The Story of Pop: 1998 (Chapter 9)

Offering up yet more huge UK chart smashes from a quarter of a century ago, this is The Story of Pop: 1998. This week: a pop icon reinvents herself once again – and begins the second incarnation of her hugely successful career…

  • Artist: Madonna
  • Song: Frozen
  • Released: 23/02/1998
  • Writers / Producers: Madonna / Patrick Leonard / William Orbit
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 13

When you are a global superstar and icon, there is always a big anticipation around what your next move will be, and indeed even higher expectations that come with that territory. And no one understands this more than the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna.

The 90s had been an interesting decade for her. Compared to her almost entire dominance of the 80s, it had been, to that point, a decade of extremes. It had started with the high of another chart topping single – 1990’s “Vogue” – and the release of her bestselling greatest hits album, The Immaculate Collection.

And although she subsequently continued to hit the top 10, albums such as 1992’s Erotica and 1995’s Bedtime Stories had divided more than they united fans and critics, as she took her imagery and artistry to levels that some would rather wish she hadn’t. Many had, therefore, thought that she had lost a bit of her magic touch.

But with the recording and release of Ray Of Light, her seventh studio album – and first since her well received turn on the big screen, in the iconic role of Eva Peron in Evita in 1996 – she was about to change gear and, in the way that only she knew best, shapeshift to another new image – and one of her most successful at that.

In the time since her last album, she had not only become a mum to her daughter, Lourdes, but she had also developed an interest in – and started following – Kabbalah and Eastern mysticism. It was this that quickly gained her the new label from the media as “Earth Mother”, as she began writing and co-producing songs that reflected her new perspectives on life and love. Speaking to Q Magazine at the time of the album’s release, Madonna said that becoming a mother was “a big catalyst for me. It took me on a search for answers to questions I’d never asked myself before.”

The album’s first single, “Frozen”, was co-written with her long time collaborator, Patrick Leonard, and was also, like the rest of the album, produced by William Orbit, who arguably got his breakthrough as a producer working with her. A moody, brooding and atmospheric ballad about a cold, emotionless man, it was quite simply breathtaking: “You only see what your eyes want to see / How can life be what you want it to be? / You’re frozen, when your heart’s not open”.

As promotion started to get under way for the new album, an equally chilly looking and dramatic video to accompany “Frozen” was shot in the Mojave Desert in California at the start of January 1998, directed by Chris Cunningham, depicting Madonna as a mystical, black haired creature in the desert that could suddenly transform and morph into different shapes and figures – mostly dogs or flocks of birds.

And it was an equally dramatic performance of the song the weekend before its release, on BBC One’s then top rating National Lottery Show – her first full live performance on TV in years – that all but confirmed Madonna was about to have her biggest hit in years. A week later, “Frozen” became her eighth UK number one single, almost eight years after “Vogue” had been her last single to go all the way to the top.

The Ray Of Light album then followed, and not only was it defined as her magnum opus by critics, but her fans embraced it fully, with the UK being among the 17 countries where it topped the chart. More singles from the album – the title track, #2 in May, “Drowned World (Substitute For Love)”, #10 in September, “The Power of Goodbye”, #6 in November, and “Nothing Really Matters”, #7 a year later, in March 1999 – eventually helped the album to be one of the top 10 bestsellers of the year in the UK, on its way to sales of 16m copies worldwide.

“Frozen”, and indeed the whole Ray Of Light era, was what undoubtedly kicked off Madonna’s second imperial phase, which would last for a good eight years or so, as she continue to redefine herself, and indeed, defy expectations. With this one single and album, she silenced her doubters who’d written her off, and proved that you can’t keep an icon down for too long.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1998. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1998.

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