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> Vogue at 30 ● The Industry Celebrates
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Liam.k.
post Apr 10 2020, 04:23 PM
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Strike a Pose! Why Madonna’s “Vogue” Is Still Relevant 30 Years Later

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Back in the 1980s, the word “vogue” would have recalled little more than a magazine—that is, unless, you were immersed in New York City counterculture, where it had taken on another meaning entirely. After many decades in the shadows, the pageantry of the Harlem ball scene, a community of African American and Latinx creatives seeking to build their own world of self-expression through the medium of dance and DIY fashion, was poised to hit the mainstream.

In 1989, Susanne Bartsch held the first annual Love Ball as an AIDS fundraiser. Bartsch had witnessed many of these dancers and misfits “mopping” (or, to put it politely, borrowing without intent of return) from her avant-garde boutique off Spring Street, one of the first in the U.S. to stock designers like John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood. Duly fascinated, she invited them downtown for a ball like nobody had seen before. The judges included Vogue’s André Leon Talley, the supermodel Iman, and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne; somewhere within the crowd, according to queer folklore, was Madonna herself, witnessing the legendary Houses of LaBeija and Ninja storm the runway with their dips, pops, and spins. By the time the long, hot summer of 1990 rolled around, Madonna’s “Vogue” was topping charts around the world—eventually becoming that year’s best-selling single—and this subcultural movement had officially boiled over into the zeitgeist.

Looking back on the 30th anniversary of its release, “Vogue” should never have been the smash that it was. In an interview with Billboard, the song’s producer, Shep Pettibone, noted that they recorded it as a last-minute track in a basement studio for $5,000; within a week, the final cut was sent over to the executives at Madonna’s record label. While they instinctively knew the song deserved to be more than just a B-side, they struggled to figure out how the singer could release it between album cycles. Eventually, it ended up awkwardly wedged into the soundtrack for Dick Tracy—Madonna’s latest movie venture—despite it having nothing to do with the film at all. Against the odds, it became a runaway hit.

But it wasn’t just the song, and its unlikely mash-up of then-underground house music with a middle eight namechecking Old Hollywood filmstars, that captured the public imagination. It was the iconic video, directed by David Fincher, many years before he became the award-sweeping auteur behind films like Fight Club and The Social Network. The black-and-white, soft-focus visual took inspiration directly from the pages of the fashion magazines the dancers worshipped. (Rumor has it that Horst P. Horst even considered a lawsuit over the lack of acknowledgement for the inspiration he had so clearly provided.) And for anyone doubting Madonna’s commitment to the spirit of “Vogue,” you need only look to her MTV Awards performance from the same year. Dressed in full Dangerous Liaisons drag, she and her dancers flick their fans with all the glamorous nonchalance of Marie Antoinette, letting them eat camp.

The video itself was choreographed by and featured Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza and Luis Xtravaganza, of the House of Extravaganza, who dressed up in cravats and spats to whirl around Madonna as she aped her Old Hollywood icons. They had style, they had grace, Rita Hayworth gave good face. Both Xtravaganzas would go on to choreograph her infamous Blonde Ambition tour; captured in flattering terms by 1991’s Truth or Dare, and later more poignantly in 2016’s Strike a Pose, which charted how this wider exposure began to compromise the integrity of the scene they came from, especially in light of the ongoing AIDS crisis. The latter also looked at how Madonna’s role in bringing the vogueing phenomenon into the public consciousness will always be linked to the febrile political context from which it sprung. Around the world, many were mimicking the playful, exaggerated gestures of the Harlem ballrooms with little clue as to the deeper significance those dance moves contained, leading to the eternal question: were Madonna’s efforts to spotlight this overlooked scene appreciation or appropriation?

It’s a topic that was grappled with thoughtfully in Ryan Murphy’s award-winning show Pose, premiering in 2018 to retell the birth of the Harlem ballroom scene with an authenticity that can only be arrived at through meticulous research. Its second season took the moment of Madonna’s “Vogue” hitting the charts as its starting point. While some of its characters met the news with excitement, as underground queer culture was repackaged into something the public could respect and appreciate, others, like Billy Porter’s Pray Tell, approached it with scepticism, recognizing that the dilution of their culture into a series of dance moves would see it remembered merely as a fad.

Both perspectives are valid, but the irony now is that “Vogue” is remembered as neither of those things—instead, it’s looked at with hindsight as a seismic shift for queer culture in the broadest sense, as it hit the mainstream for the very first time. Yes, there are valid questions around Madonna profiting off a movement that was spearheaded by a marginalized community she was not a part of, but, in her own way, she gave back. Even the year before “Vogue” was released, the liner notes for her album Like a Prayer came not with a series of thank yous to those who had helped her with the record, but an urgent message describing the “Facts About AIDS” to encourage safe sex, the most visible step yet in her efforts to promote AIDS/HIV awareness. And while she might occasionally miss the mark, who knows the number of young, queer people of color who saw Madonna’s video playing on MTV and recognized within it a community that promised a lifeline. The possibility of upping sticks and moving to New York City, where, within the four walls of the ballroom, they could find a small slice of freedom.

At its heart, both the song and video are odes to escapism. While few of us may be able to relate directly to the urgent need for uplift that defined the culture that spawned it, 30 years on, we can still lose ourselves in the deliriously euphoric feeling when the chorus of “come on, Vogue!” gets played by a DJ. (Or, right now, as we dance to it in the comfort of our own homes under lockdown.)

After all, its emotional resonance, whether intended by Madonna or not, was always about the obsessive pursuit of beauty, and how we can democratize it. By picking up a $3 fashion magazine, a closeted queer black or Latinx kid growing up in the suburbs of ’80s America could enjoy a rare moment of transportive fantasy. Today, where many countries continue to reject the LGBTQ+ community, this still, sadly, holds meaning. The models that grace the pages of fashion magazines with their flamboyant poses and opulent surroundings carry the assurance of a freer, uninhibited world, where self-expression can run unchecked.

The disappointment doesn’t lie with Madonna, but simply that these images offer a promise that, even three decades later, we’re yet to see realized fully. By comparing how much, and how little, has changed 30 years after “Vogue” was released, it serves as a pressing reminder that the work of our brothers and sisters from decades past is still not done. So, don’t just stand there—let’s get to it.
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Liam.k.
post Apr 10 2020, 04:24 PM
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Strike A Pose! Madonna’s Game-Changing “Vogue” Turns 30

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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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Liam.k.
post Apr 10 2020, 04:24 PM
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Through the Years: Madonna’s Iconic “Vogue” Turns 30

QUOTE
Released in March of 1990, Madonna’s “Vogue” wasn’t just a hit single—it was a cultural phenomenon. Ironically, no other song better exemplifies both the singer’s influence on pop culture and the accusations of appropriation that have been lobbed at her over the years. The track, produced by Shep Pettibone, is at once a musical map of disco, shamelessly ripping MFSB’s “Love Is the Message” and Salsoul Orchestra’s “Ooh, I Love It (Love Break),” and an enduring prototype of its own, spawning countless copycats and spoofs in the early ‘90s and inspiring covers by more contemporary acolytes like Britney Spears, Rihanna, and Katy Perry. The queen of pop herself has even paid homage to her own hit, erupting into the song’s refrain at the end of her 1992 single “Deeper and Deeper” and sampling elements of the track on 2015’s “Holy Water” and her most recent club hit, “I Don’t Search I Find.” Like the Harlem drag balls that inspired it, “Vogue” is about presentation, and unlike, say, “Like a Virgin,” the queen of reinvention has found little need to fuss with perfection. Sal Cinquemani

Music Video (1990)
Look closely when that butler brushes off the bannister. Nope, no dust there; the finger pulls clean. Those who objected to Madonna’s co-opting two vibrant New York scenes—ball culture and the house underground—had every reason to cast any available aspersions once the instant-classic music video for “Vogue” hit the airwaves. Directed with diamond-cut precision by David Fincher long before he became the fussiest of the A-list auteurs, the already plush song became a plummy fantasia of Old Hollywood luxury, and an actualization of the sort of glamour Paris Is Burning’s drag queens and dance-floor ninjas openly longed for. And it came with a steep price tag. “It makes no difference if you’re black or white,” goes the familiar refrain, but it’s unclear whether Madonna realized to what extent the clip’s flawless, monochromatic cinematography would underline the point. To some, the video (like New York’s ball scene) represented the ultimate democratization of beauty. To others, a presumptuously preemptive eradication of the racial question entirely. Eric Henderson

Blond Ambition Tour (1990)
Compared to the spectacles Madonna would go on to stage for the song over the next quarter century, the premier live performances of “Vogue” were surprisingly quaint. Stripped down to the bare basics (aside from the dancers’ headdresses, even the costumes consisted solely of simple black spandex), the Blond Ambition version of the song came closest to capturing the essence of the gay ballroom scene the lyrics were inspired by: presentational, preening, and all about the pose. Cinquemani

Rock the Vote (1990)
Along with “Vogue,” this year also marks the 30th anniversary of Rock the Vote, the nonprofit organization aimed at mobilizing and registering young voters. In 1990, the group made its national debut with a TV spot featuring Madonna and two of her Blond Ambition dancers harmonizing to a cheeky, revamped version of her then-recent smash. In what might seem tame by today’s standards, the sight of the world’s biggest pop star draped in the American flag, comparing freedom of speech to sex, threatening to give non-voters a “spanky,” and name-dropping Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., all while dressed in red lace lingerie, twisted more than a few panties among the Moral Majority. And that was before it was revealed she wasn’t even registered to vote. Cinquemani

MTV Video Music Awards (1990)
Indulging in a cheeky bit of dress-me-up make believe, Madonna’s performance at the 1990 VMAs gracefully elided politics altogether in favor of lace-front cosplay. Borrowing liberally from Dangerous Liaisons, specifically costume designer James Acheson’s cleavage-crushing bodice, Madonna and regalia flitted around a rec room, taunting a bevy of eligible suitors in short pants, punctuating every tease with an audible snap of fans that sounded more like trashcan lids. Sandwiched as the song was between “Like a Prayer” on one side and “Justify My Love” and Erotica on the other, it was nice to see at least one performance of the song that revels in the simple thrill of innocent ribaldry. Henderson

The Girlie Show Tour (1993)
Not by any stretch the most iconic performance of the tune, and in fact very likely the most rote of the bunch, especially when you consider its place in context with the surrounding Erotica-heavy content, against which “Vogue” can’t help but sound just a smidge “Let’s All Go to the Lobby.” The Mata Hari headdress promises subversion that never really materializes, which is hardly a surprise given Madonna—clad in a boy bra and chunky platform military boots—has probably never looked more rectangular. This marked the last time she would perform the song in concert for more than a decade, and the vague sense that an increasingly doom-obsessed Madonna was vaguely bored with the song’s escapism is palpable here. Henderson

Re-Invention Tour (2004)
Madonna took an eight-year break from touring in the late ‘90s to concentrate on films and family, but her 2001 comeback tour’s focus on newer material meant it would be 11 long years between the Girlie Show performance of “Vogue” and this show-stopping show-starter from 2004’s Re-Invention Tour. Still in the thick of her yoga years, the singer merged her past and present, enlightenment and artifice, by turning “strike a pose” into a spiritual mantra. If not her greatest performance of the song (the mimed vocals are particularly irksome given that the tour boasted some of her best), it was certainly her most athletic. Cinquemani

Sticky & Sweet Tour (2008)
More than once during the Hard Candy-fied incarnation of “Vogue,” the track drops out to allow Madonna to check her ticking watch. It’s awfully tempting to be, ahem, reductive and compare the lasting influence of her 1990 house blockbuster unfavorably against the instant irrelevance of “4 Minutes,” a song which even in its own title falls well short of the Andy Warhol promise. While Madonna’s sinewy, hip-heavy choreographed combinations are a welcome deviation from the on-tiptoe strutting that usually accompanies “Vogue,” the decision to replace those immortal piano chords during the chorus with Timbaland’s clumsy faux-tuba blasts affirms the song’s message that beauty is “not just where you bump and grind it.” Henderson

Super Bowl XLVI (2012)
Leave it to Madonna to open her performance at the Super Bowl in 2012, arguably the most heterosexual audience she’s ever appeared in front of, with the gayest anthem in her catalogue. Drawn into the stadium on a throne by about 75 buff-bodied gladiators, the Queen of Pop took to the stage to perform her ode to glamour accompanied by holograms of moving fashion magazines and a multi-ethnic troupe of dancers who looked like they picked up their Egyptian-themed gear from the leather aisle at a sex shop rather than the local sporting-goods store. Cinquemani

MDNA Tour (2012)
The MDNA Tour was frequently, for many of the Material Girl-era dressed fans in the St. Paul audience I attended the concert with, a perverse experiment in avoiding simple “greatest hits” pleasures. (You haven’t witnessed truly radiant disappointment until you’ve seen packs of Gen X’ers trying in vain to sing along to Madonna’s sad cabaret version of “Like a Virgin.”) Which is why it was out of character for Madonna to open up the second half of her show with such a highly to-the-roots staging of “Vogue.” The dancers’ contortions howled, “Opulence!” The couture was a spendier version of the video’s untouchable monochromatic finery (with a bonus nod to the conical bra). The song, a note-for-note reproduction of Pettibone’s original bones. In its every detail, borderline in-concert karaoke. And yet, when those giant monitors flashed the song’s title in a font ripped from “the cover of a magazine,” there could no longer be any denying that Paris Is Burning’s “You own everything” had now officially been overshadowed by a Gaultier-flashing Madge: “I own everything.” Henderson

World Pride (2019)
When rumors started swirling that Madonna would be making a long overdue appearance at New York’s annual pride celebration in 2019, fans speculated that the infamously irreverent gay icon might give her oldies short shrift. But the queen arrived at Pride Island aiming to please, opening her set with what is arguably her queerest hit. Accompanied by a troupe of dancers dressed in identical platinum wigs and black trench coats, Madonna once again fused past and present, performing the song in her spy persona from Madame X (she went on to use this staging of the song on her world tour for the album). Only Madonna could make the sounds of a typewriter sound so fabulous. Cinquemani
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Liam.k.
post Apr 10 2020, 04:24 PM
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Celebrating 30 years since Madonna's Vogue hit Number 1 on the Official UK Singles Chart

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"Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache – it’s everywhere that you go."

30 years on and the opening lines from Madonna’s classic hit Vogue are still relevant today - and its acclaimed black and white David Fincher-directed video still feels as fresh and stylish as it did when it spent weeks on permanent rotation.

Vogue, which climbed to Number 1 this week in 1990, marked a new phase for Madonna. She had been around for just six years, yet her continued reinventions – a term she didn’t really embrace until her 2004 tour of the same name – afforded her a legendary status much sooner than some of her chart peers.

While Madonna was no stranger to dance music – her career was born on the dance floors of New York’s coolest discotheques – Vogue felt like she was changing lanes for good. Coming a mere year after the guitar-led pop of comeback album Like A Prayer, Vogue felt like a fresh direction.

Its sound was inspired by underground house; the dancing was straight out of the little-known Harlem ball scene; it featured a rap by the lady herself that namechecked Old Hollywood filmstars. Vogue's impact was recently explored in Ryan Murphy's award-winning series Pose, showing both the elated and frustrated reaction by underground queer culture as it unexpectedly found itself in the mainstream.

With Shep Pettibone, who worked with her on the single remix of Express Yourself, which itself pretty much paved the way for Vogue’s laid-back house beats, Madonna scored her seventh chart-topper – it would be her last for almost eight years.

But Vogue was never meant the breakout smash it became. In an interview with Billboard, Pettibone revealed the song was quickly recorded in a basement studio for $5,000. A week later, the final version was sent to Madonna’s record label, who weren't sure where to place it. It would eventually end up awkwardly put on the soundtrack for Dick Tracy - Madonna’s latest movie venture. Despite having nothing to do with the film, the song became a runaway hit.

Once it got there in its second week of release, Vogue ruled the Official UK Singles Chart for a whole month. And who toppled her? Superstar DJ Adamski featuring a little-known vocalist (at the time) Seal, with the first version of Killer. Vogue has sold over 530,000 copies in the UK and has been streamed 16 million times since records began in 2014. It ranks as Madonna's eighth biggest single overall.
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slowdown73
post Apr 13 2020, 10:03 PM
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I’m actually surprised it hasn’t sold more in the U.K. given it’s one of Madonna’s signature tunes!
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Feel_The_Fever
post Apr 13 2020, 11:15 PM
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Ya i was sure vogue was safely platinum.
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Liam.k.
post Apr 13 2020, 11:28 PM
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Its overall total is a lot more healthy - it was on 663k as of April 2019 and I imagine it has surpassed 700k now.

It was the 8th best selling single of 1990 with an estimated 450k. At the end of the decade, the 8th best selling single ('Sweet Like Chocolate') sold over 700k.
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Tawdry Hepburn
post Apr 14 2020, 11:34 PM
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The whole thing is a true work of art.
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