascinating thing about the album is that, other than her first, self-titled record, it was the first time she put out an album whose title was not a song from the album. It’s also her first album ever to hit #1 in all major territories. Crazy, right? Speaking of #1, the lead single “Hung Up” still holds the record for being #1 in the most countries, 41. Yet, it only hit #7 here in the US. I will never forgive us for that! I love “Hung Up” so much; not only is it a perfect disco bop, the use of ABBA is such a great personal memory for me as my mom played ABBA records when I was 6 or 7 so it was my first memory of music of any kind.

GET TOGETHER

EA: What a gorgeous song. You really feel the impact of her switching from Mirwais to Stuart Price immediately here. Thumping, pumping, rich arrangements and an uplift that harked back to a decade ago. It’s wild that Madonna came in right after the disco era but we’re just getting this record now, in 2005. It’s lush and dreamy and I just want to turn off the lights and sway.

AN: This song is just a delicious anthem. It should’ve been much bigger than it was. It feels both like a callback to some of dance music’s past hits, and a push toward something new. This album means a lot to the queer community, and I think that’s because we have such a deep relationship to dance music. So many of us first found liberation on a dance floor. I know I did. And we know that the best dance music is both fantasy and confession. This song exists in the same universe as American Life. The first lyrics – “It’s all an illusion, there’s too much confusion” – call back to “Love Profusion.” But instead of staying in the confusion, Madonna offers us an escape on the dance floor. She doesn’t gloss over the hardships of life, but she acknowledges that there’s a place where we can transcend those hardships, if only for the length of a song. Only when we’re dancing can we feel this free. Madonna knows that, and here she reminds us that no one can create that feeling of freedom like she can. Pretty much a perfect Madonna song.

SORRY

AN: There’s something about Madonna, who really captured the attention of the whole globe, singing in multiple languages, that is both fabulous and satisfying. It’s like she’s acknowledging all the people around the world who she’s had a beautiful relationship with. Once again, she creates a dance floor anthem that doesn’t shy away from the hardships of the modern world. As the tour would show, this is a song that can be both personal and political. She turned it into a brilliant kiss-off to world leaders. It’s brash. It’s confident. It’s classic Madonna, in that it’s about being self-sufficient and celebrating your own independence. I love the “I can take care of myself” lyric because it calls back to so many dance floor anthems like “I Will Survive.” On a dance floor, we’re all surviving and taking care of ourselves, aren’t we?

EA: She’s a global artist and when the US cast her aside, the rest of the world did not and speaking directly to them is a great personal moment and way to open this song. It’s funny that this is the third song on the album since it’s the video sequel to “Hung Up” (omg THAT video was life changing). I love that she connected the two as one was longing and the inability to let a relationship go and “Sorry” is mama fed UP and ready to go. It’s absolutely another classic dance floor anthem for her, and for us.

FUTURE LOVERS

EA: This ended up being the only Mirwais-produced song on Confessions and while there is definitely a different feel to the three opening tracks it feels very comfortable here. It also feels like it could have been on Ray of Light or Bedtime Stories – in fact, it could be a semi-sequel to “Bedtime Story” for me. It continues the theme of love and love lost and moving on from it rather than lamenting and I do wonder what the rest of the album would have sounded like had she kept Mirwais on.

AN: Oh, interesting. I’d love to hear this mixed into “Bedtime Story.” I wanna take this chance to talk about Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder. Donna is one of my other biggest obsessions. What a career. What a revolution in dance music. There’s a party here in LA called MaDonna Summer where the DJs play nothing but the two divas, often mashing their songs up together, and their music makes so much sense side by side. If Abba are the perfecters of pop, then Donna is the queen of disco (though her career held many brilliant surprises post-disco), and one of the things I love about her work with Moroder is the juxtaposition between his often icy beats and the warmth of her voice. Here, we get a beat that clearly pays homage to “I Feel Love” and a vocal that is just fabulous. And I love that Madonna is paying homage to the greats that came before her. Also, the high camp of Madonna speaking, “Administration, bills and loans” is everything.

I LOVE NEW YORK

AN: As someone who left New York and found my true home in Los Angeles, I’ve always had a hard time stomaching Madonna singing that Los Angeles is for people who sleep. But then again, I do love to sleep. In fact, I’m usually in bed by 9pm and I love living in a city where no one judges me for that. So, she has a point. Anyway, I love the soaring chorus of this song. And in a post 9/11 world, I love that she delivered a New York love letter that isn’t excessively sentimental. She gives us a New York anthem that is classic Madonna: a little bratty, a little goofy, but with a majorly irresistible pop hook.

EA: “I Love New York” is probably in my bottom 10 Madonna songs of all time but really because of the lyrics being so dopey. She just came telling off Los Angeles and wanted to create a great New York anthem, which was her main home for so long. But there is no getting around “other places make me feel like a dork” in order to get the rhyme. What I do love about it though is the insaaaane Sex Pistols guitar and mood so much of it has. That part is great and I wish the lyrics had matched it’s rebelliousness. You can’t give me to punk and then say “Then you can eff off.”

LET IT WILL BE

EA: Along with “Future Lovers,” the only other song with Mirwais as a co-writer but that also incorporates Price and it feels like a push and pull of styles, in a good way though. We’ve got Madonna talking about fame once again and having clarity to what and who she is. We’ve got those gorgeous violins in the back. We’ve got Madonna as her own backing vocalist. But it does feel like it’s on a precipice and is fighting with the past and present and what the future holds.

AN: Well you know Mirwais is my fave M collaborator, so it’s no surprise this is my favorite song on the album. I will say my experience with this song is influenced by the tour performance of it on The Confessions Tour. It was my favorite moment of that tour, and every time I hear the song, I can still feel her thrashing around on stage in front of me. That tour was very special for me. I was invited to the friends and family show before it officially opened, and got to sit in the front row. Before the show started, tiny little Madonna came onstage looking very unassuming. She thanked us for being her first audience. Seconds later, she stepped out of that disco ball as the larger-than-life icon we know and love. The transformation was so powerful to behold, as was the rest of the tour, one of her best. She really brought these songs to life beautifully, especially “Let It Will Be.”

EA: Ahh, what a great experience and memory! This (and “I Love New York”) were both great live numbers.

FORBIDDEN LOVE

AN: I love that she has two songs called “Forbidden Love.” I love that she’s so interested in exploring the theme of forbidden love. As with “Let It Will Be,” she created a live version of the song on tour that is impossible not to picture each time I hear the song. It’s beautiful, and very tender. This album is relentless, but it does have a big beating heart under the beats.

EA: This is one of my absolute favorite tracks and so polar opposite of the Bedtime Stories one and that she’s cheekily acknowledged doing it on purpose. “Talent borrow, genius steals,” she said. This is dreamy, spacy, euphoric. It feels like flyyyyying.

JUMP

EA: I love the old school empowerment theme in “Jump.” Matthew Told from Attitude magazine described it as “a whole generation of gay kids to pack their bags and head to the big city” and I think that’s so perfect. When Madonna sings “The only thing you can depend on is your family” she’s talking about something so many queer kids know and that’s that so often we have chosen families when our own reject us and she’s giving us the freedom to jump but also that we’re not doing it alone.

AN: I couldn’t have said it better. That’s such a beautiful read of the song. Like “Get Together,” I feel like this one deserved to be a much bigger hit than it was. It’s one of those undeniable pop songs. When it was featured in The Devil Wears Prada, I dreamed of a video starring Madonna alongside Meryl, Anne, Emily, Stanley and Anna Wintour. I still dream of that video. Just imagine!

EA: Oh God, I’m going to imagine that video for the rest of the day! On a personal note, I really loved this on the Confessions tour with the male dancers on the uneven bars as the dance routine. When I was in elementary school I never played any real sports. I would run immediately to the jungle gym because the boys never played there, just me and the girls. I would spin and flip and jump literally until my hands blistered and bled. It was a refuge so when this was the theme for “Jump” in the show my heart leapt.

HOW HIGH

AN: Confessions is an album that my kids request a lot. I think that’s partly because we have a record player, and what child can resist pink vinyl (side note: Dua Lipa’s new album is pink vinyl too, another nod to Confessions). And of all the songs on this album, this is probably the one my kids have played the most. It’s such a fun rush of a song. And the back-to-back callback to Music songs, “Nobody’s perfect, I guess I Deserve It” is so much fun. This is the album where Madonna quotes and samples the great pop stars of the past, and obviously she includes herself in that list, as she should.

EA: I love that we go right from “Jump” to a song called “How High” that digs right back into her price of fame commentary. It’s a theme that, once she started it with “Human Nature,” she really has a lot to say about. Yes, the callback to those two songs and having these two placed where they are is so shrewd and clever. The great strength though is that she never sounds like she’s feeling sorry for herself. It’s not self-pity, it’s not even really a warning. It’s just to highlight that she can be the most successful female artist in the world but she’s a person in the world first.

ISAAC

EA: Sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few people that loves “Isaac.” I think it’s genius and gorgeous. Yitzak Sinwani’s opening vocals are so beautiful, I want to spin like a whirling dervish from “Bedtime Story” when I listen to it. This was such a surprising inclusion on this album, which really doesn’t talk about religion like she had in everything from Like a Prayer to American Life. This could have rested quite easily in Ray of Light. But, this would have been an album without a controversy otherwise!

AN: Wait, do people not love “Isaac”? It’s an album standout to me. This was one of my favorites when the album came out. I listened to it non-stop. It really took me places. As time has passed, I find myself turning to it less than I used to. But revisiting it for this conversation reminded me of how great it is. I love that she’s exploring her relationship to God and religion in the context of dance music, and the callback to “Frozen” is fantastic, putting the humming over a dance beat. It does signal a relationship between this song and the Ray of Light album.

EA: Oh thank God, I always feel on the outside with “Isaac.” Whew!

PUSH

AN: I like that this is a flipside to Sorry’s message. Here, as opposed to saying she can do it on her own, she gives credit to those who push her forward, whoever that may be. Using elements of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is fascinating too.

EA: There’s also something kind of…erotic about this song too? This isn’t a ‘sexy’ album in the way that Erotica or Bedtime Stories were but there is something sultry and sensual about “Push” that does so without any overt sexuality. Maybe it’s just me but I think of it as a thank you for your support song sext.

LIKE IT OR NOT

EA: So, so many callbacks in this song (and some we’ll hear in the future). Pulling from “Human Nature” in defense of her work and actions. Name-dropping legendary women a la “Vogue,” pulling Garden of Eden bon mots. It’s flipping off her critics but it’s not angry in the way that “Human Nature” was. She’s matured and her approach is not one of hurt it’s of pure self-confidence that can’t be torn down by a bad review or comment about her age.

AN: Once again, Madonna knows how to end an album. If people thought Madonna was going to put out an album after American Life without addressing the way she was treated during that era, they were wrong. Just like “Human Nature” was her response to the Erotica backlash, this is her response to the American Life backlash. As you said, it’s a gentler take on being unapologetic than “Human Nature,” but the core message is the same. People can criticize her or worship her, but she’s not going to stop being herself, which means pushing boundaries no matter what people think. And which means not repeating herself no matter who wants Confessions 2.0. The lyrics are full of classic Madonna lines. “All of my fruit is yours to take.” “Can’t have the femme without the fatale.” It’s purposeful and cheeky, and the perfect statement to end an era that put her back on top of the worldwide charts.

CONFESSIONS ON A DANCE FLOOR by the numbers

  • Released November 15, 2005
  • Debuted at #1 on Billboard 200 chart December 3, 2005
  • Length: 56:28
  • 1.7M US / 10M worldwide
  • Billboard Hot 100 hits: “Hung Up,” (#7), “Sorry” (#58)
  • Grammy nominations and wins: Best Electronic/Dance Album (win), Best Dance Recording (“Get Together,” nomination), Best Longform Music Video (I’m Going to Tell You a Secret, nomination)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 1 – ‘MADONNA’ (1983)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 2 – ‘LIKE A VIRGIN’ (1984)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 3 – ‘TRUE BLUE’ (1986)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 4 – ‘LIKE A PRAYER’ (1989)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 5 – ‘EROTICA’ (1992)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 6 – ‘BEDTIME STORIES’ (1994)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 7 – ‘RAY OF LIGHT’ (1998)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 8 – ‘MUSIC’ (2000)

Talking Madonna with Erik and Abdi: Episode 9 – ‘AMERICAN LIFE’ (2003)

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