Borderline by Madonna

As an eager young music fan, I was perhaps an archetypal rockist. I wasn’t necessarily sexist, but 19 year old me dismissed Madonna as too pop, not playing an instrument, and in the case of this song, not writing her own material. A car trip with The Immaculate Collection gave me a grudging respect for ‘Like A Prayer’, but I certainly wasn’t about to become a fan.

I’ve doubled in age since then, and I’m a lot less dogmatic (about music at least….) and it’s easier to put aside my prejudices and appreciate ‘Borderline’ as a great pop song. Musically ‘Borderline’ is pretty tame – the arrangement is dominated by Fender Rhodes and synth, and without Madonna’s sassy, helium delivery and the 1980s synths, it wouldn’t be out of place on a 1970s Elton John record.

Even though it was something of a breakthrough hit for her, it hasn’t gained the prominence of her signature songs like ‘Material Girl’ or ‘Like A Virgin’; it was written by producer Reggie Lucs, and perhaps because she didn’t write it it bears less of her personality. The accompanying video was perhaps as significant as the song – while it seems bizarre in 2018, interracial relationships were taboo on MTV in 1983, and it helped establish Madonna as a boundary pusher.

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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  1. While Madonna falls outside my core wheel house, which has increasingly become 60s and 70s rock and blues, I think she’s a serious and very talented artist. I’m primarily referring to the 80s and 90s. It has become pretty quiet around her, and I don’t really know what she’s doing these days.

    It’s funny you mentioned you initially dismissed her. Admittedly, I did the same thing! After I had heard the song “Like A Virgin,” I thought Madonna essentially was a dumb blonde trying to be sexy – big mistake!

    Madonna has written an impressive amount of catchy pop tunes, especially during the ’80s. “Borderline” happens to be among my favorites, though as you noted, she didn’t write that tune. I also like “Papa Don’t Preach” and “La Isla Bonita,” both songs for which she has co-writing credits.

    BTW, Madonna also does plays the guitar, though usually not in videos or during concert performances.

    • I think with her sexy, rebellious image, it did get pretty tough for her to reinvent herself as she got older – I’d say Music in 2000 was about the last time she felt relevant as a creative artist?

      • I think you’re right about this album. I do seem to remember some buzz about yet another reinvention of Madonna – that time as a cowgirl.

        I watched some clips on YouTube from last year and 2016. Madonna still seems to be pretty active with touring. She looks in great shape for a woman in her late ’50s. I suppose compared to Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, she’s still a baby!

  2. It’s interesting that you should choose this song from the catalogue of efficient but empty stuff Madonna has produced. I don’t know if it’s a question of being too old or too dogmatic to appreciate her work; I just thnk she was and is vastly overrated – all style and no substance, all mouth and attitude. She was a role model for young girls, like the Spice Girls, but even at the time Borderline was released, there were other girls producing better stuff that i liked enough to buy – Cyndi Lauper, for one. But Madonna just had that mass appeal that sweeps people to fame and success when they’re not worth it – and that means everyone from Michael Jackson (yes, I’m serious) to Donald Trump. As for this song, to me it’s an unexceptional part of an unexceptional collection of recordings, and I never allow the accompanying video to influence my feelings about the actual song. It’s got nothing to do with it.
    If you fell belatedly in love with this, then I wish you well – I’ve got many similar relationships in my iTunes.

  3. Madonna wasn’t exactly a fave of mine in the day (or now), but we heard enough of her that I knew she was big for a reason. Early tracks like this definitely helped establish her and pave the way for bigger things. It’s also just damn catchy, whether it’s actually an enjoyable song or not. Hints of much bigger things!

  4. “Borderline” is a brilliant pop single. I like Madonna’s work with co-writer Patrick Leonard rather than Stephen Bray (they pretty much co-wrote all of her 80s stuff). As for albums, I think she’s produced a patchy volume of work, highlighted by 1989’s “Like A Prayer” and 1998’s “Ray Of Light”. Definitely one of the great singles artists IMO.

  5. I quite like this song (and several of her other 80s/early 90s singles) – I haven’t been able to warm up to her 2000 album ‘music’ but full credit to her for anticipating trends & consistently evolving

  6. I agree about this song – I’ve always liked it. Back in 89 I liked Like A Prayer and Express Yourself even though I was primarily into alternative music and folky singer-songwriter stuff. Madonna can make a good song or find one with a good pop hook.

    • Thanks for commenting. It definitely took me a while to be open to her, and to synthetic pop music in general. I needed to be older to get less dogmatic, but sounds like you were more open.

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