While the massive gospely title track to Madonna’s 1989 Like a Prayer album got all of the attention because of the controversy surrounding the “blasphemous” imagery of the video — and it went to number one anyways — “Express Yourself” is the one that eventually got to me.
It could just be me, but I hear classic girl-group Motown all over this one, like a huge Diana Ross and the Supremes — updated, of course, for the late 1980s dancefloor — empowerment anthem. With an absolutely massive singalong chorus.
And of course, the the fact that the lyrics of that chorus were a one huge woman-positive message about seizing equality in a relationship — and then walking away if he doesn’t commit — most certainly didn’t hurt.
Don’t go for second best baby
Put your love to the test
You know, you know you’ve got to
Make him express how he feels and maybe
Then you’ll know your love is real
Wanna bet that more than one of Madonna’s fans dumped some loser because this song ringing in her head helped her screw up her courage to ask he questions she’d been avoiding, and when she didn’t like the answers, she booked?
At the time, of course, I didn’t properly grasp any of this — like most of Madonna’s hits for her first decade, it was impossible not to hear “Express Yourself” if you paid any attention to popular culture at all — but nearly twenty years later, it sounds amazing; one of the best things she ever did.
“Express Yourself” official video
“Express Yourself” performed live at the 1989 VMAs
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