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Borderline (Madonna song)

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Madonna clasping hands and facing toward camera shoot wearing plastic ring bracelets on right wrist. She also wears huge crucifix earrings.
Front sleeve of American 7" vinyl single
Single by Madonna
from the album Madonna
  • "Think of Me"
  • "Physical Attraction"
ReleasedFebruary 15, 1984 (1984-02-15)
RecordedFebruary 1983
StudioSigma Sound Studios
(New York City, New York)
  • 5:18
Songwriter(s)Reggie Lucas
Madonna singles chronology
"Lucky Star"
"Like a Virgin"

"Borderline" is a song recorded by American singer Madonna for her eponymous debut album Madonna (1983). It was released on February 15, 1984, by Sire Records as the album's fifth single. Written and composed by its producer Reggie Lucas, the song was remixed by Madonna's then-boyfriend John "Jellybean" Benitez. The singer used refined and expressive vocals to deliver lyrics about an unfulfilled love.

Contemporary critics and authors applauded the song, calling it harmonically the most complex track from Madonna and praising its dance-pop nature. In the United States, "Borderline" became Madonna's first top-ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number ten in June 1984. In the United Kingdom, it peaked at number two after it was re-released as a single in 1986. Elsewhere, the song reached the top 10 or 20 in numerous European nations, while topping the singles chart of Ireland. "Borderline" placed number 84 on Blender magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born," while Time included it on their critics list of "All-Time 100 Songs."

The accompanying music video portrayed Madonna with a Latin-American man as her boyfriend to whom she returns after being enticed to pose and model for a British photographer. The video generated academic interest for its use of power as symbolism. The video, in heavy rotation on MTV, was instrumental in establishing Madonna's early success, and she was credited for resisting the taboo of interracial relationships within it.

Madonna performed the song on The Virgin Tour (1985) and the Sticky & Sweet Tour (2008), in which a punk-rock version of the song was performed. "Borderline" has been covered by artists including Duffy, Jody Watley, Counting Crows and The Flaming Lips.

Background and development[edit]

In 1982, Madonna was working with producer Reggie Lucas on her debut album. She had already composed three songs when Lucas brought one of his own compositions to the project, calling it "Borderline".[1] However, after recording the song, Madonna was unhappy with the final version, feeling that Lucas used too many instruments and did not consider her ideas for the song.[1] This led to a dispute between the two. After finishing the album, Lucas left the project without altering the songs to Madonna's specifications. Hence, Madonna brought her then-boyfriend John "Jellybean" Benitez to remix "Borderline" and two other recorded tracks.[1] On hearing the final version, Seymour Stein, head of Sire Records, declared, "I dared to believe this was going to be huge beyond belief, the biggest thing I'd ever had, after I heard 'Borderline'... The passion that she put into that song, I thought, there's no stopping this girl."[2]

Recording and composition[edit]

"Borderline" was recorded in February 1983 and presented a change in Madonna's normal vocal tone.[3] A sentimental track, the song talks about a love that is never quite fulfilled.[4] According to author Santiago Fouz-Hernández in his book Madonna's Drowned Worlds, the song's lyrics like "Something in way you love me won't let me be/I don't want to be your prisoner so baby won't you set me free" depicted a rebellion against male chauvinism.[5] Madonna used a refined and expressive singing voice, backed by Lucas's instrumentations.[4] The song is considered to be the best example of the working relationship between Lucas and Madonna, as Lucas pushed the singer to find emotional depth in the song. Although sounding icy, the chorus is contemporary in style, and the song's vocal range was later used by Madonna as her own personal range through her whole music career.[6] It opens with a keyboard-rich intro played on a Fender-Rhodes electric piano and a catchy synth melody provided by Fred Zarr.[7] Bass player Anthony Jackson doubled Dean Gant's synth bass to provide a solid and more complex texture.[7]

The chords in the song were inspired by the 1970s disco sound in Philadelphia, as well as Elton John's musical style.[7] The chord sequences evoke Bachman-Turner Overdrive's song "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet", while the synth phases display Madonna's typical musical style.[8] The song is set in common time with a moderate tempo of 120 beats per minute. It is composed in the key of D major with Madonna's vocal range spanning from F3 to B4. The song follows in the chord progression of D–C–G in the first verse to Bm–Em–A–F in the pre-chorus, and changes to A–F–Bm–A–E and G–D–A in the chorus.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Madonna performing a rock version of "Borderline" during the 2008 leg of her Sticky & Sweet Tour.

Author J. Randy Taraborrelli, in his biography of Madonna, called "Borderline", along with "Holiday", the two key recordings that helped establish Madonna's base in the music industry.[4] He added that Madonna's sober voice made the track "as close to an old Motown production as a hit could get in the dance-music-driven eighties."[4] Author Maury Dean, in his book Rock 'n' Roll Gold Rush, called the song "echoey boogie" with "saucy-style and come-hither magnetism."[10] Author Rikky Rooksby in his book, The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna, called it harmonically the most complex track of her debut album.[7] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic called the song effervescent.[11] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine called the song soulful.[12] Commentator Dave Marsh in his book, The Heart of Rock & Soul, said that the "music's too damn good to be denied, no matter whose value system it disrupts."[13] Journalist Roxanne Orgill in her book, Shout, Sister, Shout!, commented that "Borderline" was the song that made Madonna the star that she is.[14] Thom Duffy of Orlando Sentinel commented that "Borderline" was a song that "introduced Madonna, the helium-induced pop star, and a siren kitten."[15]

The song placed number 84 on Blender magazine's "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born."[16] Time also included it on the critic list "All-Time 100 Songs", stating that "Madonna went on to sing more-clever songs ('Material Girl'), more-showy songs ('Like a Prayer'), more-sexy songs ('Justify My Love'). But 'Borderline,' her first top-10 hit, captures the essence of her pop appeal, its freshness, simplicity and vitality."[17] Pitchfork Media considered the song the 106th-best of the 1980s, stating that "'Borderline' is one of the first laid bricks in the cathedral of Madonna's mythology, four minutes of emotional helium that became her first Top 10 hit on the heels of an iconic music video."[18]

At the 1984 Billboard Music Awards, "Borderline" received two nominations, in the categories of Best New Artist and Best Choreography in a Music Video, but did not win either.[19] In September 2014, the song was placed at number two on Rolling Stone's list of "100 Best Singles of 1984". Rolling Stone's Carrie Grant described the track as a "melodic synth-a-palooza with the plunky low end", also noting that Madonna's vocals were restrained on the song, but sounded emotional. "The radio remix, which trims nearly three minutes from the tune, boasts one of Madge's most iconic fade-outs, standing by as she "la la la"s into the void."[2]

Commercial performance[edit]

In the United States, the song became Madonna's first top-ten hit when it reached number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 list of June 16, 1984. It charted for 30 weeks, becoming Madonna's longest-charting single in the United States (tied with "Take a Bow" in 1995). The song reached number four on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. It also became a crossover success by charting on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart at number 23.[10] On October 22, 1998, the song was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipment of one million copies.[20] In Canada the song debuted at number 56 in the RPM issue dated August 4, 1984[21] and reached number 25 on September 15, 1984.[22] The song was on the chart for 14 weeks.[23]

In the United Kingdom, where the song was released on June 2, 1984, it was only able to reach number 56. However, upon the song's re-release on January 1, 1986, it spent nine weeks on the British chart, peaking at number two.[24] The song was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) in February 1986.[25] According to the Official Charts Company, the song has sold 310,000 copies in the United Kingdom.[26] Across Europe, the song topped the chart in Ireland and entered the top ten in Belgium and the Netherlands.[27][28][29] It also peaked at number 23 in Switzerland and number 12 in Australia.[30][31]

Music video[edit]

"Borderline" was filmed on location in Los Angeles, California from January 30 to February 2, 1984 and was the first video that Madonna made with director Mary Lambert, who later also directed "Like a Virgin", "Material Girl", "La Isla Bonita" and "Like a Prayer".[32] Author Allen Metz noted how the video portrayed Madonna's then-"burgeoning star quality".[33] The video is regarded as one of Madonna's career-making moments[34] and was shown regularly on MTV.[35]

Image shows a group of youngsters on the pavement of a street with Madonna dancing beside them.
Madonna, in her usual boy-toy look, dances with one of the dancers on the street of a Hispanic barrio, thus portraying the type of life she used to lead before she began her music career.

In the video, Madonna plays a young street denizen enticed by a British photographer, who publishes her picture on a magazine cover and makes romantic advances. The girl is emotionally torn between the photographer and her Latino boyfriend (Louie Louie),[35] with whom her troubled relationship mirrors the struggle many Hispanic women faced with their men.[34] The video narrative weaves the two relationship stories together in color and black-and-white.[36] In the color sequences, Madonna sings, flirts and seduces her boyfriend, and in the black-and-white sequences she poses for the photographer, who also courts her.[36]

The video shows Madonna in her usual style in those years, with her hair in a haystack and wearing lace gloves, high-heeled boots with thick socks and her trademark "boy-toy" belt.[34] She changes clothing from one shot to another, in color as well as black and white, while wearing an unusual array of clothes including crop-tops, T-shirts, vests and sweaters coupled with cut-off pants and jeans, as well as a couple of evening gowns.[35] Posing for the photographer, Madonna looks towards the camera with challenge in her eyes, depicting sexual aggression.[33] At one point, she starts spraying graffiti over some lifeless classical statues, portraying herself as a transgressor who breaks rules and attempts innovation.[36]

Lambert said that there was "no formula" used when making the "Borderline" video and that they were "inventing it as we went along."[37] In the January 1997 issue of Rolling Stone, Lambert described the video and its plot as, "Boy and girl enjoy simple pleasures of barrio love, girl is tempted by fame, boy gets huffy, girl gets famous, but her new beau's out-of-line reaction to a behavioral trifle (all she did was to spray-paint his expensive sports car) drives her back to her true love."[5] The portrayal of the street life reflected Madonna's life in the gritty, multiracial streets and clubs that she had haunted while her career was beginning, while the depiction of high fashion reflected the popularity and success she was experiencing.[33]

"When I screened 'Borderline' for Madonna's manager, Freddy DeMann, he was hysterical that I had combined black-and-white footage with color footage. Nobody had done that before. He made me screen it for all the secretaries in the office and see how they reacted, because he felt I had crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed."

—Director Mary Lambert on the use of color and black-and-white footage in the music video.[37]

With the video, Madonna helped break the taboo of interracial relationships. Although at first it seems that Madonna denies her Hispanic boyfriend in favor of the photographer, later she rejects him, implying her desire to control her own sexual pleasures and to cross established pop borderlines with lyrics like "You just keep on pushing my love, over the borderline".[36] The contrasting image of Madonna, first as a messy blonde in the street sequence and later as a glamorous high-fashion blonde, suggests that one can construct one's own image and identity. Madonna's "street" image depicted in the video allowed her to appeal to Hispanic and black youths.[36]

The "Borderline" video attracted early attention from academics,[5] who noted the symbolism of power in the two contrasting scenes. The photographer's studio is decorated with classical sculptures and nude statues holding spears, phallic symbols. In contrast, phallic symbols portrayed in the Hispanic neighborhood include a street lamp that Madonna embraces and a pool cue held erect by Madonna's boyfriend.[5] Author Andrew Metz commented that with these scenes, Madonna displayed her sophisticated views on the fabrications of feminity as a supreme power rather than the normal views of oppression.[33] Author Carol Clerk said that the videos of "Borderline" and "Lucky Star" established Madonna not as the girl next door, but as a sassy, smart and tough funny woman. Professor Douglas Kellner, in his book Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern, commented that the video depicted motifs and strategies that helped Madonna in her journey to become a star.[38] The clothes Madonna wore in the video were later used by designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix.[35]

Live performances[edit]

Madonna performing "Borderline" during her Tears of a Clown concert in Melbourne, Australia in March 2016.

The song was performed by Madonna on The Virgin Tour (1985) and the Sticky & Sweet Tour (2008). On the Virgin Tour, Madonna performed the song wearing a black, fringed micro-top and similar skirt, with her belly button exposed, and multiple crucifixes in various sizes hanging from different parts of her body.[39] Madonna performed the song in its original version, appearing from behind a silhouette and descending steps while waving her hands and singing.[40] The performance was not included on the Madonna Live: The Virgin Tour VHS in 1985.[41]

"Borderline" was added to the set list of the first leg of Madonn'a Sticky & Sweet Tour in 2008 during the "old school" section of the performance, in which Madonna wore gym shorts, sneakers and long socks.[42] The outfit was designed by Jeremy Scott and was a reference to Madonna's old days in New York.[43] Madonna performed a punk-pop version while playing a purple electric guitar before a backdrop showing Keith Haring's cartoons and graphical imagery.[44] Jon Pareles of The New York Times called the performance enthusiastic and punk-pop.[45] Nekesa Mumbi Moody of USA Today called it a "rocked out performance".[44] Caryn Ganz of Rolling Stone called it a "Cheap Trick-style power pop song [performance]."[46] The song was not included in the 2009 leg of the tour and was replaced by a rock version of Madonn'a 1985 single "Dress You Up".[47]

In June 2016, Madonna appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and closed the show by performing a slow, soul version of "Borderline", watched by then-President Barack Obama.[48] An acoustic version of "Borderline" was performed on Madonna's one-off concert in Melbourne, "Madonna: Tears of a Clown". The show started with Madonna riding a tricycle in a clown costume with a billowing dress and pink-and-yellow stockings.[49] She began the performance by saying: "I don’t have bipolar disorder but I am a little borderline". Writing for The Guardian, Monica Tan praised the singer for "knowing her jokes were shit but using them as a segue into songs".[50]

Cover versions[edit]

In 2000, an electro-industrial cover of the song by Nivek Ogre of OhGr was included on the tribute compilation album Virgin Voices: A Tribute To Madonna, Vol. 2. Heather Phares of AllMusic said that Ogre's version "missed the mark."[51] Chicago pop punk band Showoff recorded a cover for the 2002 compilation album Punk Goes Pop.[52] In 2006 singer Jody Watley covered the song for her album The Makeover. Watley's downtempo version attained UK release as a single in October 2009.[53] An acoustic folk cover of the song by The Chapin Sisters was included on the 2007 Madonna tribute album Through the Wilderness.[54] In 2008, singer Duffy performed "Borderline" at Radio 1's Big Weekend in Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent, England.[55] The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs recorded a cover of the song for the 2009 Warner Bros. Records compilation, Covered, A Revolution in Sound. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic described the cover recording as turning Madonna's version "inside out".[56] Counting Crows performed the song at the Royal Albert Hall in 2003, and an MP3 version was released on the band's website on March 17, 2009. The performance was criticized by ABC News, calling it anticlimactic.[57] In 2010, the TV show Glee covered the song in the episode "The Power of Madonna" in a mashup with the song "Open Your Heart", performed by Cory Monteith and Lea Michele.[58] And in 2010, the song was covered live, in an acoustic version by Scottish singer Steve Mason.

Track listings and formats[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

  • Madonna – lead vocals
  • Reggie Lucas – writer, producer, guitars, drum programming
  • Fred Zarr – synthesizers, electric and acoustic piano
  • Dean Gant – synthesizers, electric and acoustic piano
  • Ed Walsh – synthesizers
  • Anthony Jackson – electric bass
  • Ira Siegal – guitars
  • Bobby Malach – tenor saxophone
  • Gwen Guthrie – background vocals
  • Brenda White – background vocals
  • Chrissy Faith – background vocals

Credits adapted from the album liner notes.[3]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[25] Gold 310,000[26]
United States (RIAA)[20] Gold 500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Taraborrelli 2002, p. 76
  2. ^ a b Grant, Carrie (September 16, 2014). "Madonna, 'Borderline' – 100 Best Singles of 1984". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 17, 2014.
  3. ^ a b Madonna (LP, Vinyl, CD). Madonna. Sire Records. 1983. 9 23867-1.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ a b c d Taraborrelli 2002, p. 78
  5. ^ a b c d Fouz-Hernández & Jarman-Ivens 2004, p. 141
  6. ^ Cresswell 2006, p. 714
  7. ^ a b c d Rooksby 2004, p. 11
  8. ^ Rooksby 2004, p. 12
  9. ^ "Borderline – Madonna Ciccone – Digital Sheet Music". Alfred Publishing. Retrieved May 29, 2009.
  10. ^ a b Dean 2003, p. 523
  11. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (September 9, 1983). "Madonna > Overview". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  12. ^ Cinquemani, Sal (September 9, 2001). "Madonna: Madonna (Remaster)". Slant Magazine. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  13. ^ Marsh 1999, p. 502
  14. ^ Orgill 2001, p. 80
  15. ^ Duffy, Thom (June 21, 1987). "The Many Faces Of Madonna". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  16. ^ Staff, Blender (April 1, 2009). "X and Y playlist: The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  17. ^ Jones, Radhika (October 24, 2011). "All-Time 100 Songs: Borderline". Time. Retrieved December 16, 2011.
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  20. ^ a b "American single certifications – Madonna – Borderline". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved March 10, 2013. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 
  21. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6797". RPM. RPM Music Publications Ltd. Archived from the original on October 10, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  22. ^ a b "Top RPM Singles: Issue 8602." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
  23. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 8651". RPM. RPM Music Publications Ltd. Archived from the original on October 10, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
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  33. ^ a b c d Metz & Benson 1999, p. 163
  34. ^ a b c Batchelor & Stoddart 2007, p. 45
  35. ^ a b c d Clerk 2002, p. 36
  36. ^ a b c d e Kellner 1995, p. 270
  37. ^ a b Tannenbaum & Marks 2011, p. 15
  38. ^ Kellner 1995, p. 269
  39. ^ Clerk 2002, p. 41
  40. ^ Morse, Steve (June 3, 1985). "Madonna Is Naughty, Nice And Talented". Boston Globe. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
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  42. ^ Odell, Amy (August 25, 2008). "Madonna's Tour Starts, Costumes Don't Disappoint". New York. New York Media LLC. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
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  49. ^ Adams, Cameron (March 9, 2016). "Madonna at Forum in Melbourne for Tears of a Clown Show". Retrieved April 14, 2016.
  50. ^ Tan, Monica (March 11, 2016). "Madonna clowns around at Melbourne show after three-hour delay". The Guardian. Retrieved May 19, 2018.
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  55. ^ Blogs, Jo (May 10, 2008). "Duffy performs a very special version of Madonna's Borderline". Radio 1's Big Weekend. BBC. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
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External links[edit]