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March 21, 2023

Madonna Inspiration in Jean Harlow

“Secret” is a song by Madonna from her sixth studio album, Bedtime Stories (1994). It was released by Maverick Records on September 27, 1994, as the lead single from the album. The cover art of the single showed a new look for Madonna, with blonde hair and style compared to the look of 1930s American actress, Jean Harlow. Shot by photographer Patrick Demarchelier in black-and-white, the image showed the singer slouched on a sofa with her dress down and revealing her translucent brassiere.

According to Lucy O’Brien, the general critical consensus about Bedtime Stories was “Madonna in retreat. Still smarting from criticism over the Sex book, she [evolved] into a softer, more gentle image. Yet despite the pastel tones of her new look, there was also a sense of grit. She combined this to startling effect with the music video for ‘Secret’.”

Madonna knew that a lot was riding on her first visual after the Erotica era, and wanted to create an effect with it. The video was directed by Melodie McDaniel, who had previously gained acclaim as a photographer for album artwork and also as music video director for bands like The Cranberries and Porno for Pyros. However, Madonna was more interested in one of McDaniel’s earlier short films, where she portrayed baptism combining with voodoo rituals. She enlisted McDaniel and explained that she was “drawn to the rawness of [McDaniel’s] film.” Madonna wanted to tone down her image and according to McDaniel:
“She was ready to go there... Madonna had a blonde Jean Harlow look at the time. I wanted to combine that old classic Hollywood mix with the edginess of modern contemporary, but make it feel timeless. I was trying to think of something different, something real... It was awesome I got this break, but I was freaked out. I was jumping from young artists to working with an icon... I think she was drawn to the rawness of my work.”

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