How Matthew Broderick Inspired Madonna's Hit 1989 Song 'Express Yourself'

For a singer/songwriter, inspiration for a song can come from virtually anything, even other celebrities. When you have been at it as long as someone like Madonna, ideas lurk around every corner. And according to one rumor, Matthew Broderick helped guide the artist to her hit 1989 song, Express Yourself.

Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey got into an accident when they dated

The story began when Broderick broke out as the titular high school student in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The actor worked alongside the up-and-coming star Jennifer Grey. Though they played brother and sister in the movie, the young stars begin dating one another.

While together, the film became Grey’s big break, Dirty Dancingpremiered. The same month, August 1987, their relationship became public knowledge following a devastating car accident in Ireland. 

Madonna told Grey she inspired a hit song

The reason their relationship went public is a tragic story. According to People’s report from the time Broderick was driving a rental car. The BMW “crashed head-on” with a Volvo containing a mother and her adult daughter. The impact left Broderick with a broken leg and other injuries. While Grey reportedly sustained no notable injuries at the time, she later spoke about chronic neck pain. But the women in the other car died instantly. 

Whether it was the stress of the accident or other reasons, the relationship ended in 1988, though most suspect that it was the accident that caused the separation. 

Grey began dating Johnny Depp after the breakup. She also befriended Madonna. In her memoir Out of the Corner, Grey revealed the artist (and her Bloodhounds of Broadway co-star) told her the breakup was the inspiration for a song. 

“[Madonna] played it for me in her car,” she wrote (via People). “I was in my log cabin with Johnny and she said, ‘Come into my car.’ And I got in her Mercedes where she had a really good sound system and she was like, ‘Listen to this song I just did. It’s about you.’

Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey’s connection to ‘Express Yourself’

For those who aren’t familiar with “Express Yourself,” the song was the second single from her celebrated fourth album, Like a Prayer. The uptempo number garnered much praise from critics and listeners. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is considered a feminist anthem. But there are two hints it’s about Grey and Broderick’s relationship.

On the track, Madonna sings, “Second best is never enough/You’ll do much better, baby, on your own.” She seemingly addresses Grey and how she was feeling about Broderick at the time. “What I’ve learned is that I demanded second best,” the actor wrote in her memoir. And the choice to sing to “baby” could be an allusion to Grey’s Dirty Dancing character.

Additionally, there’s another possible hint in the song. In the first verse, Madonna sings, “You don’t need diamond rings/Or eighteen karat gold/Fancy cars that go very fast/You know they never last.” The ring mention could refer to how Broderick and Grey were engaged before their split. And the fast cars line brings the subject back to the accident.

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