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"Borderline" is a song from Madonna's eponymous debut studio album Madonna (1983). It was released on February 15, 1984 by Sire Records as the album's fifth single. Written and composed by producer Reggie Lucas, the song was remixed by Madonna's then-boyfriend John "Jellybean" Benitez. She used a refined and expressive voice for the song. Its lyrics deal with the subject of a love that is never fulfilled.
Contemporary critics and authors applauded the song, calling it harmonically the most complex track from the Madonna album and praising its dance-pop nature. "Borderline" became Madonna's first top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number ten. In the United Kingdom it peaked number two after it was re-released as a single in 1986. Elsewhere, the song reached the top 10 or top 20 of a number of European nations while peaking the singles chart of Ireland. "Borderline" was placed at number 84 on Blender magazine's "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born", while Time included it on their critic list of "All-Time 100 Songs".
The accompanying music video portrayed Madonna with a Latin-American man as her boyfriend. She was enticed by a British photographer to pose and model for him, but later returned to her original boyfriend. The video generated academic interest for its use of power as symbolism. With the video, Madonna was credited for breaking the taboo of interracial relationships, and it was considered one of her career-making moments. The release of the video on MTV increased Madonna's popularity further. Madonna performed the song on The Virgin Tour (1985) and the Sticky & Sweet Tour (2008), where a punk-rock version of the song was performed. "Borderline" has been covered by artists including Duffy, Jody Watley, Counting Crows, and The Flaming Lips.
"Borderline" was filmed on location in Los Angeles, California from January 30 to February 2, 1984 and was the first video that Madonna made with director Mary Lambert, who later also directed the videos "Like a Virgin", "Material Girl", "La Isla Bonita" and "Like a Prayer". Author Allen Metz noted how the video portrayed Madonna's then "burgeoning star quality". It is regarded as one of her career-making moments when the video was started to be shown on MTV. She acted as the girlfriend of a Hispanic street guy who is picked up by a British photographer who publishes her picture on a magazine cover. The portrayal of the street life and high-fashion scene in the video was a reference to Madonna's life in the gritty, multiracial streets and clubs that she used to haunt while her career was beginning, as well as the world of popularity and success she was experiencing at that moment. The storyline involved her being emotionally torn between the photographer and her boyfriend. Madonna's boyfriend in the video is portrayed as Latino, and her struggles with this relationship depicted the struggle Hispanic women faced with their men. Lambert said that there was "no formula" used when making the "Borderline" video and that they were "inventing it as we went along." In the January 1997 issue of Rolling Stone, Lambert described the video and its plot as, "Boy and girl enjoy simple pleasures of barrio love, girl is tempted by fame, boy gets huffy, girl gets famous, but her new beau's out-of-line reaction to a behavioral trifle (all she did was to spray-paint his expensive sports car) drives her back to her true love."
"When I screened 'Borderline' for Madonna's manager, Freddy DeMann, he was hysterical that I had combined black-and-white footage with color footage. Nobody had done that before. He made me screen it for all the secretaries in the office and see how they reacted, because he felt I had crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed."
—Director Mary Lambert on the use of color and black-and-white footage in the music video.
The video narrative weaved the two relationship stories in color and black and white. In the color sequence, Madonna sings, flirts and seduces the Hispanic guy (Louie Louie) who becomes her boyfriend. In the black-and-white sequence she poses for the photographer, who also courts her. The video had Madonna in her usual style in those years, wearing her hair in a haystack, lace gloves, high heeled boots with thick socks and her trademark "boy-toy" belt. She changes clothing from one shot to another, in color as well as black and white, while wearing an unusual array of clothes including crop-tops, T-shits, vests and sweaters coupled with cut-off pants and jeans as well as a couple of evening gowns. Posing for the photographer, Madonna looks towards the camera with challenge in her eyes, depicting sexual aggression. At one point, she starts spraying graffiti over some lifeless classical statues, portraying herself as a transgressor who breaks rules and attempts innovation.
With the video, Madonna broke the taboo of interracial relationships. Although at first it seems that Madonna denies the Hispanic guy in favour of the photographer, later she rejects him, implying her desire to control her own sexual pleasures or going over the established pop borderlines with lyrics like "You just keep on pushing my love, over the borderline". The contrasting image of Madonna, first as a messy blonde in the Hispanic sequence and later as a fashioned glamorous blonde, suggested that one can construct one's own image and identity. Portraying herself as a Hispanic also had the clever marketing strategy of appealing to Hispanic and black youths, thus breaking down racial barriers.
After its airing, "Borderline" attracted early attention from academics. They noted the symbolism of power in the two contrasting scenes of the video. The British photographer's studio is decorated with classical sculptures and nude statues holding spears, a phallic symbol. In contrast, phallic symbols portrayed in the Hispanic neighborhood include a street lamp which Madonna embraces and a pool cue held erect by Madonna's boyfriend. Author Andrew Metz commented that with these scenes, Madonna displayed her sophisticated views on the fabrications of feminity as a supreme power rather than the normal views of oppression. Author Carol Clerk said that the videos of "Borderline" and "Lucky Star" established Madonna not as the girl-next-door, but as a sassy and smart, tough funny woman. Professor Douglas Kellner in his book Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern commented that the video depicted motifs and strategies which helped Madonna in her journey to become a star. The clothes Madonna wore in the video were later used by designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix in Paris Fashion week of the same year.
UK Singles (Official Charts Company): Peak position: 2
US Billboard Hot 100: Peak position: 10
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard): Peak position: 23
US Dance Club Songs (Billboard): Peak position: 2
United Kingdom (BPI) Gold - Certified units/Sales: 310,000
United States (RIAA) Gold - Certified units/Sales: 500,000
From the album Madonna
B-side: "Think of Me","Physical Attraction"
Released: February 15, 1984
Format: CD, 12", 7"
Recorded: February 1983
Label: Sire, Warner Bros.
Writer(s): Reggie Lucas
Producer(s): Reggie Lucas
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