Single Review: Madonna “You’ll See”

You’ll See
Album: Something To Remember
Year: 1995

Madonna aims to prove her controlling, emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend wrong in the self-willed “You’ll See.”

A resilient drum and mocking guitar open the single, setting a stern tone. Madonna declares she will be able to continue living her life without him. Her ex told her she is a nobody. She vows that he will eat his words one day. (“You think that I can’t live without your love/You’ll see/You think I can’t go on another day/You think I have nothing/Without you by my side/You’ll see/Somehow, some way.”)

The drums and guitars speed up slightly for the second verse. Madonna will take pleasure in jokes and love again. Her ex thinks he has broken her down and damaged her beyond repair. But she’s only gathering her strength. (“You think that I can never laugh again/You’ll see/
You think that you destroyed my faith in love/You think after all you’ve done/I’ll never find my way back home/You’ll see/Somehow, someday.”)

In the chorus, she says she will rebuild her identity and self-esteem from scratch herself. She’ll pull through and make it without anyone’s help. It’s important to her that she is independent. (“All by myself/I don’t need anyone at all/I know I’ll survive/I know I’ll stay alive/All on my own/
I don’t need anyone this time/It will be mine/No one can take it from me/You’ll see.”)

Madonna sees him as a scared, fragile man who has to shatter a woman to feel good about himself. She tells him it’s natural to weep and not to be correct all the time. She’s honest and has credibility. People will be able to see through his manipulations and lies to smear her. (“You think that you are strong, but you are weak/You’ll see/It takes more strength to cry, admit defeat/I have truth on my side/You only have deceit/You’ll see, somehow, someday.”)

After chorus is sung once, Madonna says that he will find out how strong and confident she really is. (“You’ll see…you’ll see.”)

Madonna’s revenge is subtle in the empowering “You’ll See.” By becoming a woman he no longer will be able to dominate her, she will have defied his low expectations of her. Madonna does not want to be a victim. She prefers to walk away on her own terms and not have anyone hold her hand. Once she becomes the self she knew before him, then she will be truly free of him.


Single Review: Madonna “Vogue”

Album: I’m Breathless
Year: 1990

According to Queer, Marlon Riggs began “vogue” as a commentary on how black gay men were perceived and to celebrate the community which dance created. Vogue-ing was first featured in the 1989 art film, “Tongues Untied.” Riggs snaps his fingers and strikes exaggerated fashion runaway poses. Billie Holiday and Nina Simone provide the soundtrack as well as poets Essex Hemphill and Joseph Beam.

In the intelligent and foxy “Vogue,” Madonna glosses over the commentary and focuses on the movement.

At the start, Madonna notices some people giving her strange looks a she vogues. She scolds for them being judgemental. The strings dim the dancefloor, building anticipation and creating a theatrical tone. Fingers snap in the background as the drum is tapped softly. After several seconds, Madonna tells people to pose like a model. After a pause, she tells people to do another pose. She then whispers the dance craze. (“Strike a pose/Strike a pose/Vogue, vogue, vogue/Vogue, vogue, vogue.”)

In the first verse, she says people are disappointed in their lives and try to find a way to break free from their unhappiness and choices made. She recommends people go the nearest club. (“Look around everywhere you turn is heartache/It’s everywhere that you go (look around)/You try everything you can to escape/The pain of life that you know (life that you know)/When all else fails and you long to be/Something better than you are today/I know a place where you can get away/It’s called a dance floor, and here’s what it’s for, so.”)

In the chorus, she sings that the dance floor was made for people to pretend that they are larger in life. She urges people not to be shy and to go with the rhythm. The dance is whatever people want it to be. (“Come on, vogue/Let your body move to the music (move to the music)/Hey, hey, hey/Come on, vogue/Let your body go with the flow (go with the flow)/You know you can do it.”)

She tells people to be creative in the second verse. Mediocrity is unacceptable. People need to be outrageous and campy in their moves. If they have ever wished to grace the red carpet or be a on the cover of a fashion magazine is something they could use for inspiration. The dance is for everybody. It’s colorblind and genderless. It’s the music that matters. Madonna, like a fashion photographer, tells people they are the objects of attention now. (“All you need is your own imagination/So use it that’s what it’s for (that’s what it’s for)/Go inside, for your finest inspiration/Your dreams will open the door (open up the door)/It makes no difference if you’re black or white/If you’re a boy or a girl/If the music’s pumping it will give you new life/You’re a superstar, yes, that’s what you are, you know it.”)

She tells people to look beyond the superficial. She finds personality and originiality in the musicals. They make her feel sophiscated and like the toast of the town. She revels in glamour and attempts to get more people dancing. (“Beauty’s where you find it/Not just where you bump and grind it/Soul is in the musical/That’s where I feel so beautiful/Magical, life’s a ball/So get up on the dance floor.”)

After the chorus is the famous bridge. First, she repeats “vogue” and the phrase “beauty’s where you find it.” (“Vogue, (Vogue)/Beauty’s where you find it (move to the music)/Vogue, (Vogue)/Beauty’s where you find it (go with the flow.”) She says it can be found in the golden era of Hollywood. She lists legendary actors and actresses of the time period who exuded class, feistiness, mystery, and charm. (“Greta Garbo, and Monroe/Deitrich and DiMaggio/Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean/On the cover of a magazine/Grace Kelly; Harlow, Jean/Picture of a beauty queen/Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers, dance on air/They had style, they had grace/Rita Hayworth gave good face/Lauren, Katherine, Lana too/Bette Davis, we love you/Ladies with an attitude/Fellows that were in the mood/Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it/Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it.”)

The splashy house keyboards take center stage as Madonna instructs everyone to vogue and to move on the dancefloor. (“Vogue, vogue/Oooh, you’ve got to/Let your body move to the music/Oooh, you’ve got to just/Let your body go with the flow.”)

As Madonna says, “you’ve got to just,” the keyboards throb for several aggressive seconds. Then, they are as quickly silenced when Madonna says “vogue.”

Listeners are given the gist of vogue-ing. Madonna, however, maintains the dance as community which was part of the original concept.


Single Review: Madonna “Look of Love”

Look of Love
Album: Who’s That Girl? Soundtrack
Year: 1987

Halfway through the movie “Who’s That Girl?,” Nikki Finn (Madonna) is dressed in a tight, shimmering white dress. Louden Trott sees her and for the first time, his feelings for her begin to surface. As he gazes at her, Madonna’s ballad “Look of Love” plays.

By now, they have retreived a rare tiger named Murray, been chased by thugs wanting to kill Nikki, involved in a gun shoot out with the owner of the artillery store, and managed to get the Rolls Royce back in some pieces. After all the wacky hijinx, they finally have time to properly flirt without having to worry about getting killed in the process. Oh, by the way, he’s supposed to get married in a couple days.

“Look of Love” is from Nikki’s point of view of the romantic situation. After a few low sirens open the single, Madonna starts the single. She regrets letting him in, knowing Louden is likely not to care. She shouldn’t have snubbed Louden instead of befriending him. She should have let him drop him off at the bus station and not involved him in her life. She should’ve known she was going to fall for him. However, it’s too late and she’s ashamed of herself for loving a soon-to-be-married man. (“Should have left you standing right where you stood/Should have let you go, should have had the sense to know/Like a train you’d come, and I’d lose my place/Now I’m on this trip, I took a fall from grace”).

In the chorus, she remembers the gaze when he saw her and it gives her hope. She can no longer deny her feelings for him, either. (“Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide/From the look of love, from the eyes of pride/Nowhere to go, no place to run/From the look of love, now I’ve come undone”).

Her life was already planned out for her: get out jail, find a job, scrape by for the rest of her life. However, those plans have changed and no longer exist. She didn’t learn how to enjoy her life or to part with the people who mean the most to her. (“I’ve had a map laid out from the day I was born/But the roads are blocked, and the paper is worn/And all the books I’ve read, and the things I know/Never taught me to laugh, never taught to let go”).

She says she hasn’t done anything wrong. However, she doesn’t believe herself and is not prepared to let go of Louden yet. He has taught her a lot about life and she wants to learn more from him. (“My conscience is clear I know right from wrong/That’s a lie I know nothing except that you’re gone/But there’s more to learn from the look in your eyes/That trip round this world, the stars in the sky”). She adds the she didn’t learn how to live in the pre-chorus. (“…Never taught me to live, never taught me to let go”).

After the chorus is sung, co-writer Stephen Bray sings “nowhere to hide/No place to run/nowhere to hide/nowhere to run”

The solid “Look of Love” is a stand-out ballad, equalling the music on the “True Blue” album.


Single Review: Madonna “Papa Don’t Preach”

Papa Don’t Preach
Album: True Blue
Year: 1986

Madonna pleads for her father’s understanding in “Papa Don’t Preach” as she tells him about her pregnancy.

Opening with a string arrangement which provides a nervous, heightened tone and then a calming dance beat, leading into the first verse. Madonna begins with the discussion by preparing her dad for the bad news. She knows her dad is going to be disappointed in her. However, she’s realistic and tells him she’s hasn’t been his little girl for a long time. (“Papa I know you’re going to be upset/’Cause I was always your little girl/But you should know by now/I’m not a baby”). It’s not his fault — he did an excellent job raising her, she assures him. It’s because of his teachings, she knows what do now despite not being an adult yet. She tells him it was her boyfriend he didn’t like and now, they are in trouble. (“You always taught me right from wrong/I need your help, daddy please be strong/I may be young at heart/But I know what I’m saying/The one you warned me all about/The one you said I could do without/We’re in an awful mess, and I don’t mean maybe – please”).

She doesn’t want to hear a lecture about what she did wrong. She’s scared and she needs his help. But she’s not going to have an abortion. She wants the baby. (“Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep/Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep/But I made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby, oh/I’m gonna keep my baby, mmm…”).

She and her boyfriend are both taking responsibility. She tells her father she will marry her boyfriend. She’s not certain if getting married is what she wants. She’s willing to go through with it even if she has to give up college and the life she planned for herself. (“He says that he’s going to marry me/We can raise a little family/Maybe we’ll be all right/It’s a sacrifice”).

On the other hand, her girlfriends are telling her to have an abortion and enjoy being young. She’s confused and she doesn’t know what to do. However, she trusts her father will listen and lead her in the right direction. (“But my friends keep telling me to give it up/Saying I’m too young, I ought to live it up/What I need right now is some good advice, please”).

Her dad, however, doesn’t think she should get married to him. She tells him her boyfriend has been treating her well and if her dad could see it, he would allow them to get married. She tells her father her relationship with her boyfriend is real and they have something special. (“addy, daddy if you could only see/Just how good he’s been treating me/You’d give us your blessing right now/’Cause we are in love, we are in love, so please”).

“Papa Don’t Preach,” which was written by Brian Elliott, is a classic. Madonna admits her mistakes and she talks with her dad in her a mature fashion. She’s sympathetic and wants to geniunely do the right thing. It’s hinted at that perhaps her father didn’t even want her to have the baby, either. (“Oh, I’m gonna keep my baby, ooh/Don’t you stop loving me daddy”). While her father wants his daughter to return to her normal life (single and childless like her girlfriends want her to) and be his little girl again, she knows this isn’t possible. In the end, Madonna stands her ground and follows through on what her father taught her all those years.


Single Review: Madonna “Nothing Fails”

Nothing Fails
Album: American Life
Year: 2003

Thanks to Madonna, Kabbalah is the new Scientology. But with cute little red bracelets instead. With lots of money you, too can achieve enlightenement by damaging your career and changing your name to something ridiclious like Esther.

However, the mid-tempo ballad “Nothing Fails” succeeds despite being on Madonna’s second worst album. Familiar guitar chords open the song, making it seem like it’s going to be a cover of “Sweet Home Alabama.”But then the electro elements are added in, pushing the guitar into the background. In it, she is playful and secure as she talks to her lover about how she feels about him.

She may as well as be glowing as she tells her lover “I’m in love with you/you silly thing/ anyone can see/what is it with you/you silly thing/just take it from me” She adds that fate is the reason why they are together and he’s the one (“it was not a chance meeting/feel my beating/you’re the one”). In the worst lyric, she tells that “I climbed the tree of life/and that is why, no longer scared if I fall”). Using New Agey platitudes to describe a relationship is like asking Miss Cleo for advice on mortgaging your home for a Lamborgini. It doesn’t sound geniune and meaningful, just fake.

In the chorus, she sings that “nothing fails/no more fears/…you washed away my tears.” After the chorus, she continues that her love for him is spiritual (“I’m not religious/but I feel so moved/makes me want to pray/pray that you’ll always be here”). This lyric makes up so much for the stupid tree of life one, considering there are some ideas implied. For instance, it suggests the love she is feeling is bigger than herself. It’s not only her feelings for him affected but how she sees the world and its various issues. It also suggests she was a cynic before and now is optimist, perhaps regarding relationships (the most likely one) or life in general.

A choir chimes in at “I’m not religious” to emphasize the point. The chorus is effective and fitting. Usually a choir is tacked on to “move and inspire” the listener (which rarely works). However since Madonna does use spirituality in “Nothing Fails” it does make sense for a choir to suddenly appear.


Single Review: Madonna “Who’s That Girl?”

Who’s That Girl?
Album: Who’s That Girl? soundtrack
Year: 1987

In “Who’s That Girl?,” Madonna plays the sweet and playful parolee Nikki Finn. After serving time for a murder she didn’t commit, she gets out of jail and enlists the engaged Loudon (Griffin Dunne) to help her clear her name. Between their various misadventures (losing a rare tiger, stealing at the mall, gun play at a seedy gun shop with a psycho owner), Loudon realizes that his superficial fiance Wendy is not for him. Then, during his own wedding to Wendy, he decides to be with Nikki. Then chaos ensues as the hitmen who have following Nikki arrive and want to kill her.

The movie has not held up well over the years. However, Madonna’s theme “Who’s That Girl?” has. Written by Patrick Leonard (Jewel’s “Spirit” album) and Madonna, the single opens with the now classic and Latin-inspired drum beat. In the first verse, she stays true to the romance in the movie, by talking about her character’s charms (“when you see her, say a prayer and kiss your heart goodbye” & “her laughter burns up inside”)

In the chorus, she sings in Spainsh, questions asking “who’s that girl” (assumedly) while adding “who’s that girl” at the end. The Spainsh lyrics are an nice touch, although it does not make any sense to be in the song whatsoever.

In the second verse, she focuses on Griffin Dunne’s character, Loudon and his attraction to her (“you try to avoid her/fate in is your hands…now you’re falling at her feet/you try to get away but you can’t.”) The bridge, though, is the best part of the single. It begins, with Madonna singing in her lower register, “light up my life/so blind I can’t see/light up my life/no can help me now” There’s a brief dance break, with only drums and keyboards. The second time it’s sung (1:09), Madonna adds “who’s that girl” underneath the arrangement. She’s breathy and mischievous, while singing “Now/who’s that girl.” It’s starts soft, then she hits the crescendo the third time and it’s like a celebration once the chorus kicks in again.

More dance than pop, the single stays away from typical 80s music cliches ( the saxophone, notably) which is why 15 years later, “Who’s That Girl” sounds as fresh as it did in 1987.


Single Review: Madonna “Hollywood”

Album: American Life
Year: 2003

Walking down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a person will see women and men dressed up as superheroes, another handing out passes to see the L. Ron Hubbard museum, and yet another handing out ‘smiles.’ Surreal and yet strangely normal at the same time, Hollywood is its own world.

Madonna manages to capture the people who come to Hollywood to fulfill a dream and end up getting sucked into its false optimism. The lyrics are simply written and allude to an “it” that’s there, i.e. “there’s something in the air in Hollywood/the sun is shining like you knew it would.” There’s an excellent use of tone in this single. The first verse is light and breezy. However, after that, the song becomes introspective and regretful. It’s most evident in the verse: “I lost my memory in Hollywood/I had a million visions, bad and good/there’s something in the air in Hollywood/I tried to leave it, but I never could.”

“The Kiss” completely overshadowed the single.. It’s a publicity stunt usually reserved for television shows with low ratings. Instead, it became an attempt for two faded pop stars with declining sales to exploit themselves. For Madonna, she was the “shocker” again. However, in the end, it made her look desperate and foolish.