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"Bedtime Story"
An orange flower is held in the palm of a white hand in front of a purple background.
Single by Madonna
from the album Bedtime Stories
B-side "Survival"
Released February 13, 1995
Recorded 1994; Chappell Studios
Length 4:53
Madonna singles chronology
"Take a Bow"
"Bedtime Story"
"Human Nature"
Music video
"Bedtime Story" on YouTube

"Bedtime Story" is a song by American singer Madonna from her sixth studio album Bedtime Stories (1994). It was released as the third single from the album on February 13, 1995, by Maverick Records, and also appears on Madonna's compilation album GHV2 (2001). "Bedtime Story" was written by Björk, Nellee Hooper and Marius De Vries, and was the first time the former wrote a song for Madonna's album. She re-wrote a demo of the song to the current version, which was then produced by Madonna and Nellee Hooper. A mid-tempo electronic song with acid, house, ambient and techno influences, "Bedtime Story" has an underlying skeletal synth melody influenced by minimal trance music. The track was a departure from Madonna's pop-R&B-based repertoire in favor of unconventional and electronic music. Lyrically it talks about the joys of the unconscious world.

"Bedtime Story" received favorable reviews from music critics, who praised the song's hypnotic and electronic style, and deemed it an underrated song which could have had great potential. The song was a moderate international success, reaching the top ten in the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia, but missing the top 40 in United States. However, the song peaked at number one on the Hot Dance Club Songs. The music video for "Bedtime Story" was directed by Mark Romanek and is listed as one of the most expensive music videos of all time at a cost of $5 million ($7.76 million in 2016 dollars[1]). It features surrealistic and new age imagery, with influences from artists such as Remedios Varo, Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington. The video received critical acclaim from critics and was stored in a collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

"Bedtime Story" was performed at the 1995 Brit Awards in London with Madonna wearing a white Versace dress and long hair extensions, becoming one of the 30 best moments of the awards show history according to Marie Claire. A remixed version of the track was also used as a video interlude on her Re-Invention World Tour in 2004. "Bedtime Story" has left a legacy, with several critics, writers and scholars claiming that the song foreshadowed the singer's move towards electronic music in her future work. It was also written that it was part of the singer's influence in popularizing Sufism and the Mevlevi tradition in mainstream Western culture. Nevertheless, it has been described as one of her most unfulfilled potentially successful singles.


According to Lucy O'Brien in her book Madonna: Like an Icon, Madonna wanted to "make an impact" on the soul musical scene,[2] and started working with prominent producers from the R&B market. Aside from this, however, Madonna also wanted to explore the British club musical scene, where genres such as dub had been growing in popularity.[2] In such a way, she decided to work with several European producers and composers within the electronic scene, including Nellee Hooper, who pleased Madonna due to his "very European sensibility".[2] Inviting Hooper over to Los Angeles,[2] sessions started taking place in the Chappell Studios of Encino, California.[3] "Bedtime Story" was written by Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk, Marius De Vries and Nellee Hooper, and co-produced by Nellee Hooper and Madonna. According to Mark Pytlik in his book Björk: wow and flutter, it was offered a chance to write a track for Madonna's upcoming album, Bedtime Stories, to Björk.[4] After she accepted the offer, she wrote a song initially named "Let's Get Unconscious".[4] Once the song demo had been finished, De Vries and Hooper rearranged the track and the final version was called "Bedtime Story".[4] The song was eventually released as the third single from the album.[5] Björk's original demo was later re-worked and released as "Sweet Intuition" which appeared as a B-Side on her "Army of Me" single and remixed on the "It's Oh So Quiet" single.

Musical composition and lyrics[edit]

"Bedtime Story" is an electronic song, which is noted as a notable departure from Madonna's previous works and the other songs from the album, which are more R&B and new jack swing-driven;[6] unlike Madonna's more up-tempo, melodic work, the song is slower and has less of a net melody, and also contains a complex rhythmic structure;[7] it also places much emphasis on atmospheric qualities,[7] containing an ambient-influenced tone. The track, furthermore, contains a "pulsating"[8] and a "deep, bubbling"[3] house beat which has drawn stylistic comparisons to acid house music,[9] a "skeletal" synth arrangement, influences of trance, more specifically, minimal trance,[8] as well as techno tendencies.[7] The song's instrumentation, on the other hand, is synthesized, consisting of drum machine, loops, organs, strings, gurgles, handclaps, as well as a digitally-altered "homophonic" choir.[7]

Madonna sings lyrics for "Bedtime Story", accompanied by house beats, ambient and new age-inspired qualities, the usage of drum machines, synths and organs as well as an intricate rhythmic structure. Its electronic style contrasted Madonna's pop and R&B-based repertoire of the early-mid-1990s.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

According to Rooksby, the lyrics of "Bedtime Story" are a hymn to the joys of unconsciousness and a rejection of the supposed constraints of reason and language, hence the line "Words are useless, especially sentences, They don't stand for anything, How could they explain how I feel?"[9] The song is linked to the ending of the previous album track, "Sanctuary", and starts with its chords.[9] After this, the skeletal synth arrangement begins, over which the singer can be heard groaning. This is followed by sound of the drum machine and machine handclap. Madonna sings the song in a subdued, speak-sing manner, with the line "Today is the last day I am using words". In the song, Madonna sings certain lines in a hypnotic style.[8] The ending of the track has a pulsating beat and a mix of the lead synth, with Madonna's voice whimpering and uttering "Ha-ha-aahs". It ends abruptly saying "And all that you've ever learned, try to forget, I'll never explain again" making the listener believe that it was all the part of a dream.[9] According to sheet music published by Musicnotes.com of Alfred Publishing Co. Inc, is written in the key of G minor and has a moderate tempo of 108 beats per minute.[10]

Lyrically, despite being a song about a trip to the unconscious, scholars have noticed subtexts within the song's meaning. They noted that postmodernism and new age themes seem to have been explored within the song's lyrics, especially with regards to their incapability of articulating the concept of the truth, as well as the song's theme of meditation and relax.[7] Islamic mystic and sexual themes have also been noted within the song's lyrics.[7] According to Vicente, the clichés references to "honey", "longing" and "yearning", and the sexual connotations of being "wet on the inside" does not relate to "secular" love, but to "ecstatic" Sufi poetry.[7] The song's lyrical themes contrast from those of her previous work, which was overtly sexual and based on erotic love. On the other hand, they explore concepts of movement which are "central" to Sufi philosophy, such as "leaving" and "going out".[7] According to Vincente, these "subtly" allude to "achieving fana through sema (getting 'lost' and 'leaving logic and reason to the arms of unconsciousness')".[7]

According to Victor Amaro Vicente in his book The aesthetics of motion in musics for the Mevlana Celal ed-Din Rumi, the song's music bears many resemblances to new age-era music and different forms of Sufi-inspired music.[7] Its slow atmospheric qualities have drawn comparison to "Mevlevi-Sufi Relaxation" and the song's intricate, "steady and continuous" rhythmic structure has also drawn comparison to the zikr ceremony.[7] Björk, one of the song's writers, has been credited for giving the song its particular style. According to Marius De Vries, one of the song's writers, the track's architecture is "distinctly Björkian" and she "has such a particular and idiosyncratic approach to the construction of lyrics and phrasing".[11] In a chapter of Music and technoculture written by Charity Marsh and Melissa West, it is stated that one can hear the influence of Björk in Madonna's vocals during the song.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk, one of the song's writers, has been noted as the influence for the song.

"Bedtime Story" has received positive reviews from music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic, in a review for the album as a whole, wrote that, along with other tracks, it was among the "best songs on the album" and that they "slowly work their melodies into the subconscious as the bass pulses".[13] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine praised the song, claiming that the song had unfulfilled potential and that it "could have been the next 'Vogue'".[14] In a review for her GHV2 album, he also described the song as a "trippy follow-up to the mainstream hit 'Take a Bow'" and gave it an "A" rating.[8] Larry Flick from Billboard noted that "It is easily among her boldest and most experimental pop singles to date", also noting its "trippy and cutting-edge trance dance rhythms". He finished his review praising its "ingratiating" hook and "it is an affecting plea for unconscious bliss and escape, voiced with underplayed angst and resolve".[15] Peter Galvin from The Advocate noted that the song "calls to mind the Ecstasy anthem 'Rescue Me'".[16]

Lucy O'Brien, in her book Madonna: Like an Icon, wrote that "'Bedtime Story' was a vivid track that foreshadowed Madonna's move towards electronica". In the same book, O'Brien asserts that one of the song's writers, Marius De Vries, claims that it was a "brave decision", yet, that "Madonna captured the atmosphere of it beautifully".[11] Victor Amaro Vicente in his book The aesthetics of motion in musics for the Mevlana Celal ed-Din Rumi wrote that the song's "complex rhythmic texture" made it a "dance hall favorite in the mid-1990s".[7] Rikky Rooksby, in his book The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna, wrote that the song was similar to the music of English alternative/electronic pop band Everything but the Girl, and claimed that "in contrast to most other songs of the album, this is one track that could have been longer and more trippy than it is".[9]

Commercial performance[edit]

In the United States, the song debuted at number 72 on the US Billboard Hot 100, on the issue dated April 22, 1995.[17] One week later, the song peaked at number 42, becoming the first Madonna single since "Burning Up" (1983) not to reach the top 40.[18] Had she reached the top 40, she would at the time have become the third woman in the "rock era" with the most top 40 hits, behind Aretha Franklin and Connie Francis.[19] It would have given her a consecutive string of 33 top 40 hits, starting from her single "Holiday" (1983). Nonetheless, the song's "loss" of radio airplay and sales prevented it from peaking within the US top 40.[19] The song spent seven weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.[20] However, it was highly successful in the US Hot Dance Club Songs chart, where it peaked at number one and spent 16 weeks on the charts.[20] Furthermore, it also charted on various national charts, including the Hot Dance/Music Maxi Singles play, peaking at number three,[21] as well as the Rhythmic Top 40 at number 40,[21] and the Top 40 Mainstream at number 38.[21]

In the United Kingdom, the song entered the charts at its peak of number four on the week of February 25, 1995,[22] It left the top 20 two weeks later,[23] eventually spending nine weeks on the charts.[24] In other European countries, the song also found some success. It peaked at number 38 in the Belgian Singles Chart in Wallonian territory on April 8, 1995, with a total run of only one week.[25] On the Dutch Top 40 chart, it entered and peaked at number 46 on April 15, 1995, and stayed on the same position the next week, with a total run of two weeks.[26] "Bedtime Story" debuted at number nine in Finland, and peaked at number four the next week.[27][28] In Australia, the song peaked immediately at number five on April 9, 1995, where it stayed in that position for three weeks.[29] It fell out of the top ten in the fifth week, and eventually exited the charts after a total run of nine weeks, falling to 44 on its last week in the charts.[29] In New Zealand, it debuted at number 40 on May 7, 1995, moving up two positions to 38 which was its peak, and leaving the charts the next week.[30]

Music video[edit]

Background and development[edit]

The music video for "Bedtime Story" was directed by Mark Romanek over a course of six days in Universal Studios, Universal City, California.[31] At a reputed cost of $5 million ($7.76 million in 2016 dollars[1]),[32] it is one of the most expensive music videos of all time, and the most expensive at the time, with the music video for one of her earlier singles, "Express Yourself" (1989), which was also reported to have cost $5 million ($9.54 million in 2016 dollars[1]).[33][34] Shot by cinematographer Harris Savides, the video was made on 35 mm film lens.[31] Furthermore, Tom Foden was the video's production designer.[31] Due to the vast number of digital effects required for the video, post-production lasted for weeks.[31]

On March 10, 1995, the video was given a cinematic release at three different Odeon Cineplex film theatres in Santa Monica, California at the Broadway Cinemas, in Manhattan, New York at the Chelsea Theater, and in Chicago, Illinois at the Biograph Theater.[31] Unlike most of Madonna's videos which debuted on either MTV or VH1 television channels, "Bedtime Story" was first put into circulation in Z100. The video has been exhibited and permanently kept in different art galleries and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art as well the School of Visual Arts in New York City.[35][36] In order to promote the video, Madonna did a special known as Madonna's Pajama Party on March 18, 1995. where the singer could be seen reading a bedtime story in Webster Hall in New York City.[31] At the event, "cutting-edge" tribal and trance remixes, made by disc jockey and producer Junior Vasquez, were also played.[37] In an interview with Aperture magazine, Madonna revealed the inspiration for the music video:

"My "Bedtime Story" video was completely inspired by all the female surrealist painters like Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. There's that one shot where my hands are up in the air and stars are spinning around me. And me flying through the hallway with my hair trailing behind me, the birds flying out of my open robe – all of those images were an homage to female surrealist painters; there's a little bit of Frida Kahlo in there, too".[38]


Madonna giving birth to a flock of doves in the "Bedtime Story" music video; this scene was compared with Mexican surrealist artist Frida Kahlo's 1932 painting My Birth.[39]

The video starts off with a blue monitor screen with an eye showing the inscription "Welcome".[40] The video progresses inside a blue space ship-style room with Madonna lying prostrate in what seems to be a scientific experiment. The imagery cast in this section of the video have drawn comparisons to hermeticism.[40] The video progresses into a sequence of dreams, containing varied surrealistic, mystic, new age, Sufi and Egyptian imagery and symbolism. Such include a scene in which Madonna lies on a rotating sunflower, and images of a woman with long hair, an alchemist-type man holding a cube with Madonna's face on each side as well as rotating Sufi dancers. Some scenes were inspired by the 1969 Armenian film The Color of Pomegranates.[41] The dream sequence progresses with surreal and unusual clips, including Madonna in a pool with half-shown skulls. A scene in which Madonna, dressed in a light dressing gown, gives birth to doves, can also be seen; the image has been compared to the work of René Magritte and Frida Kahlo's 1932 painting My Birth.[39] Suddenly, she floats down a corridor in a white gown, until she appears in a black-and-white projection in a cinema-like room. As the music gets more dramatic, the dream grows intense, with images of skulls and scars appearing, and the singer can be seen wading through space. A scene in which Madonna's eyes are replaced with her mouth and her mouth with an eye precedes the ending, influenced by the work of Frida Kahlo, in which she wakes up and looks out.

Reception and analysis[edit]

The music video for "Bedtime Story" has received generally positive reviews from critics ever since its release. Lucy O'Brien praised the video, calling it "one of her most experimental" music videos and a "Dali-esque epic",[42] causing it to enter "the portals of high art".[42] In a 1995 edition of Billboard, the video was called an "elaborate clip".[37] MTV, while writing an article on the pop culture references of Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me" music video (2011), claimed that "Bedtime Story" was an ultra artistic video.[43] The video has been noted for its surrealistic references. Corinna Herr wrote that "Visual references to surreal paintings seem to be a key to Madonna's world of images" and listed "Bedtime Story" as one of these videos. In the same book, it has been written by Fouz-Hernández and Jarman-Ivens that Corinna Herr considers videos including "Bedtime Story" to be in relation to alchemical and hermeticist traditions, investigating in particular the concepts of androgyny and masquerade.[44] She has also written regarding the video's new age influences and concept of an idealised world, one "which she is not necessarily a part, but to which she nevertheless seems to be attracted".[39] The music video has also drawn comparisons to Tarsem Singh's films The Fall (2006) and The Cell, in the sense that they both incorporate elements of Islamic mystic imagery, such as in the scene where the swirling dance is executed, as well as the floating cube.[32]

Live performances and legacy[edit]

A Junior Vasquez remix of the song was performed at the 1995 Brit Awards, Madonna wore a white Versace dress and long hair extensions, an image similar to the Versace advertisement campaign she was promoting. She even invited Björk to feature in the performance; hovever, the singer turned it down, saying "I was supposed to get [Madonna's] personal number and call her up, but it just didn't feel right. I'd love to meet her accidentally, really drunk in a bar. It's just all that formality that confuses me".[5] This performance was ranked number four on Marie Claire's "30 Best Brit Award Moments" list. It was described by the magazine as the "best opening performance" from the awards, and commented that "the star pulled out all the stops, treating the audience to a light show and trio of satin-clad male dancers".[45]

Madonna has only featured the song on one of her concert tours, the 2004 Re-Invention World Tour, using elements from the Orbital remix and shown as a video interlude. During it, three acrobatic dancers dropped from the ceiling on swings, while the screens showed scenes of Madonna wearing a white costume while singing in front of a mirror and lying down on a big scanner. A white horse can be seen with her during the video riding on a white desert and running through white sheets. As the interlude ended, Madonna appeared on stage again to sing "Nothing Fails".[46]

"Bedtime Story" has frequently been cited as one of the songs with the most unfulfilled potential in Madonna's career,[14] nonetheless, the song did enjoy some success, being a club "favorite" in the mid-1990s.[7] It has also been described as the record that foreshadowed Madonna's usage of electronic music in her following work. According to Victor Amaro Vicente in his book The aesthetics of motion in musics for the Mevlana Celal ed-Din Rumi, the song was influential and left a legacy on Madonna's work, especially on her album Ray of Light, which, according to him, owes "its contemplative and electronic techno rave character to 'Bedtime Story'".[7] Lucy O'Brien, in her book Madonna: Like an Icon, wrote that the song "foreshadowed her move towards electronica" and labelled it an "embryonic moment that went a lot further on the next few albums".[11] In a review for the Bedtime Stories album on a whole, Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine wrote that the song was "the germ that would later inspire Madonna to seek out and conquer electronica with the likes of William Orbit and Mirwais".[14]

Track listings and formats[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits and personnel adapted from Bedtime Stories album liner notes.[54]



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  4. ^ a b c Pytlik 2003, pp. 82
  5. ^ a b Pytlik 2003, pp. 83
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External links[edit]

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