BY 1992, Madonna was a bona fide superstar. The ’90s had kicked off with her seminal hit “Vogue,” a career-spanning greatest hits album in The Immaculate Collection, and the wildly successful Blond Ambition tour. Returning from filming A League of Their Own, Madonna stepped into the studio with her “Vogue” collaborator, Shep Pettibone, and ominously stated: “Shep, no matter how fierce something is, you can’t ever do the same thing twice. Ever.”
With confidence high, and having launched her own Maverick record label, Madonna and Pettibone delved deep. Madonna devised an alter ego, Dita, and the new songs explored deeply confessional dialogues about sex and sexuality—not only in the hottest moments of physical relationships, but in their darker, more intimate instances, particularly in relation to the growing AIDS crisis. While early treatments of the new material emulated the gloss of pop artists such as Kylie Minogue, Madonna pushed for a dirtier house sound. In her vision, Erotica was the start of her newest era of being honest and true to her womanhood, counterpointed by the release of a companion book, Sex.
Erotica and Sex dropped simultaneously in October 1992. While the album was critically lauded, the public had a different reaction. Outcries about the pornographic nature of Sex claimed Madonna had gone too far, and while her previous releases had all topped the charts, Erotica was overshadowed by the backlash, and failed to reach number one. Tumbling down the chart in subsequent weeks amid protests worldwide, its challenging message was lost in the noise.
Today, Erotica should be recognized as one of Madonna’s greatest albums. While it marks the end of the pinnacle of her fame, it set the stage for empowered pop artists like Beyoncé and Britney, de-stigmatizing the bedroom and expanding the possibilities for women in pop. Erotica lives today as a reminder of the true fearlessness that made Madonna an icon.