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Madonna’s ‘Miles Away’: 10 Years Later, And Still So Far Away

Madonna Steven Klein W Magazine 2009

“You always have the biggest heart when we’re six thousand miles apart…”

Despite what whoever is running her Twitter account is doing with all these anniversary acknowledgements at the moment, Madonna, Queen of Pop™, isn’t one who likes to look in her rearview mirror…unless involved in a car chase. She’s a live in the moment, baby kind of (material) girl.

Luckily, I’m a nostalgia girl, so I’ll do it on Her Madgesty’s behalf.

Wednesday (October 17) marks the 10th anniversary of “Miles Away,” Madonna’s wistful ballad and third and final single from Hard Candy, which has proven itself to be an increasingly great body of work over time – the opposite of “stale,” as my dumb, college-aged ass declared while trying to be a serious-face music journalist a decade ago. (What I’m trying to say is: don’t believe anything I’ve ever said before.)

Written, recorded and produced in between London and Miami by M-Dolla, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake – sometimes the things we love are made by the people we don’t – and Danja, the track foreshadowed what would eventually come to be mere hours before the song’s release as a single: her divorce from Guy Ritchie after eight years of marriage.

But, in typical Madonna fashion, the track speaks to a more universally relatable issue: communication.

“If part of your work is traveling, and the person you are with also works and travels, you find yourself separated a lot and it can be very frustrating…I’m American and he is British, and I have to come to America all the time…especially at the beginning of our relationship, that long-distance thing was very frustrating. I also think it’s easier for people to say things from a distance; it’s safer. In ‘Miles Away’ I’m tapping into the global consciousness of people who have intimacy problems,” she told The Daily Telegraph.

Madonna’s often at her best when it comes to balladry in all forms, from the cinematic epics (“Live To Tell”) to quiet, subtly devastating moments (“Love Tried To Welcome Me”). Here, strung across a hypnotic guitar, atmospheric electronica and a (vaguely dated) Timbaland-style human beatbox, Madonna delivers truly classic Madonna lonesomeness and, eventually, self-reliance, at her finest.

I remember when the snippet leaked in March of 2008, right before the album was released, on a Japanese news program (above). That hypnotic chorus drew me instantly, even in low quality.

“Miles Away” went on to become a Japanese smash hit, actually: it soundtracked the J-drama Change, and then won her three Japan Gold Disc Awards – it was also the best-selling digital single of 2008 in Japan. Literally, Japan stans “Miles Away.” Unlike here, they have taste. It didn’t even chart on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and The Pussycat Dolls‘ “I Hate This Part” kept it from No. 1 on the Hot Dance Club Play Chart – all Scherzy‘s doing, no doubt.

But back to the song itself: there are so many wonderfully crushing, chilly moments of melancholy in the lyrics, pulled from large notebooks that Madonna brought in for the Hard Candy sessions. One favorite line in particular: “Too much of no sound / Uncomfortable silence can be so loud / Those three words are never enough when it’s long distance love…

“We put our stuff out there. And after we did the song, everybody in the studio was like, ‘Oh, I can relate to that,'” Madonna told MTV.

“I couldn’t do a song like that. I thought it was completely her. That was the trick,” Justin added.

Another fun fact: the line “I just woke up from a fuzzy dream / You never would believe those things that I have seen” was later either intentionally referenced or just used simultaneously in her song “Broken (I’m Sorry),” released as a vinyl-only special for the Icon fan club members in 2012.

Like a lot of the Hard Candy tracks, “Miles Away” morphs into a somewhat different beast towards the end, with Madge’s voice echoing her mantra into the distance – “so far away, so far away…” – before being swallowed up entirely by electronic pulsations – a perfect, haunting final touch.

While “Miles Away” is mostly made up of depressed and dreamy memories, the bridge provides an abrupt wake-up call with an oh-so-Madonna kiss-off of death: “I’m alright, don’t be sorry, but it’s true / When I’m gone you’ll realize that I’m the best thing that happened to you.

Savage. And, indeed, life imitates art.

I was enough of a lucky star to be in the audience wearing a homemade “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You” tee on the eve of the single’s release, October 16, at the TD Garden in Boston – my first time ever seeing her in the flesh, no less – where she dedicated the song to the “emotionally retarded” shortly after news broke of the divorce.

“Maybe you know some people who fall into that category. I know I do,” she snarled.

“Miles Away” quickly became one of the many songs to soundtrack my own five-ish year long-distance relationship throughout college – and, to a certain degree, still seems to sum up my bleak love life. I guess I’m at my best when they’re miles away…

Anyway. If you’re in the mood to dance out the demons rather than simply dwell, the whole collection of “Miles Away” remixes is (mercifully) available on streaming, including the fantastic Thin White Duke remixes (AKA Stuart Price, producer of Confessions On A Dance Floor), as well as takes on the track from Morgan Page, Demolition Crew, Aaron LaCrate & Debonair Samir and Johnny Vicious. (I agree with my 19-year-old college newspaper review self that a stripped-down version would be a dream to hear. Maybe one day.)

So happy tenth anniversary to you, “Miles Away”: you’re still one of the best things to happen to us, even after all these years spent so, so very far away.

“Miles Away” was released on October 17, 2008. (iTunes)