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Burning Up (Madonna song)

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"Burning Up"
A montage of Madonna's face. The images are arranged in square boxes in four rows, each row consisting of five boxes. The color of the images in the boxes are different and are made to appear as if they are painted.
Single by Madonna
from the album Madonna
B-side"Physical Attraction"
ReleasedMarch 9, 1983 (1983-03-09)
StudioSigma Sound Studios
(New York City, New York)
Madonna singles chronology
"Burning Up"

"Burning Up" is a song by American singer Madonna from her 1983 eponymous debut album. 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 a B side of "Physical Attraction," 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 the classic submissive female positions, while writhing in passion on an empty road, for her lover who appeared to come from her behind on a car. The video ended showing Madonna driving the car instead, thereby concluding that she was always 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.


In 1982, Madonna was living in New York and trying to launch her musical career. Her Detroit boyfriend, Steve Bray, became the drummer for her band. Abandoning hard rock, they were signed by a music management company, Gotham records, and decided to pursue music in the funk genre. They soon dropped those plans.[3] Madonna carried rough tapes of three songs with her: "Everybody", "Ain't No Big Deal" and "Burning Up". Madonna presented "Everybody" to the DJ Mark Kamins who, after hearing the song, took her to Sire Records, where she was signed for a single deal.[4] When "Everybody" became a dance hit, Sire Records decided to follow up with an album for her. However, Madonna chose not to work with either Bray or Kamins, opting instead for Warner Brothers producer Reggie Lucas. Michael Rosenblatt, the A&R director of Sire Records, explained to Kamins that they wanted a producer who had more experience in directing singers; hence they appointed Lucas.[5] He pushed Madonna in a more pop direction and produced "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction" for her.[4]

While producing the tracks, Lucas radically changed their structure from the original demo versions. Madonna did not accept the changes, so John "Jellybean" Benitez, a DJ at the Funhouse Disco, was called in to remix the tracks.[4] He added some extra guitar riffs and vocals to "Burning Up".[4] Sire Records backed up the single by sending Madonna on a series of personal appearances in clubs around New York, where she performed the single. They also hired a stylist and jewelry designer called Maripol, who helped Madonna with the single cover.[6] The cover for the 12-inch dance single for "Burning Up" was designed by Martin Burgoyne.[5]


Musically, "Burning Up" has a starker arrangement brought about by bass, single guitar and drum machine.[7] The guitar riffs in the songs were not characteristics of Madonna's later records. The tom-tom drum beats used in the song were reminiscent of the records of singer Phil Collins.[7] It also incorporated electric guitars and the most state-of-the-art synthesizers of that time.[8] The chorus is a repetition of the same three lines of the lyrics, while the bridge consists of a series of double entendres in regards to the lyrics of the song which describes what she is prepared to do for her lover and that she is individualistic and shameless.[7]

According to the sheet music published at by Alfred Publishing, "Burning Up" is written in the time signature of common time with a dance beat tempo of 138 beats per minute. The song is composed in the key of B minor, with Madonna's vocals ranging from the tonal nodes of A3 to B4. "Burning Up" follows a basic sequence of Bm–Bm–A–E as its chord progression.[9]

Release and reception[edit]

Madonna wearing olive green clothes sings to a microphone while holding a black electric guitar in her hands.
Madonna performing "Burning Up" during the Re-Invention World Tour (2004)

"Burning Up" was released on March 9, 1983.[10] Like its predecessor "Everybody", the song failed to enter the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and "Burning Up" also did not chart in the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart.[11] It did manage to peak at number three on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play, staying on the chart for 16 weeks.[12] The song was a top 20 hit in Australia in June 1984, peaking at number 13, after having originally charted in the lower reaches of the top 100 in November 1983.[13] The song was also used as background music for a scene in the 1984 film The Wild Life.[7]

Author Rikky Rooksby, in his book The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna, commented that the song was noticeably weaker compared to other singles like "Lucky Star" and "Borderline".[7] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine denoted the track as edgy and punk-infused.[8] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic commented that "Burning Up" and B side "Physical Attraction" had a darker, carnal urgency in their composition.[14] Don Shewey from Rolling Stone called the song "simple stuff" while complimenting the B side, saying: "'Physical Attraction' is practically a capsule history of high-school proms, with its sly references to The Association's "Cherish" and Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."[15] Robert Christgau called the 12-inch pair of "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction" electroporn.[16] Santiago Fouz-Hernández in his book Madonna's drowned worlds complimented the song for having upbeat dance music.[17] Jim Farber from Entertainment Weekly commented that "Burning Up" proved that Madonna could rock also.[18]

Music video[edit]

Refer to caption.
Madonna in a white dress lying on the road while writhing in passion for her lover, in the music video for "Burning Up"

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.[19] The narrative of the video shows Madonna in a white dress, as she sings the song proclaiming her helpless passion for her lover.[20] She wore her famous rubber bracelets which were actually typewriter belts.[7] 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.[19] 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.[21]

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.[20] 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.[20]

Author Andrew Morton, in his biography on Madonna, commented that the video was America's first introduction to Madonna's sexual politics.[19] 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.[20] 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.[22] 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.[23]

Live performances and covers[edit]

Refer to caption
Madonna performing "Burning Up" during the Rebel Heart Tour (2015–2016)

Before its release, Madonna promoted the single by performing at different clubs around New York.[6] Madonna was a professional performer by that time and was assisted by dancers Erika Belle and Bags Rilez to promote it.[19] After promoting in New York in numerous nightclubs and pubs, she traveled to London to promote it in clubs like Heaven, Camden Palace, Beatroot Club as well as The Haçienda in Manchester. However, those performances were not well received by the British audience.[24] The song was performed on The Virgin Tour in 1985 but was omitted from the Madonna Live: The Virgin Tour VHS released by Warner Home Video.[25] Jon Pareles from The New York Times felt that Madonna posed like Marilyn Monroe during the performance of the song.[26] Mikel Longoria from The Dallas Morning News called the performance as "crisp and energetic".[27]

Madonna included the song on the set-list of her 2004 Re-Invention World Tour in the military segment. She was dressed in military garments and played the electric guitar for the performance. As she sang the song, the backdrops displayed scenes of war and sex which were scrambled to appear as if they have been shot with a camcorder. Kelefa Sanneh from The New York Times described the performance and the video backdrops as being reminiscent of the prisons in Abu Ghraib.[28] Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine commented that "it was a hoot to see her [Madonna] strap on an electric guitar and sing classics like 'Burning Up'."[29] Madonna also included a remixed version of the song on the Rebel Heart Tour (2015–2016). Similar to the Re-Invention World Tour, the singer played the electric guitar during the performance, dressed in a black short nun's outfit.[30] The performance of the song at the March 19–20, 2016 shows in Sydney's Allphones Arena was recorded and released in Madonna's fifth live album, Rebel Heart Tour.[31]

During Madonna's induction at the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, "Burning Up" was performed by Iggy Pop and the punk rock band The Stooges, along with "Ray of Light".[32] In 2010, Jonathan Groff covered the song for American television show Glee. His version was included in the extended play titled Glee: The Music, The Power of Madonna, and it was also released as a bonus track to the iTunes Store.[33] Singer Britney Spears covered "Burning Up" in 2011 during select shows, for her Femme Fatale Tour.[34] The performance featured her straddling a giant, glittering guitar, ten feet high and twice as long. However, Barry Walters from Rolling Stone felt that the cover she sang on the tour, "lacked Madge's [Madonna's] authority."[35] Studio recording of the cover, described by Sarah Maloy of Billboard as "glammed-up without a hint of the '80s to be found", leaked on June 10, 2011.[36] Singer Isadar included a cover of "Burning Up" as a bonus track on his 2006 compilation album, Scratching The Surface: Vol 2 Electro-Voice Sampler.[37]

Track listing and formats[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from the album and the single liner notes.[41][42]


Chart (1983–84) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[13] 13
US Dance Club Songs (Billboard)[43] 3



  1. ^ Fouz-Hernández & Jarman-Ivens 2004, p. 190
  2. ^ Brackett & Hoard 2004, p. 508
  3. ^ Rooksby 2004, p. 9
  4. ^ a b c d Rooksby 2004, p. 10
  5. ^ a b Morton 2002, p. 255
  6. ^ a b Clerk 2002, p. 36
  7. ^ a b c d e f Rooksby 2004, p. 12
  8. ^ a b Cinquemani, Sal (September 9, 2001). "Madonna (Remastered)". Slant Magazine. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
  9. ^ Ciccone, Madonna (1983). "Digital Sheet Music – Madonna – Burning Up". Alfred Publishing. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ "Madonna Burning Up". Icon: Official Madonna Website. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
  11. ^ Grant & Neupert 2003, p. 4
  12. ^ Grant & Neupert 2003, p. 9
  13. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 188. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. N.B. The Kent Report chart was licensed by ARIA from mid 1983 until June 19, 1988.
  14. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (July 3, 1998). "Madonna — Overview". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  15. ^ Shewey, Don (September 29, 1983). "Madonna: Madonna Music Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  16. ^ Christgau, Robert (February 4, 1983). "Consumer Guide Reviews: Madonna". Robert Christgau. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  17. ^ Fouz-Hernández & Jarman-Ivens 2004, p. 59
  18. ^ Farber, Jim (July 27, 2001). "Music News: The Girl Material". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved March 11, 2009.
  19. ^ a b c d Morton 2002, p. 256
  20. ^ a b c d Allen 1987, p. 281
  21. ^ Tannenbaum & Marks 2011, p. 15
  22. ^ Guilbert 2002, p. 79
  23. ^ Twitchell 1998, p. 109
  24. ^ Morton 2002, p. 258
  25. ^ Madonna (1985). Madonna Live: The Virgin Tour (VHS). Warner Home Video. UPC 38105-3.
  26. ^ Pareles, Jon (January 13, 1985). "Recent Releases: Madonna". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  27. ^ Longoria, Mikel (May 6, 1985). "Madonna's material whirl stirs Convention Center". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  28. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (May 26, 2004). "Madonna's Latest Self, a Mix of Her Old Ones". The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  29. ^ Cinquemani, Sal (October 17, 2004). "Madonna: Live @ Madison Square Garden". Slant Magazine. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  30. ^ Quarles, Alicia (September 10, 2015). "Madonna kicks off 'Rebel Heart' tour in Montreal". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  31. ^ Madonna (2017). Rebel Heart Tour (2× CD, DVD, Blu-ray). Eagle Records.
  32. ^ Cohen, Jonathan (March 11, 2008). "Madonna, Mellencamp Lead Rock Hall's '08 Class". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. Retrieved July 2, 2009.
  33. ^ "Glee – The Music, the Power of Madonna". iTunes. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
  34. ^ Peck, Jamie (June 10, 2011). "Listen To Britney Spears Cover Madonna's 'Burning Up'". MTV (MTV Networks). Archived from the original on September 26, 2012. Retrieved June 10, 2011.
  35. ^ Walters, Barry (June 17, 2011). "Britney Spears Proves She's Still Got It at 'Femme Fatale' Tour Kickoff". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
  36. ^ Maloy, Sarah (June 10, 2011). "Billboard Bits: Jennifer Hudson Food Poisoned, Britney's Madonna Cover Leaks". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved October 7, 2011.
  37. ^ "Scratching The Surface: Vol 2 Electro-Voice Sampler > Review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  38. ^ a b c Burning Up (US 12-inch Single liner notes). Madonna. Sire Records. 1983. 9 29715-0.CS1 maint: others (link)
  39. ^ a b Burning Up (French 12-inch Single liner notes). Madonna. Sire Records. 1983. 92-9609-7.CS1 maint: others (link)
  40. ^ Burning Up (Australian 12-inch Single liner notes). Madonna. Sire Records. 1983. 0-29715.CS1 maint: others (link)
  41. ^ Madonna (LP, Vinyl, CD). Madonna. Sire Records. 1983. 9 23867-1.CS1 maint: others (link)
  42. ^ Burning Up (Vinyl, 12", 45 RPM, Maxi-Single). Madonna. Sire Records. 1983. 9 29715-0 A.CS1 maint: others (link)
  43. ^ "Madonna Chart History (Dance Club Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved May 27, 2014.


External links[edit]