“What are you looking at?”
30 years of Madonna’s “Vogue”: Let your body move to the music
It’s always a surprise writing these ‘thirty years ago’ articles that 30 years really have passed since the release of those songs that many of us grew up with, particularly if you were in your teenage years, they had a profound influence on your growth and development. Well as we enter the 1990’s, another important and influential song has reached that milestone. “Vogue”. Madonna has always tried to be one step ahead of the competition (if there is any) and she really set the bar high when she released “Vogue” at the end of March.
Producer Shep Pettibone had reinvented her 1989 song “Express Yourself” from a run-of-the-mill album track into a slick, classy pop-dance smash that gave the Queen of Pop a huge hit. Now what was needed was an anthem. “Express Yourself” part two, but much more refined and understated. Not only was “Vogue” all of those things, it also threatened to start a whole new dance craze. The gay clubs of New York took to ‘vogueing’ with no problems at all. But would this spread with the same ease globally and commercially? At first listen, “Vogue” is a complicated song with two middle-eights, one that simply offers a short verse in a different key to the rest of the song, the other, a spoken ‘rap’ section that heightens the tension to the final chorus and its climax with the spoken statement: “Vogue!”.
The video was what most people stood up and noticed more than anything. This was where one could see ‘vogueing’ being enacted and one could learn from the moves how to ‘strike a pose’ oneself. Directed by David Fincher, who would later helm the films ‘Fight Club’ and ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, it depicts staircases and decorations of the Art Deco period and is, naturally, shot in black and white. Madonna herself dresses and imitates many of the great names she later mentions in the ‘rap’ section that comes towards the end of the song as well as THAT top which exposes her breasts and nipples! This was a new, uber-confident Madonna striking out into the new decade. Gone was the frivolity of the “Virgin” years and the rawness of the “True Blue” era. Madonna was now promoting woman and womanhood to the masses, and maybe you failed to notice it as you gaze at the artwork and set pieces or perhaps attempting those complicated hand-face moves…? The video went on to win countless awards the world over and has been named the second greatest video on MTV’s 100 best.
In the ‘rap’ section itself, Madonna cleverly names (and rhymes) fifteen Hollywood actors and one baseball player, nine of whom were still alive at the time of its writing. Bette Davis had ‘left the stage’ in October 1989, five months before the song’s release, while Greta Garbo died just two weeks after the song hit number one. Lauren Bacall was last remaining survivor of this section before she died in August 2014. Just incase anyone needs reminding, it goes something like this:
“Greta Garbo and Monroe, Dietrich and DiMaggio
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean, on the cover of a magazine
Grace Kelly, Harlow, Jean, picture of a beauty queen
Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, dance on air.
They had style, they had grace, Rita Hayworth gave good face
Lauren, Katharine, Lana too, Bette Davis, we love you
Ladies with an attitude, fellas that were in the mood
Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it
Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it
“Vogue” was recorded for the soundtrack album for Madonna’s upcoming film ‘Dick Tracy’, in which she played Breathless Mahoney, opposite Warren Beatty as Dick himself. The soundtrack album, titled “I’m Breathless”, would also feature a further single, “Hanky Panky”. The film hardly set the box office alight, only just making slightly more than its $46m budget. Nevertheless, the soundtrack peaked at No.2 in both the UK and the US and has sold seven million copies worldwide. More successful was “Vogue’s” inclusion on Madonna’s first greatest hits album that came at the end of 1990. “The Immaculate Collection” became and remains one of the biggest selling albums in history. But that’s for another feature!
“Vogue” was a surefire smash and saw Madonna enter the 90’s with unsurpassed confidence. The song hit number one in more than thirty countries worldwide and has sold more than six million copies to date, two million of which come from the United States and more than 600,000 copies from the UK. “Vogue’s” legacy is, however, patchy. While ‘vogueing’ didn’t take off as expected long term, there’s no denying that the song and the video were of influence. Pettibone would work his magic again two years later, even referencing “Vogue”, for Madonna’s single “Deeper And Deeper” from the “Erotica” album, and in many ways, this forms part three of the trilogy of Madonna-Shep ‘immaculate’ productions.