Erotica (song)

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Single by Madonna
from the album Erotica
B-side "Erotica" (Instrumental)
Released October 11, 1992
Format CD, 7", 12", cassette
Recorded January 15–16, 1992[1]
(Manhattan, New York)
June 8, 1992
at Soundworks Recording Studio
(Astoria, New York)
Genre Trip hop, new jack swing, dance-pop, R&B
Length 5:18
  • Madonna
  • Pettibone
Madonna singles chronology
"This Used to Be My Playground"
"Deeper and Deeper"

"Erotica" is a song by American singer-songwriter Madonna released as the lead single of her fifth studio album of the same name. The single was released internationally in October 1992 by Maverick Records and was later included on her greatest hits albums GHV2 and Celebration. Musically, "Erotica" alternates between spoken-word and vocal performances and contains influences of deep house and Lebanese music while the lyrics are a seductive appeal to cross sexual boundaries.

Critically, "Erotica" initially received mixed reviews but has since been reassessed as a high point of innovation in Madonna's career. The single, though less popular than previous Madonna singles, found commercial success, peaking in the top ten in several countries including Italy, Canada, the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

An accompanying music video was released for the single, which featured a masked Madonna in a leather-esque costume, with a golden tooth and a whip, interspersed with scenes from the making of Madonna's infamous book Sex. Like the book, the single and video were highly controversial, the latter being played on MTV only three times and always after midnight. The song remains banned in a number of territories owing to its sexual content.

Madonna performed the Kenlou B-Boy Mix of "Erotica" as the opening song on The Girlie Show World Tour (1993). She later performed the song as part of the Confessions Tour, including lyrics from the original demo of the song in the performance. In 2012, Madonna performed excerpts from the song during the performance of "Candy Shop" as a medley on the MDNA Tour.


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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.[2] The deal was a joint venture with Time Warner and paid Madonna an advance of $60 million. As part of this deal Madonna released her fifth studio album, Erotica, on October 20, 1992 and released the coffee table book, Sex, one day later.[3] "Erotica" was released as the lead single off of the Erotica album in early October, 1992. Shep Pettibone, co-producer of the song, said that "Erotica" was one of the first few songs that he and Madonna worked on for the album.[4] He stated that when they first started working on the track he told Madonna that she needed to do something "bigger" than Madonna's previous single, Vogue, to which Madonna responded "no matter how fierce something is, you can't ever do the same thing twice. Ever."[4] According to Pettibone, he did the music for the song as Madonna wrote the lyrics. He added that that Madonna prefers to be in control of the writing process because "her songs are her stories. They're the things she wants to say."[4]

A stripped-down version of "Erotica" was included as a promotional, single-track CD that accompanied the book. The track, entitled "Erotic", was produced by Madonna and Shep Pettibone.[5] The CD came in a special re-sealable mylar wrapper sleeve resembling a condom in order to promote safe sex.[6] Although "Erotic" has never been commercially released, a remix by William Orbit can be found on the some versions of the single. In 2008, Madonna included the song with another Erotica album track, "Secret Garden", in her feature film debut as a director, Filth and Wisdom.


Madonna performing "Erotica" during the Girlie Show World Tour, 1993

"Erotica" is very well known for its sexual undertones. The song was written by Madonna, Shep Pettibone, Anthony Shimkin, while produced by Madonna and Pettibone.[7] "Erotica" continued Madonna's exploration of potent spoken-word vocals (as introduced in "Justify My Love") and was highly controversial when it was released due to its sexual theme and suggestive lyrics. According to, "Erotica" is published in F-sharp minor.[8] Madonna's vocals span from F#3 to A4.[8] According to, the song features garage, R&B and breaks. The song also features instrumentations off maracas and "shimmering horn riffs".[9] Yahoo! Music describes the song as being "very bass-driven and has the same seedy, sexual sound heard on "Justify My Love".[10]

According to Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine, the song is "an ode to S&M."[11] The song begins with a "scratchiness" sound that mimics the sound of a record on a record player.[12] Following this Madonna says, "My name is Dita", as she invites her lover to be passive and childlike while she makes love to him and leads him to explore boundaries between pain and pleasure.[2] Madonna's use of the pseudonym "Dita" in the song (as well as in her Book Sex) is a reference to Dita Parlo, a German actress who was known for not caring what people thought.[13] The song has suggestive lyrics, such as "Will you let yourself go wild/Let my mouth go where it wants to."[14] Slant Magazine described the lyrics as being "taunting, aggressive—an elaborate exploration of sex, from seduction to disease."[12]

There are three different versions of this song: the original demo, the album version, and the song "Erotic", which was created during the Erotica album sessions exclusively to accompany the 1992 book Sex. The original demo was released on the internet in 2008. The album version of "Erotica" contains a sample of the 1974 hit song "Jungle Boogie", performed by Kool and the Gang. In addition, the song samples "El Yom 'Ulliqa 'Ala Khashaba" ("Today, He Is Held to a Cross") by Lebanese singer Fairuz from her 1962 album Good Friday - Eastern Sacred Songs. In the sleeve notes to I'm Going to Tell You a Secret and the live CD The Confessions Tour it credits an additional composer to have written this song: Antony Shimkin. ASCAP have officially confirmed this.


The single was the first of Madonna's releases to feature the label of her new record company, Maverick. However, the German 7" still has the old-style Sire label although the German 12" features the new Maverick label. Germany also pressed a second 12" of four of the Masters at Work remixes. The sleeve is identical to the first 12" but has a gold rim round the edge of the sleeve.[15]

A 12" limited edition picture disc was pressed by WEA in England and then withdrawn and destroyed as it depicted Madonna sucking Tony Ward's toe. Owing to the recent royal scandal of The Duchess of York being caught topless by paparazzi engaging in a similar act with her then-financial adviser, John Bryan, the pressing of 50,000 copies was recalled and destroyed to avoid embarrassing the British Royal Family, and, to avoid accusations that WEA was cashing in on the scandal. There are fewer than 150 copies known to be in existence.[16]


There is a promo CD version of "Erotica", titled "Erotic", that came with the Sex book.[13] The CD sleeve came in a foil case with a similar logo to the Ray of Light era. The word "Erotic" is over the logo. The song is a stripped-down version of Erotica & includes lyrics about rope, cages, and candles that not heard in "Erotica."[13] According to author Georges-Claude Guilbert in his book Madonna as Postmodern Myth, "Erotic" is a more hardcore version of Erotica.[13]


When Madonna released the Erotica album and the Sex book they both received major backlash, but the song "Erotica" was immersed in controversies and backlash as well. Upon the song's release, the Vatican banned Madonna from entering the state and her music was banned on its radio stations.[17]

Stills from the song's music video's were used in Madonna's infamous book Sex. Much of this footage was utilized for the video for the single Erotica, which Fabien Baron directed. An hour of this footage was then compiled for a film that Madonna had played during a party she gave for the release of Sex at New York City's Industria Superstudio. Yet it was a commercial success, the book received negative reviews from critics.[18][19][20][21]

In 1993, Lebanese singer Fairuz sued Madonna for $2.5 million for plagiarism over the section/sampling in "Erotica".[22] According to Fairuz, the song samples her voice without permission.[23] She claimed that the words "he crucified me today", taken from a religious song that is traditionally heard during Easter services, can be heard sung by her (in Arabic), in "Erotica" as Madonna repeatedly chants "all over me" over it.[22][23] An undisclosed settlement was eventually reached between Fairuz and Madonna, but the scandal caused both the single and the accompanying album to be banned in Lebanon.[17] Eventually, the country had announced they would ban Madonna from their state.[17]

Critical reception[edit]

"Against maraca beats and a shimmying horn riff, "Erotica"... promise[s] a smorgasbord of sexual experimentation, like the one portrayed in the video for "Justify My Love." But the sensibility of "Erotica" is miles removed from the warm come-ons of "Justify," which got its heat from privacy and romance...The Madonna of "Erotica" is in no way interested in your dreams; she's after compliance"

—Arion Berger of Rolling Stone[24]

Initially, "Erotica" received mixed reviews from most music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic had highlighted "Erotica" as an album standout.[25] Arion Berger had compared the song to "Justify My Love". He said "But the sensibility of "Erotica" is miles removed from the warm come-ons of "Justify," which got its heat from privacy and romance — the singer's exhortations to "tell me your dreams."[9] David Browne from Entertainment Weekly gave it a more unfavorable review, describing it as "depressingly trite — that between its frigid melody and your scary My name is Dita spoken bits [...]."[26] In 2011, Slant Magazine listed "Erotica" at number thirty-four on their list of the "Best Singles of the 1990s", stating that Madonna's "throaty" delivery throughout the song is effective in making the lyrics seem "incredibly honest.".[12] Slant Magazine goes on to say the song is Madonna's "invitation to the dance, a slithering, sinister snake rising from a gaudily ornate chalice. The beats are, by design, hypnotic—at once alluring and devious. With "Erotica," Madonna promises to get you off, but not without giving you something."[12] Stephen Holden of The New York Times commented that the "foggy growl" that Madonna uses in the spoken-word sections of the song "contrast dramatically with the shrill little-kid voice from Madonna's earliest records that she still often uses to project a bratty teen-age exuberance."[27] Louis Virtel of The Backlot included the song at number 8 on his list of "The 100 Greatest Madonna Songs," describing it as a "hot, smutty grind of a dance anthem." Virtel added that Madonna sells the double entendre of "Erotica" like a "primed burlesque mistress."[28] Scott Kearnan of included the track at number 6 on his list of "30 Best Madonna Songs," commenting that "no pop star of her fame has been this sexually transgressive before or since...Rihanna sings about “S&M” like it’s a song about My Little Pony, but Madonna dishes on pain, pleasure, and power with the conviction of a whip crack."[29]

Chart performance[edit]

On October 17, 1992 "Erotica" debuted at a high number 13 in the United States, which at the time of its release placed Madonna in a fifth place tie with Mariah Carey's "I'll Be There" as the highest debut for a song in Billboard Hot 100 chart history.[30] It skyrocketed to its peak of number three the following chart week and charted for a total of 18 weeks. "Erotica" also made the highest debut in the history of the Hot 100 Airplay chart, entering at its peak position of number two,[31] and it also reached number one on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play and number four on the Hot 100 Singles Sales charts. The single was certified gold by the RIAA on December 10, 1992.

Internationally, "Erotica" became another big hit for Madonna, hitting the top five in many markets including Australia, Ireland, Spain, and Sweden, and topping the charts in Italy. In the United Kingdom, Erotica debuted at number 11 on October 17, 1992. Two weeks later it reached its peak of number three.[32] According to the Official Charts Company it has sold 270,000 in the United Kingdom as of 2008.[33] It also topped the European Hot 100 Singles for three consecutive weeks, becoming her eighth number one hit in Europe.

Music video[edit]

Background and synopsis[edit]

Madonna in the controversial "Erotica" music video.

The music video for "Erotica" was directed by fashion photographer Fabien Baron. There are two versions of the video: the "standard" version which contained no nudity was released in the United States (it can be viewed on Madonna's official web page); and a more explicit version of the video was released only in Europe and Australia, which contained full-frontal nudity of Madonna and variation in the editing.[34] The video was ranked at number 16 on VH1's "50 Sexiest Video Moments".[35] An uncensored version was also made available and features full nudity, fellatio, anal sex and extreme bondage.[36] The video depicts Madonna as a masked dominatrix with a golden tooth and a whip; interspersed are scenes from the making of the Sex book. MTV aired it a total of three times (all of these in the "safe harbor") due to its highly charged sexual content, and it was eventually Madonna's second video to be banned from airing by that channel.[34]

"Its usually been the videos of Madonna's songs that have sparked a fuss, and 'Erotica' continues the tradition. In the video Madonna becomes Dita Parlo, a masked, gold-toothed dominatrix from an indeterminate age, ready to help us cross the street at the corner of Pleasure and Pain...Shot in grainy black and white, 'Erotica' has the feel of a stag film, though its quick cuts keep the viewer from seeing all that much"

—From the book The Madonna Companion: Two Decades of Commentary

Cameo appearances and promotion[edit]

Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rossellini, and Big Daddy Kane appeared in Madonna's "Erotica" music video. In order to imitate the look of old home-made movies, the entire video was shot with Super 8 film. The result was stylish and grainy footage with a rough and dirty quality. The footage of Madonna performing the song in her S&M dominatrix costume was shot on August 22, 1992 at The Kitchen in New York City. The rest of the footage for the video was shot during the New York City photo sessions for her infamous book Sex (many of the photographs in the book are actually stills from this footage) - an hour of this footage was compiled by Madonna and Baron for a film that was made for the party she gave at Industria in New York for the release of Sex, a film that included a soundtrack of French music from the 1920s and 1930s that included songs from such singers as Charles Trenet, Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf, and Josephine Baker. This film was also given by Madonna to her closest friends. It later leaked out to the public and copies of it were sold on eBay for some time. Today this film, known as the Sex Book Video can be found circulating on the internet in low quality.

Madonna's statements[edit]

According to an interview on MTV in 1992, Madonna defended the video as she stated that the music video is a "fantasy". She continued "The whole video is a fantasy, my book is a fantasy."[37] In the same interview, Madonna was asked about the banning from MTV and said, "MTV plays to a huge audience, and a lot of them are children, and a lot of themes I'm exploring in my videos aren't meant for children, so I understand that they say I can't show it," but she said, "I'm not saying 'Oh I don't need you any more, screw off' [...] it's not like that at all [...] and I accept it".[37]

Live performance[edit]

Madonna performed the Kenlou B-Boy Mix of "Erotica" as the opening song on The Girlie Show World Tour (1993). The Girlie Show opened with a topless dancer slithering down a metal pole that was dangling high above the stage.[38] Then Madonna emerged onto the stage, dressed as a black-masked dominatrix to perform "Erotica".[38] According to Stuart Lenig in his book The Twisted Tale of Glam Rock, the song had a "lush, clubby orchestration," and during the performance Madonna rubbed a riding crop between her legs as her backup dancers "posed and danced suggestively."[38] When reviewing the performance, John Pareles from The New York Times commented that "through her own achievement, or her own fault, the shock value has abated...and when her dance troupe acts out the suggestions in her songs, like the ethereal 'Put your hands all over my body' in 'Erotica', the choreography suggests exercises rather than unbridled passion."[39] Madonna later performed "Erotica" on the 2006 Confessions Tour. The performance included additional lyrics from the original demo, which were not included in the final version of the song. BBC's Tom Young commented that on the Confessions Tour "Erotica" is "put through the disco processor with spectacular results."[40] Don Chareunsy from U-T San Diego commented that the performance included "odd dance-school-class choreography."[41] In one of the most talked about sections of Madonna's 2012 MDNA Tour in 2012, Madonna performed excerpts from the song during a medley performance which also included her song "Candy Shop" and a sample of alternative dance vocalist and producer Kelley Polar's song "Ashamed of Myself."[42] Jim Farber of The New York Daily News gave a positive review of the medley, stating that the "Candy Shop" song was "inventively toughened up."[43]

Cover versions and parodies[edit]

  • The 2000 compilation Virgin Voices: A Tribute To Madonna, Vol. 2 features a cover by Razed in Black vs. Transmutator.[44]
  • When comedian Sandra Bernhard's one-woman show "Giving Til It Hurts" came to New York in November, 1992, she did a short spoof of the song, called "Neurotica," about a woman who obsessively cleans house.[45]
  • The Fox sketch comedy series "In Living Color," spoofed the video for "Erotica" in fall of 1992. The title of the video spoof was "Neurotica."[45]
  • In Fox's sketch comedy show "The Edge (Fox TV series)," cast member Julie Brown, who previously had made a spoof of "Truth or Dare" in 1991 titled Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful, spoofed the Sex book as well as the "Erotica" music video.[45]
  • Village Voice columnist Michael Musto recreated the nude hitchhiking scene from the "Sex" book and "Erotica" music video on the streets of Jersey City. The Village Voice sold the posters of the photo for $5-profits went to the Community Research Initiative on AIDS in New York.[45]

Track listings[edit]

Major formats released for "Erotica":


Chart procession and succession[edit]

Preceded by
"It's My Life" by Dr. Alban
Eurochart Hot 100 Singles number-one single
October 17, 1992 – October 31, 1992
Succeeded by
"End of the Road" by Boyz II Men
Preceded by
"It's Probably Me" by Sting and Eric Clapton
Italian Singles Chart number-one single
October 24, 1992 – November 14, 1992
Succeeded by
"Don't You Want Me" by Felix
Preceded by
"Saved My Life" by Lil Louis & the World
Billboard Hot Dance Club Play number-one single
November 21, 1992
Succeeded by
"Are You Ready to Fly" by Rozalla


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External links[edit]