On December 23 1989, RPM Magazine published Canada’s Top Singles of 1989. The listing included the following Madonna singles:
- #1 – Like A Prayer
- #8 – Express Yourself
- #9 – Cherish
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.
On September 15 2017, Madonna spoke to Mark Savage (BBC) about how after a career of huge production shows, she’s thinking about a smaller scale residency style show in the future.
“I’ve done so many shows – world tours, stadiums, sports arenas, you name it – that I feel like I have to reinvent that now too. I like doing intimate shows and being able to talk directly to the audience. This is something I’m exploring right now: the idea of doing a show that doesn’t travel the world, but stays in one place and utilizes not only humour and the music in a more intimate setting but other people’s music, as well, and other entertainment. Kind of a revolving door of amazing, gifted, unique talent – dancers, musicians, singers, comedians, me, humour. I don’t know! Like, I’m trying to come up with all those ideas now.”
Here’s part of their interview:
Before we start, there’s one thing I need to know: Did your FedEx package ever arrive?
Ha ha! Yes, it has. FedEx is blaming customs, customs is blaming FedEx and we’ll never know what happened. But I have it now.
So, I saw the Rebel Heart tour when you were in London and the DVD does a really good job of capturing what it was like to be in the audience. How do you go about that?
I was there every step of the way, every day for months and months. It’s really hard to capture the true feeling of the excitement and the passion and the heat and the blood, sweat and tears. I’m pleased with the way it came out.
There’s a particularly touching sequence during True Blue, where everybody in the audience embraces each other.
I know, it’s a very sweet, emotional moment in the show. I didn’t expect it to be, but when I look back at the DVD it almost brings a tear to my eye because everyone seems so in love.
How do you put a show like this together? Where do you get the ideas?
Everything’s based around my song choice. So first, I go through my catalogue of songs with my band and I start working on things that excite me and inspire me in the moment. Some songs I’m sick of doing and I don’t want to do them. Other songs I say, “No, I did that on the last tour, I don’t want to do it again.”
So I try to rotate things and I also try to reflect my current mood and what I’ve been feeling, and what’s been inspiring me artistically or filmically, politically, philosophically. I try to put songs together in groups that have thematic connection, and then I try to tell a story. And then I do the visuals. It’s quite a process.
What are the songs you don’t want to do again?
Well, I tend to not want to do the songs I did on the tour before. That’s what I mean. So if I did Material Girl on the tour before, or Express Yourself on the tour before, then I’ll say, “OK, I did that for 88 shows. I can’t do it again.”
How do you keep a healthy balance between new songs and your back catalogue?
It’s just playing in rehearsal. It’s really hard for me, especially with my older songs, to do them with the original arrangement. Because 33 years later, after doing it for so long, you just have to reinvent things. Well, I do.
And it’s fun for me to take an ’80s pop song and turn it into a salsa song, or turn it into a samba, or make an uptempo song into a ballad.
The DVD also includes the Tears of a Clown show you did in Melbourne. Was that a one-off or a trial run for a different type of Madonna concert?
I like doing intimate shows and being able to talk directly to the audience; to play with them and use humour and pathos and truth, and share my life – and also make up stories. I like the freedom of it and I like the intimacy of it, and I would like to explore doing it more in the future.
Maybe a residency?
Yeah, a residency. If I look back at the Rebel Heart tour, my favourite part was really the last section where I got to just sit on the stage and play my ukulele and sing La Vie en Rose and talk to the audience. [It was] just more intimate. More audience participation and connecting to human beings – I feel I’m craving that more and more.
Did it feel like there was more room for improvisation in that section?
Yeah, I have freedom and I can make mistakes. That’s another thing I do in Tears of a Clown – if I start a song off wrong and I make a boo-boo, I just turn around and go “Stop! Let’s start again!”
When you’re doing a sports arena show, you’re linked up to video, you can’t stop. Once the train leaves the station, you have to keep going.
There’s a certain kind of adrenalin rush to that – but there’s no room for error. So I like the idea of mistakes and free-styling. Free-falling, really. It’s more exciting to me right now.
You can read the full interview here.
On September 6 1989, Madonna presented the Video Vanguard Award to George Michael at the 6th annual MTV Video Music Awards at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, California. Madonna also performed her hit Express Yourself during the show.
On August 5 1989, Madonna’s Express Yourself spent its third week at #1 on Billboard’s Maxi-Single Sales chart (then known as the 12-Inch Single Sales chart) in the US.
With various Shep Pettibone remixes being used to promote the single on radio and in its accompanying video, the wide exposure and popularity of the Express Yourself remixes would allow the 12″ single to hang on to the top spot for a fourth and final consecutive week in the August 12th issue of Billboard. By the time it bowed out a month later it had spent a total of twelve weeks on the Maxi-Single Sales chart.