I’ve been watching season two of the TV series POSE, a show about New York City’s underground drag ball scene of the 1980s and early 1990s, and the first episode featured the hit song “Vogue” by Madonna. The drag ball scene was primarily a young African-American and Latino LGBTQ underground subculture in which people – many of whom lived together in groups of friends as members of families in “houses” that replaced their own families of origin from which they were often estranged due to their being LGBTQ – competed for trophies and recognition by vogueing, a style of dance that involved walking and posing like fashion models on a runway.
Released in March 1990, “Vogue” became one of Madonna’s biggest hits, topping the charts in over 30 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK and the U.S., and was the best-selling single in the world in 1990. With “Vogue”, Madonna brought underground vogueing into the mainstream. Vogueing has since become a prominent dance form practiced worldwide, and many performers, including Beyoncé, Rihanna and Ariana Grande, have followed Madonna’s footsteps by adopting the dance style and incorporating it into their music videos and performances. The song also brought house music into mainstream popular music, as well as reviving the dance music genre a decade after the death of disco.
With its deep house groove and pulsating dance beat, “Vogue” is a wonderful celebratory anthem about escaping one’s problems and enjoying yourself on the dance floor, no matter one’s race, gender or sexual orientation. The music and arrangement were written by producer Shep Pettibone, who had previously worked with Madonna on a number of her songs, and she wrote the lyrics. After completing her work on the Dick Tracy film and soundtrack, Madonna flew to New York and recorded her vocals in a small basement studio on West 56th Street. According to Pettibone, Madonna worked efficiently, rapidly tracking all the verse and chorus vocals in order, and in single takes. He proposed the idea of a rap verse for the middle eight, consisting of namechecking classic film stars and celebrities from Hollywood’s golden age. He and Madonna quickly came up with a list of names, which she immediately recorded. (Wikipedia) The names include Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Joe DiMaggio, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean, Gracy Kelly, Jean Harlow, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner and Bette Davis.
“Vogue” was originally intended as the B-side for “Keep It Together”, the final single from Madonna’s album Like a Prayer, but both she and her label Warner Bros. decided it should be released as its own single. And though it had nothing whatsoever to do with Dick Tracy, it was included on the film’s soundtrack album I’m Breathless. I saw the film and liked it well enough to buy the album, but it was mainly because I wanted the song “Vogue”. It’s become my all-time favorite Madonna song – which is saying something, given her remarkable and extensive discography – and also my third-favorite song of the 1990s (after R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”).
The video for “Vogue” was directed by a young David Fincher (who went on to direct such noted films as Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). Shot in black and white, the video was inspired by films and photographs of 1920s and 1930s Hollywood, and features Madonna and her dancers vogueing and posing in various choreographed moves. The video has been ranked as one of the greatest of all time by numerous critics and in several polls, and was nominated in nine categories at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, ultimately winning three. Strike a pose!