In Random Tracks, I review a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Madonna- “Die Another Day”
PEAK: #8 on November 9, 2002
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”
When I reviewed Sheena Easton’s Bond theme “For Your Eyes Only,” I mentioned how it holds the distinction of being the only moment so far when an artist appears in a Bond movie to perform their theme when it plays in the opening credits. On that note, it feels weird that Madonna, a pop star famous for melding classic film iconography into her music and videos, didn’t do the same when she was picked to sing the theme for 2002’s Die Another Day. Having Madonna appear in the opening credits to perform her theme while doing her own video routine could have made for an interesting pairing. But instead, we get the usual opening credits routine of silhouette figures in fire and ice along with scorpions and scenes of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond being tortured.
Madonna did go all out though on making her own video for the song, spending so much money on it, $6.1 million, that it’s considered the second-most-expensive music video ever made behind only Michael & Janet Jackson’s “Scream.” With the Swedish team Traktor directing, the video for “Die Another Day” essentially puts Madonna into the plot of the movie showing her being captured and tortured while in another part she’s in a fencing battle with a doppelgänger. It ends with Madonna escaping both situations by stabbing her doppelgänger and escaping death from the electric chair where it ends with the famous gunshot barrel image of Madonna running away. The video certainly looks like a lot of money was put into it but wouldn’t have thought it was that much. Either way, it’s certainly more interesting than the song itself.
For the people behind Die Another Day, Madonna doing the theme represented a much-needed turnaround. In America, after Duran Duran scored the only #1 Bond theme in 1985 with “A View to a Kill,” each theme since had failed to chart on the Hot 100 whether it was from the likes of a-ha, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, or Sheryl Crow. After the alt-rock group Garbage performed the title theme to the previous Bond film 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, MGM Studios wanted a big name star for the next theme and Madonna was their pick. Her latest album, 2000’s Music, was as successful as a late-career album could get going triple platinum and launching a #1 hit in the title track. Madonna wasn’t exactly at her all-time imperial peak by the early-‘00s but she was still a presence on the pop charts and in the public eye so having her perform the Die Another Day theme was already guaranteed to get lots of attention.
Madonna wrote and produced “Die Another Day” with Mirwais Ahmadzaï, the French dance producer who teamed with Madonna on Music. At the time, the two of them were working on Madonna’s upcoming album American Life. Going through their demos for the album, Madonna and Ahmadzaï picked the track that would be used for “Die Another Day.” MGM liked the song but had Madonna and her team tweak it by constantly singing the film title in the chorus and re-work some of the lyrics to fit with the film’s themes. With its techno production, “Die Another Day” represented a major departure for the Bond franchise which Madonna touched on in a 2002 interview with Larry King, “Everybody wants to do the theme song of a James Bond movie, and I never liked to do what everybody else likes to do. It’s just some perverse thing in me, right? So, but then I thought about it and I said, you know what? James Bond needs to get — needs to get techno so…”
Going by the lyrics, “Die Another Day” is about I guess escaping death and persevering by closing yourself from the outside world. Madonna mentions a bunch of stuff she’s going to do from waking up, kiss some part of, keep this secret, break the cycle, shake up the system, destroy her ego, avoid the cliché, suspend her senses, delay her pleasure. Notably, she ends every verse by saying she’s going to close her body now. She keeps saying that there’s so much more to know and it’s not her time to go guessing that she’ll die another day. There’s also a shout-out to the neurologist Sigmund Freud with Madonna telling him to analyze the song in a sort of daring matter.
Here’s what Madonna said about the lyrics in a 2002 interview with Genre Magazine,
“The song I wrote for the Bond film is about destroying your ego, and it’s juxtaposing the metaphor of, you know, the fight against good and bad, and it’s set inside the whole universe of Bond. James Bond is in prison and he gets out of prison. Like all Bond films, somebody’s chasing him or he’s chasing somebody and it’s always a fight against good and evil. I wanted to take it to another level. It’s kind of a metaphor of… I’m fighting myself”
I don’t hear that listening to “Die Another Day.” What I do hear is noise and lots of it. The strings don’t sound too terrible and give the song an intense feel that you’d expect from a Bond theme. But everything else I just can’t stand from the glitchy synths to the robotic effect on Madonna’s vocals to the general lack of control in the production. For some reason, Ahmadzaï likes including his productions with stuttering effects that sound like a CD skipping and it further contributes to the migraine-inducing feel of the song. Ultimately, it adds up to a song that doesn’t have much of a central melody or structure for it to be memorable outside of the fact that it’s a James Bond theme. Perhaps Madonna should have done a typical Bond theme like everyone else.
While Madonna did not perform her theme in the film, she did make an appearance as a fencing instructor named Verity. I haven’t made it up to Die Another Day yet but from this scene I found, Madonna doesn’t have a big role. She largely exists in the movie to exchange banter with Pierce Brosnan. It’s not bad but nothing special either.
“Die Another Day” was released a month before the film in October 2002 quickly reaching its chart peak in just three weeks. A couple of weeks after peaking at #8, Die Another Day was released in theaters before Thanksgiving to a mixed response from critics and has since garnered a reputation as one of the worst Bond films notably for its over-reliance on special effects and silliness that even for a Bond film was apparently too much for some to handle. As usual, Die Another Day did make money at the box office though not as big as other films at least in America. (On the 2002 box office year-end list, Die Another Day grossed over $160 million putting it at #12 below Catch Me If You Can but above Scooby-Doo.) The polarizing reception was enough for the Bond series to reboot itself into its current iteration with Pierce Brosnan leaving the role of James Bond to sing ABBA in Mamma Mia.
When Madonna released the American Life album in April 2003, “Die Another Day” was included even though it didn’t have much to do with the album thematically. This wasn’t even a bonus addition, “Die Another Day” was included on the original tracklist. Like the movie and song, American Life also received a mixed critical reaction and only went platinum. No major hits were garnered by the album’s official singles but just by being on it, “Die Another Day” was able to salvage a rather underwhelming album by virtue of being a Top 10 hit. As Todd in the Shadows said in his review of American Life, “Sigmund Freud, analyze that.”
BONUS BEATS: “Die Another Day” hasn’t left much of a cultural footprint in the years since its release so here’s another cut from the 2017 Bond theme compilation Songs, Bond Songs: The Music of 007 where the group Big-Box Store covers “Die Another Day:”