The Madonna Timeline: Song #32 – ‘Hollywood’ – Summer 2003

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

Everybody comes to Hollywood,
They want to make it in the neighborhood.
They like the smell of it in Hollywood,
How could it hurt you when it looks so good?
Shine your light now,
This time it’s got to be good,
You’ll get it right now, yeah,
Cause you’re in Hollywood.

It was my summer working at the Thruway Authority – where we had our own parking (30 feet from the building) and I could drive to Delmar while on lunch. Madonna had had a rather dismal lead-off single from her recent American Life album, so she followed up with a paint-by-the-numbers pop-like bore of a safety song. It didn’t matter, I drove around with the windows open, challenging speeding tickets, blaring ‘Hollywood’, and drinking Boston shakes from the local ice cream shack.

Despite that, this remains  is one of my least favorite songs on that album, an otherwise-under-rated electronic pastoral, with flourishes of folk tempered with flashes of brilliance. Heavily laden with guitars of all sorts, the album got shafted because of the politicized fervor of post-9/11 fear. It’s a shame, but not because of this song.

‘Hollywood’ is another woe-is-life-at-the-top type song that posits the banal question, “How could it hurt you when it looks so good?” Possibly when it sounds this bad. Sorry, I’m just not a big fan of this one. It’s telling that Madonna used an instrumental version of ‘Hollywood’ on the Reinvention tour in support of the American Life album. Or maybe she just found the repetitive yet tricky lyrics too much of a challenge – I recall a few flubs on the mini-promo tour she did for the album.

The video, however, is why I have the song on the iPod. It is classic chameleonic Madonna – highly stylized, filled with iconic images, and an absolute homage to her mode-shifting nature. There’s also a slight All About Eve reference that puts Madonna in the glamorous trappings of Margo Channing as a younger maid looks at her longingly. That concept could have been explored a bit more, but any reference is better than none at all.

Most people will remember this song only from its performance at the MTV Music Awards, where Madonna kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, then danced with Missy Elliott. The night it aired, I was in Ogunquit. Having heard whispers that she might be opening the show, I told Andy to go downstairs and make dinner reservations while I watched to see what might transpire during the opening. The snaky bassline of ‘Like A Virgin’ began and I held my breath. Britney and Christina did their rudimentary run-through of the song, and then there she was, rising from a wedding cake like the very first time, in groom/dominatrix drag, overseeing the proceedings and completely in charge of it all. Twenty years into her career, she was still the most highly-charged performance of the night, and all the world was talking about the next day.

Personally, I enjoyed that rendition of ‘Hollywood’ – and it left no doubt as to who the reigning Queen was, and remains.

Push the button, don’t push the button,
Trip the station, Change the channel.
Music stations always play the same song,
I’m bored with the concept of right and wrong.
Song #32: ‘Hollywood’ – Summer 2003
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