On this day: March 22: 'Material Girl' peaks at #1 on the Billboard singles chart (1985)

Material Girl
March 22, 1985
"Material Girl" peaks at #1 on the Billboard singles chart.
 
Single by Madonna
From the album Like a Virgin
B-side "Pretender"
Released: November 30, 1984
Format: 7", 12" maxi single, CD single
Recorded: April—May 1984
Genre: Dance-pop
Length: 4:01
Label: Sire Warner Bros.
Writer(s): Peter Brown, Robert Rans
Producer(s): Nile Rodgers
 
"Material Girl" is a song performed by American singer-songwriter Madonna. It was released on November 30, 1984, by Sire Records, as the second single from her second album Like a Virgin. It also appears slightly remixed on the 1990 greatest hits compilation, The Immaculate Collection, and in its original form on the 2009 greatest hits compilation, Celebration. The song was written by Peter Brown and Robert Rans, while Nile Rodgers produced the track. Madonna explained that the concept of the song was similar to her life's situation at that time. According to her, the song was provocative, hence she was attracted to it.
 
"Material Girl" consists of synth arrangements with a robotic voice repeating the hook. The lyrics identify with materialism, with Madonna asking for a rich and affluent life, rather than romance and relationships. Contemporary critics have frequently identified "Material Girl" along with "Like a Virgin" as the songs that established Madonna as an icon. "Material Girl" was a commercial success, reaching the top-five in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Japan and United Kingdom. It reached the number two position on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, becoming her third top-five single there.
The music video was a mimicry of Marilyn Monroe's performance of the song "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" from the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The mimicked scenes are interspersed with scenes of a Hollywood director trying to win the heart of an actress, played by Madonna herself. Discovering that, contrary to her song, the young woman was not impressed by money and expensive gifts, he pretended to be penniless and succeeded in taking her out on a date. She has performed the song in four of her world tours, most of them being mimicry of the song and the video.
"Material Girl" has been covered by a number of artists, including Britney Spears, The Chipettes and Hilary and Haylie Duff. It has appeared in films like Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004). Madonna has often remarked that she regrets recording "Material Girl" as the name became a pseudonym for her in mainstream media. The song has been labeled an empowering influence for women, and was the subject of debates.
 
Background
 
"Material Girl" was written by Peter Brown and Robert Rans, while Nile Rodgers produced the track. In 1986, Madonna told Company magazine, that although she did not write or create the song, the lyrical meaning and concept did apply to her situation at that point of time. She elaborated, "I'm very career-oriented. You are attracted to people who are ambitious that way, too, like in the song 'Material Girl'. You are attracted to men who have material things because that's what pays the rents and buys you furs. That's the security. That lasts longer than emotions." During a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna was asked by interviewer Austin Scaggs, regarding her first feelings, after listening to the demos of "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl". Madonna responded by saying, "I liked them both because they were ironic and provocative at the same time but also unlike me. I am not a materialistic person, and I certainly wasn't a virgin, and, by the way, how can you be like a virgin? I liked the play on words, I thought they were clever. They're so geeky, they're cool."
 
Composition
 
"Material Girl" consists of synth arrangements, with a strong backbeat supporting it. A robotic male voice repeats the hook "Living in a material world". According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Alfred Publishing, the song is set in the time signature of common time, with a tempo of 120 beats per minute. It is set in the key of C major, with Madonna's voice spanning from the tonal nodes of C4 to C5. The song has a basic chord progression of F–G–Em–Am-F-G-C in the chorus, while the verses are based on the C mixolydian mode, giving a hip, swing-like mood. The bassline in the song with the post-disco origins is reminiscent of The Jacksons' "Can You Feel It", which appeared on their 1980 album Triumph. Furthermore, the strophes remind of the refrain from Melissa Manchester's hit "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" (1982).
The lyrics explain that what Madonna wants is money, good clothes, the perfect life and men who are able to supply those materialistic things. A cross-reference to the 1960 song "Shop Around" by The Miracles is also present. The lyrics also portray relationships in terms of capitalism as commodities, and romance becomes synonymous to trading stocks and shares. The title was a polysemy like the lyrics. It deduced Madonna as the desired and most respected woman.
 
Chart performance
 
The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 during the week of February 9, 1985, at position 43, when "Like a Virgin" was descending out of the top ten. The single climbed the Hot 100 quickly, jumping 13 spots to number five the week of March 9, 1985, and eventually spent two weeks at position two, held off by REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling" and Phil Collins' "One More Night". The week when the song slipped to position three, her upcoming single "Crazy for You" reached number four, giving Madonna two simultaneous top-five hits.[3] "Material Girl" reached the top of the Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart but was less successful on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, failing to enter the top 40 and peaking at 50. It placed at 58 on the year-end chart for 1985, with Madonna becoming the top pop artist for the year. In Canada, the song debuted on the RPM Singles Chart at position 76, on the issue dated February 16, 1985. After five weeks, it reached a peak position of four on the chart and was present for 21 weeks. It was ranked 46 on the RPM Year-End chart, for 1985.
In Australia, the song reached the top five and peaked at four. In the United Kingdom, "Material Girl" debuted on the UK Singles Chart at position 24 on March 2, 1985 and reached a peak of three. It was present for a total of ten weeks on the chart. The song was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry, for shipment of 200,000 copies of the song. According to The Official Charts Company, the song has sold 405,000 copies there. Across Europe, the song reached the top-ten in Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain and the Eurochart Hot 100 Singles while reaching the top 40 of Germany, Italy and Switzerland. In New Zealand and Japan, the song reached the top-five.
 

Music video
 
The music video was inspired by Madonna's admiration of Marilyn Monroe and mimicked the latter's performance of the song "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" from the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It also featured actor Keith Carradine, who played Madonna's love interest. The video was the first to showcase Madonna's acting ability, as it combined the dance routines of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" with the storyline of a man who impresses Madonna with daisies, rather than diamonds. In a 1987 interview with New York Daily News, Madonna said:
 
"Well, my favorite scene in all of Monroe's movies is when she does that dance sequence for 'Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend'. And when it came time to do the video for the song [Material Girl], I said, I can just redo that whole scene and it will be perfect. Marilyn was made into something not human in a way, and I can relate to that. Her sexuality was something everyone was obsessed with and that I can relate to. And there were certain things about her vulnerability that I'm curious about and attracted to."
 
The music video was shot January 10 and 11, 1985, at Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood, California, and was directed by Mary Lambert, who worked with Madonna in the videos for "Like a Virgin" and "Borderline". It was produced by Simon Fields with principal photography by Peter Sinclair, editing by Glenn Morgan and choreography by Kenny Ortega. Actor Robert Wuhl appeared in the video's opening. Much of the jewelry is sourced from the collection of Connie Parente, a popular Hollywood jewelry collector. The music video was at the same time an exegesis and a critique of the lyrics and Madonna herself. It was on the set of the video that Madonna met her first husband, actor Sean Penn.
 
The video opens with two men watching a rush in the screening rooms of a Hollywood studio. On the screen, an actress played by Madonna sings and dances to "Material Girl", dressed like Monroe from "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend". One of the men, played by Carradine, is a director or a producer and is immensely rich. He falls in love with the actress and wants to express his passion for her. He tells his employee, played by Wuhl: "She's [Madonna] fantastic. She could become a star." The employee answered: "She could be. She could be great. She could be a major star." The former then concludes by saying: "She is a star, George." Madonna is in a pink sleeveless gown and has her hair in blond locks ala Monroe. The background is a reconstruction of the Monroe video, complete with staircase, chandeliers and a number of tuxedo clad chorus boys. Madonna dances and sings the song, while she is showered with cash, expensive jewellery, furs and is carried by the men over the stairs. At one time, she alludes herself from the men, by dismissing them with her fan. As the producer tries to impress Madonna, he comes to know that she does not like material things, but rather prefers simple romance. He pretends to be penniless, and brings her hand-cut flowers while paying a poor man a large amount to borrow (or possibly buy) his dirty truck to take her on a date. His plan seems to work, because the final scene shows him and Madonna kissing in the truck in an intimate position.
 
It was in the video of "Material Girl" that Madonna began to accept and utilize herself being compared to Monroe. However, she established a safe distance from those comparisons and developed inside the same pastiche. Details like the usage of different gloves or different fans in the video brought forth the connections between these women, but Madonna alluded to herself in subtle ways. The fan in Monroe's hand for the original video was an iconography of the Sudarshana Chakra (wheel) held by the Indian idol Vishnu. Scholar Georges-Claude Guilbert, who wrote Madonna as postmodern myth: how one star's self-construction rewrites sex, said that the fan symbolized fiery desire aroused by Monroe as well as ritual sacrifice, eerily foreshadowing her untimely death in 1962. Madonna's fan, which appeared at the end of the video, signified that Madonna – while paying her tribute to Monroe – was signaling that she had no intention of being a victim like her, and that she was on the path of becoming a feminist post-modern myth. Author Nicholas Cook commented that the video promoted Madonna's identity as the song suggested, with the purpose of shifting "Madonna's image from that of a disco-bimbo to authentic star." Lisa A. Lewis, author of Gender, Politics and MTV said that with the video, Madonna achieved the rare distinction of being accepted as a literature medium by the music authors. "Material Girl" was nominated for best female video at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards but lost to Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It". The video was ranked at position 54 on VH1's 100 Greatest Videos.
 
Legacy
 
After the song's release, the phrase "material girl" became another nickname for Madonna. She often remarked that "Material Girl" is the song she most regrets recording, as it became a label that has been attached to her for decades. She also said if she had known this, she probably would have never recorded it. After making the video, Madonna said she never wanted to be compared to Monroe, despite posing as the Hollywood icon and recreating many of Marilyn's signature poses for various photos shoots, most notably a 1991 issue of Vanity Fair. Reflecting on the song, Madonna told author J. Randy Taraborrelli:
 
I can't completely disdain the song and the video, because they certainly were important to my career. But talk about the media hanging on a phrase and misinterpreting the damn thing as well. I didn't write that song, you know, and the video was about how the girl rejected diamonds and money. But God forbid irony should be understood. So when I'm ninety, I'll still be the Material Girl. I guess it's not so bad. Lana Turner was the Sweater Girl until the day she died.
 
Academics analyzed the usage of the term material as odd because, according to them, materialistic is the correct word. However, that would have posed problems of versification for Madonna and songwriter Brown. Guilbert commented that "material girl" designated a certain type of liberated women, thus deviating from its original coinage which meant a girl who is tangible and accessible. Cook said that the meaning and impact of "material girl" was no more circumscribed by the video, rather by its song. Its influence was seen later among such diverse groups such as female versus male, gay versus straight, and academic versus teenage.
In 1993, a conference was held at the University of California at Santa Barbara, with the subject as Madonna: Feminist Icon or Material Girl?. The conference pondered on the duality of Madonna as both of them and deduced that the question of Madonna's feminism is not easy to decide. Some of the feminists left the conference, citing that they had not been able to make up their minds. As the New Age concept became popular in the U.S. in the late 1990s, Madonna tried to shun the "material girl" tag, and embarked on a spiritual quest of her own. Journals like The Times and The Advocate declared her as "the Ethereal Girl" and "Spiritual Girl" respectively. (Wiki)
 
Track listing
 
US / UK 7" single
 
"Material Girl" – 4:00
"Pretender" – 4:28
US / UK 12" single / Reissue CD single (1995)
"Material Girl" (Extended Dance Mix) – 6:05
"Pretender" – 4:28
 
Japan 12" single
 
"Material Girl" (Extended Dance Mix) – 6:10
"Into the Groove" – 4:45
"Angel" (Extended Dance Mix) – 6:14
 
Credits and personnel
 
Madonna – vocals, background vocals
Peter Brown – writer
Robert Rans – writer
Nile Rodgers – producer, guitar, Synclavier II, Juno-60
Bernard Edwards – bass
Tony Thompson – drums
Curtis King – background vocals
Frank Simms – background vocals
George Simms – background vocals
Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.

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