Today in Madonna History: November 7, 1992


On November 7 1992, Madonna’s Erotica hit #2 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart in the USA.

Arion Berger of Rolling Stone magazine gave Erotica 4 out of 5 stars and said:

It took Madonna ten years, but she finally made the record everyone has accused her of making all along. Chilly, deliberate, relentlessly posturing. Erotica is a post-AIDS album about romance — it doesn’t so much evoke sex as provide a fetishistic abstraction of it. She may have intended to rattle America with hot talk about oral gratification and role switching, but sensuality is the last thing on the album’s mind. Moving claustrophobically within the schematic confines of dominance and submission, Erotica plays out its fantasies with astringent aloofness, unhumid and uninviting. The production choices suggest not a celebration of the physical but a critique of commercial representations of sex — whether Paul Verhoeven’s, Bruce Weber’s or Madonna’s — that by definition should not be mistaken for the real thing. It succeeds in a way the innocent post-punk diva of Madonna and the thoughtful songwriter of Like a Prayer could not have imagined. Its cold, remote sound systematically undoes every one of the singer’s intimate promises.

Clinical enough on its own terms when compared with the lushness and romanticism of Madonna’s past grooves, Erotica is stunningly reined in; even when it achieves disco greatness, it’s never heady. Madonna, along with coproducers Andre Betts and Shep Pettibone, tamps down every opportunity to let loose — moments ripe for a crescendo, a soaring instrumental break, a chance for the listener to dance along, are over the instant they are heard. Erotica is Madonna’s show (the music leaves no room for audience participation), and her production teases and then denies with the grim control of a dominatrix.

Against maraca beats and a shimmying horn riff, Erotica introduces Madonna as “Mistress Dita,” whose husky invocations of “do as I say” promise a smorgasbord of sexual experimentation, like the one portrayed in the video for Justify My Love. But the sensibility of Erotica is miles removed from the warm come-ons of Justify, which got its heat from privacy and romance — the singer’s exhortations to “tell me your dreams.” The Madonna of Erotica is in no way interested in your dreams; she’s after compliance, and not merely physical compliance either. The song demands the passivity of a listener, not a sexual partner. It’s insistently self-absorbed — Vogue with a dirty mouth, where all the real action’s on the dance floor.

Look (or listen) but don’t touch sexuality isn’t the only peep-show aspect of this album; Erotica strives for anonymity the way True Blue strove for intimacy. With the exception of the riveting Bad Girl, in which the singer teases out shades of ambiguity in the mind of a girl who’d rather mess herself up than end a relationship she’s too neurotic to handle, the characters remain faceless. It’s as if Madonna recognizes the discomfort we feel when sensing the human character of a woman whose function is purely sexual. A sex symbol herself, she coolly removes the threat of her own personality.

Pure disco moments like the whirligig Deeper and Deeper don’t need emotional resonance to make them race. But the record sustains its icy tone throughout the yearning ballads (Rain, Waiting) and confessional moods (Secret Garden). Relieved of Madonna’s celebrity baggage, they’re abstract nearly to the point of nonexistence — ideas of love songs posing as the real thing. Even when Madonna draws from her own life, she’s all reaction, no feeling: The snippy Thief of Hearts takes swipes at a man stealer but not out of love or loyalty toward the purloined boyfriend, who isn’t even mentioned.

By depersonalizing herself to a mocking extreme, the Madonna of Erotica is sexy in only the most objectified terms, just as the album is only in the most literal sense what it claims to be. Like erotica, Erotica is a tool rather than an experience. Its stridency at once refutes and justifies what her detractors have always said: Every persona is a fake, the self-actualized amazon of Express Yourself no less than the breathless baby doll of Material Girl. Erotica continually subverts this posing to expose its function as pop playacting. The narrator of Bye Bye Baby ostensibly dumps the creep who’s been mistreating her, but Madonna’s infantile vocal and flat delivery are anything but assertive — she could be a drag queen toying with a pop hit of the past. Erotica is everything Madonna has been denounced for being — meticulous, calculated, domineering and artificial. It accepts those charges and answers with a brilliant record to prove them.

Today in Madonna History: November 1, 1992


On November 1 1992, Madonna’s Sex book hit #1 on the Washington Post non-fiction bestseller list.

Here’s a snippet of Zoe Heller’s article on the Sex book in The Independent:

It starts out black and white, S & M, down and dirty. In various urban crypts and dungeons, we see Madonna bound up by multi-pierced lesbians (they point knives at her throat and crotch); Madonna biting at a male arsehole; Madonna whipping a large PVC-clad woman. There is Madonna as Weimar-style decadent, cavorting with gay strippers, and as cutie schoolgirl, being raped by skinheads in a school gym. You get the picture.

As Sex proceeds, colour photography is introduced – a washed-out, Fifties sort of pastel – and Madonna emerges from subterranea to expose herself on roadsides and in pizza parlours. Interspersed throughout are scraps of Madonna-think: a tribute to her vagina (‘It smells like a baby to me, fresh and full of life’), a horrifyingly cutesy account of masturbating for the first time (‘honey poured from my 14-year-old gash and I wept’). You get the prose.

Today in Madonna History: October 30, 1992

madonna-october-30-sex-book-1 madonna-october-30-sex-book-2

On October 30 1992, the public libraries in Mesa, Arizona, cancelled their orders for Madonna’s Sex book after local residents protested its purchase.

Here’s a snippet from Vicki Goldberg’s New York Times article on the book:

Madonna’s new book, as even your butcher knows by now, is simply, classically titled Sex. It comes sealed in a Mylar bag (much as condoms do) with a label reading “Warning! Adults Only!” and a price tag of $49.95. Reportedly she does not want it open in bookstores, but HMV Records at Lexington and 86th Street will let anyone who gives a donation to Lifebeat AIDS see one page, for one minute, in a mock confession booth.

Warner Books, a Time Warner company, is the publisher (Ice-T must not have been enough trouble for one year). A million copies went on sale in five countries and five languages on Wednesday, attended by a good deal of deliberately decadent hoopla. The profit on the first printing could reach $26 million. Any questions?

Today in Madonna History: October 26, 1992

sex-japan-madonna-2 sex-japan-madonna-3 sex-japan-madonna-1

On October 26 1992, Madonna’s SEX book was banned in Japan due to its controversial photos which violated the country’s censorship laws.

Here is Madonna’s perspective on pornography:

I don’t see how a guy looking at a naked girl in a magazine is degrading to women. Everyone has their sexuality. It’s how you treat people in everyday life that counts, not what turns you on in your fantasy. If all a person ever did was get off on porno movies I would say they are probably dysfunctional sexually, but I don’t think it’s unhealthy to be interested in that or get off on that. I’m not interested in porno movies because everybody is ugly and faking it and it’s just silly. They make me laugh, they don’t turn me on. A movie like In the Realm of the Senses turns me on because it’s real. I’ve been told there are some good Traci Lords movies but I’ve never seen them. I wouldn’t want to watch a snuff movie. I wouldn’t want to watch anyone get really hurt, male or female. But generally I don’t think pornography degrades women. The women who are doing it want to do it. No one is holding a gun to their head. I don’t get that whole thing. I love looking at Playboy magazine because women look great naked.