Justify My Love

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"Justify My Love"
Madonna, Justify My Love single cover.png
Single by Madonna
from the album The Immaculate Collection
B-side"Express Yourself (1990)"
ReleasedNovember 6, 1990
GenreTrip hop
  • Lenny Kravitz
  • André Betts
Madonna singles chronology
"Hanky Panky"
"Justify My Love"
"Rescue Me"
Audio sample

"Justify My Love" is a song by American singer Madonna from her first greatest hits compilation album The Immaculate Collection (1990). It was released on November 6, 1990, by Sire Records as the lead single from The Immaculate Collection. The song was written by Lenny Kravitz and Ingrid Chavez, with additional lyrics by Madonna. Chavez was not credited on the song, which led to a lawsuit against Kravitz. Chavez settled out-of-court, the terms of which included a songwriting credit. Madonna's vocals are primarily spoken and whispered, but almost never sung, a style that she later employed on her following studio album Erotica (1992).

Musically, "Justify My Love" is a trip hop song, with mid-tempo settings and instrumentation. The lyrics of the song are primarily about sex and romance. "Justify My Love" received mixed reviews from older critics, but was critically appreciated by many contemporary critics, noting it as one of Madonna's best songs to date. The song became Madonna's ninth number one single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number two in the United Kingdom, while reaching the Top 10 in several countries including Australia, Canada, Finland, New Zealand, Italy and Switzerland.

The accompanying music video portrayed Madonna as a woman walking in a hotel hallway, looking distressed and tired from work, until being seduced into having sex with a mysterious man and woman. It caused controversy worldwide, due to its explicit sexual images, and was subsequently banned from MTV and other TV networks. The video, which contained imagery of sadomasochism, voyeurism, and bisexuality, made its US television debut December 3, 1990, on ABC during its late-night news program Nightline. The song was part of the setlist of three of her concert tours, the most recent being The MDNA Tour in 2012. In 2003, Q Magazine ranked "Justify My Love" at number 842 in their list of the "1001 Best Songs Ever".[1]


"Justify My Love" was originally written and recorded by Ingrid Chavez, Prince's protégé and friend, and Lenny Kravitz: he and producer André Betts composed the music while Chavez penned the lyrics based on a poem she had written for Kravitz, and read them aloud.[2] Kravitz added the title hook and chorus to the demo while Madonna corrected one line.[3] Chavez was not credited for the song and later sued Kravitz in 1992: she received an out-of-court settlement, and gained a co-writing credit for her work. When the lawsuit was settled, Chavez's attorney Steven E. Kurtz clarified that Madonna's additional writing credit was not questioned in the lawsuit.[4] The song was released on November 6, 1990, three days before the release of The Immaculate Collection.

Producer Kravitz used the drums found on Public Enemy's instrumental, "Security of the First World",[5] without consent, which was in turn based on the end drum break of James Brown's "Funky Drummer",[6] and used it as the basis of the song. The song was unusual in that Madonna's vocals are primarily spoken and whispered, but almost never sung. This style served as a prelude to her next album Erotica, in which she spoke the lyrics on some of the songs rather than singing them. Kravitz and Madonna provided background vocals. Chavez' had previously provided the "spoken intro" to Prince's 1988 song "Eye No",[7] and Chavez' vocal style on her 1991 debut album has been described as "breathy spoken passages".[8]


Composed as a midtempo song, "Justify My Love" is a trip hop-inspired song. According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Alfred Publishing, the song is set in common time, with a tempo of 100 beats per minute.[9] It is composed in the key of B minor with Madonna's voice ranging from the tonal nodes of A4 to D5.[10] According to Jim Farber from Entertainment Weekly, he described the song's musical beat and Madonna's vocals as "vague, tuneless phrases chanted in Madonna's most breathless voice over a minimal house groove — serves mainly to justify the visuals."[11] In a review for The Immaculate Collection, David Browne said that she introduced an "adult" pop. The song features "heavy breathing with a backbeat."[12] Robert Christgau had compared the song composition to the songs on Madonna's Erotica album.[13] Bill Lamb from About.com said the song is "quite powerful and enthralling in its dreamy, beat heavy celebration of carnal coupling."[14]


Madonna and Lenny Kravitz remixed the song and named it "The Beast Within". It was included on the 12" vinyl and CD maxi-single release in North America. The remix uses only the chorus and certain lines of the original song, with the verses being replaced by passages from the Book of Revelation. Subsequent live concert performances have simply billed the song as "The Beast Within", a song in its own right, it is now no longer referred to as a remix.[15] The song first garnered media attention early in 1991 when the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the song of containing anti-semitic lyrics; specifically the lyric "those who say that they are Jews, but they are not. They are a Synagogue of Satan".[16]

Critical reception[edit]

"Justify My Love" received acclaim from many music critics. In a separate review from AllMusic, they gave the song four-and-a-half stars out of five, stating "[Justify My Love] stands as one of the best of Madonna's long history of well-packaged maxi-singles, and further helped set a precedent for the maxi-single market."[17] In a review from Entertainment Weekly by David Browne, he gave it a positive remark saying that people who have a "hoo-haa" surrounding the banning of the single "underestimate her". Rolling Stone said that the song and contemporaneous Rescue Me were "worthy sensual newies".[18] While reviewing Celebration, Bill Lamb from About.com said "Songs such as "Justify My Love" that sounded a little over-indulgent when first released have worn very well over time."[19] Alexandra Capotorto from PopCrush.com said "'Justify My Love' is perfectly constructed lovemaking music. While this track might be oozing sex, it's the NSFW music video that caused the most drama [...]"[20]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United States, "Justify My Love" peaked at number one for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. It also topped the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play charts and peaked at number 42 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The RIAA certified it platinum on February 22, 1991 for sales of over a million units. On 1991's Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart "Justify My Love" was allocated the number 21 spot.

The song received massive success in Europe as well. In the United Kingdom the single reached number two and was certified silver by the BPI on December 1, 1990. According to The Official Charts Company, the song has sold 235,000 copies in the UK.[21] The song debuted at number 16 on the Swedish Singles Chart, eventually peaking at number eight for one week. In Norway, the song entered the chart at number seven and peaked at number three for one week, staying on the chart for nine weeks. The song entered at number 79 on the Dutch Top 40, peaking at number five. The song entered the French Singles Chart at number 42, and peaked at number 17, staying on the chart for 11 weeks. The song also peaked at number nine in Austria and number three in Switzerland.

The song was also successful in the Oceanic region. It debuted at number 14 in the Australian Singles Chart, peaking at number four. It was present on the chart for 14 weeks and was certified Gold by the ARIA.[22] It debuted at number 22 on the New Zealand Singles Chart, peaking at number five for two consecutive weeks. It was present on the New Zealand chart for a total of 16 weeks.

Music video[edit]


The music video for "Justify My Love" was directed in Paris on November 9, 1990, by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who had also worked with Madonna in her video for "Open Your Heart".[23] It features Madonna's then-boyfriend, model and actor Tony Ward. Some of the dancers featured in the video were also dancers from her Blond Ambition World Tour. It is a tribute to Jeanne Moreau of La Baie des Anges.[24] In 2013, she declared it her favorite music video.[25]


The video was filmed in grainy black and white in the style of a 1960s European art film. There are also several shadowy film-noir elements such as characters seen only in silhouette. The action takes place in an elegant hotel that apparently caters to alternate lifestyle couples. Madonna (or the character she's playing) enters looking tired and distressed as she walks down the hallway toward her room. There she has a romantic fling with a mysterious man (played by Tony Ward). Some of the doors to the other rooms are ajar and we catch glimpses of various couples cavorting in BDSM fetish outfits (leather, PVC T-shirts, latex underwear, and corsets).

In a dream-like sequence, Madonna rolls around in bed wearing skimpy lace underwear and a garter belt and stockings while various figures come and go. The entire nudity (which led to the video being banned) occurs when a topless dominatrix-type woman, played by model Wallis Franken—suspenders partly covering her breasts—appears and roughly grabs a bound man (the same man who is with Madonna) by the hair. Her outfit, which includes a peaked leather hat and black gloves, copies the ensemble worn by Charlotte Rampling in the controversial film The Night Porter. (Both the film and the video share elements of sadomasochism.) The theme of androgyny is also briefly alluded to when a woman who closely resembles Madonna's lover is seen in men's clothing with a drawn-on pencil mustache. The overall presentation is surreal and deliberately ambiguous. The retinue of strange characters may be real or simply fantasies from Madonna's imagination. In the end, a rejuvenated Madonna rushes out of the hotel room smiling and laughing.

Controversy and ban[edit]

The video was deemed too sexually explicit for MTV and was banned from the network.[26] Madonna responded to the banning: "Why is it that people are willing to go and watch a movie about someone getting blown to bits for no reason at all, and nobody wants to see two girls kissing and two men snuggling?"[27] On December 3, 1990, ABC's Nightline played the video in its entirety, then interviewed Madonna live about the video's sexual content and censorship. When asked whether she stood to make more money selling the video than airing it on MTV, she answered, "Yeah, so lucky me." She also expressed during the interview that she did not understand why MTV banned the video yet allowed videos that contained violence and degradation to women to continue receiving regular airplay.[28] The video was then released in VHS, and became a bestselling "video single".[29]

The video for "Justify My Love" was banned also from regular rotation on MuchMusic in Canada, although the controversy (as well as the subsequent banning of a video by Mitsou) led MuchMusic to launch a new series, Too Much 4 Much, which played controversial music videos accompanied by panel discussions on their artistic and cultural context.[30] In 2002, the video was aired in its entirety on MTV2 as part of a special countdown showing the most controversial videos ever to air on MTV. This countdown was shown only late at night because of the graphic imagery of "Justify My Love" and several other videos on the countdown.[31]

Although many complaints were received, the video was played without restriction on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's popular music video show Rage; as, being a public broadcaster, the ABC is not bound to follow classification guidelines.[32]


"Justify My Love" was the first VHS video single to be released by Madonna. This was the first time an artist had released a single in this format in the U.S. (Queen released "Who Wants To Live Forever" as a Video Single in U.K. four years earlier). Released on VHS only, the packaging in North America was a plain black slip cover with a sticker around it, so that it resembled a "seedy video". In Europe, it was given the full cover artwork treatment, and they also included a bonus video of Madonna's performance of "Vogue" at the 1990 MTV Music Video Awards. In the UK, the video was given an "18" certificate by the BBFC, meaning no one under that age could legally buy or see the release.[33] At the time of its release, the video peaked at #2 on the Billboard’s Top Music Videos Chart for two weeks and spent 39 weeks in the chart overall.[34] The music video was released on DVD for the first time on the greatest hits package Celebration: The Video Collection in 2009. This version of the video was censored with black bars in a scene that contains female nudity. In Australia, the video was rated "M" and in New Zealand, the video was rated "R16" for sex scenes.

Usage in media[edit]

On May 11, 1991, Madonna made a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live on the recurring sketch Wayne's World; it spoofed the song's music video as well as her documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare. It consisted on Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) encountering a seductive Madonna lying on a bed in a hotel room during a fantasy dream sequence, filmed in black and white. After some back-and-forth banter, Wayne and Madonna play Truth or Dare. Wayne begins by saying "truth". Madonna then asks "Have you ever made love with two women at the same time?" Wayne answers "Uh... yes!" to which Madonna says "Okay, I believe you... Not!" Wayne then dares Madonna to make out with him. As they kiss, the music for "Justify My Love" begins playing. Garth is then seen dancing in a parody of the video before being abducted by two women in fetish-wear outfits.[35]

Live performances[edit]

Dancers performing during the "Justify My Love" video interlude on The MDNA Tour.

Madonna performed the song twice during The Girlie Show World Tour in 1993, the original version and also the "Beast Within remix". The latter was used as a dancers interlude during the show. The "remix" was again used as the video introduction to the 2004 Re-Invention World Tour, including imagery of Madonna from the exhibition X-STaTIC Pro=CeSS, prior to her appearing on stage. It was subsequently included on the 2006 live album, I'm Going to Tell You a Secret. This new version omits the controversial lyrics which caused the 1991 accusations.[15]

The song was remixed again by William Orbit and used on The MDNA Tour as a video interlude. The black-and-white backdrop video, directed by Tom Munro, features Madonna being chased by people in carnival masks and locks herself in a room to indulge into her fantasies, while the masked followers search for her. The video is said to be a metaphor for everybody trying to take advantage of her, judge her or exploit her private life, and the interlude is her expression of escaping the judgement.[36]

Samples of the song were also used during the SEX video/performance interlude on the Rebel Heart Tour.


"Justify My Love" has remained one of Madonna's most controversial singles to date. As a result of all the controversy, the single was released as a video-single and went on to become the highest selling video single of all time,[37] eventually becoming certified four-times platinum by the RIAA.[38] In 2003, Madonna fans were asked to vote for their Top 20 Madonna singles of all time by Q magazine. "Justify My Love" was allocated the number 12 spot.

Bill Lamb from About.com had listed the song at number 21 on his "The Biggest Madonna Songs".[39] He also made a list entitled "Top 10 Madonna Music Videos", where it ended up at number four.[40] PopCrush.com had listed the song at number one on their "Top 10 Sex Songs".[20] Billboard had listed the song at number five on their Madonna's 40 Biggest Billboard Hits.[41]

Cover versions and samples[edit]

  • The 1999 compilation Virgin Voices: A Tribute To Madonna, Vol. 1 features a cover by Front Line Assembly with vocals by Kristy Thirsk.[42]
  • The song was covered by rapper Vita and popR&B singer Ashanti for The Fast and the Furious soundtrack in 2001. Vita was originally going to make the version her own featuring her rapping on the remake, but Madonna only permitted the version where Vita does exactly the same style as Madonna.
  • A cover by Who's That Girl was released through Almighty Records during the early 2000s.
  • Jam & Spoon feat. Plavka sampled a part of the Orbital remix for a remix of "Kaleidoscope Skies" (1997).
  • Rapper Mase sampled the song on his 1999 album, Double Up, on his song "Stay Out of My Way".
  • Rapper Jay-Z's song, "Justify My Thug", from his 2003 album, The Black Album produced by DJ Quik, is a remake of "Justify My Love."
  • Enigma sampled "Justify My Love (Orbit 12" Mix)" for their "Orthodox Remix" of the 1990 single, "Mea Culpa (Part II)".
  • "Justify My Love" was sampled by Insane Clown Posse, for their 2004 single "Bowling Balls".[43]
  • Brazilian singer Gretchen recorded a cover in 2012 with a music video using footages of her own acting career.[44]
  • In 1994, Maxx sampled the beat in their song "Suddenly" released on their debut studio album To the Maxximum.[45]

Track listings[edit]

US / UK Cassette single, 7" single / Japanese CD 3" single (5439-19485-4)
  1. "Justify My Love" (Album Version) – 4:58
  2. "Express Yourself" (1990) (Shep's 'Spressin' Himself Re-Remix) – 4:02[A]
US CD Maxi-single
  1. "Justify My Love" (Q-Sound Mix) – 4:54
  2. "Justify My Love" (Orbit 12" Mix) – 7:16
  3. "Justify My Love" (Hip Hop Mix) – 6:30
  4. "Express Yourself" (1990) (Shep's 'Spressin' Himself Re-Remix) – 9:30
  5. "Justify My Love" (The Beast Within Mix) – 6:10
Canadian / Australian 12" vinyl (7599-21820-0)
  1. "Justify My Love" (Orbit 12" Mix) – 7:16
  2. "Justify My Love" (Hip Hop Mix) – 6:30
  3. "Justify My Love" (The Beast Within Mix) – 6:10
  4. "Express Yourself" (1990) (Shep's 'Spressin' Himself Re-Remix) – 9:30
European 12" vinyl, CD Maxi-single (7599-21851-0)
  1. "Justify My Love" (Hip Hop Mix) – 6:30
  2. "Justify My Love" (Q-Sound Mix) – 4:54
  3. "Justify My Love" (The Beast Within Mix) – 6:10
UK / European CD single / UK Limited Edition 12" Picture Disc (W9000TP, 7599-21838-0)
  1. "Justify My Love" (William Orbit Remix) – 7:07
  2. "Justify My Love" (Album Version) – 4:58
  3. "Express Yourself" (1990) (Shep's 'Spressin' Himself Re-Remix) – 4:02[A]
Additional Notes
  • A ^ This is the album remix version included on The Immaculate Collection and not the 9:30 version, although both remixes have the same title.



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[72] Gold 35,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[73] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[75] Silver 275,500[74]
United States (RIAA)[76] Platinum 1,000,000^
Longform Video
Japan (Oricon Charts) 14,125[77]
United States (RIAA)[76] 4× Platinum 400,000^

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



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  • Thakur, Pradeep (2012), MADONNA: Unstoppable! (Revised & Enlarged Edition), Pradeep Thakur, ASIN B009AOII42

External links[edit]