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"Burning Up"
A montage of pictures of a the face of a blond woman. The images are arranged in square boxes in four rows, each row consisting of five boxes. The color of the images in the boxes are different and are made to appear as if they are painted. Between the second and the thrid row, the words "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction" are written.
Single by Madonna
from the album Madonna
B-side "Physical Attraction"
(AA-side in some countries)
Released March 9, 1983 (US)
Format Vinyl single (Worldwide)
Recorded Sigma Sound Studios, New York City; 1982
Genre Pop
Length 3:45
Label Sire, Warner Bros.
Writer(s) Madonna
Madonna singles chronology
"Burning Up"

"Burning Up" is a song by American singer-songwriter Madonna from her self-titled debut album. It was released as the album's second single on March 9, 1983, in some countries as a AA side single with "Physical Attraction". The song was presented as an early recorded demo by Madonna to Sire Records who greenlighted the recording of the single after the first single "Everybody" became a dance hit. Madonna collaborated with Reggie Lucas, who produced the single while John Benitez provided the guitar riffs and backing vocals. Musically, the song incorporates instrumentation from bass guitar, synthesizers and drums, and the lyrics talk of the singer's lack of shame in declaring her passion for her lover.

Released with "Physical Attraction" on the B side, the song was given mixed reviews from contemporary critics and authors, who noted the song's darker, urgent composition while praising its dance beats. The single failed to do well commercially anywhere, except the dance chart in the United States, where it peaked at three, and the Australian Charts, where it was a top twenty hit. After a number of live appearances in clubs to promote the single, it was added to the setlist of 1985's The Virgin Tour. An electric guitar version was performed on 2004 Re-Invention Tour. The song was included on Madonna's 2009 compilation, Celebration.

The accompanying music video of the song portrayed Madonna in the classic submissive female positions, while writhing in passion on an empty road, for her lover who appeared to come from her behind on a car. The video ended showing Madonna driving the car instead, thereby concluding that she was always in charge. Many authors noted that the "Burning Up" music video was a beginning of Madonna's depiction of her taking control of a destabilized male sexuality.



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In 1982, Madonna was living in New York and trying to launch her musical career. Her Detroit boyfriend Steve Bray became the drummer of her band. Abandoning hard-rock, they were signed up by a music management company called Gotham records, and decided to pursue music in the funk genre. But they soon dropped those plans.[1] Madonna carried rough tapes of three songs with her, namely "Everybody", "Ain't No Big Deal" and "Burning Up". Madonna presented "Everybody" to the DJ Mark Kamins who, after hearing the song, took her to Sire Records and she was signed for a single deal.[2] When "Everybody" became a dance hit, Sire Records decided to follow up with an album for her. However, Madonna chose not to work with either Bray or Kamins, but opted instead for Warner Brothers producer Reggie Lucas. Michael Rosenblatt, the A&R director of Sire Records, explained to Kamins that they wanted a producer who had more experience in directing singers; hence they appointed Lucas.[3] He pushed Madonna in a more pop direction and produced "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction" for her.[2]

While producing the tracks, Lucas radically changed their structure from the original demo versions. Madonna did not accept the changes, hence John "Jellybean" Benitez, who was a DJ at the Funhouse Disco, was called to remix the tracks.[2] He came and put some extra guitar riffs and vocals in "Burning Up".[2] Sire Records backed up the single by sending Madonna for a series of personal appearances in clubs around New York where she performed the single. They also hired a stylist and jewellery designer called Maripol who helped Madonna with the single cover.[4] The cover for the 12 inch dance single for "Burning Up" was designed by Martin Burgoyne.[3]

Musically "Burning Up" has a starker arrangement brought about by bass, single guitar and drum machine.[5] The guitar riffs in the songs were not characteristics of Madonna's later records. The tom-tom drum beats used in the song were reminiscent to the records of singer Phill Collins.[5] It also incorporated electric guitars and the most state-of-the-art synthesizers of that time.[6] The chorus is a repetition of the same three lines of the lyrics, while the bridge consists of a series of double entendres in regards to the lyrics of the song which describes what she is prepared to do for her lover and that she is individualistic and shameless.[5]

Critical and commercial reception

Author Rikky Rooksby in his book The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna commented that the song was noticeably weaker compared to other singles like "Lucky Star" and "Borderline".[5] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine called the track as edgy and punk-infused.[6] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic commented that "Burning Up" and B side "Physical Attraction" had a darker, carnal urgency in their composition.[7] Don Shewey from Rolling Stone called the song "simple stuff" while complimenting the B side, saying: "'Physical Attraction' is practically a capsule history of high-school proms, with its sly references to The Association's "Cherish" and Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."[8] Robert Christgau called the 12 inch pair of "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction" as electroporn.[9] Santiago Fouz-Hernández in his book Madonna's drowned worlds complimented the song for having upbeat dance music.[10] Jim Farber from Entertainment Weekly commented that "Burning Up" proved that Madonna could rock also.[11]

Like its predecessor "Everybody", "Burning Up" failed to break into the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but this time "Burning Up" even failed to chart in the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart.[12] It did however manage to peak at number three on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play, staying on the chart for sixteen weeks.[13] The song was a top twenty hit in Australia in June 1984, peaking at number thirteen after having originally charted in the lower reaches of the top one hundred in November 1983.[14] The song was used as background music for a scene in the 1984 film The Wild Life.[5]

Music video

The image of a blond woman sitting on a deserted street at night. She is clad in a white cocktail dress. Supporting herself on her right-hand, she tilts her head back.
Madonna in a white dress lying on the road while writhing in passion for her lover, in the music video for "Burning Up"

Sire Records commissioned a music video for the song to be directed by Steve Baron. Madonna's friend Debi Mazar was hired as the make-up artist for the video while Maripol was the stylist with Madonna's then boyfriend Ken Compton appearing as her onscreen lover. By the time the video was released, MTV had begun to show dance music videos. Hence the music video of "Burning Up" became a minor hit on the channel.[15] The narrative of the video shows Madonna in a white dress, as she sings the song proclaiming her helpless passion for her lover.[16] She wore her famous rubber bracelets which were actually typewriter belts.[5] Her love for the boy portrayed her as a helpless victim like the stereotyped female portrayed in many silent movies. At one point in the video Madonna is shown being hit by a car driven by a young man, played by Compton.[15] By the end of the song Madonna is shown driving the car, with a knowing, defiant smile on her lips and has ditched the man, thereby giving the message that she was in charge, a theme recurrent throughout her career.[15] Though the lyrics of the song like "Do you want to see me down on my knees?" portray female helplessness, the video performance acts as a countertext to it.[16] When this line is sung, Madonna is shown kneeling on the road in front of the advancing car, then turns her head back while exposing her throat back in a posture of submission. However, her voice tone and her look at the camera portray a hardness and defiance that contradict the submissiveness of her body posture and turn the question of the line into a challenge for her lover.[16]

Author Andrew Morton in his biography on Madonna commented that the video was America's first introduction to Madonna's sexual politics.[15] Author Robert Clyde Allen in his book Channels of Discourse compared the video with that of "Material Girl". According to him both the videos have an undermining ending, while employing a consistent series of puns and exhibiting a parodic amount of excess associated with Madonna's style.[16] The discourses included in the video are those of sexuality and religion. Madonna's image of kneeling and singing about 'burning in love' performed the traditional ideological work of using the subordination and powerlessness of women in Christianity to naturalize their equally submissive position in patriarchy.[16] Author Georges-Claude Guilbert in his book Madonna as postmodern myth commented that the representation of the male character becomes irrelevant as Madonna destabilizes the fixing and categorization of male sexuality in the video.[17] Her utterance of having "no shame" was interpreted by author James B. Twitchell, in his book For Shame as an attempt to separate herself from contemporary female artists of that era.[18]

Live performances

Before its release, Madonna promoted the single by performing at different clubs around New York.[4] Madonna was a professional performer by that time and was assisted by dancers Erika Belle and Bags Rilez to promote it.[15] After promoting in New York in numerous nightclubs and pubs, she travelled to London to promote it in clubs like Heaven, Camden Palace, Beatroot Club as well as The Haçienda in Manchester. However, those performances were not well received by the British audience.[19] The song was performed on 1985's The Virgin Tour but was omitted from the Live - The Virgin Tour VHS released by Warner Home Video.[20] Madonna wore a blue see-through crop-top which revealed her black bra, a purple skirt, lacy leggings and a brightly patterened jacket. She also wore crucifixes on it as well as around her ear and neck.[21] "Burning Up" was performed as a part of the encore. The performance ended with the music of "Like a Virgin" starting.[22]

Madonna included the song on the setlist of her 2004 Re-Invention World Tour in the military segment. She was dressed in military garments and played electric guitar for the performance. As she sang the song, the backdrops displayed scenes of war and sex which were scrambled to appear as if they have been shot with a camcorder. The New York Times described the performance as being reminiscent of the prisons in Abu Ghraib.[23] Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine commented that "it was a hoot to see her [Madonna] strap on an electric guitar and sing classics like 'Burning Up'."[24] During Madonna's induction at the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the song was performed the punk rock band The Stooges, along with "Ray of Light".[25]

Track listing

  • U.S. 7" Single
  1. "Burning Up" (7" Version) – 3:58
  2. "Physical Attraction" (7" Version) – 3:52
  • Australian 7" Single
  1. "Burning Up" (Alternate Album Version) – 4:48
  2. "Physical Attraction" (7" Version) – 3:52
  • 12" Single
  1. "Burning Up" (12" Version) – 5:56
  2. "Physical Attraction" (Album Version) – 6:34



  1. ^ Rooksby, p. 9
  2. ^ a b c d Rooksby, p. 10
  3. ^ a b Morton, p. 755
  4. ^ a b Clerk, p. 36
  5. ^ a b c d e f Rooksby, p. 12
  6. ^ a b Cinquemani, Sal (September 9, 2001). "Madonna (Remastered)". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2009-07-01.  
  7. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (July 3, 1998). "allmusic ((( Madonna > Overview )))". Allmusic. Macrovision Corporation. Retrieved 2009-07-02.  
  8. ^ Shewey, Don (September 29, 1983). "Madonna: Madonna Music Review". Rolling Stone. Jann S. Wener. Retrieved 2009-07-02.  
  9. ^ Christgau, Robert (February 4, 1983). "Consumer Guide Reviews: Madonna". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2009-07-02.  
  10. ^ Fouz-Hernández, p. 59
  11. ^ Farber, Jim (July 27, 2001). "Music News: The Girl Material". Entertainment Weekly (Time Inc).,,255548,00.html. Retrieved 2009-03-11.  
  12. ^ Grant, p. 4
  13. ^ Grant, p. 9
  14. ^ Kent, David (2006). Australian Chart Book: 1993-2005. Australian Chart Book. pp. 282. ISBN 0646458892. Retrieved 2009-07-02.  
  15. ^ a b c d e Morton, p. 756
  16. ^ a b c d e Allen, p. 281
  17. ^ Guilbert, p. 79
  18. ^ Twitchell, p. 109
  19. ^ Morton, p. 758
  20. ^ Madonna Live - The Virgin Tour [VHS] Warner Home Video (1985)
  21. ^ Clerk, p. 85
  22. ^ Kellner, p. 272
  23. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (May 26, 2004). "Madonna's Latest Self, a Mix of Her Old Ones". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2009-07-02.  
  24. ^ Cinquemani, Sal (October 17, 2004). "Madonna: Live @ Madison Square Garden". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2009-07-02.  
  25. ^ Press, Associated (March 11, 2008). "Madonna and Mellencamp lead this year's class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees". The Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-07-02.  


  • Allen, Robert Clyde (1987). Channels of discourse: television and contemporary criticism. Routledge. ISBN 0416070825.  
  • Clerk, Carol (2002). Madonnastyle. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0711988749.  
  • Fouz-Hernández, Santiago; Freya Jarman-Ivens (2004). Madonna's Drowned Worlds. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. ISBN 0754633721.  
  • Grant, Robert M.; Kent E. Neupert (2003). Cases in contemporary strategy analysis. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 1405111801.  
  • Guilbert, Georges-Claude (2002). Madonna as postmodern myth. McFarland. ISBN 0786414081.  
  • Kellner, Douglas (1995) (in English). Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. Routledge. pp. 357. ISBN 0415105706.  
  • Morton, Andrew (2002). Madonna. Macmillan. ISBN 0312983107.  
  • Rooksby, Rikky (2004). The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0711998833.  
  • Twitchell, Robert B. (1998). For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture. Macmillan. ISBN 0312194536.  

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