Looking Back at Madonna’s ‘Bedtime Stories’
Madonna’s ‘Bedtime Stories’ Turns 24 Today
Madonna has made music, she has endured relentless criticism for her sexuality. She’s been perhaps the most consistent target in the music industry, drawing critiques for more than three decades, and reviews of her work have served as a roadmap for how we scrutinize women at each stage in their music career. Whether it was public speculation on why she isn’t “like a virgin” or it was chastising her middle-aged body in a leotard, the shaming has had many iterations despite its one unwavering resolution: She goes too far. In 1992, Madonna released Erotica, a techno concept album, and ode to bondage, alongside the coffee table book Sex, a softcore pornographic photo catalog of her and her pals. The concurrent releases created an enormous and long-running backlash, resulting in multiple countries banning the album from radio airplay and the Vatican banning Madonna from entering. That’s why her album Bedtime Stories, is still her most important work. For months leading up to its release, it was marketed as an apology for her sexual behavior, and critics hoped it would be her return to innocence. Instead, she offered a lyrical #sorrynotsorry and a response to the problem of female musicians being scrutinized for their sexuality rather than their music. As a result of the public’s moral concerns, it has become Madonna’s most quietly important album, setting the tone for how artists deal with critiques of their sex life.
From the assertive, neo-R&B flavorings of the intro track, “Survival,” (produced by Dallas Austin and Nellee Hooper) to the sultry, stripped down vocals of the finale, “Take A Bow” (produced by Babyface), Bedtime Stories served up varied styles that Madonna had never explored before, all ultimately leading up to her musical transformation on Evita and Ray of Light. To go with “the softer side” of Madonna, an appropriate image also had to be cultivated. Of course, the platinum blonde hair stayed, but a more approachable persona was created through makeup (somewhat heavy but in a good way) and wardrobe. In addition to Madonna embracing an even more R&B tone than on Erotica (whose gritty beats were perfected by Shep Pettibone), she also took on more ballads for the album, which, in turn, challenged her to come up with some of her most poignant lyrics (with a little help from Bjork on “Bedtime Story”). The only real departure from the slowed down, the calmer aura of the album (and Madonna herself) is on “Human Nature,” co-written and produced by Dave Hall. The fast tempo and irascible beat of the song pairs perfectly with Madonna’s acknowledgment of the many critics who condemned her during her Erotica era as she sarcastically notes, “Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex.” Bedtime Stories, released on October 24, still sounds as rich as it ever did, and holds a special place in Madonna’s career for being the seamless bridge from one era (oversexed 80s icon) to another (mature, occasionally understated rabble-rouser).
3 “I’d Rather Be Your Lover” (featuring Meshell Ndegeocello)
4 “Don’t Stop”
5 “Inside of Me”
6 “Human Nature”
7 “Forbidden Love”
8 “Love Tried to Welcome Me”
10 “Bedtime Story”
11 “Take a Bow”
Produced by: Madonna, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Dave “Jam”, Hall Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds
Recorded during: February–August 1994
Released: October 25, 1994
Label: Maverick and Sire Records
“Secret” Released: September 27, 1994
“Take a Bow” Released: December 6, 1994
“Bedtime Story” Released: February 13, 1995
“Human Nature” Released: June 6, 1995
“Secret”, “Take a Bow”, “Human Nature”, “Bedtime Story”
Listen to “Bedtime Stories” on Spotify
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