21st anniversary of 'Erotica' Album
Erotica is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Madonna, released on October 20, 1992 by Maverick Records. The album and Madonna's first book publication, Sex, a coffee-table book containing explicit photographs featuring the singer released simultaneously with Erotica, mark Madonna's first release with Maverick, her own multi-media entertainment company, which consisted of a record and film production companies. Madonna incorporated an alter-ego for both Erotica and Sex named Mistress Dita, inspired by actress Dita Parlo; she talks about sex and romance throughout the album. However, other songs also take on a more confessional tone, influenced by the loss of Madonna's two close friends to AIDS.
Madonna recorded the album in New York City with Shep Pettibone and Andre Betts while she was working on other projects. Pettibone sent her a tape with three songs when she was in Chicago and shortly after, they started the album's production in his apartment. During the sessions, they had problems during sequencing, and, as a result, Pettibone kept trying to move development as fast as possible as he did not want Madonna to lose interest in music. According to him, Madonna's compositions were serious, and intense, directing the creative direction of the songs into a deeply personal territory. The album's production was chronicled by Pettibone in an article called "Erotica Diaries", on Madonna's Icon magazine.
Upon release, the record received generally favorable reviews from music critics. Some of them regarded it as one of Madonna's most adventurous albums and praised the singer's comments on taboos and AIDS; however, others criticized Madonna's vocals and the dance-based music. Erotica was less successful than Madonna's previous records, peaking at number two in the United States and the United Kingdom, being certified double-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). It topped the charts in Australia and France, while peaking the top five in Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and other countries.
Six singles were released from the album, with the title track and "Deeper and Deeper" becoming top-ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The album was supported by Madonna's fourth concert tour, The Girlie Show World Tour. The concert opened with a topless dancer performing a pole dance routine, causing controversy in some countries the tour visited. With the album's release, its accompanying book, Sex, and Madonna's role on the erotic thriller film Body of Evidence, critics commented that she had gone too far and her career was over.
In 1992, Madonna founded her own multi-media entertainment company, Maverick, consisting of a record company (Maverick Records), a film production company (Maverick Films), and associated music publishing, television broadcasting, book publishing and merchandising divisions. The deal was a joint venture with Time Warner and paid Madonna an advance of $60 million. It gave her 20% royalties from the music proceedings, one of the highest rates in the industry, equaled at that time only by Michael Jackson's royalty rate established a year earlier with Sony. Madonna said that she envisioned the company as an "artistic think tank" and likened it to a cross between the Bauhaus, the innovative German arts institute formed in Weimar in 1919, and Andy Warhol's New York-based Factory of artists and assistants. She stated: "It started as a desire to have more control. There's a group of writers, photographers, directors and editors that I've met along the way in my career who I want to take with me everywhere I go. I want to incorporate them into my little factory of ideas. I also come in contact with a lot of young talent that I feel entrepreneurial about." The first two projects from the venture were her fifth studio album, Erotica, and a coffee table book of photographs featuring Madonna, entitled Sex.
Madonna primarily collaborated with Shep Pettibone for the album. Pettibone first began working with Madonna during the 1980s, providing remixes for several of her singles. He later co-wrote and co-produced the lead single from the soundtrack album I'm Breathless, "Vogue", which topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990. The same year, Pettibone worked on with Madonna on her greatest hits album The Immaculate Collection, co-producing new song "Rescue Me" and remixing her earlier songs for the compilation using audio technology QSound. In 1992, Madonna collaborated with Pettibone on the soundtrack to the film A League of Their Own, This Used to Be My Playground, which was produced while recording Erotica. Alongside Pettibone, Madonna enlisted help from producer Andre Betts, who previously co-produced "Justify My Love" for The Immaculate Collection. Madonna said that she was interested to work with Pettibone and Betts due to their ability to remain plugged into the dance underground, "They come from opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their music style and approach to music, but they're both connected to the street and they're still young and hungry."
According to Pettibone in an article "Erotica Diaries" published on Madonna's Icon magazine, he produced a tape with three songs for Madonna to listen to, before he traveled to Chicago, where she was filming A League of Their Own. She listened to the songs and liked all of them. After filming was complete, Madonna met Pettibone in New York City to start working together in November 1991. Their schedule was sporadic in the beginning. Madonna and Pettibone were in the studio for a week and then she would work with Steven Meisel on Sex, for two weeks. Occasionally, Madonna also would meet Andre Betts. At first, Madonna did not like the first group of songs she had recorded. She wanted Erotica to have a raw edge to it, as if it were recorded in an alley in Harlem, and not a light glossy production to permeate her sound, according to Pettibone. "Deeper and Deeper" was not working for Madonna. Pettibone said they tried different bridges and changes, but in the end, Madonna wanted the middle of the song to have a flamenco guitar.
They had problems during sequencing and had to repair the songs, taking some time. Pettibone had to keep things moving as fast as possible as he did not want Madonna to lose interest in the music. At this point, as far as the music went, it was getting a little melancholy. However, as Pettibone explained, Madonna's stories directed the creative direction of the songs into deeply personal territory as they were more serious and intense. Madonna left the album's production to work on her next film Body of Evidence in Oregon. Shortly after, Pettibone started on a song called "Goodbye to Innocence", which was not working. He further commented that he made a new bass line for the track. When Madonna went to record her vocals for "Goodbye to Innocence", she started singing Little Willie John's song "Fever" instead of singing the original words. They decided to record it, as they felt it sounded good. As they did not know the words, Madonna called Seymour Stein from Sire Records, and within an hour, they had the Peggy Lee version, and the original version of the song. This song was the last to be recorded for the album, in August 1992, and it was finished within a month later.
"I remember when Madonna and I first started working together on Erotica. We were listening in my home studio to one of the first songs and I turned to her and said "It's great, but it's no 'Vogue'." She told me that not every song could be 'Vogue' - not every cut could emerge as the top-selling record of all time. She was right, but I pressed my case anyway: "I guess I'm always trying to out-top myself, the next thing should be bigger than the last." Madonna just turned and looked me straight in the eye. She said, "Shep, no matter how fierce something is, you can't ever do the same thing twice."
-Producer Shep Pettibone in a article published by Icon magazine.
For Erotica, an album which consists of electronic and pop rock genres, Madonna incorporated an alter-ego named Mistress Dita, heavily inspired by actress Dita Parlo. "Erotica" is the first single and also the opening track from the album. Starting with Madonna saying "My name is Dita", she invites her lover to be passive, while she tells him to "do as I say" and leads him to explore boundaries between pain and pleasure. It deals with sex hang-ups, and has been described as "an ode to S&M". Her cover version of "Fever" follows the title track. It is described as a "sassy, house-style remake" of the pop standard. The third track, "Bye Bye Baby", starts with the declaration, "This is not a love song," and goes on to ask questions of a lover she is about to abandon. At one point, Madonna asks angrily: "Does it make you feel good to see me cry?" The fourth track and second single from Erotica, "Deeper and Deeper", is described as one of the "pure disco" moments of the album. Its bridge features a flamenco guitar, and its lyrics talk about sexual obsession. In the following track, "Where Life Begins", Madonna promises to teach "a different kind of kiss" to the listener. In the song, Madonna talks about the pleasures of oral sex and also references safe-sex. The sixth track is "Bad Girl". It talks about a woman who would rather get drunk than end a relationship she is too neurotic to handle. The seventh song, "Waiting", has been described as a "yearning ballad". Featuring spoken words, it addresses rejection and unrequited love.
"Thief of Hearts", the song that follows "Waiting", is a dark and rumbling song. It uses tough hip-hop language to ward off a rival for her lover's attention. It opens with the smashing of a glass, and Madonna shouting, "Bitch!/Which leg do you want me to break?" and later, she sneers, "Little miss thinks she can have his child/Well anybody can do it." The song has been described as a sequel to "Justify My Love" (1990). "Words" was compared to the previous track "Thief of Hearts", with music critics finding similarity in scope, each with sharp lyrics and catchy beats. The song features clattering programs and icy synth block-chords. "Rain" is the tenth track and fifth single from the album. Its lyrics talk about waiting and hoping for love. The song features a crescendo towards the end. The subsequent track, "Why's It So Hard", is considered the album's plea for solidarity with her audience, as Madonna sings: "Why's it so hard to love one another?" The following song, "In This Life", was written in memory of friends who Madonna had lost to the AIDS epidemic. The drums were compared to a doomsday clock and the keyboard intervals were also compared to George Gershwin's blues lullaby "Prelude No. 2", creating a sense of dis-ease. The thirteenth track, "Did You Do It?", features rappers Mark Goodman and Dave Murphy. The song was omitted in the clean edition of Erotica. The last track from the album, "Secret Garden", is described as Erotica's most personal song. In addition, "Secret Garden" is dedicated to the singer's vagina, "the secret place where she could enjoy herself." It features a jazz-house beat.
With the album's release, its accompanying book, Sex and Madonna's role on the erotic thriller film Body of Evidence, which featured her fully nude and in scenes engaged in simulated sexual acts, critics commented that "she had gone too far" and her career was over. Despite this, some critics and Madonna's audience claim that the album is one of her best efforts. Erotica is ranked at number 24 on the Slant Magazine's list of 100 Best Albums of the 1990s. According to J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of Madonna: An Intimate Biography, "At the time of Erotica's release in October 1992, much of society seemed to reexamining its sexuality. Gay rights issues were at the forefront of social discussions globally, as was an ever-increasing awareness of AIDS. A generation seemed increasingly curious to explore, without guilt, shame or apology, a different slice of life, something more provocative, maybe darker." In the review for fifteenth anniversary of the album, music critic Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine commented about the album's impact:
By 1992, Madonna was an icon?untouchable, literally and figuratively?and Erotica was the first time the artist's music took on a decidedly combative, even threatening tone, and most people didn't want to hear it. Erotica's irrefutable unsexiness probably says more about the sex=death mentality of the early '90s than any other musical document of its time. This is not Madonna at her creative zenith. This is Madonna at her most important, at her most relevant. No one else in the mainstream at that time dared to talk about sex, love, and death with such frankness and fearlessness.
Upon the release of the album, there came a phenomenon which was considered to be a "Madonna backlash" everywhere. Madonna was banned from entering the Vatican and her music was banned there. The title track and the album were also banned in Lebanon. Its accomapining music video also suffered of the mainstream condenation due to its explicit sexual imagery. In it, Madonna portrayed a masked dominatrix with a golden tooth and a whip. It is a montage of sexually charged images, designed to shock the audience. MTV put the video into heavy rotation, but only after midnight. It was banned from broadcast on NBC and Times Square because its bondage imagery was deemed too racy. In Singapore, after Erotica's worldwide release, the album was on hold for its release, because their government censors thought the track "Did You Do It" was too explicit. Managing director Peter Lau said, "We were elated when the album was cleared, but ['Did You Do It'] failed to pass. We're still waiting approval." It was banned in China.
Taraborrelli also commented that it is unfortunate that Erotica has to be historically liked to other less memorable ventures in Madonna's career at this time. However, he quipped that the album should be considered on its own merits, not only as one linked to the other two adult-oriented projects, because it has true value. When asked to name her biggest professional disappointment, Madonna answered, "The fact that my Erotica album was overlooked because of the whole thing with the Sex book. It just got lost in all that. I think there's some brilliant songs on it and people didn't give it a chance. That disappointed me, but I'm not disappointed in the record itself… Every review of the movie or the album was really a review of the book. It was transparent: they weren't even talking about the songs or the music. OK, I thought, I get what's happening here. It was a shame, but I understand it." Regarding the controversy, Madonna has recalled: "There was a time when I could not open up a newspaper or magazine and not read something incredibly scathing about myself." However, she stated: "I'm not apologising in any shape or form. That's where my head was at the time. I was interested in pushing buttons and being rebellious and being mischievous and trying to bend the rules."
Musician Doug Wimbish noted that Erotica was a record ahead of his time. In the early 90s, Seattle grunge had kicked in, the bass-driven beats of jungle were emerging on the dance floor, and hip-hop hit a new level with the funky, conscious rap of acts like De La Soul. "Madonna's enough of an artist to take the hues and shades of what's happening and put a concept together, It's not just bash out a record", he said. "She had Maverick, she'd done the book, the film Dick Tracy, she dated a big-ass Hollywood actor [Warren Beatty], This was her first record with her concept. She just freaked everybody out. She turned the system upside down for a moment, and they had to deal with the shock and awe of it all". Wimbish believes that Madonna forged a path for the next generation of female pop artists: "She was bringin' it from her point of view as a woman, bringing it to the forefront for real. That set the template now for your Christina Aguileras, Britneys, Beyonces. She paved the road for a lot of that. You can be nice and clean and then a freak. Ant there'll be a lot of money for you in it at the end!"
"In a sense, Erotica was the biggest one of her career. It was the one that molded her, that gave her the access code to get those numbers outta the way first. That's fantastic. She's much smarter now, when I look back on it. Absolute genious. Get those numbers outta the way when you're young. Set up the template for what you wanna do when you're older. Fifty million-plus records under your belt, you're good. If the label can't support what you're trying to do, fuck 'em. On one level, she's asking, how much do y'all really believe in me now?"
-Doug Wimbish on the album's influence.
October 20, 1992
November 1991 ? August 1992
Electronic, pop rock
Shep Pettibone ・
|1||Erotica (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|2||Fever (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|3||Bye Bye Baby (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|4||Deeper and Deeper (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|5||Where Life Begins (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|6||Bad Girl (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|7||Waiting (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|8||Thief of Hearts (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|9||Words (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|10||Rain (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|11||Why's It So Hard (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|12||In This Life (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|13||Did You Do It? (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
|14||Secret Garden (Disc 01)||Lyrics|
Billboard Chart Peak: 2
Total Weeks On Chart: 53
RIAA Cert.: 2 x PLATINUM
Billboard chart positions used with permission from Billboard magazine. Billboard material used is copyrighted and trademarked by VNU Business Media, Inc. and is used with permission. None of this material can be reused