"Erotica" is a song by American singer and songwriter Madonna. It is the title track from her fifth studio album Erotica (1992), and was released as the album's lead single on September 29, 1992 by Maverick Records. It was later included on her greatest hits albums GHV2 (2001) and Celebration (2009). The song was written by Madonna, Shep Pettibone and Anthony Shimkin, while production was handled by the singer and Pettibone. Musically, "Erotica" contains spoken word vocals, and is an ode to S&M, with Madonna using a pseudonym called "Dita". She invites her lover to be passive while making love to her and leads him to explore boundaries between pain and pleasure.
After its release, "Erotica" received positive reviews from music critics; some considered it a high point of innovation in Madonna's career, while others found it scary. The song debuted at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming one of the highest debuts on the chart history at the time, eventually peaking at number three. Additionally, it became a success on the Hot Dance Club Play chart, reaching the top position. "Erotica" also found commercial success internationally, peaking in the top ten in several countries including Italy, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
The accompanying music video for the song was directed by fashion photographer Fabien Baron, and features Madonna dressed as a masked dominatrix interspersed with footage of the making of the singer's Sex book, with cameos by celebrities such as Naomi Campbell and Big Daddy Kane. The video was highly controversial, being aired by MTV a total of three times, all of these after the 10pm watershed, before being completely banned. Madonna performed "Erotica" on three of her concert tours, the first being on The Girlie Show World Tour (1993), the Confessions Tour (2006) and most recently on The MDNA Tour (2012). The song has also been covered and parodied by several artists.
In 1992, Madonna founded her own multi-media entertainment company, Maverick, consisting of a record company (Maverick Records), a film production company (Maverick Films), and associated music publishing, television broadcasting, book publishing and merchandising divisions. The first two projects from the venture were her fifth studio album, Erotica, and a coffee table book of photographs featuring Madonna, entitled Sex. For the album, Madonna primarily collaborated with producer Shep Pettibone. Pettibone first began working with Madonna during the 1980s, providing remixes for several of her singles. Alongside Pettibone, Madonna enlisted help from producer André Betts, who previously co-produced "Justify My Love" for The Immaculate Collection. Madonna said that she was interested to work with Pettibone and Betts due to their ability to remain plugged into the dance underground, "They come from opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their music style and approach to music, but they're both connected to the street and they're still young and hungry".
According to Pettibone in an article "Erotica Diaries" published on Madonna's Icon magazine, he produced a tape with four songs, for Madonna to listen to, before he traveled to Chicago, where she was filming A League of Their Own. She listened to the songs and liked all of them. After filming was complete, Madonna met Pettibone in New York City to start working together in November 1991. Their schedule was sporadic in the beginning. They were in the studio for a week and then she would work with Steven Meisel on Sex, for two weeks. Occasionally, Madonna also would meet André Betts. The first batch of songs Madonna and Pettibone worked on were "Erotica", "Deeper and Deeper", "Rain" and "Thief of Hearts"; she would write the lyrics as Pettibone worked on the music. Pettibone recalled that the singer preferred to be in control of the writing process because "her songs are her stories. They're the things she wants to say". While they were mixing a song called "Erotic", which was released as promotional single on her Sex book, Pettibone recalled:
"You have all these great stories in the book," I told her, "Why don't you use them in the song?" I knew that Madonna was developing a 1930s dominatrix look for Erotica, but I didn't realize how far she was willing to go before I saw Sex. It contained stories authored by her mysteriously dark alter, Dita. Madonna took the book and walked out of the room and didn't come back until about half an hour later. Suddenly she was on the mic, speaking in this very dry voice. "My name is Dita," she said, "and I'll be your mistress tonight." I knew that the original "Erotica" would never be the same again, and it wasn't. The chorus and bridge were changed entirely and the whole psyche of the song became sexier, more to the point. It seemed as if Dita brought out the best in her, actually serving as a vehicle for the dangerous territory she was traveling. Actually, it was the same name Madonna used when she'd stay in hotels around the world. Not anymore.
"Erotica" was written by Madonna, Shep Pettibone, Anthony Shimkin, while produced by Madonna and Pettibone. The track continued Madonna's exploration of potent spoken-word vocals, which she had previously introduced in "Justify My Love". The song contains a sample of Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie". It also samples "El Yom 'Ulliqa 'Ala Khashaba, by Lebanese singer Fairuz. This sample caused controversy after Fairuz claimed her vocals had been used without her consent, and said the lyrics "he crucified me today", which are sung in Arabic, are taken from a religious song that is traditionally heard during Easter services. This led to a lawsuit that was settled out of court. According to the sheet music published by Musicnotes.com, the song is set in common time with a moderate tempo of 120 beats per minute. It is composed in the key of F-sharp minor with Madonna's vocals spanning from F#3 to A4. Also present throughout the song are maracas and "shimmering horn riffs".
According to Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine, the song is "an ode to S&M". It begins with a "put-a-record-on scratchiness" sound that mimics a record player. Following this, Madonna says, "My name is Dita", as she invites her lover to be passive and childlike while she makes love to him and leads him to explore boundaries between pain and pleasure. Madonna's use of the pseudonym "Mistress Dita" in the song, as well as in Sex, is a homage to Dita Parlo, a German actress who was known for "not caring what people thought". The song has suggestive lyrics, such as "Will you let yourself go wild/Let my mouth go where it wants to". Slant Magazine described these lyrics as "taunting, aggressive—an elaborate exploration of sex, from seduction to disease". A similar song titled "Erotic", was created during the Erotica album sessions exclusively to accompany the 1992 book Sex. The song, a stripped-down version of "Erotica", includes lyrics not heard in the original track such as "We could use the cage, I've got a lot of rope". Academic Georges Claude Guilbert, called "Erotic" a "more hardcore" version of "Erotica".
"Erotica" received generally positive reviews from music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic highlighted the song as an album standout, calling it "some of Madonna's best and most accomplished music". Rolling Stone's Arion Berger wrote: "'Erotica' [...] promise[s] a smorgasbord of sexual experimentation, like the one portrayed in the video for 'Justify My Love'. But the sensibility of 'Erotica' is miles removed from the warm come-ons of 'Justify', which got its heat from privacy and romance [...] The Madonna of 'Erotica' is in no way interested in your dreams; she's after compliance"; he called the song "'Vogue' with a dirty mouth, where all the real action's on the dance floor". Stephen Holden from The New York Times, commented that the "foggy growl" that Madonna uses in the spoken-word sections of the song "contrast dramatically with the shrill little-kid voice from Madonna's earliest records that she still often uses to project a bratty teen-age exuberance". J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of Madonna: An Intimate Biography, wrote that "['Erotica'] wasn't a surprise for anyone who had been paying attention to Madonna's recent music. She had shown her hand earlier with Breathless when she sang 'Hanky Panky', the song about spanking [...] then there was her single 'Justify My Love' [...] 'Erotica' though, was the full-blown music exploration, an exhibition, of what we were to believe was Madonna's sexual reality". Authors Allen Metz and Carol Benson, called it "a bondage update on 'Justify My Love'". Matthew Jacobs from The Huffington Post, placed it at number 23 of his list "The Definitive Ranking Of Madonna Singles"; Jacobs wrote "Released at the apex of Madonna's sex appeal, 'Erotica' and its accompanying title album are remarkable as a period of innovation for the singer".
Gay Star News placed the song at number 17 on their list "The Definitive Ranking of Madonna’s Top 55 Songs"; author Joe Morgan called it "Daring, sexy, and unabashed". In 2011, Slant Magazine listed "Erotica" at number thirty-four on their list "The 100 Best Singles of the 1990s", stating that Madonna's "throaty" delivery throughout the song is effective in making the lyrics seem "incredibly honest". The magazine goes on to say the song is Madonna's "invitation to the dance, a slithering, sinister snake rising from a gaudily ornate chalice. The beats are, by design, hypnotic—at once alluring and devious. With 'Erotica', Madonna promises to get you off, but not without giving you something". "Erotica" was also shortlisted for Slant Magazine's "100 Greatest Dance Songs". Writing for The Backlot, Louis Virtel places the song at number eight on his list of "The 100 Greatest Madonna Songs", describing it as a "hot, smutty grind of a dance anthem". Virtel added that Madonna sells the double entendre of "Erotica" like a "primed burlesque mistress". Scott Kearnan of Boston.com, included the track at number 6 on his list "30 Best Madonna Songs"; commenting that "no pop star of her fame has been this sexually transgressive before or since... Rihanna sings about “S&M” like it’s a song about My Little Pony, but Madonna dishes on pain, pleasure, and power with the conviction of a whip crack". David Browne from Entertainment Weekly gave it a more unfavorable review, describing it as "depressingly trite — that between its frigid melody and your scary My name is Dita spoken bits, it’s about as sexy as an episode of the Shelley Hack-era Charlie’s Angels".
On October 17, 1992, "Erotica" debuted at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, which at the time of its release placed Madonna in a fifth place tie with Mariah Carey's rendition of "I'll Be There" as the highest debut for a song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. The song ultimately peaked at number three on the week of October 24, 1992. It eventually received a gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on December 10, 1992, for shipments of 500,000 copies. "Erotica" also had the highest debut in the history of the Hot 100 Airplay chart, entering at number two, on October 17, 1992. In Canada, the song peaked at number 13 of the RPM Top Singles chart, the week of November 21, 1992. In Australia, "Erotica" debuted at number 16 on the ARIA Singles Chart, the week of October 25, 1992. It reached a peak of number four, having spent a total of eleven weeks on the chart.
In the United Kingdom, "Erotica" debuted at number 11 in the UK Singles Chart, the week of October 17, 1992, ultimately peaking at the third position. The song was present a total of 9 weeks on the chart. As of 2008, the single has sold over 270, 800 copies in the United Kingdom. In France, the song debuted at number 30 of the SNEP Single Charts, on the week of November 11, 1992, before peaking at number 23. The song was successful in Italy, where it topped the FIMI Single Charts. On the year-end Italian charts, the song was ranked at number 13. The track was also commercially successful in other places such as Spain, Ireland and Sweden, where it managed to peak within the top five of the charts. "Erotica" also reached the top spot of the European Hot 100 Singles, the week of October 23, 1992.
The music video for "Erotica" was directed by fashion photographer Fabien Baron. The video intercalates scenes of Madonna, dressed as a masked dominatrix with a gold tooth, with actual footage of the making of her Sex book; in these scenes Madonna is seen sitting topless in the lap of an older man, kissing model Naomi Campbell, wearing BDSM gear and riding a bicycle in the nude. The video also counts with cameos by celebrities such as Isabella Rossellini, and Big Daddy Kane. Shooting for the footage of Madonna singing the song, took place on August 22, 1992 at The Kitchen in New York City while shootings for Sex took place at Hotel Chelsea and Times Square's all-male burlesque Gaiety Theatre. In order to imitate the look of old home movies and stag films, the entire video was shot with super 8 mm film. The video had its world premiere on MTV, on October 2, 1992. Upon its release, it was met with controversy; Susan Bibisi, from Los Angeles Daily News, called it a "virtual advertisement" for Sex". Entertainment Tonight had previously reported that Madonna herself had initiated the mayhem surrounding the video by walking bare breasted at designer Jean Paul Gaultier's fashion show and posing nude in Vanity Fair magazine. Richard Harrington from The Washington Post wrote:
"In the video, Madonna becomes Dita Parlo, a masked, gold-toothed dominatrix from an indeterminate age, ready to help us cross the street at the corner of Pleasure and Pain [...] assuming different dominatrix roles and investigating assorted bondage scenarios before finishing up with some nude hitchhiking on a street remarkable free of pile-ups. Shot in grainy black and white, 'Erotica' has the feel of a stag film, though its quick cuts keep the viewer from seeing all that much".
After its release, it was aired by MTV a total of three times, all of these after the 10pm watershed, due to its highly charged sexual content, before being permanently banned; this made it Madonna's second video to be banned from airing by the channel, after "Justify My Love" in 1990. MTV spokeswoman Linda Alexander said, "The themes of the video are clearly aimed at a more adult audience. It is not appropriate for a general viewing audience". Madonna herself said she understood the channel's ban on the video; "MTV plays to a huge audience and a lot of them are children, and a lot of themes I'm exploring in my videos aren't meant for children, so I understand that they say I can't show it [...] I accept it". Rolling Stone's Anthony DeCurtis said that "This is pretty much normal Madonna fare, [...] But how much longer can you continue mining sexuality? In checking off your list of taboos, how far can you take them? At what point does it just stop being interesting?". Similarly, David Browne from Entertainment Weekly, asked "Haven’t we seen most of this stuff before? Can we be bored with the subject matter already? [...] no emotion is attached to the mechanics of these acts, so it’s difficult to identify with or care about the characters". The video was nominated for the 1993 Billie Awards in four categories: Consumer print, trade print (music) and consumer print (retail), the most for a single entry. It also was ranked at number 16 on VH1's "50 Sexiest Video Moments". The video was made commercially available in 2009, when it was included, albeit in a censored version, on Madonna's Celebration: The Video Collection compilation; it had previously been excluded from 1999's The Video Collection 93:99.
Madonna first performed "Erotica" as the opening number of her fourth concert tour, The Girlie Show World Tour of 1993. The show opened with a topless pole dancer sliding down a pole dangling high above the stage. As the dancer disappears into the stage, Madonna emerges dressed as a short-haired dominatrix, wearing a domino mask, sequined black hot pants and bra paired with knee-high boots and brandishing a riding crop. She performed the song while rubbing the crop between her legs; as she performed, her dancers posed and danced suggestively around her. On his review of the concert in New York City, Jon Pareles from The New York Times, felt that "[during] the ethereal Put your hands all over my body in 'Erotica', the choreography suggests exercises rather than unbridled passion". The performance on the November 19, 1993 show at Sydney Cricket Ground was recorded and released on VHS and Laserdisc on April 26, 1994, as The Girlie Show: Live Down Under.
Thirteen years later, Madonna performed a remixed version of the song as part of her 2006 Confessions Tour. The performance found Madonna, who was dressed in white leotard with purple stripes, designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, and five couples dancing to the song in ballroom dance style. The song was remixed to include additional lyrics from the original demo, which were not included in the final version. On his review of the concert, Slant Magazine's Ed Gonzalez wrote that "her performance of Stuart Price's "You Thrill Me" remix of "Erotica" is a smash: She disco-fies the song but keeps its sex appeal, choreographing it to simple, Latin-infused dance maneuvers that are ecstatic". The performance of the song at the August 15–16, 2006 shows in London, at the Wembley Arena, were recorded and included on both the CD and DVD version of Madonna's second live album, The Confessions Tour, released in 2007.
During The MDNA Tour (2012), Madonna performed "The Erotic Candy Shop", a mashup of "Erotica" and her 2008 song "Candy Shop", in a French Cabaret setting. On his review of the concert, Niv Elis from The Jerusalem Post gave the performance a positive review, writing that it "showcases Madonna at her visual best". The performances at the November 19–20, 2012 shows in Miami, at the American Airlines Arena, were recorded and released in Madonna's fourth live album, MDNA World Tour.
In 1992, the Fox sketch comedy series In Living Color spoofed the video for "Erotica" as "Neurotica". In the sketch comedy show The Edge, also from Fox, cast member Julie Brown spoofed the Sex book as well as the "Erotica" music video. When comedian Sandra Bernhard's one-woman show "Giving Til It Hurts" came to New York in November 1992, she did a short spoof of the song, called "Neurotica", about a woman who obsessively cleans her house.
The Village Voice columnist Michael Musto also recreated the nude hitchhiking scene from the Sex book and "Erotica" music video on the streets of Jersey City. The newspaper sold the posters of the photo for $5-profits went to the Community Research Initiative on AIDS in New York. Additionally, the 2000 compilation Virgin Voices: A Tribute To Madonna, Vol. 2 features a cover by Razed in Black vs. Transmutator. American band The Ringtones covered the song for the tribute album Tribute to Madonna, Vol. 1 (2011). A cover by The Khlone Orchestra was included on their 2011 album Material Girls - A Tribute to Madonna. The Sunset Lounge Orchestra covered the song on their album Madonna Cool Down Experience Part 2, released in 2008. "Erotica" was featured in a scene of Madonna's directorial debut Filth and Wisdom.Madonna – lead vocals, songwriter, producer
Shep Pettibone – songwriter, producer, sequencing, keyboards, programming
Anthony Shimkin – songwriter, sequencing, keyboards, programming
Joe Moskowitz –keyboards
Dennis Mitchell – recording engineer
Robin Hancock – recording engineer
George Karras – mixing engineer
Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.