Mar 10

MADONNA – “Who’s That Girl”

Popular118 comments • 6,130 views

#594, 25th July 1987, video

With The Immaculate Collection, Madonna was able to remix and edit her history as well as her songs, jumping triumphantly from the True Blue singles to the Like A Prayer ones, from superstar consolidation to next-level persona building. She took the opportunity to erase her 1987, a messy year creatively as well as personally as the string of underdone singles from the Who’s That Girl soundtrack showed. The title track is better than the clattering, SAW-ish “Causing A Commotion” or diffuse ballad “The Look Of Love”, but this is still a barely engaged Madonna. It’s only on the “light up my life” bridge that she seems at all bothered, and there’s no real emotional connection between that and the rest of the song – the whole thing is marking time. Since I like ‘latin Madonna’ I think it marks time very pleasantly, but we’re still in the departure lounge of San Pedro airport here, waiting resignedly for something to happen.



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  1. 91
    Pete on 27 Apr 2010 #

    I like the word Glee because it is a portmanteau of Glitter and Mariah Carey. I think we are being a bit harsh about the flatness of the “versions” in Glee, because often this is due to the singer and the context. Rachel completely sold “Don’t Rain On My Parade” in a way that was completely in character – she will do anything for that broadway success and so understands showtunes in a way she doesn’t understand the pop tunes (ie she turns every pop tune into a showtune). She has the least tragic arc at the moment as we know that she will make it out of this small town, she has always been an outsider. The only question for her is will she be the success which will finally make her popular even though she is well aware that the kind of popularity she craves will be no substitute for actual friends.

    I think the problem in some of the renditions lie with there not being a character – bar the recently sidelined Mercedes and perhaps Mr Schu – whose characters understand pop music in the way Rachel understands showtunes.

  2. 92

    Yes, the version of “Jump” wasn’t flat. But it was selling mattresses, hence true to the emotional content of the original.

  3. 93
    swanstep on 27 Apr 2010 #

    @lex, #88. I have plenty of my own reservations about Glee, but I think you are wrong when you say that the show *never* engages with the meanings or subtexts of the original songs.

    For example, although there was plenty of very shallow, near-kareoke in the recent Madonna episode, the guys doing ‘What it feels like for a girl’ was *very* nicely worked (quite touching actually!), and the Kurt/Mercedes/marching band take on ‘4 minutes’ – not one of Mad’s finest hours in my view – *was* musically inspired. It’s definitely made me appreciate the original more than I had before, and I suspect that Glee’s brass band arrangement of the song will now go on to become a high school football game band standard. Amazing.

    Other examples: I’ve appreciated Glee’s True Colors and Jump even though they played them very straight (and not a million miles away from how such tunes have been recycled in ads before – you’re right) because (i) these are superlative pop songs, (ii) the spiritual home of that sort of giddy music really is adolescence, and (iii) it is something like an inherently interesting repatriation of that material to have actual adolescent energies unleashed upon it. (I think this may have been what Pete was getting at way above).

    There’s lots of uninspired music on the show for sure, but there’s good stuff there too. Now if only the show will start to take its characters more seriously and deeper…

  4. 94
    Alan not logged in on 27 Apr 2010 #

    the classic “you are not listening to the song, i think you’ll find this doesn’t work in this context” was their triple duetted “Like a Virgin” between people preparing to lose their virginity. i think the key word would be ‘like’. it’s funny, but they would have found it irresistible. more so than writing a new song ‘entirely like a virgin, for that is indeed the case’

  5. 95
    Billy Smart on 27 Apr 2010 #

    Re #78. I think that the importance of the ephemeral nature of pop is built into the superstructure of Pennies From Heaven, as Arthur is first a travelling sheet music salesman then the owner of a record shop, so his livelihood depends upon being able to follow the pop moment, as well as the songs giving voice to both his darker urges and godlier aspirations.

  6. 96
    lonepilgrim on 27 Apr 2010 #

    re91 Rachel’s ‘least tragic’ arc is arguably Madonna’s – midwestern girl goes to the big city, makes it big and sustains that success (for an extraordinarily long time).
    It makes me realise why the High School Reunion plays such a significant part in US culture – the chance to return victorious – and/or the realisation that you never escape those small town roots (cf The Great Gatsby)

    At a pinch the arc is the plot for ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – which would make a fun dream sequence plot for Glee

    I’m not bothered by Glee’s ‘travesties’ of the originals – the originals are still out there for people to discover as people tracked down original blues recordings inspired by the Stones, etc

  7. 97
    swanstep on 27 Apr 2010 #

    I don’t buy the ‘dark’ Mr Schu idea that a few people have explored above. Sure, those who can’t do, teach, and all that – very, very few people get to be national-level do-ers in the arts. But teaching in a small town/your home town can be a very fine thing to do, rewarding, occasionally very so. That’s finding one’s level, not Huis Clos, except by assertion/question-begging.

  8. 98
    lonepilgrim on 27 Apr 2010 #

    re96 *spoiler alert* I should point out that Jay Gatsby’s High School Reunion does not feature in FSF’s novel.

    re97 but schools and popular culture are constantly urging folk to excel – to reach for the stars – not telling kids ‘know your place’
    The way in which the ‘I believe I can fly’ message has become so pumped up in recent years was one of the reasons that I left teaching last year – the impossible target of encouraging everyone to be above average.
    Sue Sylvester is funny because she is so gung-ho about preserving the social hierarchy so that everyone finds their level

  9. 99
    Pete on 27 Apr 2010 #

    This is the secret of Sue Sylvester’s character, she is the only one who explicit celebrates the fact that for there to be winners there has to be losers.

    Mr Schu was the lead act in his winning Glee troup, loved to sing and dance BUT became a Spanish teacher in his own old school married to his high school sweetheart. If that is surely route one telegraphing in drama that he has some regrets – I am not saying that such choices in real life are not valid or even good but drama shorthand wins through. But as nicely pointed out by Mrs Schu two episodes ago, he is his own worst enemy, he uses the same “our song” because he trapped by who he is, he is more afraid of being alone and failure than risking all for his dream. He is a naturally depressed character whose escape and outlet is this remarkably worthless Glee club where he wants history to repeat itself.

    Surely Rachel is more A Star Is Born (she wants to be Barbra but she is probably Judy).

  10. 100
    Lex on 27 Apr 2010 #

    Jay Gatsby’s High School Reunion would make a terrific premise for a short story or something, if it weren’t for the fact that he would almost certainly not go to it.

    Glitter may be unfairly mocked but it’s still not a particularly convincing pro-Glee argument!

    @90 notwithstanding that tension I’d expect any artistic endeavour which involves music so heavily, even it is primarily a “light entertainment” or a “comedy’ or whatever, to make some concession to delivering a decent quality of music – it’s not exactly unknown for this to happen.

    (It should be obvious by now that I’ve never watched Glee – and nor do I intend to, as mere mention of it is enough to induce the RAGE BLACKOUT – my ire is a reaction to the dreadful songs I hear on the radio and the way they ruin my favourite songs and the greater popularity of these shitty versions than the originals.)

  11. 101
    Lex on 27 Apr 2010 #

    Basically what Mark @90 seems to be arguing is that Glee isn’t that concerned with the music and should really come with a “not for music fans” warning on it.

  12. 102

    It’s interested in a fairly specific terrain of music as it relates to drama. The music is not the primary site of the drama: it’s more the backdrop, the mise en scene — and so what you’re getting is more like a painted backdrop of the Bridge of Sighs than actually being on the Bridge of Sighs. I don’t think the idea that music should only be made, appreciated and discussed by people of a rather narrowly cast advanced understanding of quality is remotely sustainable — it’s the obstacle that avant-garde composotional modernism smashed into 40 odd years ago — and the fact that it’s a drama that’s partly about pedagogy, which by definition includes a lot of characters who aren’t yet sure of what they can do or what they should do or what good and bad are or what’s possible, and how you coax and inspire them towards this possiblity is an elemen I’m intensely interested in. As a comedy, it’s also about the fact that the audience is aware of things that the characters aren’t, including the gap between the quality of their music and the originals (I think this is not only an acknowledgement of the strength of the originals, it’s an acknowledgement of certain subtexts and content in the originals that the cognoscenti tend to be quite bad at facing or thinking about: work that’s intensely successful and strong will inevitably mean things to the “wrong kinds of people” — cf eg Tom’s recent piece on politics and politicians — and how absorb and work with this material will also affect its future (if, as Lex argues, this material is “ruined” by such attention, then this I’m afraid is actually a weakness in the original material)

    The fact that this music-as-mise-en-scene is — if separated off and addressed in a very different context — not very successful is only of peripheral interest to me. (Ho rap generally makes bad funeral music — so best not play it at funerals.) The fact that the charts are periodically nudged into by people who don’t have an all-consuming passion for and knowledge of present-day music is really just one of those things. Charts that exclude such people tend in the long run will almost certainly end up duller and narrower than charts that don’t: niche culture is not self-sustaining.

  13. 103
    taDOW on 27 Apr 2010 #

    what’s ho rap? like ‘millie pulled a pistol on santa’? cuz that shit is very funeral ready.

    going way back glee /= gospel – very very little connection to r&b (the only glee types i can think of in r&b now are janelle monae – who might be more drama club really – and, most definitely, alicia keys). it’s the difference between diana degarmo and fantasia or mariah carey (who reeks of glee, and has devoted like 20% of her career to large scale glee numbers) and mary j. blige.

  14. 104
    swanstep on 28 Apr 2010 #

    Tracey Thorn’s (fab.) latest ‘Oh, the divorces’ includes a nifty verse verse where she addresses Jens Lekman’s flights of fancy:

    “Oh Jens, oh Jens
    Your songs seem to look through a different lens
    You’re still so young
    Love ends just as easy as it’s begun”

    I’m kind of hearing an:

    “Oh Lex, oh Lex….”

    note from the London-based Popular commenters in this thread! Now if Popular were a musical….

  15. 105
    Lex on 28 Apr 2010 #

    Oh so THAT’S what she’s singing! I just heard it as “Oh yes, oh yes” – think I might carry on hearing that as Jens Lekman pisses me right off. The Tracey Thorn album is great though – also love “Kentish Town”, “Come On Home To Me” and “Long White Dress”. Love how she’s poised but never arch, so it’s never to the detriment of the emotion.

    (Is it this Madonna entry or another that Thorn came up on before? Quite coincidental, and given her past comments on Madonna also ironic.)

    Ho-rap – the second finest genre ever, after R&B. Oft-hilarious and endlesly quotable sexually explicit shock tactics. I remember when Peaches emerged and the indie press wet themselves over how ~shocking~ she was, but it just seemed like totally weak sauce compared to Lil’ Kim and Trina. Prime cuts:

    Lil’ Kim ft. Sisqó – How Many Licks?“Dan, my nigga from down south/Used to like me to spank him and cum in his mouth/And Tony? He was Italian/He didn’t give a fuck, that’s what I liked about him/He ate my pussy from dark til the morning/Called his girl up and told her we was boning”
    Trina – Hustling“Wait – for his bitch to leave/Miss Trina got a trick up her sleeve/Open up the door, I walk straight in the house/Put your man down – and put my cock in his mouth”
    Rasheeda – Georgia Peach“So put your shoulders in it, catch a neck crap/Cuz I gotta have that tongue like a wet stamp”
    Khia – My Neck, My Back (Lick It)“Then you roll your tongue from the crack back to the front/Then you suck it off til I shake and cum, nigga/Make sure I keep bustin’ nuts, nigga/All over your face and stuff!”
    Pink Dollaz – I’m Tasty“Ya nigga say I’m tasty, ask can he get a lick/Put your tongue down here and make it roll on my clit/Suck on my shit with a mouth full of ice/Roll your tongue and hit the spot like you was playin’ with dice”
    Lil’ Kim – Suck My Dick“Look, I ain’t tryin’ to suck ya/I might not even fuck ya/Just lay me on this bed and gimme some head/Got the camcord layin’ in the drawer where he can’t see/Can’t wait to show my girls he sucked the piss out my pussy”
    Trina ft. Killer Mike – Look Back At Me“I got an ass so big like the sun/Hope you got a mile for a dick, I wanna run”
    New Era – Do It Now“New Era got these niggas on they knees first/And yeah he back up in that pussy like a rebirth…Yeah, yeah, dick is good but the head better/And I get more mouth than a red letter/And your bitch ain’t fly, she a dead feather/And he ain’t pickin’ up the phone cuz we in bed together”

  16. 106
    Erithian on 28 Apr 2010 #

    Must be half asleep this morning, for a moment I thought Swanstep meant Tracey Thorn was singing about (slightly nutty ex-Arsenal goalkeeper) Jens Lehmann. Scope for some material there I reckon.

    Mind you I woke up when reading Lex’s post. Goodness me, vicar!

  17. 107
    punctum on 28 Apr 2010 #


  18. 108
    swanstep on 28 Apr 2010 #

    @erithian. heh, interestingly Lekman himself thinks nothing of writing whole songs about mishearing someone saying ‘make-believe’ as saying ‘maple leaves’… so a Lekman/Lehmann misunderstanding would quite possibly strike Jens himself as song-worthy material.

    Latest Glee was exhausting (albeit in a slightly different way than the last two episodes have been).

  19. 109
    swanstep on 28 Apr 2010 #

    @Lex. You’re probably remembering when I brought up Everything but the Girl during the PSB, ‘It’s a sin’ discussion: I suggested musical(ebtg) > musical(psb), Punctum asked for clarification, but I don’t think I ever provided any.

  20. 110

    just to be clear, if you don’t play ho rap at MY funeral i will come back and HAGRIDE YOU ALL MERCILESSLY

    but my grandmas wd have disliked it at theirs i feel

  21. 111
    lonepilgrim on 28 Apr 2010 #

    I imagine that #105 will increase traffic for this site from search engines.

    I’m curious Lex, did you have those quotes, er, to hand and cut and pasted them – or did you type them out (in which case go and scrub your keyboard*)?

    *which in itself sounds like a euphemism – ‘well you can scrub my keyboard till the juice runs down my leg”

  22. 112
    punctum on 28 Apr 2010 #

    My current favourite:

    Nicki Minaj ft Sean Garrett – Massive Attack – “Girls, tell em guys super size me a combo/Kn-kn-know I got the ammo/That’s why I bulletproofed the Lambo”

  23. 113
    Lex on 28 Apr 2010 #

    @111 I pretty much have the entirety of each of those songs off by heart. The first verse of “How Many Licks?” might be my favourite hip-hop verse ever.

    I was quite sad that neither “I Need” nor “Nasty Bitch” by Trina were on Youtube, but they’re amazing too. “This is where the madness starts – so nigga fuck me with your tongue til you lick my heart!”

  24. 114
    Lex on 28 Apr 2010 #

    As for Minaj, my favourite verse by her is still “Itty Bitty Piggy” – not strictly ho-rap, more surrealist, though it does contain the amazing line, “I’m a big girl/That’s why I get more head than a pigtail.”

  25. 115
    lonepilgrim on 2 Jun 2010 #

    apparently Glee is now planning to have an episode featuring original material in the next series

    LP: FT Glee Correspondent

  26. 116
    hectorthebat on 7 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    Arizona Republic (USA) – Madonna’s 30 Best Singles of All Time (2013) 28
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 25
    Melody Maker (UK) – Singles of the Year 10
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 50

  27. 117
    gracegospelwa.org on 19 Apr 2021 #

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  28. 118
    Gareth Parker on 13 May 2021 #

    I think this is fairly pleasant, so I would go up to 6/10 here.

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