The First 30 Years of Express Yourself
Thirty years ago today Madonna and Sire Records released the second single from her acclaimed Like a Prayer album and it was the now iconic song Express Yourself.
Written by Madonna and her longtime friend Stephen Bray, the song seemed inspired by Respect Yourself, the 1971 hit by the Staple Singers.
In a tv interview Madonna explained:
The ultimate thing behind the song is that if you don’t express yourself, if you don’t say what you want, then you’re not going to get it.
And in effect you are chained down by your inability to say what you feel or go after what you want.
After a 30 years this pop song has become an hymn to freedom for any community that feels judged or oppressed.
It peaked at number two in the Billboard US charts and went to number five in the UK, becoming the 20th best-selling song of 1989 in the United Kingdom.
It was also a number 1 hit in Italy, the country of Madonna’s ancestors.
Filmed in April 89 at Culver Studios, Express Yourself was Madonna’s first video directed by David Fincher. Its visuals were inspired by the classic 1927 film Metropolis from by iconic German director Fritz Lang.
At the time of release it was the most expensive music video ever made, with an estimated budget of 5 million dollars, and still remains the third most expensive to-date, following Michael and Janet Jackson’s Scream and Madonna’s own Die Another Day.
The song was specially remixed for the video by Shep Pettibone; a couple of versions of his mix were released on the Express Yourself single on CD and vinyl.
The Express Yourself video saw Madonna taking total control of the artistic process, de facto anticipating her directorial debut in the film industry. She explained:
We sat down and threw out every idea we could. This one I had the most amount of input, I oversaw everything – the building of the sets, everyone’s costumes, I had meetings with makeup and hair and the cinematographer, everybody. Casting, finding the right cat – just every aspect. Kind of like making a little movie.
The clip ends with the epitaph:
Without the heart, there can be no understanding between the hand and the mind.
The Live Versions
- 1990 Blond Ambition Tour
The tour’s opening song, with music and visuals inspired by her own “Metropolis” video. A classic performance, presenting for the first time the androgynous look of a pink corset with pointed conical bra, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, under a man’s suit.
- 1993 The Girlie Show
A 70’s disco-styled rendition of the song. Coming down onstage from a huge glittering disco ball, Madonna wore a blond afro wig.
- 2004 re-Invention Tour
Military version this time. More pop and more political, fitting the American Life inspired section of the show, with Madonna as the Sergeant and the dancers – all dressed in military gear – performeing a rifle choreography.
- 2012 MDNA Tour
Majorette theme this time. with and arrangement similar to the original video version. The song opens the second section of the show and near the end Madonna reprises Gaga’s Born This Way, a song that is very similar in melody and structure to Express Yourself.
The most notable record memorabilia for Express Yourself are: