The Queen of Pop has no regrets and 25 years later, this highlight from her sixth studio album Bedtime Stories is still appealing to all of better “Human Nature”. The track was an instant summer club classic and stands the test of time.
In the 1990s dance music enjoyed a resurgence that was capitalized upon by many artists, but none more so capitalized on the emerging popularity of the mainstreaming of dance music than Madonna. The Queen of Pop had always enjoyed connectivity to the club culture and especially thrived on the ingenuity of remix producers to reimagine her pop hits for the circuit. In 1989, Madonna injected herself as a dance floor staple with the release of her signature hit “Vogue”. The single which was co-written and produced by dance-impresario Shep Pettibone, lead to a full-on album collaboration between the pair.
Although 1992s Erotica was met with wild scrutiny, mostly because of the “dirty picture” book that accompanied its release (and no, I’m not downplaying the pop-culture significance of Madonna’s “SEX” photo-essay; but we can pick up that thread another day), the album was layered with synth-club sounds inspired by house and disco, and even featured a callback to “Vogue” that was snuck into the final act of “Deeper and Deeper”. Erotica was perhaps among one of the best albums released that year and produced a significant number of club/dance hits for Madonna, and surprisingly its follow-up album swung in a different direction.
When Bedtime Stories was released in 1994, Madonna had begun to explore another side of her myriad psyche and started to soften her edges. Where Erotica dove deep and onto the dance floor with its beats and soaring rhythm meant for the club scene, Bedtime Stories by stark contrast positioned Madonna as a vocalist and lyricist with a dimensionality that had soul and depth, but was also rebellious at heart. The album was largely produced by Dallas Austin, Babyface, Dave Hall, and Nelle Hooper and showcased a familiar Madonna with roots in pop and R&B, with a finger still on the pulse of fresh and emerging club sounds.
Don’t Repress Yourself
After the sheer backlash suffered upon her by the release of the aforementioned “SEX” photo-essay (which we’ll explore one day soon, I promise) the artist retreated into more introspective self-expression on Bedtime Stories but didn’t stop at thumbing her nose up at her critics. In fact among the album’s biggest stand out tracks was “Human Nature”. Produced by Madonna and Dave Hall, the single was released on June 6, 1995, and deliberately targeted all the “haters”. Madonna had taken such a hit from Erotica and its sexually charged theme and marketing, Madonna appeared to pull back the reigns, but stopped short at apologizing for her “SEX” antics.
“Human Nature” thrives on a looped sample from a track by the Hip-Hop group Main Source (which is why the three artists are also credited as writers on the song), and still today — 25 years later — remains among one of Madonna’s most endurable hits, from her “Modern Era” (considered everything post-The Immaculate Collection Greatest Hits compilation, while the music released post-Ray Of Light could well be considered her contributions to the “Digital Age of Pop”). The track’s relentless bass-drums and snares, coupled with its largely organic instrumentation and layered upon vocal arrangement, support the well-crafted hooks and whispered lean-in lyric: “Express yourself, don’t repress yourself.”
Determined to prove she hadn’t compromised her edge and wasn’t above pissing some people off, the accompanying video for the single featured Madonna in full-on dominatrix and bondage latex, skin-tight, stilettos and unbridled. It is among one of the most elaborately choreographed videos of the era, and even though it’s set on a stark set, its perfectly shot and visual exhilarating, as Madonna cavorts with her cadre group of dancers, realizing many an imagined S&M fantasy — landing on the final line: “Absolutely, no regrets.” The song’s message is declarative, without being forceful, and is cast in the classic humorous irony that the artist has often put on display on stage and in her most candid interviews, but make no mistakes…
It is Madonna giving at her most genuine, giving everyone a glimpse of her inner machinations and setting it to music. Pleading her case, and pushing the boundaries of the music industry’s double standard; an industry that had institutionalized the objectification of women and sexualization of its rising pop starlets without their approval, but when Madonna laid claimed and authored her own sexual revolution, she was penalized for it! “Human Nature” is her own proper proclamation of independence, drawing the line in the sand and saying: “I’m not sorry.”
It’s human nature.
Here’s a look at Madonna’s “Human Nature” video directed by famous fashion photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino.
Human Nature | Madonna | from the album Bedtime Stories | 1994 | The remixes are now available for Digital Download on iTunes.