One of Madonna‘s most controversial songs of all time, “Justify My Love”, was officially released thirty years ago today.
It was one of two new tracks featured in The Immaculate Collection which included all of her biggest hits up to that point in her career like “Holiday”, “Like a Virgin” and “Vogue”.
A big reason for this song’s notoriety revolved around its salacious music video that was directed in Paris in November of 1990 by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. It featured her then boyfriend Tony Ward and some of her dancers from The Blond Ambition World Tour including the iconic Jose Xtravaganza.
It raised a ton of eyebrows at the time thanks to the jaw-dropping visuals that viewers witnessed as the video went along. The action takes place inside an elegant hotel that appeared to cater to alternative lifestyle couples. You see Madonna and Tony enjoying a romantic fling while others engage in BDSM, voyeurism and same-sex activity with a running theme of androgyny seen throughout.
MTV thought it was way too sexually explicit and banned it as a result leaving the “Material Girl” in a very frustrated state. The network also pulled her later videos “American Life” and “What It Feels Like For a Girl”.
“Why is it that people are willing to go and watch a movie about someone getting blown to bits for no reason at all, and nobody wants to see two girls kissing and two men snuggling?” she said in response to the banning.
But the joke was on them as Madonna flipped the script and turned the song into a VHS video single. This helped “Justify My Love” hit the number one spot on Billboard Hot 100 charts where it remained there for two weeks. The song has sold over one million copies with the video version getting about half of that.
“It may seem like it was a publicity stunt, and I was very lucky, I must say,” she said during a 1991 Nightline interview about the VHS single. “But I did not plan on selling this video. The controversy just happened. It wasn’t planned. So lucky me.”
There’s a lot of fun facts to “Justify My Love” that go outside its famed video. Lenny Kravitz was one of the song’s co-writers alongside Madonna and Ingrid Chavez. It has also been sampled by a number of massive artists including Jay-Z, Ashanti and Insane Clown Posse.