Lenny Kravitz helped Madonna write and produce this sultry song, where Madonna whispers most of the lyrics. It was the first single from her highly anticipated Immaculate Collection compilation album, and created plenty of sales-generating controversy for the singer, who was known for pushing the limits of sexual content.
Ingrid Chavez, a singer who had worked with Prince, sued for royalties, claiming she wrote the song with Kravitz. According to Chavez, Kravitz came up with the title, but the rest of the lyric - minus one line Madonna changed - came from her. "Lenny recorded a synth line and then he asked me if I had something I wanted to say," she told Vibe. "I had a letter on me (my letters are like poems) and so I got on the mic and basically read the letter. One take and the rest is history."
The case was settled out of court in 1992, with Chavez getting a composer credit along with Kravitz and Madonna.
This samples a beat from a Public Enemy song called "Security Of The First World," an instrumental from their album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, which in turn samples "Ashley's Roachclip," a 1974 track by The Soul Searchers that has been used hundreds of times. Public Enemy used many samples themselves and had no claim to the original beat, so they didn't sue Madonna or Kravitz. Public Enemy's producer, Hank Shocklee, capitalized on the publicity by having a group called the Young Black Teenagers record an answer song using the same beat called "To My Donna."
The video contains partial nudity - a female dancer flashes a bit of nipple under her suspenders. MTV banned it, but eventually agreed to play it late at night. With the controversy brewing over the video, ABC aired it on Nightline, with anchor Forrest Sawyer asking Madonna questions about the video as it ran. It was unusual for an entertainment story to be the focus of Nightline, but this one made the news because it raised censorship issues. It also didn't hurt that Madonna was a huge star and was sure to draw lots of viewers. While the video played, Madonna talked about how women in her videos are always in control sexually.
The video was directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who had a photography/graphic design background and made clips that looked more like art films. He usually worked in black-and-white, which he did here and also in his other famous video: Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer."
The clip was shot at a Paris hotel and featured Madonna's boyfriend at the time, Tony Ward.
This was one of two new songs released on Madonna's Greatest Hits album Immaculate Collection. The other was "Rescue Me."
After the video was banned by MTV, it was released for sale on VHS. In an era when your phone can play just about any video with a few taps of the glass it's hard to comprehend, but in the early '90s people would buy certain music videos to play on their VCRs. This one sold well thanks to the controversy (and the low, low price of $9.98), eventually selling over one million copies.
Lenny Kravitz shared his thoughts on this song in a 1991 interview with Q magazine: "It was fun, man. Just fun. That song came out of nowhere. I think it's a classic of its type, like an old Donna Summer song. And I like Madonna a lot. She's the best; the queen of what she does. She's very articulate, elegant, and she has taste up the ass. It's unbelievable. Her house is full of this incredibly famous art you've only seen in books."
The video was parodied on an episode of Saturday Night Live in which Madonna appeared. In a Wayne's World skit, Garth appears as one of the dancers and Madonna plays truth or dare with Wayne.
Kravitz, who produced the track, had to re-record it because the version they sent to Madonna was the only copy, and it never made to back to him (it was sent via FedEx with the wrong address and not recovered in time).
Jay-Z reworked this song as "Justify My Thug" on The Black Album in 2003.
Rabbit Bunny from Westminster MdJustify My Love is Truly Daring Madonna Art Rock Brilliance! Madonna Forever!
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 3rd 1990, Madonna's video for "Justify My Love" was aired on the ABC-TV late night program 'Nightline'; the week before MTV announced that they would not air the video on their cable channel... At the time the song was at #10 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; twenty-seven days later on December 30th it peaked at #1 for two weeks... It was her ninth of twelve #1 records on the Top 100 between the years 1984 to 2000.
Theresa from Murfreesboro, TnThis song is pretty sexy. I love how Lenny Kravitz moans in the background, Madonna's most breathy vocals, hot!
Liv from New York, NyI love this song, I can't believe people were offended by it at the time of It's release. It's obviously sexual, but It's not vulgar or explicit. It's encouraging people to communicate with their partners and share their sexual desires, "tell me your dreams, am I in them?", It's an incredible song. I wish an artist would release something like this today, something that encourages sexual expression. Coming from a generation where adolescents grow up on porn, and are able to see anything they'd like to whenever they wish, I think It's important to remind people to sexually fantasize and communicate.
Daniel from Rio De Janeiro, BrazilActually, take the video controversy away and you'll notice this song sucks big time. It ended up overshadowing the nice "rescue me" which didn't even get a proper video (but rather a live one)
Lisa from Fort Worth, TxVery sexy song.....it has a very sexual backbeat....I love it!....It makes me think about my baby and me naughty time.....yummy
Reese from Calgary, CanadaI LOVE this song. This song is actually tied with "Erotica" for being my favourite Madonna song. The video is HOT! I loved it, Tony Ward...YUM! Unfortunately I was too young to buy the video when it was released for home video, but I can still download it from the internet, lol! This video also marked the beginning of Madonna's "Dark Era" which was made official by the release of "Erotica" in 1992, not to mention her explicit, and very controversial book, "Sex" (Vanilla Ice, is pretty hot when he's naked, ooh baby!) When the song was released it was called "one of Madonna's lowest artistic points" by critics. *sticks out his tongue!* If anything, this was where she shined the most. Madonna finally had attained enough star and staying power to get away with pretty much anything. "Just because I don't have a penis doesn't mean I'm inferior to men, because I do have a penis it's in my brain. I don't need to have the physical apparatus to symbolize my strength." Madonna said in a 1992 interview. The video fits the song beautifully, and the fact that it was filmed in a hotel in Paris, makes it even more authentic. If it was filmed in some motel off Route 66 somewhere, I can see how it could be determined as "sleazy"! But this is a beautiful video, erotic, and artistic. Nobody today would dare try to top this one...good thing too!
Ben from Dallas, TxThis is one of Madonna's best videos to date. People really should look past the subjective sexual atmosphere & appreciate it for all it is. Not only is it a great piece of video art, but it is a great song with a bumpin beat & awesome lyrics. The controversy surrounding the release of this video was a launching pad for many acts to express more in videos, in the early 1990s.
Andy from Hamilton, CanadaHEY, scott, grow up
Daniel from Leeds, EnglandThe video's quality
Melissa from Green Bay, WiActually, The Immaculate Collection had 2 new songs: Justify My Love and Rescue Me. Rescue Me was released in early 1991 and debuted in the Top 15, which at the time was one of the highest debuts ever on the Hot 100. However, the song didn't do as well as expected and peaked at #9, in part due to the Justify My Love controversy, and (maybe) because there wasn't a video to support the song.
Scott Baddwin from Edmonton, Englandthe videos sick
Connor from Woodbridge, Va10 years after she made her first hit with the ever lasting song holiday, she makes #1.