Music Article

It's Bad. But Is It Good?

''Justify My Love'' -- See what we thought of Madonna's new video

It isn't so shocking that this hyper-hyped new video from Madonna includes suggestions of bisexuality, group sex, and voyeurism. Much less from our lady of perpetual outrage would itself be a scandal. What is shocking is how Madonna manages to transform all this pawing and drooling into something both erotic and wryly witty. For all the sensuality of her past videos, this is the first Madonna clip to mix kink with camp, and the result is genuinely whimsical.

The song ''Justify My Love'' — some vague, tuneless phrases chanted in Madonna's most breathless voice over a minimal house groove — serves mainly to justify the visuals. And in those visuals, Madonna goes over the top right from the start, stumbling woozily down a hallway, à la Camille, ready to expire from sheer lust. When a stud — none other than her current toy boy, actor-model Tony Ward — appears to revive the stricken blond, his kisses send her into a reverie of erotic desire, allowing us to see a few of the acts that seem to send Madonna over the borderline.

Judging by what we see, she likes to watch and be watched. And she likes to pair boys with boys, girls with girls, and herself with everybody — maybe. Ambiguity and androgyny are so highly prized here that the video could double as a new game show, Guess My Sex.

There's no mistaking this piece for porn, because it carries such a firm point of view. Madonna uses her portrayal of blurred genders to amuse and to liberate, as well as to exploit. Her cheeky S&M fantasies wind up asserting the independence of the individual, and to make sure we don't miss the point, she spells it out with the lyrics printed onscreen at the clip's close: ''Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.'' B

Originally posted Dec 14, 1990 Published in issue #44 Dec 14, 1990 Order article reprints
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