When it was recorded back in 2001, there were few songs in recent memory more ambitious than Moulin Rouge!’s “Lady Marmalade.” A supergroup collaboration between Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil’ Kim, and Pink (produced and masterminded by Missy Elliott), the song not only attempted to reinvent a Labelle classic for a modern era, but to serve as the invitation for mainstream audiences to dip in to Baz Luhrmann’s opulent, bizarre jukebox musical. And yet, if Lurhmann had had his way, the song might have been even more far-flung, as revealed in one of multiple oral histories released this week to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the track.
Specifically, we’re talking about the history published this week by Billboard, which goes in-depth on the creation of the inescapable song, talking to Luhrmann, Aguilera, Mya, and more about the song’s inception. The most fascinating, to our eyes, though—rivalling the revelation in Rolling Stone’s much shorter piece that Patti Labelle showed up to rehearse the song’s Grammys performance “carrying a clutch containing only hot sauce and a compact”—was Luhrmann’s original, pan-global plans for the song: “Let’s let all of the characters be sung by the greatest pop singers from each continent in the world,” Luhrman proposed. “I wanted the greatest K-pop girl, the greatest European singer, the greatest American singer.” Which, seriously, would have been wild; the idea of “Lady Marmalade” incorporating K-pop cheer into its slightly raw, sexualized aesthetic would have made for a very different song.
In the end, (slightly) less ambitious heads prevailed, and Luhrmann was convinced to focus instead on multiple genres of American music. (Again, this is a definition of “less ambitious” that included getting several solo artists, all about to take off into various levels of superstardom, together for a single track.) The Billboard piece downplays any drama between the different divas on the song—Aguilera calls out press reports of strife between her and Pink as mostly manufactured, and the honest truth is that the four singers rarely worked directly together while recording, anyway—but it does have a few neat tidbits. (Our favorite: The reveal that Elliott, impatient with the technical problems of 2000s-era CD burning, once got a recording of the song back to her home by calling her answering machine and playing it for herself.)
You can read Billboard’s full piece here.