Very few songs stand the test of time and only a fraction of those become so ingrained in popular culture that you can’t imagine the world without it. Madonna’s “Vogue” is one of those God-tier bops. From Shep Pettibone’s brilliant production that fused house and disco, to the iconic lyrics and rapped middle eight, every element of “Vogue” slotted together perfectly to create something timeless and game-changing. 30 years have passed — “Vogue” celebrates that milestone on March 27 — and the crowning jewel of Madonna’s discography shines brighter than ever.
From the initial demo to the final edit, “Vogue” came together over three weeks in early 1990. At the time, Madonna’s label was still working Like A Prayer and planned on releasing “Keep It Together” as her next single. But that all changed when they heard “Vogue.” It was special and they knew it. The cogs of the industry machine immediately started turning and the Queen of Pop was soon on set filming the video. Much like the song, the David Fincher-directed visual is still the gold standard for pop music today.
Given that Madonna was at the very peak of her popularity, “Vogue” was expected to be a hit, but it still surpassed all expectations. The banger topped the charts in more than 30 countries — selling six million copies in the process. It was the highest-selling single of 1990 around the globe and ultimately found its way on the pop icon’s I’m Breathless album. Which wasn’t the most organic fit considering that the half of the project is comprised of show tunes penned by Stephen Sondheim for the big-screen adaptation of Dick Tracy.
The enduring appeal of “Vogue” lies in its celebration of escapism. “When all else fails and you long to be, something better than you are today,” Madonna sings over Pettibone’s piano keys and mercurial bassline. “I know a place where you can get away, it’s called a dance floor and here’s what it’s for — so, come on, vogue! Let your body move to the music.” The near-universal desire to disappear into a sweaty crowd of people and forget yourself for a couple of hours — while being as fabulous as possible — has never been captured so eloquently.
Of course, no account of “Vogue” should be written without addressing the concern that it co-opted queer culture — specifically, of the Harlem “House Ball” community. Vogueing was an art form long before Madonna first struck a pose in 1990 and founders of the movement deserve to be championed and celebrated as they have been in documentaries like Paris Is Burning and FX TV show Pose. Madonna owes those queens an eternal debt of gratitude for inspiring arguably the greatest pop song of the ’90s.
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