This was one of six Rebel Heart tracks that Madonna made available for purchase on December 19, 2014 three months ahead of schedule. The early release followed a flood of leaks, where over ten demo tracks from the album's sessions found their way to the Internet. "I was hoping to release my new single 'Living For Love' on Valentine's Day with the rest of the album coming in the Spring," the singer said. "I would prefer my fans to hear completed versions of some of the songs instead of the incomplete tracks that are circulating. Please consider these six songs as an early Christmas gift."
The song is a collaboration with American DJ-producer Diplo. A number of different incarnations were done before the final version. Madonna explained to Billboard magazine: "We knew we wanted to make a dance record. But you know, there's so many different levels of dance music and even different categories of house music. So, it was really like, what's the bass line gonna sound like? Is it gonna be really stripped down and sparse, or is it going to be loaded up? Is it gonna be Chicago house? Is it gonna be UK house? It's like, all over the place. Is it gonna be a little bit of one vocal line? Is it gonna be a whole choir singing? So we were experimenting and trying out different things. They all sounded good, but at the end of the day, we wanted it to sound timeless, also. Not just something of the moment."
Lyrically, this is a triumphant breakup song. Madonna explained to Rolling Stone: "The thing is, lots of people write about being in love and being happy or they write about having a broken heart and being inconsolable. But nobody writes about having a broken heart and being hopeful and triumphant afterwards. So I thought, how can I do this? I didn't want to share the sentiment of being a victim. This scenario devastated me, but it just made me stronger."
The song features background vocals by a female singer named Annie who is a member of the London Community Gospel Choir.
Alicia Keys plays the piano on the tune. "I was in here doing a meeting or something and [Madonna] was working with Diplo," she recalled to Vibe. "They were like, 'Oh, maybe you can play some piano on this thing'. And I was like, 'Alright. I'll try. If you hate it, you can take it off'. It was just like that, casual and cool."
Sporting a matador look, Madonna performed this song at the Grammy Awards in 2015 with a bevy of dancers as her bulls.
The music video was directed by the French duo Julien Choquart and Camille Hirigoyen, who are together known as J.A.C.K. The pair also collaborated with Christine and the Queens on the visuals for her singles "Saint Claude" and "Christine."
The clip has a matador theme with Madonna fluttering a red cape as she is surrounded by men in bull's horns. It was premiered on Snapchat on February 5, 2015 - Madonna was the first artist to debut a video on the mobile messaging app. The visual was deleted 24 hours later, in lieu of Snapchat's self-destructing ethos, before being released on Vevo.
Madonna took a nasty fall when she performed this song at the Brit Awards in 2015. It happened during a section when a dancer was supposed to rip off the cape on her matador costume, but the cape was tied too tightly and caused the singer to tumble backward down a set of stairs. Madonna recovered remarkably well, finishing the performance and later saying she was unhurt, and that "love really lifted me up."
In the song, Madonna sings about how she stumbles after a heartache, adding a touch of irony to the mishap.
When Ariel Rechtshaid (Usher, Vampire Weekend, Haim) sat down with Diplo to write a song for Rebel Heart, he asked Madonna a straightforward question. Rechtshaid recalled to Q magazine:
"I was like, 'What do you want to talk about? What feels real to you? She said, 'Honestly, at this point, I'm just living for love.' We're like, 'Let's write a song called Living For Love (laughs). If that's real, then hopefully it will resonate."