One of the biggest staples of the 80s was Flashdance, a film starring Jennifer Beals as an aspiring dancer. Critics hated the movie and it received negative review after negative review. Roger Ebert would place the movie on his ‘most hated’ list. He would say of the film, “great sound and flashdance, signifying nothing.” Despite its stigma, it made a ton of money at the box office bringing in more than $200 million worldwide. As a result, it would ultimately become the #3 movie of 1983, behind Return Of The Jedi and Terms Of Endearment.
The beginning of the 1980s marked a huge breakthrough in the world of music with the launch of MTV in 1981. Because of this, music videos were more popular than ever which can be attributed to the success of Flashdance. Several of the movie’s sequences were presented in the style of music videos, exploiting the concept and starting a trend for films that would follow in the coming years, most notably Footloose, Purple Rain, and Top Gun. As more people started watching MTV, it became easier and more acceptable to integrate pop songs into films.
The movie’s soundtrack also did very well, selling six million copies in the US. Even more impressive, it knocked off Michael Jackson’s Thriller after spending a whopping seventeen weeks on top.
The album’s biggest track is, of course, “Flashdance… What A Feeling” by Irene Cara. Cara, also an actor, appeared in several films such as Happily Ever After and Fame. She would also provide backup vocals for Vicki Sue Robinson, Lou Reed, George Duke, Oleta Adams, and Evelyn “Champagne” King.
“Flashdance… What A Feeling” can be heard at the beginning of the film, as well as the famous ending scene where Jennifer Beals character is performing for a bunch of judges. The song is sung from the perspective of the character and is simply a feel-good, let-me-be-me, don’t-care-what-anyone-else-thinks piece of art.
The film was the first collaboration of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer had brought in Giorgio Moroder, who produced Blondie’s No.1 hit “Call Me” for the film American Gigolo. Moroder loved Irene Cara’s work on the movie Fame, so he brought her in to do the lead single. While a great opportunity, she was hesitant at first as she was often compared to a former collaborator of Moroder’s… the Queen of Disco herself, Donna Summer. After toying with it, she ultimately decided to do it. Moroder and Forsey were magic together. They wrote many hit songs that were used in 80s movies Moroder wrote “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away” for Top Gun, while Forsey wrote “Shakedown” for Beverly Hills Cop II and “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” for The Breakfast Club.
She wrote the lyrics with the songwriter Keith Forsey, and Giorgio Moroder composed the music and produced the track. The song was wildly successful commercially.
“I sang the melody the way I thought it should be sung. Giorgio is a great composer, but he’s not a singer. So you know, singers have to interpret the music to their own way of singing. And that involves changing the melody here and there,” Cara would tell Songwriter Universe in 2018.
On May 28, 1983, the song hit #1 in the US, where it stayed for six weeks. One of those weeks was this week in 1983! It would also reach #1 in countries like right here in Canada, Sweden, and Spain. Furthermore, Cara would go on to win a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, for the song. Adding to her accolades, she and her co-writers secured the Oscar for Best Original Song.
“It was bittersweet. Unfortunately, I was going through a lot of hassles with my record company. They were suing me. So on the outside, I was putting on a face of being on top of the world and being a success, and on the inside I was trying to figure out how to sue my label. So it was hard…I put up that everything was fine when everything was falling apart,” she would say about winning the Oscar in the same 2018 interview.
Cara would continue her acting career beyond this era, though it was short-lived. Her final major role was a year later alongside Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds in the movie City Heat, where she also co-wrote the movie’s title theme. Even With all the success, she attained in the early 80s, it was short-lived. Her popularity started to wane as both a singer and actress. While we don’t hear from her much today, it doesn’t change her contributions to the industry, both music, and film. The song is part of the fabric of 80s pop culture, and we can’t help but feel good and want to dance ourselves when we hear it.
DJ BoBo released a version as a duet with Irene Cara in the early 2000s, which reached No. 2 in Switzerland, No. 3 in Germany, No. 10 in Spain, and No. in Austria.
Lea Michele and Jenna Ushkowitz covered the song fin a third season episode of Glee. It was officially released as a single on May 25, 2012.
Jason Derulo samples the song in his 2010 hit, “The Sky’s The Limit.”
Japanese singer Miki Asakura released a Japanese version of the song. It was used as the opening song for the Japanese drama Stewardess Story.