- Release year: 1984
- Songwriter: A-ha; Morten Harket, Pal Waaktaar and Mags Furuholmen
- Performers:A-ha; Morten Harket (vocals), Pal Waaktaar (guitar) and Mags Furuholmen (keyboards)
- Album: Hunting High and Low
- Duration: 3:46
- Record Location: London
- Achievements: #1 in the US, #2 in the UK and top of the charts around the world.
Flashdance… What a Feeling” is a song from the 1983 film Flashdance with music by Giorgio Moroder and lyrics by Keith Forsey and the song’s performer, Irene Cara. Moroder had been asked to score the film, and Irene Cara and Forsey wrote most of the lyrics after they were shown the last scene from it in which the main character dances at an audition for a group of judges. They felt that the dancer’s ambition to succeed could act as a metaphor for achieving any dream a person has and wrote lyrics that described what it feels like when music inspires someone to dance. The song wound up being used for the scene they watched as well as during the opening credits as the main character is shown working as a welder.
Their collaboration was the 1st single to be released from the soundtrack album and received positive reviews. Because Flashdance was going to be released in mid-April of that year, Casablanca Records made the single available in March as a way of marketing the film to the target audience. The unexpected success at the box office resulted in stores across the US selling out of both the single and its parent album just days after Flashdance was in theaters. The song spent 6 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts around the world. It was awarded Gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America for sales of 1,000,000 copies and won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song and earned Cara the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
The success of the song made it clear to Irene Cara that she was not receiving royalties that were stipulated in her recording contract, and she took legal action against her label in order to be compensated. The backlash that she claims she suffered in retaliation for filing a lawsuit left her feeling shut out of the entertainment industry as she struggled to find work. Although she began receiving royalties for the recordings she made for them, the label and its owner declared bankruptcy and claimed that they were unable to pay her the $1,500,000 settlement she was awarded by a Los Angeles Superior Court.
After winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1979 for Midnight Express, Giorgio Moroder worked with Flashdance producer Jerry Bruckheimer on the 1980 film American Gigolo, and Bruckheimer contacted Moroder in 1982 to see if he would be interested in composing the music for the new film, which told the story of Alex Owens, a young woman who dreams of becoming a ballerina and must overcome her fear of auditioning before a panel of judges. Despite his lack of interest due to other commitments, Moroder came up with some music that was “a very rough sketch”. He thought it might fit the project well and sent it in before filming began. The demo was the music for what became “Flashdance… What a Feeling”, but Moroder did not agree to composing the score until after seeing a video of a rough cut of the film, which completed shooting on December 30, 1982. He then delegated the writing of the lyrics to his session drummer, Keith Forsey, who started on the task by himself but later received help from Irene Cara. She described Forsey as “very personable, just a sweetheart. He was very funny. We definitely clicked.”
Irene Cara received her big break in 1980 in the role of Coco Hernandez, a student at the High School of Performing Arts, in the movie Fame, the theme song of which, she performed. The soundtrack album included 2 chart hits that recorded: the title song, which got as high as number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Out Here on My Own”, which peaked at #19. When the record label for the soundtrack, RSO, went out of business, one of its executives, Al Coury, convinced her to join his newly-formed Network Records, and the title track from her 1st album there, Anyone Can See, reached #42 on the Hot 100 during a run of 18 weeks that began in November 1981. She was working on an album and looking for a producer in early 1983 when she was contacted by Paramount Pictures to provide lyrics for the new soundtrack song. Although Moroder had shown interest in working with her once she had success with Fame, she was reluctant about being compared to another singer he had produced, Donna Summer. “But with ‘Flashdance[… What a Feeling],'” Cara explained, “we were thrown together by Paramount.”
We used dance as a metaphor for … attaining anything in your life that you want to accomplish.
– Irene Cara on writing the lyrics with Keith Forsey
Irene Cara and Forsey were shown the last scene of the film, in which Alex auditions, to have a sense of what the lyrics should be. They were then driven from the screening to Giorgio’s studio to record the song and, during the trip, were able to come up with most of the words that Irene Cara would sing. She said, “I had no idea what the movie was about or anything. It did seem to me to have a similar look in regards to Fame, so I figured, well, this is another performing arts film.” She told Forsey that she thought the lyrics should describe the feeling of dance and credits him with coming up with the lyric that inspired the working title for the song, “Dancing for Your Life”. She explained how the song became “a metaphor about a dancer, how she’s in control of her body when she dances and how she can be in control of her life” and how that particular art form could represent any goal someone has. Moroder felt that the lyric “what a feeling” was right for the story but tried persuading them to incorporate the title of the film into the lyrics; the closest they could come to doing that was to use the two words that formed the title in separate lines of the song, such as, “In a flash it takes hold of my heart”. It was only after the song was completed with the title “What a Feeling” that “Flashdance…” was added “to get some extra promotional mileage” out of it.
The song has a tempo of 122 beats per minute.