As the high priestess of pop, Madonna has administered the holy sacrament of Putting a Record on to Dance With Your Baby since 1983. Today, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of a key piece of 21st century dancefloor canon: her eighth album, Music.
Coming two years after the brooding, mature Ray of Light, Music was a conscious effort to lighten up. “Life would be such a drag if it was deep and probing all the time,” Madonna told Billboard of Music in the Aug. 5, 2000 issue. “I didn’t feel the need to be so introspective…. I felt like dancing. And that’s reflected in these songs.”
That much is clear from the catchphrase-loaded lead single/title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 just two days prior to the album’s Sept. 18, 2000 release. A thumping electro-funk party-starter crafted with then-new collaborator Mirwais, “Music” became her 12th No. 1 and first since “Take a Bow,” staying there for four consecutive weeks. It was followed by “Don’t Tell Me,” a No. 4 hit whose unusual stop-time tempo and country-synth flavor predated similar fare by Avicii by 13 years, and the No. 23-peaking “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” a feminist anthem with an explosive, MTV-banned music video. (Even beyond the singles, Music is one of her sharpest sets, with the mesmerizing trance raver “Runaway Lover,” the playfully robotic “Impressive Instant” and the stark, barren “Paradise (Not for Me)” equaling if not surpassing the creative peaks of the hits.)
Moving 420,000 units in its first week and going on to sell 2.9 million in the U.S. to date according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data (a division of Billboard’s parent company), the Billboard 200-topping album was yet another win for the Queen of Pop. But its colossal success wasn’t exactly a surefire thing. In terms of top 40 fare at the dawn of the new millennium, dance-pop was hardly dominant: you were more likely to hear teen-pop, hip-hop-flavored R&B or, well, Santana on the radio in 2000.
In the Sept. 2, 2000 issue of Billboard, a former top 40 radio programmer talked about the “stigma” attached to dance music in America, arguing very few purveyors of the genre “connect with the pop side.” And while the Sept. 16, 2000 issue of Billboard noted the Music album was one of Warner Music’s focal points for that fall, label support only goes so far; after all, that same article noted that another of Warner’s fall priorities was the girl group All Saints… and their William Orbit-produced single “Pure Shores” was lost at sea in the U.S., failing to even scratch the Hot 100.
Club dominance for “Music” was a no-brainer (the July 22, 2000 issue of Billboard went as far as to predict it would top Dance Club Songs “without question”), but few predicted this song would take back her to the top spot on the Hot 100, where she’d been absent from since 1995. Even Madge herself admitted to having nerves about the album in her 2000 interview with Billboard, admitting, “I can’t lie; I care about whether or not this record sells a little or a lot.”
So why did “Music” soar? More than the appeal of a bedazzled cowboy hat or the power of an Ali G music video cameo, a clever retail strategy was a big part of the equation. In the Sept. 9, 2000 issue of Billboard, Hot 100 Spotlight columnist Silvio Pietroluongo (currently Billboard‘s senior vp, Charts & Data Development) described Warner’s decision to stagger the release of “Music” in various formats over two weeks (maxi-CD and vinyl one week, cassette and CD the next) as “a move that could be considered either unusual or genius.”
It turned out to be the latter: in the Sept. 16, 2000 issue (which opened with a massive four-page spread celebrating the song’s ascent to the top spot), Billboard described “a phenomenal week at retail” that helped push “Music” to No. 1, and gave M her best one-week sales total of the Nielsen SoundScan era for a single at the time. The hour-long maxi-CD, in particular, was key to the single’s success. Boasting a slew of remixes from cutting-edge DJs and producers selected by Madonna, the maxi-CD helped double down on her dance audience, accounting for a whopping 60,500 of the 62,500 units that constituted the song’s first week total. (“I’m finding it quite difficult to think of another maxi-CD that has scanned that many units in a week,” Pietroluongo noted at the time).
One of those remixes came from a young Tracy Young, fresh off playing M’s 2000 wedding to Guy Ritchie (incidentally, her remix of Madonna’s Madame X track “I Rise” made her the first woman to win a Grammy for best remixed recording, non-classical just this year). Speaking to Billboard in the Sept. 22, 2000, issue, Young zeroed in on the real secret to Music’s success, beyond release dates and remixes: Madonna herself. “I could go on and on about Madonna,” Young said. “She’s a risk-taker, she believes in musical expression, and she’s a woman operating in a man’s world. Throughout it all, she has remained her own being and has proved that anything is possible.”
Twenty years later, “Music” still stands as Madonna’s last record to top the Hot 100 — as Madonna herself pointed out in a no-prisoners speech at Billboard’s 2016 Women In Music event, radio is far from friendly to women north of 40. But if the song does end up being the final No. 1 in an incalculably influential career whose reverberations are still being felt in pop culture, well, you could do a lot worse than to go out on a high this deliriously danceable and endearingly goofy. Whether you’re a rebel or a card-carrying member of the bourgeoise, “Music” still makes the people come together.