JUSTIFY MY LOVE: Truth or Dare by MADONNA (2012)





I must begin by admitting that I am obsessed with Madonna, and I don’t use the word lightly.

Ever since the glorious moment at the age of thirteen when I was struck by the celestially ascending laser-arpeggios of Lucky Star and its taut, quasar funk, she has exerted fascination over me. With her power; cold eroticism; that voice, and those beautiful, feline blue eyes that hold me like a medusa, it is a love/hate relationship that after more than a quarter of a century shows no sign of relenting. I am fixated.


I have dreamed about her continually since this time, probably more than any other person in my life – a fact I find almost inexplicable. Although I believe that Madonna has produced some of the most delectable, exhilarating pop music of all time, she is not my favourite musician, and I am not even sure I like her. However, a strange little book  came out in the nineties  – ‘I dream of Madonna’, that shed some light on the mystery and showed me that I am apparently not alone in having my subconscious so deeply penetrated by this beautiful, inexhaustible performer.


Despite my adoration, which I sometimes consider to be more like an addiction or virus (I remember in 1992 during the Erotica period feeling so possessed that I was literally anxious that she might be the devil, relinquishing the album to a friend so I could actually study for my finals), I don’t think I am actually what you might call a ‘fan’. Those uncritical hordes seem to be willingly ignorant of her faults, whereas I see them, in all their complexity and contradictions, with a sometimes painfully crystalline clarity.


For the fact is, despite her protestations, Madonna really is the ‘Material Girl’. It is a phrase that has become lazy shorthand for journalists but which ultimately encapsulates her. While I don’t for a moment doubt the woman’s sincerity in her spiritualistic soul-searching – Madonna is no fool – at the end of the day, those eyes are always on the money. It is a greed for mass-market success that has cheapened her music, and, unfortunately, her scent.


We need only look at her 2007 deal with Live Nation for evidence. Madonna is vastly wealthy, and at this stage in her career, could pick and choose her projects with a focus on quality and artistry. Take her time, make another classic. Instead, in a Faustian pact, Madonna signed a reported 120 million dollar deal with the tour and merchandising company that requires her to release albums every couple of years and then promote them by extensive touring (something that she herself admits to hating, apart from the first and last weeks of the shows, but which she does, as she mischievously says, because ‘a girl has to pay the rent’). Rather than leading to genuine inspiration – the five year hiatus between Bedtime Stories and Ray Of Light led to a startling transformation that surprised even me – Madonna now seems to be churning out music, enlisting of-the-minute producers with her unfailingly vampiric antennae, in a vain attempt to make her music sound relevant and of the moment. The commercial failure of her last two singles, the unconvincing bubblegum schtick of ‘Give me all your luvin’,  and the gay-by-numbers  ‘Girl gone wild’, suggests that the public (like me), aren’t buying it. We know she can do better.



But on to the perfume. Madonna’s late entrance onto the stage of celebrity fragrance – behind Rihanna, Mariah, J-Lo, Britney, Beyonce, and dozens of others is surprising, although the publicity for Truth Or Dare (the name comes from the documentary film from 1991 which I have seen more times than I care to relate), claims it has been 16 years in the making. Madonna, we are told,  characteristically oversaw every detail and had final stamp of approval.

It is this, Madonna  having director’s cut, that is so exciting for me as a perfume lover AND Madonnophile: we know that she has been smelling this perfume for years, on her skin, transplanted now onto my own, as though her DNA were somehow imprinted on every molecule. And here is the genius of the celebrity fragrance explosion from a marketing perspective: persona first, aroma second. We buy blind.










The creation process was also apparently a tough slog, and not easy to get right, feeding into the workhorse legend that Madonna has built up of dogged determination and sweat. Her perfumer, Stephen Nelson, from fragrance giant Givaudan, was apparently terrified by her into tossing the latest vials of his formulas over her high security fences to get her verdicts (” TOO SWEET!!”, “LESS MUSK!!”) and it took over 200 attempts to get what she wanted.



What was always clear from the start was that any scent by Madonna would be a tuberose/gardenia composition. All fans know  that she loves these flowers, and will regularly arrive at interviews drenched in Gardenia Passion (Annick Goutal), or Fracas (Robert Piguet),  the classic tuberose which this  perfume is supposedly modelled on. Backstage, Madonna’s dressing rooms (always painted white to show her off to best effect, according to her brother, Christopher), are filled to profusion with these flowers and their exotic exhalations, which in such close confinement can be almost suffocating (wearing the scent liberally on Saturday night I feared I might also asphyxiate a Japanese couple who were standing in the elevator with me). The scent, therefore, had to be BIG. And it is.









Like the moment when I finally saw her, in 2005, at Tokyo Dome for the Confessions tour, after 25 years of never quite managing to get to a concert, and almost passing out with the excitement (screaming so loudly I thought my head might burst) when this perfume arrived to me in the post I could barely touch the envelope. IT was within. I had to run around the house a bit to compose myself, get ready….



And despite my wariness and skepticism, I am still, at heart, a Sagittarian optimist, and was willing myself, as I pulled off the papal orb of the cap and sprayed the scent on my skin, to love it. In my head, having read extensively about it beforehand, I had imagined exactly how Truth Or Dare would smell.


The creamy white flowers; the ‘benzoin tears’ (so ‘Like A Prayer’!!), the ‘caramellized amber’; I had imagined it would be a gorgeous, enveloping thing that would make me swoon with pleasure and ecstatically start gnawing off my arm. Instead, what greeted my nose, as the alcohol evaporated, was a WHAAAATTT?!!  – a reeking miasma of shrieking, sugared florals; a familiar, tangy tuberose, and pungent whiffs of rhubarb on the boil at 78 RPM: Madame M at the decks, rocking the graphic equalizers up to +10 on the jasmine, neroli, n’ lily; the effect, on my skin at least, unhingeing. No modulation or gradation, just a big smudge of overbearing, floralicious sweet.


Under this oily, synthetic tuberose there is also a strange watery, plasticky note – a crackle of 12″ vinyl still unwrapped in cellophane – like chlorinated flowers in a San Diego pool. A chlorborose onslaught that continues for an hour or so, when a more pleasing white gardenia scent finally – FINALLY! – emerges against a backdrop of fruits. And at this point, the scent is quite nice: a decent white floral gourmand. But the Ciccone maniac is not yet satisfied; he keeps inhaling, yearning for an epiphany, for a mirage of the Madonna to appear (she MUST be there, surely,  somewhere in the mix), but the formula, ultimately, is too cheap for that to happen. While not a resounding failure, like Kylie’s  grotesque ‘Darling’, Truth or Dare feels incomplete.


The reason is this. During its creation, Madonna was constantly drawn, as you might expect, to high quality, expensive natural ingredients, but these essences, tuberose absolute and the like, cannot be used for the mass market. Thus, as she has often been doing recently, she compromised her integrity by going for a lower common denominator (the latest album has many such moments as well: the cretinously saccharine ‘Superstar’ makes me want to burn my entire record collection). But imagine if, rather than chasing another ‘deal’, she had, instead, insisted on the best, cost no object (like the fragrance houses of Amouage, Clive Christian and the like). We might then have had a perfumed grail of veneration, a bottle to covet and adore like some holy reliquary. Instead, we are left with a plastic bottle of fake gardenia nougat.


To be fair, at karaoke (where many, many of her highness’s hits were performed this Saturday), as the hours progressed, the scent became more pleasing to me, more fun (though that might have been because I was singing ‘Dress You Up’). But it was only hours later, after taking a bath and the top and middle notes were washed away to reveal the base, that I cracked it, realized what it was that was so familiar. Once the ersatz bouquet had faded, this is what I discovered: the entire backbone of the scent is in fact the relentless, never-ending smell of the Bodyshop’s legendary Dewberry, a scent that was once so strong it could fill a stadium. It was then that I really began to smile, and had a wonderfully nostalgic remembrance of the eighties: of Into The Groove, of dancing at teenage parties; the smell of Blond Ambition.

Madonna’s Truth Or Dare: notes of gardenia, tuberose, neroli; jasmine, benzoin tears, white lily petals; vanilla absolute, caramellized amber, and ‘sensual musk aura’.


Filed under Celebrity Scents, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose

57 responses to “JUSTIFY MY LOVE: Truth or Dare by MADONNA (2012)

  1. I have been a fan of Tuberose for years, that being said, the culture of celebrity and the obsession with the fragrances they have come out with sickens me to the core. I think it is best to create your own fragrance and that is something I am looking in to doing. A concoction of erotic elegance. It will take some time, but I am determined. Neil, I love your reviews! Good work babe.

  2. chrysanthemummum

    This is a wonderful review. Had me hanging on every word.

  3. Deborah Lauri

    Awesomely personal feel to your reviews Neil! I Love that. Best line: “wearing the scent liberally on Saturday night I feared I might also asphyxiate a Japanese couple who were standing in the elevator with me.” Hilarious! Keep them flowing!!!

  4. ginzaintherain

    Glad you like it! I knew a Madonna review couldn’t be short!
    In final analysis though this is WAY too sweet; shockingly so in my view.

  5. ninakane1

    Fantastic review Ginza geezer. As a teeny Madonna fan (now hitting the big 4-0) who shares your lifelong passion for the dame, I loved this. Everything you write is magnificent – tactile, sensory, absorbing, witty. Keep em coming.x

  6. Pingback: Halfway Between Truth Or Dare: Madonna Perfume Review | Smellitivity.com

  7. Ah, I wrote a long reply here and my computer swallowed it up! This may pop up twice…I start again…I had a wee spritz of Estee Lauder’s Tuberose and Gardenia in Debenhams the other day and was shocked to note that it was almost exactly like Truth or Dare but without the powerful Dewberry and also lacking that body and soul-wrenching tug somehow effected by the composition of T & D that seems to accompany all things ‘Madonna’.Having said that I have yet to find an Estee Lauder fragrance to grab me. I struggle. I find them initially pleasant, and take a liking to them, but they somehow seem to drift with a dull langour – not unlike an elegant, polite but bored vicar’s daughter at an English tea party. I apologise now for my mass generalisation – in truth I have not tried very many and am hoping someone will come along and tell me how wrong I am in describing Estee Lauder such…but sadly the Tuberose and Gardenia, now existing under the shadow of Madonna’s audacious take-over – or perhaps reclamation – of its two defining ingrediants – has done little to shift me from this viewpoint. Having said this, I was very partial to Youth Dew – in fact I loved its patchouli and clovey combo to bits …have you written on this elsewhere on your blog? I shall have a look now…x

  8. This is not to say I approve of Madonna’s audacity in COLONISING Tuberose and Gardenia in the service of her own personal mythology comme d’habitude…such is the meglamania of the rich and famous…

  9. ninakane1

    But all things said, Truth or Dare is a truly gorgeous scent, and I love your review of it here.

  10. bluegardenia

    Wow. I feel like I just read my own thoughts over the last 20 years. Your words on the strangely powerful hold Madonna has on some of us, even the suspicion that she might be the devil (or at least have signed a deal with him) were beyond familiar. I think we might have been separated at birth!
    I couldn’t stand the scent either. Sugar sugar and more sugar. And I recognize the body shop dewberry note too, but dewberry was at least juicy and tart and mouth watering. Truth or dare is just way too sweet and cheap smelling.

  11. ginzaintherain

    and Nina, I would actually love to buy the EL tuberose, polite and anodyne though it is, but the price is absurd if I remember correctly. Truth or Dare hasn’t been taken out of its box since you came to stay, though I can imagine at some point on a night next Spring when I might be feeling a bit silly, it could come in for some night action.

  12. ah, well it’s ok I suppose…as for the Truth or Dare, I must confess to having been regally enraptured…my nose colonised by wily old Madge!

    • ginzaintherain

      Nina dId you ever get a bottle? I just remember how potent and ITSELF that perfume was, on both of us. It barely changes or mutates. She’s a stubborn, bitch, that MAdonna.

  13. Certainly is. Not yet but it’s next on my list! There’s something about that brash STAMP of scent so ridiculously unyielding that is appealing to my sense of frippery at the moment! Fairground pzasss – bright bling and then it passes – disappears as strongly as it was there. Little bit of candy and gone. I keep fingering the bottle in Debenhams like a toddler with a toy. those little braille baubles n Italian mama chic – je suis une ciccone chicone, no escaping the lure

  14. ninakane1

    12 quid a snip and sold to the lady! Tk max lured, I succumbed, and eau de Madge is mine! But this dewberry durable has been lingering all year on those CDs you copied. It is now synonymous with you me dear. Yes, I love it! Merry Christmas mr Ginza x

  15. ginzaintherain

    I must admit I have only worn it once! But its smell is absolutely SEARED into my consciousness. why is that? just because it’s Madonna? Or is it the scent itself…..?

  16. ninakane1

    A bit of both I think. The dewberry smell kicks in quite quickly and then just strengthens and endures – almost like a one-trick pony with a bit of ribbon in its mane to frill it up a bit! It’s just occurred to me writing this that it has that simplicity most early Madonna songs have – something almost three-verse and chorus about it, but totally engaging, rigorously enduring I find! It really has lasted on those CDs since May. She is such a canny dame.

    • ginzaintherain

      I agree that there is definitely something to it: it is not just an empty confection. SHE is within it. You CAN feel some of her pop in it

  17. ninakane1

    And I LOVE the bottle to almost fetishistic proportion, which is very unlike me. I can admire bottles, and find them appealing, but I adore this – almost like my own little white and gold knight in shining armour! Seriously! I can’t describe the effect this has on me – it’s very very strange – I almost catch a memory of myself as a 6 year old when I pick it up! Like I’m holding a favourite doll or something! It’s sooooo weird (even for me)!

  18. ninakane1

    Absolutely! It is so definitely that particular song. Also, do you notice the strange echo in the bottle? It’s not full and when you take the top of it makes a strange clink and echo above the liquid? I was trying to think what the clink reminded me of and suddenly got this overriding memory of the moment in the Eucharist when the priest gets all the little gold patterns and chalices out to put the bread and wine on – the clink of the utensils has exactly the same resonance and tone! Seriously! This perfume has a very canny Catholicism going on! Life is a mystery.

  19. Katherine

    This review is really funny.

    She was amazing, in the early days so enigmatically feline, and some of the most exciting music I ever heard! When I was just 3 or 4 my sister, who’s 9 years older, would back comb and hairspray my hair into some sort of high ponytail on the side of my head and dance around listening to those first few albums, it was SO MUCH fun…

    • ginzaintherain

      And I am still so obsessed. Those feelings never left me.

      • ninakane1

        Will we ever meet her Neil? I’d love to. Neil, what will her funeral be like? Could you imagine it. A big grand conservative Italian affair no doubt, though I like to think she’d be borne off by eunuchs with cone tits. A world without La Mad, – canna envisage it, I;m full of rum (whole bottle gone) and now this thought is precoccupying me.

      • I imagine that I will pop my clogs before she does, anyway..

  20. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    Can’t believe it is already a year…..

    • serafinarose

      Me neither!

      • brie

        Neither can I!!
        great review, N! I don’t believe that I ever read this one….I enjoyed her music but was never as hypnotized by her as you were…perhaps because I am older than you and there was less of that teenage influence? ( I know how much you hate me bringing up the age thing but I cannot help myself!!) I have never sampled Truth or Dare…easily accessible,,,I was never truly interested.

  21. It was very interesting reading your take on Madonna. You put into words what I’ve been thinking about her music – I no longer see her as being in the music, everything she does passes by me completely unnoticed.
    I tried Truth or Dare and passed it on – I didn’t find it so bad but I have so many more tuberose/tropical perfumes that I would wear sooner and find much better than this (and it found good teenage hands).

  22. Dearest Ginza
    Whilst not an obsessive, the attraction of Madonna is unquestionably irresistible. She is that massively overused and thus devalued thing an Icon.
    As is, in olfactory terms, Fracas.
    What a shame that one icon then should be involved in the debasement of another, for that what T or D is, pure and simple.
    Only because it’s you, I will go back and try and sniff out that Dewberry… for that would make three icons all together!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • I know, Dewberry…. do you remember how strong even one drop of the oil was?

      • Dearest Ginza
        I always thought Dewberry, along with some of the perfumed oils, should have carried a radioactive hazard symbol… surely they alone are the reason for all these pesky regulations that are being foisted upon us!
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  23. I still love this perfume what anyone says! I love the clinky Catholic bottle, the audacity of Madonna’s steal, the tacky dewsberry, the smell of watermelon chewy kids sweets, the fact that la Neilus sprayed it all over my Summer CDs, it’s sheer trashy sass and the fact that TK MAX keep trying to flog me it at £14.99 when I’ve already got one for £12. Madfonna I love you. I have no shame. I care not. I’ve just more or less finished my PhD and am pissed on rum. Bring on the dancing girls. truth or Dare. I wore it when I was doing a workshop with stroppy teenagers and they were non-plussed but it had a strange effect on this woman I was working with and she came in the next day wearing a Disney t-shirt of Pochahontas and enthusing about Disneyland Paris. I think the perfume inspired it. Seriously, that Madonna. Rhythm gonna get ya! Hurray for Truth n Dare. Love ya Neil. xxxxx

  24. Audacious. I’ve realised that’s the word for it. It’s an audacious scent. Madonna really doesn’t give one that it’s rip-off Fracas. And I love her for it.

    • Personally I beg to differ on the whole Fracas thing as I don’t think it really smells like that perfume. Fracas’ heart is an old school, rich rich woody womanliness, where Truth Or Dare’s is nougat swimming pool Dewberry. It definitely does have character. Still haven’t smelled the spin off though, the REMIX: Truth Or Dare Naked. Investigate, Nina, when you get the chance…

  25. Chlorborose? You never fail to make me snicker loudly 🙂

    The ending to this post is pure genius. Oh, Dewberry. That does bring back memories.

  26. Ramon

    I personally loved Truth Or Dare and the difference between it and the rest of the mass market, including designer fragrances is very palpable. Is it impossible that she used gardenia essential oil? Or is it that expensive that no mass market perfume ever uses any essential oil?

  27. Veritas

    After having used real essential tuberose oil (goodness, there is nothing in the world like it!) I think I will pass on the chlorborose! However, I may take a look at the AG Gardenia which I hear is more of a tuberose than a gardenia? and yes, tuberose oil is ridiculously expensive!

  28. Katy

    I did not care for Truth or Dare either and gave my bottle away. Have you tried Truth or Dare Naked? I am fascinated and repulsed and that is never a bad thing. From it’s strange mentholated opening to the cedar vanilla drydown it is one strange bird. I think I’m in love. For this pleasure/pain? $10.00 U.S. Practically free!

  29. This perfume just doesn’t smell the same. At the beginning I was beyond in love, in fact this perfume is what got me into my perfumery obsession, but it is now unwearable. I can’t stand it. Could it be that it was so badly reformulated even on the third production?? Seems hard to believe but I finished a second bottle, then bought it again and it was completely different.

    • How bizarre. Perhaps she put all her effort into the original release and then when it didn’t quite take off allowed the formula to be cheapened. What does it smell like now? Have you ever tried the Truth Or Dare Naked? People say I might like it.

      • ninakane1

        I’ve still got some the first bottle which I have a fondness for. I wear it on days when I have to be light and outgoing but blend in innoucuously and not stand out; days when i want to be emotionally detached and a bit superficial. It’s uplifting and puts people at their ease, but after a while I want something more complex and heavy. Will be buying another bottle if it soon and given what Ramon has said here will keep some in the original and compare / contrast. I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if she did allow the ingrediatns to be cheapened. The girl knows her money, and at the end of the day doesn’t give a shit about her perfume -making reputation! It’s just another canny tool to help make her art!

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