It was one of the most popular and controversial songs of the early ’90s, with public outrage fueled by a racy music video banned from multiple networks. Today, Madonna’s “Justify My Love” is arguably one of the best pop songs the celebrity artist has recorded.
It has also been fodder for speculation as she and co-writer Lenny Kravitz have recounted the intimacy of the recording session. Madonna has even said she fell for the rocker while recording the song.
How “Justify My Love” came about
According to co-writer Ingrid Chavez in an interview for Vibe, Kravitz and Andre Betts worked together to compose the music. Chavez read from a letter she had written, which became the lyrics to the song. They quickly recorded it and, in one take, had what would become the smash single.
In an interview for Yahoo Music, Kravitz noted he’d been working on demos, and the recorded version of “Justify My Love” came up. And though he liked the song, he didn’t think it was a good fit for him. Kravitz had been touring with Madonna and thought it might work for her. So he called her and said he had a hit for her. She came to the studio, heard it, and asked him to play it a second time. At that point, she told him she wanted to record it, which they did the following day.
According to Kravitz, he and Madonna have never dated. However, in the interview, he played coy when asked about the session. He noted, “And, uh, there are details about that session that I cannot tell you, but it was fun. It was fun — and very sensual. Just know that it was all very authentic.”
Polarizing public reaction
“Justify My Love” climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 upon its release in 1990. Within a year, it had sold a million copies in the U.S. and went gold in Canada and Australia and silver in the U.K. It hit the top of multiple recording industry charts throughout Europe and remained in regular radio rotation for months after its release. As one of Madonna’s biggest hits, it has sold over 5 million copies.
Its popularity was driven by its explicit music video, which features Madonna walking through a hotel distressed. As she passes through the halls, viewers see open hotel doors with people dressed in S&M garb posing suggestively. The video further features scenes of Madonna in lingerie on a bed rolling around as people come and go. One scene shows a topless dominatrix grabbing a restrained man, and other scenes allude to Madonna’s male and female lovers.
Because of its explicit nature, MTV banned the video. Nightline then showed it as part of a news segment examining the controversy, which further fueled its popularity. Madonna then sold copies of the video on VHS at retail record outlets, helping propel it to number one because each video counted toward her singles total. It has become the best-selling video single of all time, Rolling Stone reports.
Madonna on “Justify My Love”
While on the Nightline segment defending the song, Madonna decried the hypocrisy of TV networks that had no problem airing programs depicting violence toward women but banned a music video showing consensual sex scenes. In retrospect, the interview was a groundbreaking moment in pop culture, especially where offensive videos are concerned. And though it may have been a tumultuous time in her career, it certainly would not be the last time she would court controversy.
For her part, asked about “Justify My Love” during a recent Howard Stern interview, Madonna drifted toward the more pleasant aspects of that time. She recalled she was deeply attracted to Kravitz. And though she, too, would not share any intimate details, it’s clear the two had some electricity back then.
Perhaps one day, they’ll spill the tea. However, whatever moment they shared led to some undeniably beautiful music and powerful pop music history.
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