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Madonna - Burning Up (1983)

  • Video Views 7,039,329
  • 80's Score 80's score: 1.14
  • Find this song on: Music Stack

"Burning Up" is a song by American singer Madonna included on her 1983 debut album, Madonna. It was initially released as a ...

"Burning Up" is a song by American singer Madonna included on her 1983 debut album, Madonna. It was initially released as a single on March 9, 1983. The song was presented as an early recorded demo by Madonna to Sire Records who green-lighted the recording of the single after the first single "Everybody" became a dance hit. Madonna collaborated with Reggie Lucas, who produced the single while John Benitez provided the guitar riffs and backing vocals. Musically, the song incorporates instrumentation from bass guitar, synthesizers and drums, and the lyrics talk of the singer's lack of shame in declaring her passion for her lover.

Released with "Physical Attraction" as the B-side, which would also appear on the debut album, the song was given mixed reviews from contemporary critics and authors, who noted the song's darker, urgent composition while praising its dance beats. The single failed to do well commercially anywhere, except the dance chart in the United States, where it peaked at three, and the Australian charts, where it was a top 20 hit. After a number of live appearances in clubs to promote the single, it was added to the set-list of the 1985 Virgin Tour. An electric guitar version was performed on the 2004 Re-Invention World Tour and the 2015–2016 Rebel Heart Tour.

The accompanying music video of the song portrayed Madonna in classic submissive female positions, writhing in passion on an empty road while waiting for her lover who drives toward her in a car. The video ends with Madonna driving the car, with an interpretation that she is in charge. Many authors noted that the "Burning Up" music video was a beginning of Madonna's depiction of her taking control of a destabilized male sexuality.

Music Video

Sire Records commissioned a music video for the song to be directed by Steve Barron. Madonna's friend Debi Mazar was hired as the make-up artist for the video while Maripol was the stylist with Madonna's then boyfriend Ken Compton appearing as her onscreen lover. By the time the video was released, MTV had begun to show dance music videos. Hence the music video of "Burning Up" became a minor hit on the channel. The narrative of the video shows Madonna in a white dress, as she sings the song proclaiming her helpless passion for her lover. She wore her famous rubber bracelets which were actually typewriter belts. Her love for the boy portrayed her as a helpless victim like the stereotyped female portrayed in many silent movies. At one point in the video Madonna is shown being hit by a car driven by a young man, played by Compton. By the end of the song Madonna is shown driving the car, with a knowing, defiant smile on her lips and has ditched the man, thereby giving the message that she was in charge, a theme recurrent throughout her career. Barron explained the development process behind the video:

I went to New York to meet (Madonna), begrudgingly, and showed up at an address at SoHo, which turned out to be a squat basically. Madonna was scantily clad, working out to a massive disco track. She was charismatic. She kept putting her head down on the table and talking to me, very flirtatious, and that gave me the idea for the scene in "burning up", where her face is on the road, and the camera's really low and close.

Though the lyrics of the song like "Do you want to see me down on my knees?" portray female helplessness, the video performance acts as a counter-text to it. When this line is sung, Madonna is shown kneeling on the road in front of the advancing car, then turns her head back while exposing her throat back in a posture of submission. However, her voice tone and her look at the camera portray a hardness and defiance that contradict the submissiveness of her body posture and turn the question of the line into a challenge for her lover.

Author Andrew Morton, in his biography on Madonna, commented that the video was America's first introduction to Madonna's sexual politics. Author Robert Clyde Allen in his book Channels of Discourse compared the video with that of "Material Girl". According to him both the videos have an undermining ending, while employing a consistent series of puns and exhibiting a parodic amount of excess associated with Madonna's style. The discourses included in the video are those of sexuality and religion. Allen wrote that Madonna's image of kneeling and singing about 'burning in love' performed the traditional ideological work of using the subordination and powerlessness of women in Christianity to naturalize their equally submissive position in patriarchy. Author Georges-Claude Guilbert in his book Madonna as postmodern myth commented that the representation of the male character becomes irrelevant as Madonna destabilizes the fixing and categorization of male sexuality in the video. Her utterance of having "no shame" was interpreted by author James B. Twitchell, in his book For Shame, as an attempt to separate herself from contemporary female artists of that era.

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