Irene Cara – Flashdance… What a Feeling
The link between songs, dance, video and movies in the 80s became closer and closer. Of course, this could not happen in the previous years, because before the advent of MTV the concept of music videos was quite weak, so the most common form of contamination between these genres was the idea of musicals, in theatres or cinemas: basically shows in which a series of beautiful songs was the backbone for the narration of the events. There was just one small problem: musicals weren’t pop. The songs from Fred Astaire’s films, or maybe Julie Andrews’, didn’t enter the charts of best-selling and dance records, they remained in the Olympus of Hollywood or in Broadway theaters.
Something changed with Elvis Presley’s movies, in which the songs naturally entered or perhaps had already been in the charts, but where the link with dance was somewhat weakened, because obviously Elvis was not born as a dancer.
In 1980 there was a first, important sign of change, with the release of the film Fame, which was completely focused on the stoires of the students of an art academy, including dancers and singers. The film launched a couple of hit songs including Fame, and above all it generated a TV spinoff that lasted a few years, and which all of us dinosaurs of the 80s probably know better than the film itself.
A protagonist of this transition was undoubtedly Irene Cara, who in the film (but not in the television series) played the singer, actress and dancer Coco Hernandez. And in fact Coco was a bit the transposition of Irene, who had lived a bit the same story as Coco. Irene had become the symbol of the film itself having also performed the main song, Fame. And this role was recognized to her three years later, when the film that completed the union between films, songs, dance and music videos was released, and we are of course talking of Flashdance.
Irene Cara did not have a role in the film, but she was entrusted with the soundtrack, which was released in early March 1983, thus driving the release of the film in the following month. In a certain sense, the presence of Irene Cara in the film’s manifesto song not only evoked the glories and events of Fame, but in a certain sense it contributed to give credibility and realism to the events of welder Alex, who transforms herself by night chasing her dancing dream in Pittsburgh clubs, in her world made of steel, made of stone, as the song says.
Alex was acted by the great Jennifer Beals, and the main song of the soundtrack was Flashdance… What a Feeling. The song was the first track of the film’s soundtrack, and was also included in Irene Cara’s third album, which was also entitled What a Feelin’ (but with the elision of the final g), evidently recalling the main song title.
The word Flashdance never appears in the lyrics, and it would probably have been more correct to title the song only What a Feeling, but of course the laws of marketing, communication and convenience won. The song obviously topped the charts and also took the film’s soundtrack to the top of the albums chart, displacing none other than Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the best-selling album of all time, from the top spot. Other famous songs were released from this movie, such as Michael Sembello’s Maniac.
The video of Flashdance… What a Feeling is composed entirely of scenes from the film, or in any case shot for the film, and Irene Cara never appears in the video. In some frames, however, we can see the girl who is, in my opinion, the greatest dancer of the 80s: Cynthia Rhodes, who actually dances in the film to the notes of another song, Manhunt. Cynthia had also appeared in other very famous videos, first of all Toto’s Rosanna, where she played the protagonist (and among the dancers we see also a very young Patrick Swayze).
Flashdance undoubtedly had the credit of opening the trend of great pop musical films of the 80s, which will continue with Footloose up to Dirty Dancing, where we will see Cynthia Rhodes and Patrick Swayze together again. Of course, remembering Flashdance is also a way to remember the beautiful voice, energy and multifaceted skills of the great and talented Irene Cara, who unfortunately passed away in November 2022.
But as long as we remember Alex’s story, that incredible ballet in the exam test hall, and the energy of the song Flashdance… What a Feeling, we will know that part of this success and everything that came from it in the 80s definitely happened thanks to the contribution of Irene.
Irene Cara on Wikipedia