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 March 22 2001, Madonna’s What It Feels Like For A Girl music video premiered.
The video was directed by Madonna’s then-husband, Guy Ritchie, and was deemed to be “Too Hot for TV” by MTV and VH1 because the video depicted gunplay, assault and suicide.
MTV released this statement about the video and their decision to ban it:
It’s been some time since Madonna ruffled the feathers of MTV or VH1 execs with a controversial video — perhaps not since 1992’s Erotica clip — so just under a decade later, the first lady of shock pop is out to prove she can still make ’em sweat.
Unlike the steamy segments of Erotica, 1990’s Justify My Love, and the one that started it all, Like a Prayer, it’s not the sexual content of What It Feels Like for a Girl that raises the red flag, it’s the violence — a concerted no-no in the post-Columbine, and more recently post-Santana, decision-making process.
The music in the video, it should be noted, is a dance remix of the version found on Madonna’s latest album, Music. The album cut will serve as the LP’s third single.
Directed by her husband, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), the clip depicts gunplay, violent assault and suicide — elements MTV and VH1 prohibit in any videos they air. In it, the pop diva portrays a self-described “nihilistic pissed-off chick” who cruises around town inflicting damage on any man that crosses her path.
After picking up Grandma at the “Ol Kuntz Guest Home,” Madonna crashes into a car full of men who wink at her, threatens male police officers with a squirt gun before sideswiping their vehicle, and mugs a man at an ATM with a stun gun before wrapping her stolen car around a lamppost in what appears to be an intentional act.
The video “shows my character acting out a fantasy and doing things girls are not allowed to do,” Madonna said in a written statement distributed by her record label, Warner Bros. “This is an angry song and I wanted a matching visual with an edgy dance mix.”
Although What It Feels Like for a Girl won’t be added to the music channel’s regular rotation, MTV and VH1 will air the clip just once.
On March 20 2012, Madonna’s Girl Gone Wild video was released.
The black-and-white music video was directed by Mert Alan and Marcus Piggott. The video featured Madonna and a number of male models in different looks, dancing with the Ukrainian group Kazaky. It received critical acclaim for the editing and the visuals, while reviewers noted that it took inspiration from several past videos released by Madonna, such as Erotica, Justify My Love, Human Nature and Vogue.
Artur Gaspar from Kazaky recalled:
“By the end of the day on set, our feet were bleeding and we had blisters… But if Madonna can repeat the dancing for the 50th time, why can’t we?”
On January 4 1991, Madonna responded to a Rabbi’s accusation of anti-semitism for the song lyrics in the remix of Justify My Love, called The Beast Within.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, accused Madonna of insulting Jews by using this Bible reference:
“I know your tribulation and your poverty and the slander of those who say that they are Jews, but they are not, they are a synagogue of Satan.”
In a letter sent to Madonna’s manager, Freddy DeMann, Rabbi Cooper said the Wiesenthal Center was outraged and wanted the quotation withdrawn. “The imagery of ‘Jew as Devil’ has led to untold violence against the Jewish people and slander against Judaism over the course of the last 2,000 years,” the rabbi wrote.
He charged that the phrase could “contribute to those who seek to promote anti-Semitism” and said that neo-Nazi groups had used such imagery to promote racist ideology among youth.
Madonna responded with this statement:
“I certainly did not have any anti-Semitic intent when I included a passage from the Bible on my record. It was a commentary on evil in general. My message, if any, is pro-tolerance and anti-hate. The song is, after all, about love.”
Rabbi Cooper said he took Madonna at her word.
“She was direct to the issue, she responded quickly and we’re relieved that she did so,” the rabbi said.
How did you feel about The Beast Within the first time you heard it?
On December 11 1990, Madonna’s The Royal Box, a box-set which included The Immaculate Collection CD or cassette, VHS video, postcards and a folded poster of Madonna performing Vogue at the MTV Video Music Awards, was released.
Box sets seem to be a thing of the past. Do you think Madonna will ever release another box set as great or greater than The Royal Box?
Do you wish Madonna had released more box sets when they were actually popular and sold well?