Behind the Song Lyrics: “Vogue,” Madonna 

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

As soon as the soprano synths and percussive, camera-like clicks come in, we are certain to recognize the Queen of Pop Madonna’s “Vogue.” After 30 years, the iconic hit still has us on our feet ready to strike a pose. The two-time platinum hit, however, almost wasn’t even released as a single.

The origins.

Working with music producer Shep Pettibone, the single was originally supposed to be a B-side for other iconic hits, such as “Like A Prayer.” The pair entered the studio intending to create a fun club record, nothing serious. When Madonna played the song for her label, though, they knew they had a hit on their hands.  

How New York City inspired Madonna.

Inspired by vogue dancers and choreographers Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza and Luis Xtravaganza from the Harlem “House Ball” community, Madonna learned of “vogueing” at a club in New York City. “Ballroom” is an underground subculture that originated in New York City. LGBTQ+ people of color gathered at the “balls” to walk, vogue, lip-sync or perform for categories. As made popular by hit television shows, such as Emmy-nominated FX Series Pose, ballroom culture allowed young, queer people of color to reclaim a space to be authentic and expressive.  

“I’ve been very inspired [by New York],” Madonna told iHeartRadio. “The song Vogue was inspired by walking into a nightclub and seeing the Xtravaganza crew voguing. And I was like ‘Woah, what the hell is that?’ It was just the most amazing thing.” 

Madonna initially faced both praise and backlash for her adaptation of the ballroom style. While some members of the ballroom community felt she was shedding a light on vogueing and the culture, others noted Madonna was profiting from an already undermined community and thought it exploitative. This very discussion is explored on FX Series Pose.  

The iconic music video and rap lyrics.

The song is accompanied by an iconic black and white music video directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button). Clad in several of Madonna’s iconic looks, the pop star strikes a pose through several pieces of choreography.  

Let us also not forget the song’s now-legendary spoken section. As if the song isn’t iconic enough, this section of the song was made up completely on the spot. “We wrote down a whole bunch of names of movie stars and that’s how the rap came up,” Pettibone told Billboard

Greta Garbo and Monroe 
Dietrich and DiMaggio 
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean 
On the cover of a magazine 
Grace Kelly, Harlow, Jean 
Picture of a beauty queen 
Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire 
Ginger Rogers, dance on air 

They had style, they had grace 
Rita Hayworth gave good face 
Lauren, Katherine, Lana too 
Bette Davis, we love you 
Ladies with an attitude 
Fellas that were in the mood 
Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it 
Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it 

It’s no wonder the song became the world’s best-selling single in 1990, but you’ll have to see for yourself. 


Watch the iconic music video for Madonna’s “Vogue” below.

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