Erotica (song)

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For other songs "Erotica", see Erotica (disambiguation).
Single by Madonna
from the album Erotica
B-side "Erotica" (Instrumental)
Released October 13, 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 and songwriter Madonna. It is the titular track from her fifth studio album Erotica (1992), and was released as the lead single on October 13, 1992 by Maverick Records. It was later included on her greatest hits albums GHV2 (2001) and Celebration (2009). The song was written by Madonna, Shep Pettibone and Anthony Shimkin, while production was handled by the former two. Musically, "Erotica" contains spoken word vocals, and is an ode to S&M, with Madonna using a pseudonym called "Dita". She invites her lover to be passive while making love to her and leads him to explore boundaries between pain and pleasure.

Initially, "Erotica" received mixed reviews from music critics; it was seen as a high point of innovation in Madonna's career, while others found it scary. The song debuted at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming one of the highest debuts on the chart history at the time, eventually peaking at number three. Additionally, it became a success on the Hot Dance Club Play chart, reaching the top position. "Erotica" also found commercial success internationally, peaking in the top ten in several countries including Italy, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

The accompanying music video for the song was directed by fashion photographer Fabien Baron, and featured a masked Madonna in a dominatrix costume. It also featured celebrities such as Naomi Campbell and Big Daddy Kane. The video was highly controversial, being aired by MTV a total of three times, all of these after the 10pm watershed. Madonna performed "Erotica" as the opening song on The Girlie Show World Tour (1993). 13 years later, she performed the song as part of the Confessions Tour in 2006, including lyrics from the original demo of the song in the performance. In 2012, Madonna performed excerpts from the song during a medley of "Candy Shop" on the MDNA Tour.


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]

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" (1990), 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 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] While they were mixing a song called "Erotic", which was included on her Sex book, Madonna felt that it should sound similarly as "Erotica", which would be included on the album of the same name. Pettibone reported:

"You have all these great stories in the book," I told her, "Why don't you use them in the song?" I knew that Madonna was developing a 1930s dominatrix look for Erotica, but I didn't realize how far she was willing to go before I saw Sex. It contained stories authored by her mysteriously dark alter, Dita. Madonna took the book and walked out of the room and didn't come back until about half an hour later. Suddenly she was on the mic, speaking in this very dry voice. "My name is Dita," she said, "and I'll be your mistress tonight." I knew that the original Erotica would never be the same again, and it wasn't. The chorus and bridge were changed entirely and the whole psyche of the song became sexier, more to the point. It seemed as if Dita brought out the best in her, actually serving as a vehicle for the dangerous territory she was traveling. Actually, it was the same name Madonna used when she'd stay in hotels around the world. Not anymore.[5]


"Erotica" was described as "an ode to S&M", while Madonna plays her pseudonym "Dita" in the song, with "aggressive lyrics".

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"Erotica" was written by Madonna, Shep Pettibone, Anthony Shimkin, while produced by Madonna and Pettibone.[6] "Erotica" continued Madonna's exploration of potent spoken-word vocals, as introduced in "Justify My Love" (1990).[7] The song contains a sample of "Jungle Boogie" performed by Kool and the Gang.[6] Another sample "El Yom 'Ulliqa 'Ala Khashaba" by Lebanese singer Fairuz was used without permission, which led to a lawsuit; this was settled out of court.[8][9] It was composed using common time in the key of F-sharp minor, with a moderate tempo of 120 beats per minute.[10] Madonna's vocals span from F3 to A4.[10] The song also features maracas and "shimmering horn riffs".[11] Yahoo! Music describes the song as being "very bass-driven and has the same seedy, sexual sound heard on "Justify My Love"".[12]

According to Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine, the song is "an ode to S&M".[7] The dance track[13] begins with a "scratchiness" sound that mimics the sound of a record on a record player.[14] 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 to reference to Dita Parlo, a German actress who was known for not caring what people thought.[15] The song has suggestive lyrics, such as "Will you let yourself go wild/Let my mouth go where it wants to."[16] Slant Magazine described the lyrics as being "taunting, aggressive—an elaborate exploration of sex, from seduction to disease."[14]

A similar song titled "Erotic" was created during the Erotica album sessions exclusively to accompany the 1992 book Sex.[15] The song is a stripped-down version of "Erotica" and includes lyrics about rope, cages, and candles that not heard in "Erotica".[15] According to author Georges-Claude Guilbert in his book Madonna as Postmodern Myth, "Erotic" is a more hardcore version of "Erotica".[15]

Critical reception[edit]

"Erotica" received mixed reviews from music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic highlighted the song as an album standout.[17] Arion Berger from Rolling Stone commented, ""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".[18] 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."[19]

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.".[14] The 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."[14] The song was also shortlisted for Slant Magazine‍ '​s "100 Greatest Dance Songs".[20] Louis Virtel of The Backlot included the song at number eight 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."[21] 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."[22] 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 [...]."[23]

Chart performance[edit]

On October 17, 1992 "Erotica" debuted at 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.[24] 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,[25] and it also reached number one on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play and number four on the Hot 100 Singles Sales charts. The song was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (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.[26] According to the Official Charts Company it has sold 270,000 in the United Kingdom as of 2008.[27] It also topped the European Hot 100 Singles for three consecutive weeks, becoming her eighth number one hit in Europe.

Music video[edit]

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

The music video for "Erotica" was directed by fashion photographer Fabien Baron.[28] The footage of Madonna lip-synching the song in her S&M dominatrix costume was filmed on August 22, 1992 at The Kitchen in New York City, while the rest of the footage for the video was shot during the New York photo sessions for her book Sex. Celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rossellini, and Big Daddy Kane appeared in the music video for "Erotica" and also in the Sex book.[29][30] In order to imitate the look of old home-made movies, the entire video was shot with Super 8 film.[31] It premiered on MTV on October 2, 1992.[32] The "virtual advertisement" for Sex[32] was described by The Washington Post:

"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 [...] assuming different dominatrix roles and investigating assorted bondage scenarios before finishing up with some nude hitchhiking on a street remarkable free of pile-ups. 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".[33]

The music video for "Erotica" was aired by MTV a total of three times, all of these after the 10pm watershed, due to its highly charged sexual content, before being banned and eventually becoming Madonna's second video to be banned from airing by that channel, after "Justify My Love" in 1990.[32][34] MTV spokeswoman Linda Alexander said, "The themes of the video are clearly aimed at a more adult audience. It is not appropriate for a general viewing audience".[32] During 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."[35] 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".[35] BBC also edited three minutes of the video, from its seven.[36] Entertainment Tonight also reported that Madonna herself had initiated the mayhem with the explicit content in the music video for "Erotica", walking bare breasted at designer Jean Paul Gaultier's fashion show and posing nude in Vanity Fair magazine.[37]

The video was nominated for the 1993 Billie Awards four times, the most for a single entry.[38] The video was ranked at number 16 on VH1's "50 Sexiest Video Moments".[39] In 2010, Isabella Rossellini criticized the Sex book, which was also shown in the music video for "Erotica" while talking to Out magazine, "I don't think the [Sex] book worked, even though the photos were extraordinary, and some of them quite memorable. I think [it] was a little bit [...] moralistic, sort of 'I'll teach you how to be free!'–and that bothered the hell out of me."[40]

Live performances[edit]

Madonna performing "Erotica" on the 2006 Confessions Tour

Madonna performed "Erotica" as the opening song on The Girlie Show World Tour (1993). The show opened with a topless dancer slithering down a metal pole that was dangling high above the stage.[41] Then Madonna emerged onto the stage, dressed as a black-masked dominatrix to perform "Erotica".[41] 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."[41] 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."[42]

In 2006, Madonna performed the song on the 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."[43] Don Chareunsy from The San Diego Union-Tribune commented that the performance included "odd dance-school-class choreography."[44] 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."[45] 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."[46]

Cover versions and parodies[edit]

In 1992, the Fox sketch comedy series In Living Color spoofed the video for "Erotica". The title of the video spoof was "Neurotica."[47] In sketch comedy show The Edge from the same network, cast member Julie Brown spoofed the Sex book as well as the "Erotica" music video.[47] 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.[47] The Village Voice columnist Michael Musto also recreated the nude hitchhiking scene from the Sex book and "Erotica" music video on the streets of Jersey City. The newspaper sold the posters of the photo for $5-profits went to the Community Research Initiative on AIDS in New York.[47] Additionally, the 2000 compilation Virgin Voices: A Tribute To Madonna, Vol. 2 features a cover by Razed in Black vs. Transmutator.[48]

Track listings[edit]

Major formats released for "Erotica":


Chart 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]