Madonna enters this story already a superstar – eight-figure sales of her last album, this her third top-three hit of the year in Britain. “Into The Groove” is no kind of introduction, more a victory parade, and it’s become one of her calling-card singles. Perhaps because it’s a manifesto of sorts: not lyrically, but in the way that everything great about Madonna and her pop – movement, power, willpower, sex, hunger, vulnerability – is in here somewhere.
Actually, most of it’s in one place – the series of repeated “now I know you’re mine”s that serve as the bridge into the final chorus. At first she sings the line at the lower end of her range, with the husky strength that’s made her ballads so compelling, beckoning her dancer-lover closer. And then suddenly she can’t keep it in any more, and “now I know you’re mine!” rings out in her other voice, the sparky, raw, New York clubland hustler voice you get on “Burning Up”, “Holiday”, “Angel”. It’s pure triumph: the moment when a girl singing “you’re mine” to a guy in pop finally, irreversibly flips from domestication to predation.
But most of “Into The Groove” isn’t like that: unlike several of her previous singles which really were all about her and her teasing and shocking and winning the crowd, this is highly functional. A little bit freestyle, a little bit pop, it’s a good, modish dance record. You could imagine this as being by one of the post-disco club scene’s many two- or three-single acts, a Carol Jiani or a Stacey Q but with thinner vocals. Well, you could if Madonna’s presence wasn’t so unmistakable: anonymity’s the only flirtation she could never have pulled off.
Madonna is one of pop’s foundational figures – perhaps the last of them: one of the people without whom modern music just doesn’t decode properly. She’s the closest thing to an Elvis in my lifetime – someone who emerged out of populist, underappreciated musics and whose sheer charisma changed the culture – how pop singers (and their fans) dressed, danced, behaved, thought about themselves. That doesn’t mean all her records are good – though a remarkable number are, this included. “Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free”: this is the dancing queen all grown up, and determined to hold the spotlight on her own terms.