Flashdance song by Irene Cara
Image via Paramount Pictures

‘What a Feeling’: The phenomenon of ‘Flashdance’ and Irene Cara’s hit song

The unforgettable song that turned her into a star.

With the news of her passing, Irene Cara is being remembered today for her contributions to not only music but also film. Her most famous songs were not hits — they made the movies they appeared in as iconic as the songs themselves. One such masterpiece is the grammy-winning theme song “Flashdance…What A Feeling,” released in 1983.

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Irene Cara first joined The Electric Company in 1971 as Iris, a member of the Short Circus. It was only a few years later that she was starring as Coco in Fame and singing the theme to the movie that would go on to become a huge hit, defining the movie itself, the era, and the whole 80s vibe about getting out of nowhere and becoming a huge success.

Some fans consider that the precursor to what was about to become, because in 1983 the film Flashdance splashed into everyone’s life, with Jennifer Beals playing the role of a welder and an exotic dancer trying to break into a dancing career that can take her places. It was Cara’s theme song “Flashdance…What A Feeling” that would add the punch the movie needed to become an all-time favorite.

It stands the test of time

For writing the lyrics and performing the song, Irene Cara earned the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Female. She also won the award for Best Original Song at the Academy and the Golden Globes. However, the true mark of an iconic song isn’t just in the awards and how long it stays on the charts. It’s in the impact the song has on the entertainment industry.

Of course, Jennifer Beals’ performance has been remembered as well over the years mostly because of a chair dance while drenched in water and the infamous scene where she removes her bra at the end of the day. The focus has remained on the hit song in tandem with these memorable scenes. With “Flashdance…What a Feeling” as the theme, the reenactment of Jennifer Beals arching her back in the infamous dance scene has been parodied in beer commercials, cartoons, and even by Miss Piggy herself.

KIA had a secretary dump a bucket of water on her boss who was sitting in a chair for one of their car commercials. Jennifer Aniston leans back and pulls the chain to release water on herself in We’re The Millers. Even The Simpsons have gotten in on the act when they parodied the water bucket scene in the season 19 episode “All About Lisa.” The movie gave the entertainment industry an iconic moment to hold onto over the years, and Irene Cara’s hit has been there every step of the way.

Flashing something

As a perfect example, The Full Monty is a British comedy film that was released in 1997. A group of steelworkers who find themselves out of work decide to put together a dance team to make extra money. Hilariously, they watch Flashdance for motivation, and the particular scene they are watching highlights Irene Cara’s hit in the background.

When a film and a song keep inspiring other works in other generations, that’s when it has earned its place in history. “Flashdance…What a Feeling” will keep finding its way into movies and shows as long as anyone needs the motivation to power through rejection and keep going on just like the famous star did in real life.

Sadly, Irene Cara passed yesterday at the age of 63. It’s stars like her who make such a lasting impact in an era that they will never be forgotten.

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Michael Allen
Michael Allen is the author of 'The Deeper Dark' and 'A River in the Ocean,' both available on Amazon. At this time, 'The Deeper Dark' is also available on Apple Books. Currently under contract to write a full-length feature spy drama for producer/director Anton Jokikunnas.