Pioneers of the music video may have nursed MTV from its infancy, but by 1989, the very vehicle that helped transport many to chart summits threatened to desert them for refusing to evolve with the art form into the next decade.
And while some protested prioritizing the maturing medium, Madonna – a video virtuoso who’d pushed the visual needle forward faster and farther than any of her female contemporaries – had become its gold standard. Barring King of Pop Michael Jackson, no other artist had taken command of the platform quite like she had – elevating musical clips from mere performance cuts to full-on short films.
As 1990 approached, the diva, albeit at the most untouchable phase of her superstardom, was still 30-something in an increasingly ageist music industry. The harsh reality of that (and the changing musical tide around her) made morphing that much more of a necessity for Pop’s top chameleon.
Her answer to the challenge? The Shep Pettibone-produced ‘Vogue.’
Having spent most of 1989 pushing her multiplatinum, chart-topping album ‘Like a Prayer,’ Madge was still very much in promo mode at the top of 1990. Preparing to launch its next single (‘Keep It Together’) and rehearse for the LP’s supporting global trek (‘The Blond Ambition Tour’), M’s schedule was locked and loaded due to also filming ‘Dick Tracy’ alongside then-boyfriend Warren Beatty and putting the finishing touches on its accompanying soundtrack, ‘I’m Breathless.’
Inspired by the movie’s retro-theme, Madonna reconnected with producer Shep Pettibone (whose remix of her 1989 ‘Like a Prayer’ hit ‘Express Yourself’ helped launch it to #2 on the Hot 100). A salute to New York’s underground dance scene, ‘Vogue’ – despite conceptually having little connection to ‘Tracy’ – was selected as the first single from ‘Breathless,’ a move that called for her to abandon promotion of ‘Prayer.’ Time would prove the decision a lucrative one.
Released March 27, 1990, the song – highlighted by a rap-sung shout out to the Golden boys and girls of Hollywood – quickly shot to #1 in over 30 countries after its release. A feat made possible thanks to its warm reception from clubs across the globe, that fanfare was only echoed by responses to its black-and-white, David Fincher-directed music video and elaborate stage performances like those from the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards (seen below).
Going on to be the year’s best-selling single (no small feat for the woman who had already gifted the music realm monster hits like ‘Like a Virgin,’ ‘Material Girl,’ and ‘Like a Prayer’), ‘Vogue’s impact was demonstrated far beyond charts and sales tallies but also its permeation of Pop culture (see: ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ igniting interest in the the underground ballroom scene, nodding unsung LGBT and dance heroes, and more).
30 years later, the Queen of Pop’s royal decree to strike a pose endures as evidenced by the groundbreaking FX TV show, ‘Pose.’
Arguably the crowning jewel in the musical monarch’s already immaculate collection of hits, we can’t help but expect ‘Vogue’ to shine on – even 30 years from now – as one of its genre’s most memorable gems.