The world of popular music has always been subjected to unattainable dreams, aspirations, goals and the occasional controversy. No other artist has had more of an impact or influence in this medium over the past twenty years than Madonna. To know the world of ‘pop’ one has to only look at the charts. Her name and stature has been a constant among the buying public, the video generation and the movie-goer.
She has worn many hats: saint, sinner, diva, icon and on occasion, the straw that broke the camels back. In an industry that creates ‘conveyerbelt’ groups and music, she seems to have more lives than a cat. Possibly even challenging Cher on indestructibility. She has charted over a dozen singles to hit the number one position, at last count sold over 100,000,000 records worldwide, signed with Time/Warner for an unprecedented $60,000,000 (she was the first artist to do so) and owns her own label, Maverick. Not bad for someone who had a supposed ‘limited’ shelf life. But we all know this already. Madonna’s accomplishments are nothing new.
Madonna’s story has been told many times over. So, I will give you the abridged version. She was born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan in 1958. She was brought up with strict Catholic values, lost her mother to cancer at the age of 5, made her way to New York in the late 1970’s to study ballet and become an ‘overnight sensation.’ Breaking into the world of ‘pop’ in 1982 with her club hit ‘Everybody,’ Madonna created one of her many alter-ego’s, the “Boy Toy.” She defined a look and style, rode the wave of the fledging MTV, and was inundated with adolescent Madonna wanna-be’s. Her first single to hit number one was 1984’s “Like A Virgin.”
Once again changing her look and style like a chameleon she was on another path. This would be one of many. A more sophisticated and defiant woman appeared with “True Blue.” She began writing more introspective music with “Papa Don’t Preach,” and was forever labeled “The Material Girl.” It is doubtful that any fan of pop culture will forget her “Erotica,” phase and companion tabletop book “Sex.” It was truly an eye opening experience for us all. The book sold out in minutes and the cd penned the hits “Erotica,” “Rain,” and the infectious dance club smash “Deeper And Deeper.” Branching out into movies, she has had more misses than hits. “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Dick Tracy,” ” A League Of Their Own,” “Truth Or Dare,” and the award winning performance “Evita” (she was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actress) were among the hits.
In 1998, with a new sense of self and spirituality (aided by the study of Kabbalah – Jewish Mysticism – and the birth of her first child Lourdes with Carlos Leon) Madonna proved the critics wrong and reemerged with the powerfully potent “Ray Of Light.” Partnered with William Orbit, she set the music business on its ear possibly more than ever before.
Combining “pop” with “techno” and “dance” she cemented herself in the record books. She has proven time and again to be a music and video pioneer, using the newest technologies and sounds. Her controversies seemed to be far behind her and the story of legend. In 2000 her long awaited release “Music” hit the stores in September. The first single, the self-titled track “Music,” quickly gained airplay on both radio and video channels creating quite a buzz in the industry. It is where “Ray” left off. The grooves were infectious and once again got people on the dance floor. The second single “Don’t Tell Me,” was another charttopper.
Fast foward to 2006. Much has changed in the world of Madonna and yet stayed the same. A successful marriage to filmmaker Guy Ritchie, the birth of the couple’s son, Rocco, a continues string of musical hits, (including her CD American Life) as well as a not so stellar motion picture attempt (the remake of Swept Away – directed by Ritchie). She conquered the concert arena with her latest tour Confessions On A Dance Floor – and the music charts with the cd’s subsequent chart topping status. Still a student of Kabbalah, she has penned children’s books based on the faith.
Her first attempt “The English Roses,” also toped the best sellers list. She has openly spoken out on political issues as well as personal. From her criticism of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, to free speech, to gay rights, it is clear Madonna has a lot on her mind. Has she merely become a pop icon or woman of consciuosness? From all appearances Madonna has seemed to come full cirlce.
So, is Madonna the Bowie-esque chameleon for the 1980’s, 1990’s and beyond? Obviously. But I think her legacy spans further than that. As for those retractors that scoffed and remarked ‘she would be a has been within a years time,’ what a shock the past 20 or so years have been. There are no signs of her slowing down any time soon. She turned 47 years of age this year, and looks better than ever. For those of us who have grown up with Madonna, there is a distinct change. As an artist, a woman, an activist, she has grown up too.