Madonna’s Sweet Sweet Intuition | How a collaboration with Bjork and Nellee Hooper Turned Into One of Madonna’s Most Interesting Tracks.
In 1994, Madonna reached out to Nellee Hooper to collaborate on a track for her upcoming album, Bedtime Stories. Hooper asked Bjork, who was a friend and collaborator at the time, to help contribute to the writing of the track. What Bjork and Hooper would create would be Madonna’s third single and titular track off her 1994 record. When asked about the writing process on the track, Bjork was quoted:
“When I was offered to write a song for [Madonna], I couldn’t really picture me doing a song that would suit her… But on second thought, I decided to do this to write the things I have always wanted to hear her say that she’s never said.”
You can hear the sonic inspirations that permeated Bjork’s first two projects. The sound is solidly in the trip-hop camp, which was beginning to rise into the mainstream through acts like Portishead and Massive Attack. The song begs the listener to let go of all of the senses that are failing them and fall into their unconscious for all the answers that they wish to seek, “Today is the last day/ That I’m using words/ They’ve gone out, lost their meaning/ Don’t function anymore…Let’s get unconscious, honey”. Much like in some of life’s most tempestuous moments, you are left in nothing but emotion and instinct. The chorus of song calls to this state, “I’m traveling/ (Traveling, traveling) leaving logic and reason/ (Traveling, traveling) I’m gonna relax/ (Traveling, traveling) in the arms of unconsciousness”. Much like a dream, the surrounds may not make sense, but feelings are moving you. The song’s bridge reminds us that these sensations are universal, “And inside/ We’re all still wet/ Longing and yearning/ How can I explain how I feel?”. Throw out your preconceived notions and look to the core of humanity. This has got to be one of the most abstract and cerebral of all of Madonna’s tracks. The words marriage with the track’s cool aqueous sound feel very dream-like. It’s one of my favorite tracks in her discography.
The music video to the song was directed by Mark Romanek, known for such visually stunning music videos as Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer”, Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”, Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”, and Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”. The project would prove to be Madonna’s most expensive in her videography, costing $5 million dollars to shoot. This would hold the title as the most expensive music video until Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” in 1996. Madonna stated in Aperture magazine the following on the inspiration for the music video:
“Like Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. There’s that one shot where my hands are up in the air and stars are spinning around me. And me flying through the hallway with my hair trailing behind me, the birds flying out of my open robe — all of those images were an homage to female surrealist painters; there’s a little bit of Frida Kahlo in there, too.”
This surrealist imagery throughout the video provide an almost abstract dreamscape in which all your neurons are working to create this bizarre world of wonder.
Bjork would go on to re-work the demo she created with Hooper for Madonna, at the time titled “Let’s Get Unconscious” into one of her own tracks “Sweet Intuition”. The song would be released as a b-side to her first single “Army of Me”. This version is much more bubbly in its sonic presentation. Bjork opts for pulsing synth tones and almost fluttery electronic tones and beats that give the track its own floaty warm character. These tones never really change as she sings over them. Where Madonna’s version begs to fall into the depths of your unconscious for the answers and security, Bjork’s words feel a bit more feral has she sings, “Close your eyes/ Listen closely/ All that you’ve learnt/ Try to forget it/ (Sweet intuition) Fuck logic, fuck logic/ (Sweet intuition) Bravo to instinct/ (Sweet intuition) And sweet intuition”. The statements are almost the same, yet different at the same time. Madonna wants to lull into the same place that Bjork wants to electric you up to in this joyous state. She keeps the same bridge that was used in “Bedtime Story”. It’s colorful spritely sound fit in perfectly with what she crafted on her sophomore album Post.
Bjork would record “Sweet Intuition” live at the Royal Festival Hall in London with Guy Sigsworth playing organ. This version is titled “Sweet Sweet Intuition” and was released on Bjork’s third single “It’s Oh So Quite”. I vastly prefer this version of the track over the original recording. Sigsworth organ playing give this underwater feeling to the song, that when paired with Bjork’s backing vocals of “Sweet Intuition, Sweet Intuition”, feel much more primal. It’s like all your neurons are firing this message to trust your instincts in this warm tingling way. I highly recommend giving this version a listen as it completely changes the climate of the song in the most beautiful way.