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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 US 7-inch vinyl single
Single by Madonna
from the album Madonna
  • "Think of Me"
  • "Physical Attraction"
Released February 15, 1984 (1984-02-15)
Recorded February 1983
Genre Dance-pop
Length 5:18
Songwriter(s) Reggie Lucas
Producer(s) Reggie Lucas
Madonna singles chronology
"Lucky Star"
"Like a Virgin"
"Lucky Star"
"Like a Virgin"
Music video
"Borderline" on YouTube

"Borderline" is a song recorded by American singer Madonna for her eponymous debut studio 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 for the song, whose lyrics deal with the subject of a love that is never fulfilled.

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

The accompanying music video portrayed Madonna with a Latin-American man as her boyfriend. She was enticed by a British photographer to pose and model for him, but later returned to her original boyfriend. The video generated academic interest for its use of power as symbolism. With the video, Madonna was credited for breaking the taboo of interracial relationships, and it was considered one of her career-making moments. The release of the video on MTV increased Madonna's popularity further. Madonna performed the song on The Virgin Tour (1985) and the Sticky & Sweet Tour (2008), where 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.


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. According to her, 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]


"Borderline" was recorded in February 1983 and ushered a change from 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 voice to sing the song, backed by Lucas's instrumentations.[4] It is considered the best example of the working relationship between Lucas and Madonna, and he pushed her to find emotional depth in the song. Although sounding icy, the chorus is contemporary in style, and the vocal range for this song 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 seventies disco sound in Philadelphia as well as Elton John's musical style during the mid-seventies.[7] The chord sequences cite from 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]

Author J. Randy Taraborrelli, in his biography of Madonna, called "Borderline", along with "Holiday", the two key recordings which helped in establishing 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 which made Madonna the star 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 was placed at 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 one 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". Carrie Grant from the magazine described the track as a "melodic synth-a-palooza with the plunky low end", and 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 position ten on the Billboard Hot 100 on 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 a peak of 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 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 on the RPM issue dated August 4, 1984[21] and reached a peak of number 25 on September 15, 1984.[22] The song was on the chart for 14 weeks.[23]

In the United Kingdom, with the original release of the song on June 2, 1984, it was able to reach a peak of only 56. However, upon re-releasing the song on January 1, 1986, it reached a new peak of two on the chart and was present for a total of nine weeks.[24] The song was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) on February 1986, for shipment of 500,000 copies of the single.[25] According to the Official Charts Company, the song has sold 310,000 copies there.[26] Across Europe the song topped the chart in Ireland and entered the top ten of Belgium and Netherlands.[27][28][29] It also peaked at number 23 in Switzerland and number 12 in Australia.[30][31]

Music video[edit]

Image shows a group of youngsters on the pavement of a street. A blond woman stands closest in the picture. She has unkempt hair and is dressed in black pants, blue jeans jacket and red socks. She is looking towards a young boy doing a back-arch on the street. The other youngsters are also dressed in tracks and pink bands around their forehead, as they watch the boy perform.
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 career and became famous.

"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 the videos "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] It is regarded as one of her career-making moments[34] when the video was started to be shown on MTV.[35] She acted as the girlfriend of a Hispanic street guy who is picked up by a British photographer who publishes her picture on a magazine cover. The portrayal of the street life and high-fashion scene in the video was a reference to Madonna's life in the gritty, multiracial streets and clubs that she used to haunt while her career was beginning, as well as the world of popularity and success she was experiencing at that moment.[33] The storyline involved her being emotionally torn between the photographer and her boyfriend.[35] Madonna's boyfriend in the video is portrayed as Latino, and her struggles with this relationship depicted the struggle Hispanic women faced with their men.[34] Lambert said that there was "no formula" used when making the "Borderline" video and that they were "inventing it as we went along."[36] 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]

"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.[36]

The video narrative weaved the two relationship stories in color and black and white.[37] In the color sequence, Madonna sings, flirts and seduces the Hispanic guy (Louie Louie) who becomes her boyfriend. In the black-and-white sequence she poses for the photographer, who also courts her.[37] The video had Madonna in her usual style in those years, wearing her hair in a haystack, 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-shits, 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.[37]

With the video, Madonna broke the taboo of interracial relationships. Although at first it seems that Madonna denies the Hispanic guy in favour of the photographer, later she rejects him, implying her desire to control her own sexual pleasures or going over the established pop borderlines with lyrics like "You just keep on pushing my love, over the borderline".[37] The contrasting image of Madonna, first as a messy blonde in the Hispanic sequence and later as a fashioned glamorous blonde, suggested that one can construct one's own image and identity. Portraying herself as a Hispanic also had the clever marketing strategy of appealing to Hispanic and black youths, thus breaking down racial barriers.[37]

After its airing, "Borderline" attracted early attention from academics.[5] They noted the symbolism of power in the two contrasting scenes of the video. The British photographer's studio is decorated with classical sculptures and nude statues holding spears, a phallic symbol. In contrast, phallic symbols portrayed in the Hispanic neighborhood include a street lamp which 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 and smart, 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 which 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 in Paris Fashion week of the same year.[35]

Live performances and covers[edit]

Image of a blond female singing to a microphone and playing a purple electric guitar. She's wearing a pink ensemble and knee-high stockings. To her right there are 2 male musicians.
Madonna performing a rock version of "Borderline" on the Sticky & Sweet Tour

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 different sizes, hanging from different parts of her body.[39] Madonna performed the song in its original version. She appeared from behind a silhouette, and descended the 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 her Sticky & Sweet Tour in 2008 during the "Old School" section of the performance. Madonna wore gym shorts, sneakers and long socks in this section.[42] The outfit was designed by Jeremy Scott and was a reference to Madonna's old days in New York.[43] A punk-pop version of the song was performed by Madonna while playing a purple electric guitar on a microphone as the backdrops displayed Keith Harring'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 Madonna's other song "Dress You Up."[47] In June 2016, Madonna appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and closed the show by performing "Borderline", watched by the President of the United States, Barack Obama.[48]

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."[49] Chicago pop punk band Showoff recorded a cover for the 2002 compilation album Punk Goes Pop.[50] In 2006 singer Jody Watley covered the song for her album The Makeover.[51] Watley's downtempo version attained UK release as a single in October 2009.[52] An acoustic folk cover of the song by The Chapin Sisters was included on the 2007 Madonna tribute album Through the Wilderness.[53] In 2008, singer Duffy performed "Borderline" at Radio 1's Big Weekend in Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent, England.[54] 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".[55] Counting Crows performed the song at the Royal Albert Hall in 2003, an MP3 of the song was released on the band's official website on March 17, 2009. The performance was criticised by ABC News, calling it anticlimatic.[56] In 2010, the TV show Glee covered it in the episode "The Power of Madonna" in a mashup with the song "Open Your Heart", performed by Cory Monteith and Lea Michele.[57]

Track listings and formats[edit]

  • Note: Borderline "Dub Remix" is also known as "Instrumental"

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]

Charts and certifications[edit]

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. 
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  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
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External links[edit]