Should Have Been Bigger: Madonna’s Gloomy “Bad Girl”
In this franchise, we look back on songs that deserved a little more love and attention.
Singling out a favorite album (or even a top 5) is an impossible task with a God-tier discography like Madonna’s, but 1992’s Erotica is usually in the mix. For very good reason. It found the world’s biggest pop star experimenting wildly with sound, and started a generation-changing conversation about sex and sexuality. In fact, it pushed the envelope so far that it almost became her undoing — sparking the first of several hundred backlashes due to the subject matter and explicit imagery.
For a project so closely associated with sexual freedom, it’s important to remember that Madonna also ruminated on the flip side of promiscuity. Namely, the potential for power imbalances, lack of self-worth and self-destructive behavior. A perfect example is “Bad Girl.” Produced by Shep Pettibone, the gloomy ballad was released as the third single from Erotica in 1993 and became the Queen of Pop’s lowest-charting single in over a decade when it stalled at number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song’s lack of success is mystifying. It was one of the most achingly-honest pop songs of the ’90s, exposing Madonna’s inner world like never before. “Something’s missing and I don’t know why, I always feel the need to hide my feelings from you,” the pop icon begins the track. “Is it me or you that I’m afraid of?” By the time we reach the chorus, it’s clear that she’s dealing with profound inner turmoil. “Bad girl drunk by six, kissing someone else’s lips,” Madonna laments. “Smoked too many cigarettes today, I’m not happy when I act this way.”
Ms. Ciccone drove the point home with an inspired video. Directed by David Fincher, the “Bad Girl” visual begins with Madonna’s corpse being discovered by police. It then shows us a series of events that lead to her murder from the perspective of a guardian angel played by Christopher Walken. Think of it as a riff on Looking For Mr. Goodbar and Wings Of Desire. For whatever reason, “Bad Girl” continues to be roundly ignored by the living legend. (She has only performed it once). Which is a shame, because “Bad Girl” is a towering achievement that still holds up today.