Today in Madonna History: December 28, 1992

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On December 28 1992, Madonna was named one of the 25 Most Intriguing People In The World For 1992 by People magazine.

Here’s what People had to say about Madonna in 1992:

The Movies! The Album! The Naughty Pictures! Once Again Madonna Was Everywhere, Shouting, “Look at Me—Every Inch of Me!”

Intriguing: suggests an air of mystery. Madonna: does everything in public but floss her teeth.

Intriguing: wrapped in enigma. Madonna: not wrapped in anything.

Intriguing: means doesn’t appear on-camera in romantic encounters with Evian water bottles. Madonna: does.

OK—so what’s so intriguing about somebody who lets you know that her lovers require a five-cent deposit?

For one thing, she made ya look. Consider Sex, the photo book in which she had her picture taken doing everything but blushing. Besides proving that a naked Madonna could arch backward over a pinball machine without mussing her hair, it also pushed the envelope out to the size of a circus tent. And when the crowds came pouring in, there she was at center ring, cracking her whip.

It only served her purposes that Sex earned sniffy reviews like “The Empress Has No Clothes” and that it was banned in places such as Japan and Ireland. Coming on the heels of her summer film hit, A League of Their Own, the fuss over her book helped to launch her new album, Erotica, and primed the movie audience for her next assault on their sensibilities, Body of Evidence. Her success at getting the world to subsidize her sexual preoccupations—to say nothing of her mammoth self-absorption—is what makes her worth the $60 million deal she cut this year with Time Warner (the parent company of PEOPLE). Madonna is not the first star to find the bucks in buck nakedness. But no one before her has capitalized so well on human willingness to have our fears and desires repackaged and sold back to us.

Yet this most public of women still strains to be a mystery. This year she went through more faces than Lon Chaney—one minute in Baby Jane pigtails, a cupcake from hell; the next in sour milkmaid gear, Heidi with a mean streak. Her changing gallery of faces is one reason that she’s a sex symbol who inspires a lot of heavy breathing from intellectuals. One landmark of the 1992 publishing list—The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Sub-cultural Identities and Cultural Theory. You didn’t get this sort of thing for Petula Clark.

But does she really throw such a mysterious light on our culture? More likely it’s just the glinting gears of a giant publicity machine. Yet the sheer magnitude of her achievement in that regard is, well, intriguing. And the grinding of those gears is surely too loud to be ignored. “I’m a revolutionary,” she once sighed. “And yes. it’s a burden.”

Sometimes it’s a burden for her, we sigh in return, and sometimes for us.

Madonna was a busy woman in 1992! What did you enjoy most? A League Of Their Own? This Used To Be My Playground? Erotica? Sex? Body Of Evidence? 

Today in Madonna History: November 26, 1992

On November 26 1992, Rolling Stone magazine published their review of Madonna’s Erotica album, written by Arion Berger:

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 co-producers 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 My Love, 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 3, 1992

On November 3 1992, Madonna’s Sex book was banned in New Delhi, India, with police officials announcing that they would confiscate any copies of the book entering the country.

Today in Madonna History: October 15, 1992

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On October 15 1992, Madonna threw a Sex book pre-release party at New York City’s Industria Super Studio, and signed all the invitations under her alter ego “Dita”.

During the party, Madonna showed up dressed as Little Bo Peep and carried with her a stuffed toy lamb. 

Madonna’s publicist Liz Rosenberg showed concern at first worrying “what the parents of America’s impressionable teens will soon be thinking” but later said that it “all depends on your idea of lovemaking, which in Madonna’s case, should give new meaning to the word erotic.”

Both Walden Books and Barnes & Noble prepared corporate statements that their store managers could share with customers who were offended by Sex. Both statements defended the right of bookstores to provide “diversity and choice” to customers and say censorship is not the role of bookstores.

Bookstore owner David Epstein stated that “The feeling of most people who have ordered the book is that Madonna is something special, that this is cutting-edge art, they’re not the kind of people who are buying it because it’s smut and dirty pictures. People are interested in it as art.”

Today in Madonna History: September 29, 1992

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On September 29 1992, Madonna’s Erotica single was released to radio. Originally credited to Madonna & Shep Pettibone, Pettibone’s partner Tony Shimkin was later granted co-writing credit for nearly all of the Pettibone collaborations on the album, including Erotica. The debut release to feature the imprint of Maverick Records, the song was produced by Madonna & Pettibone.

As several leaked demo versions of the song can now attest, the track had gone through numerous incarnations before Madonna settled on lyrics that positioned her in the perspective of Dita – the alter-ego she had created for her Sex book. The song’s original chorus (“You thrill me…”) was reincorporated into the song when Madonna performed it during her 2006 Confessions Tour. Alternate verses were also used to create the track Erotic, which was included with the Sex book – these lyrics were also featured in a William Orbit remix that was included on the Erotica maxi-single.

French art director and photographer Fabien Baron designed the artwork for the single, the album and the Sex book. He also directed the Erotica music video, which included footage he had shot on Super 8mm during the making of the book. Baron recalled his first meeting with Madonna to discuss their potential collaboration in a 2009 interview with Hint Fashion Magazine:

“I met Madonna at her home on Central Park West to talk about working on her Sex book. It was very comfortable but very uncomfortable at the same time, which is a very interesting feeling. She’s very imposing and knows what she wants. She’s very informed and opinionated, which makes her genius. She takes you in and swallows you up — and you don’t mind it –  you actually enjoy it. There’s an unspoken seduction that goes on. I was young…she was young, too – and beautiful. That was an unforgettable era. She put that book out at the best moment. She timed it very well…she knows what she’s doing. And such drive. Some people want to lift stones to see what’s under them. She’ll be on a beach with millions of stones and want to lift every one of them.”

Today in Madonna History: September 2, 1993

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On September 2 1993, Madonna opened the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards performing Bye Bye Baby.  She cavorted on stage with three scantily clad women in a brothel-style setting, dressed in tuxedos and top hats, in a choreographed, highly sexual routine.  According to choreographer Alex Magno, he wanted to do Justify My Love or The Beast Within on MTV, but Madonna decided that they might be too controversial for live television and abandoned the idea. Nevertheless, Bye Bye Baby was chosen and performed with the choreography they had been practicing for The Girlie Show World Tour, since it represented the whole idea behind the tour.  Louis Virtel from The Backlot ranked the performance at number eight on a list for Madonna’s 11 Greatest VMA Moments. He praised Madonna’s rendition of the song at the Video Music Awards, calling it “a hell of a VMA performance” and a “killer cinematic throwback”.

Today in Madonna History: August 22, 1992


On August 22 1992, Madonna filmed scenes for the Erotica music video at The Kitchen in New York City with fashion photographer/director/designer Fabien Baron. These scenes consisted of Madonna in the character of her Sex book alter-ego, Dita, miming the lyrics to the song, and would be intercut with a selection of 8mm footage previously shot by Baron during the making of the Sex book.

Baron also served as art director for the Sex book, the Erotica album and single, and later for the Bedtime Stories album and its singles Secret and Take A Bow. He also directed the commercial for her fragrance, Truth Or Dare by Madonna, in 2012.

“She put that book out at the best moment. She timed it very well. She knows what she’s doing. And such drive. Some people want to lift stones and see what’s under it. She’ll be on a beach with millions of stones and want to lift every one of them.”            – Fabien Baron

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