You think you know, but you have no idea!
Madonna‘s music videos may be the stuff of legend, but how she got to the end product on all these pieces of art varied wildly! To make music video history time and time again, Madge went through so much drama, tons of key behind-the-scenes critical decisions, major social controversies and hang-ups to overthrow… oh yeah, and worked with a LOT of good directors and production staff members by her side!
Maybe we’re just in a nostalgic mood hoping for more music videos on MTV! Ha! Whatever the case, here’s the REAL story on ten of the most iconic music videos the living legend has produced in her incredible career!
1. Express Yourself, 1989
Express Yourself marked Madonna’s first video collab with David Fincher, who also directed Fight Club and The Social Network. At $5 million, this was the most expensive video EVER made (at the time, at least), and it heavily drew on the classic 1927 film Metropolis for its inspiration. Rolling Stone called Express Yourself “a perfect melding of Fincher’s expressionist impulses and Madonna’s shape-shifting allure.” It proved to withstand the test of time even as subject and director felt each other out on camera, and gave Madonna an iconic look and style that would roll her right through the 90s on top! Fun!
2. Take A Bow, 1994
Imagine an artist doing something like this today! Madonna tapped director Michael Haussman to tell the steamy love story in Take A Bow, which was filmed on location in Spain and involved real-life bullfighter Emilio Muñoz. Footage included several shots of Madonna with a real, live bull, too — creating major concern for her team and serious anger from the folks at PETA. Things got SO bad behind the scenes that Haussman later recalled how police officers were literally opening his mail for him and looking for letter bombs just to be safe after threats from animal rights activists. WHOA!!!
3. Like A Prayer, 1989
The iconic song was enough on its own, but a music video with burning crosses, stigmata, and a saint’s icon coming to life and eventually succumbing to the pleasures of the flesh was just too hot to handle for many people watching at the time! The music video for Like A Prayer caused such a commotion after it first debuted in 1989 that Pepsi actually pulled a $5 million ad campaign that had been set to center on the song itself. Oh, well! Just like Madonna herself said at the time, “art should be controversial, and that’s all there is to it.” Her rep was made in that moment and continues on today!
4. Oh Father, 1989
Oh Father remains one of the most personal and autobiographical works of Madonna’s, and she opted to go back to a familiar face — director David Fincher — to share her emotions in this mini-epic that references Citizen Kane and her mother’s own death. The infamous image in the music video of the dead woman’s lips sewn shut in the coffin even reportedly mirrors Madonna’s own disturbing memories of her mother’s funeral when she was young. Less known is the real-life parallel of the time — her tense, testy marriage to Sean Penn — and how that affected (and helped bring about) the dark mood throughout production. Life imitates art… and vice versa!
5. Ray Of Light, 1998
Music video director Jonas Åkerlund called this “the longest shoot ever for a music video,” recalling a complicated diagram used for the entire production — every shot was “like, such a big deal” with each frame lasting ten seconds or so, and being shot out in 30 minute increments to get about 5 seconds of content for the final product. It worked out, though, because Ray of Light became the Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards that go-round, giving Madge and her visionary director here a truly career-making hit! So memorable!
6. Cherish, 1989
You wouldn’t know it to watch the video now, but Cherish was actually shot by a still photographer who barely knew the first thing about moving imagery — let alone what it takes to make a good music video — and yet, it’s long been one of Madge’s most talked-about vids! Early in her career, Madonna struck up a friendship with photographer Herb Ritts, eventually having him shoot several of her album covers as well as multiple magazine covers. But deep down, the Material Girl really wanted to work with him on a music video… except he didn’t know how! After badgering him for nearly five years, Ritts eventually played around with “a little Super 8 camera” during an unrelated job in Hawaii, and when he told Madonna about it upon returning to the mainland, she decided it was time to work together on a video! And the rest, as they say, is history!
7. Vogue, 1990
Come on, you thought we’d forget this video, which brought out an iconic dance from the underground gay club scene and pushed it mainstream?! Madonna teamed back up with Fincher for this one, though remarkably this time around the two produced the video in less than a day after the recording company announced they were rush-releasing the accompanying single. Fincher remembers, “we cut this thing together as quickly as we could. We shot the video in, like, 16 hours, that was it. She got on the plane and went on her world tour.” Wow! Sometimes you can’t overthink genius… it just pops out abruptly in 16 hours! Ha!
8. Papa Don’t Preach, 1986
It really was Papa Don’t Preach where Madge begin looking at music videos as short films more so than clips meant to promote her accompanying singles. With it, she tapped Danny Aiello to play her strict father for this particular work, telling the story of a teenager’s unplanned pregnancy. Shot over three days in Staten Island and Manhattan with director James Foley, the interesting part of it was the on-set behavior — because it didn’t match the tense, important social theme of the content!
“We talked about wanting to tap into a working-class environment, because by that time she had done Material Girl and Like a Virgin and other stuff that was very glamorous and stylized. But the vibe was pure fun. No one was getting down about the social importance of it. We just liked to blast it as loud as possible.”
Well then! Sometimes you’ve just gotta have fun even while making a major statement about society, we suppose!
9. Like A Virgin, 1984
It didn’t have the $5 million budget of some later music videos, but a healthy six-figure line with a trip to Venice and some quality time with a big cat (what would Carole Baskin say?!) really brought Madonna to the forefront here. Director Mary Lambert led the way on her second collab with Madge, making for a memorable if innocently-80s stylized video to go along with an unforgettable song for the whole (adult) world to enjoy. When you think of the 80s, this has to be one of the things you think of, right?!
10. Open Your Heart, 1986
In a way, this is where it all started for Madonna — “it” being the overtly risqué sexualized style she’d become known for worldwide! Playing a stripper in this music video and clad in a memorable black bustier, there was shock to the video, but not just shock. As video director Jean-Baptiste Mondino recalls, per Rolling Stone:
“At the time we were into a period where we were experimenting some kind of freedom about the body, about sexuality and stuff, so the peep show was an idea that I had. But she makes the picture, you know? She gives you the stuff. You’ve got to be ready to grab it.”
Amen! It was obvious she was a star then, and that light only got brighter as she rode it out over the next several decades!
Bonus! Material Girl, 1985
Lambert’s other collaboration with Madonna came here, with an homage to Marilyn Monroe‘s 1953 film. Ironically, this video has spawned its own set of homages and references in the modern day, too; Taylor Swift‘s memorable performance of Shake It Off at the 2014 VMAs is one particularly notable example of Madonna’s long-time reach and influence! The song continues to be a staple everywhere from mainstream movies to karaoke bars and streaming playlists, too, and it doesn’t appear as though Madonna’s appeal or intrigue is going anywhere any time soon!
Well there you have it! What’d U think about our list — did we leave anything out? Would you have added any other videos that we missed??
Sound OFF with your take on all things Madge down in the comments (below)!!!
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