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Beautiful Stranger: The Story Behind Madonna’s ‘Austin Powers’ Movie Hit
ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Beautiful Stranger: The Story Behind Madonna’s ‘Austin Powers’ Movie Hit

Joining a long line of illustrious Madonna soundtrack contributions, Beautiful Stranger made itself at home in the hearts of fans and critics.


Madonna is no stranger to soundtrack work. There’s Who’s That Girl (1987) and the Dick Tracy collection, I’m Breathless (1990), for starters, not to mention her career-reshaping turn on Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, from 1996’s Evita. But the 1999 single Beautiful Stranger is among the “Queen Of Pop”’s best silver-screen contributions. In league with William Orbit, Madonna created a pop-dance anthem, with more than a nod to the Britpop phenomenon, for the Austin Powers sequel, The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Here’s the full story behind Beautiful Stranger and its award-winning promo video…

Listen to the best of Madonna here.

Beautiful Stranger was pitched against a raft of A-list competitors

Certainly one of the greatest Madonna songs never to be featured on a studio record, Beautiful Stranger was written with William Orbit following the phenomenal success of 1998’s Ray Of Light album. It was always destined for the soundtrack to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, which was being released on Madonna’s Maverick record label. Nevertheless, the follow-up to the first film in the Austin Powers series (1997’s International Man Of Mystery) was a fiercely competitive soundtrack to secure a slot on, with a particular focus on what the lead single would be. Despite featuring tracks by R.E.M., Lenny Kravitz and Spice Girl Mel B (billed as Mel G for her cover of Cameo’s Word Up!), Beautiful Stranger became the early front-runner.

Madonna and Mike Myers have some history

The star of The Spy Who Shagged Me, Mike Myers, had worked with Madonna previously, including a hilarious three-way sketch on Saturday Night Live, the iconic US TV show, in 1992, featuring Roseanne Barr and a cameo from Barbra Streisand.

A year earlier, Myers and Madonna had spoofed her classic documentary feature Truth Or Dare (aka In Bed With Madonna), with Myers in his Wayne’s World character, in a sequence that has been billed one of the Top 5 best SNL sketches of all time. So it was perhaps inevitable that Myers would appear in Beautiful Stranger’s video, which ramped up the humour alongside some of the expected slick choreography.

The song neatly bridges the classic electronica of ‘Ray Of Light’ with the experimentation of ‘Music’

Recorded in California in early 1999, Beautiful Stranger embraces psychedelia, disco and even noticeable traces of Britpop – then just starting to soften as a cultural phenomenon – which owed much of its impact to its reverential nods back to the sounds and styles of the 60s, when the UK certainly did rule the global airwaves. As well as a Mellotron, there are flutes on the recording, hinting at the more unusual instrumentation that would characterise much of Madonna’s work with Mirwais, who would produce her next two albums – Music (2000) and American Life (2003) – and return for 2019’s Madame X.

Despite its obvious hit potential, Madonna’s US label passed on a physical release

Perhaps mindful of CD sales for the soundtrack – which would later go platinum in the US, shifting more than one million copies – Beautiful Stranger wasn’t issued on CD or cassette in North America (although a promo 12” and CD were circulated).

Still, the song peaked at No.19 in the US on radio play alone, while in the UK it made it to No.2. And there were similar successes elsewhere, including Canada and Italy, where it topped the singles charts. Radio adored Beautiful Stranger, and it was the second most-played track in Europe that year. Madonna has since performed the song live on the Drowned World Tour, but it was overlooked for her career retrospective The Celebration Tour, which ran across 2023 and 2024.

Beautiful Stranger won a Grammy and an MTV Video Music Award

“Someone is seducing our top agents. As you can see, she is a master of disguise,” began the Beautiful Stranger promo clip, which would go on to win an MTV Video Music Award and is almost unique in Madonna’s lengthy videography for its overt humour. The song itself won a Grammy in 2000, for Best Song Written For A Motion Picture. Critics also raved about the track, with trade bible Billboard calling it “utterly exceptional”.

A sharp remix ensured its success on the dancefloor

Victor Calderone’s exceptional Beautiful Stranger remix ensured the track would follow Madonna’s familiar path to the top of the US dance charts, staying at No.1 for a fortnight. William Orbit also cut a radio edit, but it was Calderone’s club treatment that was selected for inclusion on Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones, the 2022 collection that would celebrate Madonna’s dominance on the dance charts.

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