Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” marks a career milestone


This week in 1984, Tina Turner’s single “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” reacged No.1 and stayed there for three weeks. The single is important because it marks the first time since Turner’s split from ex-husband, Ike, that she scored a hit. In other words, the song was the singer’s first hit since the 1970s.

“What’s Love Got to Do With it?”: A change of style for Tina Turner

“What’s Love Got to Do With It?” demonstrated a change in Turner’s style. Her singing style moved from soul to rock with the release of the single. For those who knew of Turner from her days with Ike, the style might have been a surprise. For those who were younger and had no knowledge of Turner’s musical or personal history, Turner appeared to be another cool female singer taking on the 1980s in a bold and stylish way.

The video for the song cast Turner as a lone (not necessarily lonely) woman walking along waterfronts in New York City. Her new lion’s mane of hair, mini skirt and stiletto-clad strut symbolize the words she sings. The song champions physical relationships over romantic ones. Love makes things messy. The narrator that Turner sings the part of makes the line “It scares me to feel this way,” believable. The way she looks and sounds, it is no surprise that trational romance is not her thing. This narrator is a new, liberated 1980s woman. The popularity of the sentiments can be seen in the song’s success.

Three weeks at No.1  is no small feat. Reaching No.1 is a feat that has proven too difficult for many artists. Turner’s ability to come back after years on top and suffering through an abusive marraige (as audiences familiar with the biopic will recall) and wanting nothing when it was all over except her name, is an inspirational story in and of itself. The singer’s backstory made her uniquely positioned to speak for women who wanted love on their own terms, and not the old-fashioned way.

Additional successes of “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

It was probably an easy assumption that “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”would win a Grammy. At least it is in retrospect it is. In 1985, Turner was awarded a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

In addition, the song not only went to No. 1 in the US, but also in other places around the globe. In fact, there seem to be few industrialized countries in which the song didn’t at least crack the top 10. With “What’s Love Got to Do With it?” Turner proved that her career did not end in the 1970s. With a new musical style and an updated wardrobe, Turner created a classic and demonstrated herself to be one as well.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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