Express Yourself: The Making of Madonna's 20 Greatest Music Videos

The directors who worked alongside the MTV-era maverick tell their stories

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18. "Music" (2000)

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was just starting to make a splash as the swagger-filled Brit hip-hop fan Ali G when Madonna tapped him to star as a limo driver in the "Music" video. But when she initally called, he couldn't believe his ears — in an out-of-character interview with Howard Stern, he recalled how he thought Madonna was actually a very convincing impersonator, and that it took him about 10 minutes to realize just who he was on the phone with. "Madonna loves him," manager Carissa Howard told the Daily Record at the time of the clip's release. "He is such a doll. She still can't stop laughing. She watched the tape and thought he was brilliant — the Peter Sellers of his generation." The video for the spaced-out "Music" was shot in April 2000, when Madonna was pregnant with her son Rocco. Director Jonas Åkerlund's resulting product works around that fact thanks to its back-of-the-limo setting and quick cuts — although the clip does nod to its star's condition at the end, when Madonna flaunts a big necklace reading "Mommy." 

Jonas Åkerlund, director: The treatment had dialogue and stuff like music videos usually didn't have back then. We wanted to have a comedian and Madonna was really good friends with Chris Rock and some of these other great comedians here. But I had just caught the attention of Sacha Baron Cohen, the Ali G character, out of London. And I talked to her, "Please, you got to check this guy out. He's awesome" And nobody in America had heard of him. They actually ended up meeting, which was great because that kind of sold it right away.

She was pretty pregnant. I didn't think it was a problem, like, "That's cool! Go out and party and being pregnant." I thought that was awesome. But of course, she wanted to cover it up….That's why we had that big nice fur on her! She kept that on and then it was a lot of close-ups on her face, you know?

I remember one thing, we had the big discussion on the shoot day: "Fedora or cowboy hat? Fedora or cowboy hat?" Back and forth, back and forth. I think we even shot a couple scenes with a fedora. I think about it every time I go to a Madonna show, up to this day, when I see all the people in the cowboy hats. I think about that moment. "That could have been a fedora, dude!"

When we're inside the limo, it's all green screen. The real limo we had, the gold one, the big one? It was so shitty it didn't have any interior — it was just all fucked up. But the one where she's with her friends, partying out, we shot that on the stage here in L.A. We actually shot it at the Charlie Chaplin studio which is right across the street from the…strip club. It was very convenient! We just walked across the street to do the strip scene!...I'm kind of known for my strip clubs. [Laughs] I think it was [my idea]. But, I mean, what's a party night without a strip club? I wouldn't say that now, but back then, I thought that was [an] important part of the night.

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