“Some boys try and some boys lie
But I don’t let them play, no way
Only boys who save their pennies
Make my rainy day”
Taken from the album Like A Virgin
Also released on The Immaculate Collection and Celebration
US #2, UK #3, AUS #4
Not even ‘Like A Virgin’ has stuck with Madonna as much as ‘Material Girl’ has. Perhaps the most iconic of all her early singles, if not all her singles full stop, it is also one of the very best rushes of pure pop brilliance to be found in her discography. Euphoria is a huge part of Madonna’s appeal – ‘Open Your Heart’, ‘Like A Prayer’, ‘Vogue’, ‘Deeper And Deeper’, ‘Music’, ‘Hung Up’, I could go on and on – and the chorus of ‘Material Girl’, it’s wonderfully fun verses and little “moments” fit in with this perfectly. The Marilyn Monroe homage in the video gets all the attention, but it is the song that really works for me.
The opening drum kick of ‘Material Girl’ leads into that amazingly retro-yet-oh-so-eighties backing beat, seemingly engineered for Madonna to grind away to seductively. Over the course of the song she proclaims her love for money and greed for more, and if how guys can’t raise her interest then she has to let them be-ee. The helium voice is never used to better effect than it is here, and the infectious repetition of “We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl” would come to define Madonna’s public persona for decades to come. It is only in recent years where she has become more and more recognised as a philanthropist and mother of four that she has been able to shake the tag somewhat.
That doesn’t mean she can’t still play around with this image – it is Madonna after all – and materialism has appeared in her later work. There is no other moments in her early career as sublime as “No way!” and “That’s right!”. There is no other chorus in her early work as amazing as this one. I asked my mother, as a 17-year-old in 1984, how ‘Material Girl’ made her feel and she said she never liked it because she thought it made all women look like gold diggers. Bless her cotton socks but mum kinda missed the point, especially with the last verse where Madonna turns the table and the hunter becomes the hunted. After all, as she sings on the final chorus, “everybody’s living in a material world”. She’s just the one who admits it.