“Ray of Light” by Madonna

The first word uttered in Madonna’s “Ray of Light” is “Zephyr”, which is the name of an Ancient Greek deity. Perhaps namedropping him, within the grand scheme of the song, can be considered symbolic, since the piece (including the video) does feature somewhat of a travel motif, and the aforementioned character is a wind god. 

But such an acknowledgement also sets a more specific tone of this track, i.e. the fact that it was influenced by mysticism, which Madonna was deep into the study of at the time.

So perhaps with that in mind, it wouldn’t be wise to potentially open a can of worms by attempting to dive too deeply into the lyrics. This is because they are highly metaphorical and specific to the various philosophies she was studying at the time. 

Indeed as far as understanding mysticism goes, in many ways doing so is left up to the interpretation of individual adherents. But what can be definitively ascertained from the last line of the first verse is that the vocalist feels that “everyone” is threatened in some way, shape or form, an opinion which will come into play later on also.

Chorus of “Ray of Light”

Yet as revealed in the chorus she’s okay herself, ‘feeling like she just got home’. And that particular statement is one of the easier to decipher. That is because at the time, the Queen of Pop had undergone some sort of spiritual awakening or, as noted earlier, was deeply into the study of esoteric matters. 

So the chorus would indicate that she did in fact experience a substantial amount of relief as a result of said endeavors.

Spiritual Enlightenment

And with that established, the second verse comes off a whole lot clearer than the first. Here, it becomes more obvious that the “she” whom the singer is referring to is herself. And what Madonna is speaking to, again in this passage, is the concept of becoming spiritually enlightened or attaining “a little piece of heaven”. 

However, interesting to note is that she once again concludes the verse with this allusion to mass discontent, as with the first. Or as presented this time around, the vocalist is “waiting for the time when Earth shall be as one”.

Title (“Ray of Light”)

Meanwhile concerning the title, as explained by Madonna, the “ray of light” is a concept like time moving ahead rapidly, but simultaneously we making a conscientious effort to remain spiritually grounded. 

Note that the song came out in 1998, as the Western world in particular was approaching a new millennium. And it is such an idea, that we were rapidly approaching a new era in history, which influenced the style of the music video to this track. And it is also a concept which influenced Madonna’s own interpretation of this piece, as far as the titular term goes.

The term “ray of light” is then used in another section of the song, known as the middle eight. This time around it’s even more confusing, if you will, as to what exactly Madonna is talking about.

However, it has been reasonably put forth via a number of analysts that this time around she may be speaking to the notion of reincarnation. FYI, reincarnation is part and parcel of Hindu belief systems.

Outro

Finally, the outro commences with the vocalist proclaiming that “she’s got herself a universe”. The assertion that she possesses “a universe” is one that is actually introduced in the first verse. In that instance, with the entire line reading “she’s got herself a universe gone quickly”, honestly it’s not clear what Madonna is talking about. 

But as for the outro, whereas the statement more simply reads “she’s got herself a universe”, that sounds like yet another metaphor pointing to this idea of a spiritual awakening. Such a belief is also buttressed by the vocalist asserting that “she’s flying”, “quicker than a ray of light” even.

In Conclusion

So euphemistically speaking, we’ll say that this song is largely up to listener interpretation, despite the fact that there are obviously some specific yet obscure views being expressed therein. 

Madonna is able to get away with pop hits as ambiguous as this due to the talent level involved in the creation of the song and the strength of her celebrity. And she isn’t the first pop musician to have found religion, as a manner of speaking, midway through her career. 

Inevitably when they do so, these artists have to express their newfound sense of clarity and understanding in song. And “Ray of Light” is perhaps the Queen of Pop’s most notable effort in that regard.

Lyrics to Madonna's "Ray of Light"

“Ray of Light” Facts

Artist(s): Madonna
Album/EP: “Ray of Light” 

Was “Ray of Light” a single release?

Yes. It was the second single from the album of the same name. 6th of May, 1998 was the official date Madonna released it as a single.

Did Madonna write “Ray of Light”?

The song was written by Madonna and four others, namely:

  • William Orbit
  • Clive Maldoon
  • Dave Curtiss
  • Christine Leach

Production: “Ray of Light” was produced by Madonna and co-writer William Orbit.

Madonna talks about "Ray of Light"

Awards/Honors

The song was nominated for the awards, “Record of the Year”, “Best Dance Recording”, and “Best Short Form Music Video”. It won the last two awards but lost the first one to “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. Other nominees in the categories were as follows:

“Record of the Year”:

“Best Dance Recording”:

  • Boy George – “When Will You Learn”
  • Daft Punk – “Around the World”
  • Gloria Estefan – “Heaven’s What I Feel”
  • Cyndi Lauper – “Disco Inferno”

“Best Short Form Music Video”:

  • Aerosmith – “Pink”
  • Björk – “Bachelorette”
  • Oasis – “All Around the World”
  • Pearl Jam – “Do the Evolution”

Other Accolades

“Ray of Light” moved Madonna past Connie Francis as the woman with the most “top-40” hits when it became her 37th “top 40 hit.

In September of 1998, the song had a gold certification from the RIAA.

Chart Performance

  • US – 5
  • UK – 2
  • Spain – 1
  • Scotland – 1
  • Italy – 5
  • Iceland – 9
  • Hungary – 6
  • Greece – 1
  • Finland – 2
  • Croatia – 1
  • Canada – 3
  • Australia – 6

Covers

  • Rockabye Baby! (2011)
  • Natasha Bedingfield (2007)
  • Motor Industries (2005)
  • Stan Van Samang (2007)
Ray of Light

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