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.