"Borderline" is a song by American recording artist Madonna from her self-titled debut album. It was released on February 15, 1984 as the fifth single from the album, by Sire Records. Written and composed by producer Reggie Lucas, the song received remix treatment from Madonna's then boyfriend John "Jellybean" Benitez. She used a refined and expressive voice for the song. Its lyrics dealt with the subject of a love that is never fulfilled and was written as a rebellion against male chauvinism.

Contemporary critics and authors applauded the song, calling it harmonically the most complex song from the Madonna album and complimenting the dance-pop nature of the song. "Borderline" became Madonna's first top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number ten. In the United Kingdom it reached 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. The song was placed at 84 on Blender magazine's "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born", while Time included it on the critic list "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 interest amongst academics, who noted the use of power as symbolism in it. With the video, Madonna was credited for breaking the taboo of interracial relationships and was considered one of her career-making moments. The release of the video on MTV increased Madonna's popularity further. Madonna has performed the song on her Virgin Tour (1985) and the Sticky & Sweet Tour (2008), where a punk-rock version of the song was performed. "Borderline" has been covered by a number of artists, including DuffyJody WatleyCounting Crows and The Flaming Lips.


 [hide*1 Background


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 composition to the project and called it "Borderline".[2] However, after recording the song, Madonna was unhappy with the way the final version turned out. According to her, Lucas used too many instruments and did not consider her ideas for the song.[2] 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 some of the other recorded tracks.[2]


Madonna "Borderline" (1984)MENU   0:00 A 30 second sample of "Borderline" with Madonna singing the chorus, her vocal ranging from F3 to B4, backed by instrumentation of Reggie Lucas.----
Problems playing this file? See media help.

"Borderline" ushered a change from the normal vocal tone expressed by Madonna in her songs. A sentimental track, the song talks about a love that is never quite fulfilled.[3]According to author Santiago Fouz-Hernández in his book Madonna's drowned worlds, the lyrics of the song 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.[4] Madonna used a refined and expressive voice to sing the song, backed by Lucas's instrumentations.[3] Considered as the best example of the working relationship between Lucas and Madonna, 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.[5] It opens with a keyboard rich intro played on a Fender-Rhodes Electric Piano and a catchy synth melody provided by Fred Zarr.[6] Bass player Anthony Jackson doubled Dean Gant's synth bass to provide a solid and more complex texture.[6]

The chords in the song were inspired by Seventies disco sound in Philadelphia as well as Elton John's musical style during the mid-seventies.[6] The chord sequences cite from Bachman-Turner Overdrive's song "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" while the synth phases display her typical musical style.[7] The song is set in common time with a moderate tempo of 120 beats per minute.[8] Madonna's vocal range spans from F3 to B4.[8] The song follows in the chord progression of D–C–G in the first verse to Bm–Em–A–F in the pre-chorus, changes to A–F–Bm–A–E and G–D–A in the chorus.[8]


Critical response[edit]Edit

Author J. Randy Taraborrelli, in his biography of Madonna, called "Borderline" along with "Holiday" the two key records which helped in establishing Madonna's base in the music industry.[3] 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."[3] Author Maury Dean in his book Rock 'n' Roll Gold Rush called the song "echoey boogie" with "saucy-style and come-hither magnetism."[9] 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.[6] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic called the song effervescent.[10] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine called the song soulful.[11] Bill Lamb of called the song, along with "Lucky Star" and "Holiday" state of the art dance-pop.[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] 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 "introduced Madonna, the helium-induced pop star, and a siren kitten."[15] The song was placed at 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] 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.[18]

Commercial response[edit]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.[9] The song reached a peak of two on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.[9] It also became a crossover success by charting on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart at 23.[9] On October 22, 1998, the song was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipment of 500,000 copies.[19] In Canada the song debuted at number 56 on the RPM issue dated August 4, 1984[20] and reached a peak of 25 on September 15, 1984.[21] The song was on the chart for 14 weeks.[22]

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.[23] 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.[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 23 in Switzerland and 12 in Australia.[30][31] In New Zealand, the song debuted at number 47, until falling then re-entering for a sole week at number 49. In New Zealand, "Borderline" is Madonna's most unsuccessful single to date.[32]

Music video[edit]Edit

[1][2]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 would later also direct the videos "Like a Virgin", "Material Girl", "La Isla Bonita" and "Like a Prayer".[33] The video portrayed Madonna's then burgeoning star quality.[34] It is regarded as one of her career-making moments[35] when the video was started to be shown on MTV.[36] 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.[34] 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.[34] The storyline involved her being emotionally torn between the photographer and her boyfriend.[36] 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.[35] Director Mary Lambert said that there was "no formula" used when making the 'Borderline' video and that they were "inventing it as we went along."[37] In the January 1997 issue ofRolling 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."[4]

"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.[37]

The video narrative weaved the two relationship stories in color and black and white.[38] In the color sequence, Madonna sings, flirts and seduces the Hispanic guy who becomes her boyfriend. In the black-and-white sequence she poses for the photographer, who also courts her.[38] The video had Madonna in her usual sense of style in those years and wore her hair in a haystack, lace gloves, high heeled boots with thick socks and her trademark boy-toybelt.[35] She changes 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.[36] Posing for the photographer, Madonna looks towards the camera with challenge in her eyes thus depicting sexual aggression.[34] At one moment in the video, she starts spraying graffiti over some lifeless classical statues thus portraying herself as a transgressor who breaks rules and attempts at innovation.[38] 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 thus 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".[38] 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 herself to Hispanic and black youths thus breaking down racial barriers.[38]

After its airing "Borderline" attracted early attention from academics.[4] They noted the symbolism of power in the two contrasting scenes of the video. The British photographer and his studio is decorated with the classical sculptures and nude statues holding spears in a phallic symbol. In contrast, phallic symbols portrayed in the Hispanic neighbourhood included a street lamp which Madonna embraces and a pool cue held erect by Madonna's boyfriend.[4] 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.[34] 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. Her clothes worn in the video were later used by designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix in Paris Fashion week of the same year.[36] 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.[39]

Live performances[edit]Edit

[3][4]Madonna performing a rock version of "Borderline" on the Sticky & Sweet Tour

The song has been performed by Madonna on The Virgin Tour (1985) and the Sticky & Sweet Tour (2008). In the Virgin Tour, Madonna performed the song wearing a black, fringed micro-top and similar skirt, with her belly-button exposed, and a number of crucifixes in different sizes, hanging from different parts of her body.[40] Madonna performed the song in its original version. She appeared from behind a silhouette, and descended the steps, while waving her hands and singing.[41] The performance was not included in the Live – The Virgin Tour VHS in 1985.[42]

"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 a pair of gym shorts in this section while wearing sneakers and long socks on her feet.[43] The outfit was designed by Jeremy Scott and was a reference to Madonna's old days in New York.[44] 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.[45] Jon Pareles of The New York Times called the performance enthusiastic and punk-pop.[46] Nekesa Mumbi Moody of USA today called it a "rocked out performance".[45] Caryn Ganz of Rolling Stone called it a "cheap trick-style power-pop song [performance]."[47] 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."[48]

Cover versions[edit]Edit

See also: List of Madonna tribute albums

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 from 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" as a mash-up with the song "Open Your Heart", performed by Cory Monteith and Lea Michele.[57]

Track listings and formats[edit]Edit

  • US 7" single[58]
  1. "Borderline" (Edit) – 4:02
  2. "Think of Me" – 4:55
  • UK 7" & Limited Edition picture disc[59]
  1. "Borderline" (Edit) – 4:02
  2. "Physical Attraction" (Edit) – 3:56
  • UK 12" single[60]
  1. "Borderline" (U.S Remix) – 6:57
  2. "Borderline" (Dub) – 5:48
  3. "Physical Attraction" (LP Version) – 6:42
  • Germany / UK CD Maxi Single (1995)[61]
  1. "Borderline" – 5:17
  2. "Borderline" (U.S Remix) – 6:57
  3. "Physical Attraction" (LP Version) – 6:42
  • US 12" maxi single[62]
  1. "Borderline" (New Mix) – 6:57
  2. "Lucky Star" (New Mix) – 7:14
  • US 12" promotional maxi single[63]
  1. "Borderline" (New Mix) – 5:29
  2. "Borderline" (Instrumental) – 5:48
  • Australian 12" single[64]
  1. "Borderline" (U.S Remix) – 6:57
  2. "Borderline" (Edit) – 4:02
  3. "Borderline" (Dub) - 5:48
  • German 12" single[65]
  1. "Borderline" (U.S Remix) – 6:57
  2. "Borderline" (Dub) – 5:48
  3. "Physical Attraction" (full-length version) – 6:42

Note: On the 1995 CD re-issue was printed as Track list: 01.Borderline (U.S. Remix) 02.Borderline (Dub Remix) 03. Physical Attraction, which is wrong, CD contains : Album version, U.S. Remix (Also known as New Mix) and Album Version of Physical Attraction.

Credits and personnel[edit]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.[1]

Charts and certifications[edit]Edit

Weekly charts[edit]Edit

Chart (1984–86) Peak


Australia Kent Music Report[31] 12
Belgian VRT Top 30[28] 4
Canadian RPM Singles Chart[21] 25
Dutch Top 40[29] 3
Irish Singles Chart[27] 1
New Zealand Singles Chart[29] 47
Swiss Singles Chart[30] 23
UK Singles Chart[24] 2
US Billboard Hot 100[9] 10
US Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary[9] 23
US Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play[9] 2

Year-end charts[edit]Edit

Chart (1984) Position
US Billboard Hot 100[66] 35


Country Certifications
United Kingdom Gold[67]
United States Gold[68]

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