Madonna is an American success story who is skilled at manipulating the media and making good business decisions. She has taken many risks in her music and her image, and while many have proven very successful, this song wasn't a commercial success. The song is a criticism of the American way of life as being selfish and materialistic, and how while Madonna has achieved the typical American Dream, she's not sure this is what she wants.
The song didn't get much radio play in the US, but did get a lot of attention for Madonna's rap about drinking soy lattes, doing pilates, and driving a Mini Cooper, which was often played in news stories without much context, sometimes making Madonna seem like a hypocrite.
The video shows Madonna in military garb as images of war are juxtaposed against a fashion show. Before it aired in the US, Madonna had the video re-cut to eliminate the war footage in deference to the war in Iraq. Madonna released this statement to explain her decision: "I am not Anti-Bush. I am not pro-Iraq. I am pro Peace. I have written a song and created a video which expresses my feelings about our culture and values and the illusions of what many people believe is the American dream - the perfect life. As an artist, I hope that this provokes thought and dialogue. I don't expect everyone to agree with my point of view. I am grateful to have the freedom to express these feelings and that's how I honor my country."
Madonna wrote this with Mirwais Ahmadzai, a dance music producer who worked with Madonna on her albums Music, American Life and Confessions On A Dance Floor.
Madonna (from Q magazine): "Different things inspire me to write. I could be having a guitar lesson and something will just come to me. Or Mirwais will send me over music - rough stuff that doesn't have an arrangement basic chord progressions. 'American Life' came about itself like that. The music has to jar my brain in terms of lyrics. Sometimes I write free verse. I have a journal and I note down ideas I get from newspapers and books."