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Madonna - Open Your Heart (1986)

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“Open Your Heart” is a song by American singer Madonna from her third studio album True Blue (1986). It was released as the album’s fourth single on November 19, 1986 by Sire Records. It has since appeared ...

“Open Your Heart” is a song by American singer Madonna from her third studio album True Blue (1986). It was released as the album’s fourth single on November 19, 1986 by Sire Records. It has since appeared remixed on the compilation albums The Immaculate Collection (1990) and Celebration (2009). Originally a rock and roll song titled “Follow Your Heart”, it was written for singer Cyndi Lauper by songwriters Gardner Cole and Peter Rafelson. Looking for new songs for True Blue, Madonna accepted it. She and Patrick Leonard transformed it into a dance-pop song. “Open Your Heart” is an innuendo-laden love song where Madonna expresses her sexual desire.

The song was well received by critics, who commended its simplicity. It was also successful commercially, reaching the top-ten of the charts in Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, thus making it Madonna’s fifth number-one single in the US. The music video for “Open Your Heart” features a story line completely different from that of the song. In it, Madonna plays an exotic dancer in a peep-show club who befriends a little boy and subsequently escapes. It was critically acclaimed for subverting the male gaze, but the plot point of a child entering a strip club was criticized. The video is an homage to actresses Liza Minnelli and Marlene Dietrich.

“Open Your Heart” has been performed by Madonna in three of her world tours – Who’s That Girl World Tour (1987), Blond Ambition World Tour (1990), where Madonna wore her infamous conical bra during the song, and The MDNA Tour (2012). The performances were included in the respective video release of the tours. “Open Your Heart” has been covered a number of times by different artists, and appeared in the Britney Spears film, Crossroads (2002).

Critical response

Author Susan McClary in Culture/power/history reviewed the song saying that, it was more upbeat than previous single “Live to Tell” and “the play with closure in ‘Open Your Heart’ creates the image of open ended jouissance—an erotic energy that continually escapes containment”. Author Taraborrelli called it as one of her most “earnest” songs and compared it with Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect” as well as Barbra Streisand’s “A House is Not a Home”. According to him “it was a tune people could understand and latch on to, which is what makes a pop song memorable”. The New York Times writer Stephen Holden compared the song with sweeter post-Motown valentine songs. Houston Chronicle writer Joey Guerra called the song “perfect” for dancefloor strut. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic called it a perfect dance song with deepened dance grooves. Slant Magazine named the song as one of Madonna’s most “robust” songs. Robert Christgau said of the song, “I’m not saying her flair is pleasureless—the generosity she demands in the inexhaustible ‘Open Your Heart’ is a two-way street and then some.”

Chart performance

“Open Your Heart” debuted at number 51 the week ending December 6, 1986, on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It had a gradual rise and subsequently topped the chart on February 7, 1987, becoming Madonna’s fifth number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100. The single also had success on Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart, reaching number-one on February 14, 1987. It also became Madonna’s sixth entry on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart where it reached a peak of number 12. In Canada, the song debuted at number 83 on the RPM chart on December 13, 1986, and reached a peak position of number eight for the chart dated February 21, 1987. It placed at number 68 on the RPM Year-end chart for 1987.

Internationally, it became a top ten hit in several European countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands, and Belgium. In the United Kingdom, the single debuted on the UK Singles Chart at number eight and subsequently reached a peak of number four on December 13, 1986. The single was on the chart for nine weeks in total, and was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on December 1, 1986. According to the Official Charts Company, the song has sold 195,000 copies there. It also peaked at number four in Europe, thus becoming the only single from True Blue not to top the Eurochart Hot 100. In Australia, it only reached a peak of number 16, breaking a run of nine consecutive top ten singles for Madonna in that country. Elsewhere like in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France, it reached within the top 40 of the singles chart.

Music video

The music video was shot at Echo Park in Los Angeles, California. Madonna portrays an exotic dancer who befriends a young boy, played by child actor Felix Howard. This video was originally set to be directed by Madonna’s then-husband Sean Penn, but in the end the final honors went to Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who went on to work with Madonna on her videos for “Justify My Love” (1990), “Human Nature” (1995), “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” (1996), “Don’t Tell Me” (2000) and “Hollywood” (2003). The video was shot in July 1986 and was released in December 1986. It was produced by David Naylor. The video was nominated for three MTV Video Music Awards in 1987. In the Best Female Video category, “Open Your Heart” lost to another Madonna video, when the music video for “Papa Don’t Preach” won the award. The video has been ranked at number 35 on VH1’s “50 Sexiest Video Moments” of all time.


Feminist writer Susan Bordo gave a negative review of the video, saying that the leering and pathetic men in the cubicles and Madonna’s escape with the boy is “cynically and mechanically tacked on a way of claiming trendy status for what is just cheesecake – or, perhaps, pornography”. MTV also had some reservations initially before airing the video, which was later resolved after a meeting with Warner Officials. However socio-critic Mary Harron in her book McRock: Pop as Commodity said that the underlying message in the video is that though Madonna sells sexuality, she is free. There is no overt representation of anything besides friendship with the boy. Their escape together avoids Madonna the sexual overtones that would have been stronger if she would have escaped with an adult male. This, according to author Richard Dienst, seems to suggest a repudiation of the adult labor of the stage in favor of childhood, androgyny, authenticity and nomadic play. The video is also acclaimed for reviving and re-creating the hard glamor of the studio-era of Hollywood stars and also for representing women as the dominant sex. Author Donn Welton pointed out that the usual power relationship between the “voyeuristic male gaze and object” is destabilized by the portrayal of the male patrons of the peep show as leering and pathetic. At the same time, the portrayal of Madonna as “porno queen object” is deconstructed by the escape at the end of the video. Maura Johnston from Rolling Stone found influences of the work of Italian film director Federico Fellini and American musical theater chroeographer Bob Fosse. Johnston added, “‘Open Your Heart’ was gorgeous, from the paintings of art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka on the club exterior, to the colorfully cold cast of characters.” She noticed that at one point in the video, Madonna tilted her head to re-create the Herb Ritts shot album cover for True Blue.