Who’s That Girl

Albums: Who’s That Girl (1987), Celebration (2009)
Songwriters/producers: Madonna/Patrick Leonard

To me, the entire Who’s That Girl era (tour excluded) is one of the few phases in Madonna’s career where she was more regressive than forward-thinking. Though popular enough to warrant inclusion on Celebration (but not on the Immaculate Collection, thankfully), it’s hardly on the level of True Blue’s five deeply consistent singles. The backing sounds closer to Stephen Bray’s co-writes (via La Isla Bonita’s Latin feel) than Patrick Leonard’s own generally moodier compositions - and it succeeds as a movie theme, but not so much at attempting Bray’s more rhythmic style. As effectively quirky as the Spanish phrases, flourishes and bouncy bassline are, whimsical simply can’t compete with the more compelling intensity Madonna delivered for much of the decade. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Who’s That Girl from becoming Madonna’s sixth US Billboard chart-topper.


Ironically, nor could the overwhelming success of the eponymous song or tour ensure the same for the film. Who’s That Girl is a strange beast - coming after Madonna’s first “serious” acting role alongside Sean Penn in the critical and commercial flop Shanghai Surprise, it was an odd choice considering she needed more than ever to prove herself. It shares many similarities with Desperately Seeking Susan - from Madonna’s impulsive characters to the ludicrously complex plot - but with an awkward screenplay and dialogue that make it instant bait for a critical panning. However, the film’s not short on gags (some unintentional) or personality - playing ex-convict Nikki Finn, Madonna manages to both not derail the film into a vehicle for her real-life persona and make the absurd, grating Noo Yawk squawk of a character into something genuinely endearing by the end. The ’80s excess of Who’s That Girl, though convoluted and at times utterly ridiculous, can be an enjoyable watch provided you check your logic at the door.


NIKKI FINN
Jump! Come on!

LOUDEN TROTT
Are you insane?

NIKKI FINN
I did it, you can do it!

LOUDEN TROTT
You’re a criminal, I’m a tax attorney!


HOWEVER. With no real sense of credibility, Who’s That Girl did little to further Madonna’s reputation as an actress. Fun enough to satisfy its young target audience, but otherwise, the film wasn’t a success on a critical, financial or career level.


MTV

Yet again, the music video has two different Madonnas - Nikki Finn shown in footage from the film, and a more girlish continuation of the oversized tuxedo-wearing Madonna from Open Your Heart. She really just lipsyncs and dances along with some randoms - fun at best, but there’s not much personality on show (and Nikki Finn just looks strange out of context).


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Causing a Commotion

Album: Who’s That Girl (1987)
Songwriters/producers: Madonna/Stephen Bray

In2 the Groove. It has to be said - in the same key, with the referential “and get into the groove” lyrics, you can even sing one over the other and they’ll fit together perfectly. The thinly veiled calculation behind Madonna and Stephen Bray essentially rewriting the vastly successful Into the Groove is arguably not as odd as the fact that an entire album, with its more mature sound and image, came between the two songs. Causing a Commotion subsequently feels more like a regression than a sequel - which is perhaps true of the Who’s That Girl era as a whole, but at least the other two singles, though slightly subpar, treaded new ground. With that said, Causing a Commotion is not a bad song at all - but its sheer similarities to Into the Groove mean it’ll always be rightfully heard as the inferior.

(and thankfully it’d seem Madonna learned something from this - Vogue and Deeper and Deeper share a similar relationship, but are far more distinct)


Ironically, Causing a Commotion did lead the way in one aspect - its bassline shares a remarkable similarity to both Vogue and the Shep Pettibone remix of Express Yourself (featured on the video, the Immaculate Collection and Celebration).


(Causing a Commotion opens part 1 of, erm, the entire film - how else are you going to watch it?)

It’s easy to forget the song’s role as the opening theme of Who’s That Girl - and at least in context, it does a great job soundtracking Nikki Finn’s cartoon backstory. It never had an official music video, but the extended, far more energetic live version from Ciao Italia - Live From Italy was used in place.


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The Look of Love

Album: Who’s That Girl (1987)
Songwriters/producers: Madonna/Patrick Leonard

For a such a commonly titled song, Madonna’s take does at least offer something a little different. Unlike her other contributions to the Who’s That Girl soundtrack, The Look of Love actually sounds like part of the score - Madonna could well be singing over what was previously just the moody character development background synth music apparently present in every film in the ’80s. In the context of the film, even if such a combination is entirely predictable, it’s an ideal accompaniment to the shots of a dejected Louden wandering the streets. But its slow-burn feel means the song is four minutes of not-particularly-intense brooding that never peaks - unlike a ballad. Not one of her more successful singles - despite reaching number 9 on the UK charts, it never saw a US release.


(at 0:27, the song’s appearance in the film, prior to Madonna’s rather stunning change of appearance in one of the film’s more ridiculous settings)

As with Causing a Commotion, there was no music video, but a promo clip of film footage was used in place, as well as the live performance from Ciao Italia - Live From Italy - a more vibrant, dynamic improvement on the studio recording.


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