Following six weeks of controversy, Madonna has withdrawn the video for her new single, “American Life.”
“It was filmed before the war started, and I do not believe it is appropriate to air it at this time,” she said in a statement.
The video, directed by Jonas Akerlund, begins with models decked in military gear strutting down a fashion runway while images of warplanes in flight splash across the walls. During the chorus, Madonna sings against a black screen as orange fireballs erupt over her shoulders. The clip also depicts shots of Arabic peasants in the street.
Near the end of the video, Madonna and overweight female dancers in military garb drive a car through the wall and storm the show, strutting menacingly and spraying a roof-mounted water cannon at the paparazzi and crowd. The shots are juxtaposed with rapid edits of planes dropping bombs and huge fiery explosions.
Madonna has said that she originally wanted the video to convey strong anti-war, anti-materialism and anti-fashion industry statements. However, as the war in Iraq progressed, she edited the footage to make it less controversial, her manager said (see “Madonna Edits Controversial ‘American Life’ Video” ).
The most dramatic adjustments were made to the clip’s conclusion, which at first featured Madonna throwing a live grenade into a fashion show. She changed the finale to depict her tossing a phony grenade at a George Bush look-alike, who catches it and uses it to light the cigar of a Saddam Hussein look-alike. In the final edit, Bush catches the grenade, then lights his cigar with the faux weapon.
Even with the changes, Madonna was worried the video would be misconstrued as anti-American or anti-military, which wasn’t her intention. For this reason, on Monday night she decided to withdraw it. Before her decision, many international networks had already aired the clip, which had been released abroad that day. Airing has since ceased, however.
“Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video,” she said in the statement.
During an interview last week, Madonna expressed frustration at the prospect of viewers reading things into the videos and her music, leaving her in a no-win position.
“I feel like with everything I do, there’s always gonna be that handful of naysayers, regardless of what I do,” she said. “They’ve made their decision before they’ve seen it. And that’s human nature. So I accept it. Obviously, it irritates me. I would like people to watch it, and I don’t want to tell them what to think. I don’t think it’s offensive.”
Now we may never know, since Madonna’s label has no plans to make the clip available to consumers in the future.
—Jon Wiederhorn, with additional reporting by John Norris