"4 Minutes" is a song by American singer Madonna from her eleventh studio album Hard Candy (2008), featuring vocals by American singers Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. It was released as the lead single from the album on March 17, 2008, by Warner Bros. Records. According to Madonna, the song is about saving the environment and "having a good time while we are doing it". She also cited the song as the inspiration for the documentary I Am Because We Are (2008).
The song was recorded at Sarm West Studios, in London, while the mixing of the track was finished at The Hit Factory studio, in New York City. Sound engineer Demo Castellon first worked on the vocals and then on the beats, while the synths were composed by Timbaland and Danja. An uptempo dance-pop song with an urban and hip hop style, "4 Minutes" incorporates Timbaland's characteristic bhangra beats and the instrumentation used in the song includes brass, foghorns and cowbells. The lyrics carry a message of social awareness, inspired by Madonna's visit to Africa and the human suffering she witnessed in the continent.
"4 Minutes" received positive reviews from music critics, who called it a busy dance track and complimented its music, which was compared to that of a marching band. Some reviewers, however, felt that Madonna sounded like a featured artist on her own song. The song peaked at number three on the US Billboard Hot 100, giving Madonna her 37th top-ten single, breaking the record previously held by Elvis Presley, as the artist with most top-ten hits. It remains Madonna's best-selling digital single in the United States, with sales of over three million copies. Internationally, "4 Minutes" topped the charts in 21 countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
"We kind of had psychoanalytic sessions whenever we wrote songs. We'd sit down and we'd start talking about situations. And then we'd start talking about issues or problems or relationships with people. That was the only way, because you know, writing together with somebody is very intimate. So we had to find a place to start talking about something we cared about, so we could get into writing about something we cared about."
—Madonna talking to Interview about the writing process.
Following the release of her tenth studio album, Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005), Madonna wanted to record more dance music. When asked by producer Stuart Price what kind of music appealed to her, Madonna replied that she loved the records of singer Justin Timberlake and producer Timbaland, so she collaborated with them. "4 Minutes" was written by all three artists, along with Nate "Danja" Hills, and produced by Timbaland, Timberlake and Danja. The song, initially named "4 Minutes to Save the World", was one of the last to be produced for Madonna's album Hard Candy. In an interview with MTV News, Madonna said that the concept of the song was developed through discussions with Timberlake. She further explained the meaning of the song:
I don't think it's important to take it too literally. I think the song, more than anything, is about having a sense of urgency; about how we are you know, living on borrowed time essentially and people are becoming much more aware of the environment and how we're destroying the planet. We can't just keep distracting ourselves we do have to educate ourselves and wake up and do something about it. You know at the same time we don't want to be boring and serious and not have fun so it's kind of like well if we're going to save the planet can we have a good time while we are doing it?
Madonna clarified that her age did not have anything to do with the sense of urgency reflected in the track; instead, it was just something that she had in mind for a long time and with "4 Minutes", the sense seeped into her music. Ingrid Sischy from Interview magazine said that the song felt like a ballad for the world, containing "the sounds of a great big marching band. It's a giant dance song". Madonna agreed with Sischy and responded that the song was "a funny paradox" and was one of the inspirations behind her documentary I Am Because We Are (2008). The documentary dealt with the acute suffering and food shortage afflicting the African nation of Malawi.