Traveling, Traveling…Back Twenty Years to Revisit Bedtime Stories

1994 was one of Madonna’s stranger, more transitional years. It was post-Erotica, which meant not as sexual, and pre-Ray of Light, which meant not as ethereal. She was also trying to do damage control over a profanity-laden appearance on the David Letterman Show, thus a softening of the image was essential. Enter her sixth studio album, Bedtime Stories, boasting the most producers she’d ever worked with up until that point on a project.

Still from the video for "Bedtime Story"
Still from the video for “Bedtime Story”
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 (see: the Versace ad campaign from 1995).
Showing off a softer side...with a dog
Showing off a softer side…with a dog
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, 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 acknowledgement 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.”

Twenty years later, Bedtime Stories, released on October 6, 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).