Singer and dancer Madonna (Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was a
master marketer and sensational self-promoter who propelled
herself to stardom, dominating pop charts, concert halls, film,
and music video. She has been called "an outrageous blend of
Little Orphan Annie, Margaret Thatcher, and Mae West," and
"narcissistic, brazen, comical. the Goddess of the Nineties."
August 1958, Madonna Ciccone was the third child of six in a
Catholic family living in Bay City, Michigan. Her father, Tony,
a design engineer for Chrysler/General Dynamics, was a
conservative, devout Roman Catholic and a first-generation
Italian American. Madonna's mother and namesake was of
French-Canadian descent. She died of breast cancer when Madonna
was five years old.
Tony Ciccone moved the family to Pontiac, Michigan, and married
one of the women hired to care for the Ciccone household. The
adjustment was difficult for Madonna as the eldest daughter. She
had considered herself the "lady of the house" and had received
much of her father's affection and attention.
In her younger school years Madonna acted in school plays. As
she entered adolescence, Madonna discovered her love and talent
for dancing, an activity she pursued under the direction and
leadership of Christopher Flynn, her private ballet instructor.
Dedicated and disciplined, Madonna worked hard, but played hard
as well, something Flynn made easy by introducing her to the
disco nightlife of downtown Detroit.
Despite the glamour and sophistication she developed with Flynn,
who was more than 20 years older than she, neither Madonna's
extracurricular activities nor her father's disapproval kept her
from caring for her younger siblings and working hard in school.
She graduated early from high school with mostly "A's" and was
awarded a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. She
stayed two years before going to New York City in 1978 with $37
and a wealth of determination and ambition.
An apartment in an East Village tenement building surrounded by
crime and drugs was the place from which she began her steady
and focused climb to superstardom. Her first jobs included
figure modelling for artists and acting in low budget movies.
She danced briefly with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre,
studied for a time with Pearl Lang of the Martha Graham Dance
group, and went to Paris as a short-lived singer/dancer with
French disco artist Patrick Hernandez.
Talent, Determination, and Unbridled Ambition
Before she left for Paris, Madonna had developed a fascination
with the music field. It started with rock and roll, playing
drums and singing backup in several small bands. When she
returned to New York she spent a lot of time writing songs,
making demonstration tapes, and hanging out in such popular
lower-Manhattan nightclubs as the Roxy and Danceteria. It was a
simple, four-track demo called "Everybody" that earned Madonna a
recording contract with Sire Records in October 1982.
The album Madonna sold few copies when it was first released in
July 1983. However, repeated club performances and radio
air-play of several cuts from the album eventually earned her
three huge hits with "Holiday," "Lucky Star," and "Borderline."
A flurry of chart-busting hits, videos, concert tours, and films
followed. She seemed to have a Midas-like quality with most
everything she did. Even a brief singing performance in a
largely forgettable film, Vision Quest, resulted in the top-five
love ballad "Crazy for You."
Her second album, Like a Virgin, released in late 1984, produced
two number one hits - the title track and "Material Girl."
Madonna was becoming an accomplished songwriter; she had written
five of the songs herself. During the spring of 1985 she
embarked on her first concert tour, which was so successful that
she had to switch to larger venues as the tour progressed. On
the heels of Like a Virgin came the detective/comedy film
Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985 (directed by Susan Seidelman
and co-starring Madonna and Rosanna Arquette), which spawned
another popular single and video, "In the Groove."
The tour had thousands of teenage girls all over the country
tying lace bows on top of their heads, wearing underwear as
outerwear, and walking the halls of schools and shopping malls
as "Madonna wannabees." Madonna had become an icon as much as a
singer to her fans.
Controversial Behaviour Shared Centre Stage
Madonna was married briefly to actor Sean Penn from August 1985
to early 1989; it was a marriage with many well chronicled ups
and downs. In 1986 she released her third album, True Blue, from
which three singles topped the charts: "Papa Don't Preach,"
about a pregnant teen who wants to keep her child; the title
track, a light "girl loves boy" tune; and "Live to Tell," a
soulful ballad from the soundtrack of At Close Range starring
Sean Penn. In 1987 a movie starring Madonna called Who's That
Girl was largely ignored, unlike the accompanying soundtrack and
The release of Like A Prayer coincided with the breakup of her
marriage, and included a fare-thee-well written by Madonna
entitled "Till Death Do Us Part." However, it was the video of
the title song portraying Madonna's confession to a priest
followed by engaging in sexually suggestive behaviour with him
that caused a stir in the Catholic Church. The controversy
resulted in a disagreement over a $5 million endorsement
contract with the Pepsi company. Controversy again surrounded
Madonna in 1990 when she was banned from M-TV before 11 p.m.
with the sexually explicit video "Justify My Love."
Other films featuring Madonna include Shanghai Surprise (1986),
in which she co-starred with then-husband Sean Penn; Dick Tracy
(1989), the film that launched her short-lived affair with
Warren Beatty and also was accompanied by a Madonna-sung
soundtrack; and Truth or Dare, her own feature-length
video/documentary compiled of footage from her Blonde Ambition
Tour of 1990-1991. Madonna also appeared in Penny Marshall's A
League of Their Own (1992); and she co-starred with Willem Dafoe
in Body of Evidence (1993). Each work contained some form of
"out-there" sexuality that titillated her fans, and kept the
press and critics focused on her.
Created and Cashed In on Era of Voyeurism
By 1992 Madonna had established herself as a worldwide
entertainer and a sharp, confident business woman. In April of
that year she signed a $60 million contract with Time-Warner,
which included a multi-media package with her own record company
(under the Maverick label), HBO specials, videos, films, books,
merchandise, and more than six albums.
The announcement of the seven-year deal was timed with the
combined release of the album Erotica, an extended video, and a
coffee table picture book called Sex. The book can only be
purchased by adults and comes in a Mylar, vacuum-sealed cover.
It has scores of black and white photographs by fashion
photographer Steven Meisel. Madonna appears mostly without
clothes in compromising positions with everything from men and
women (in all combinations, positions, and numbers) to chairs,
dogs, and slices of pizza. She was even shown hitch-hiking in
Miami wearing nothing but high heels. The book was a sellout
across the country.
A perfect example of the paradox represented by the serious and
the playful Madonna all in one, Sex was published at the same
time as The Madonna Connection, a series of scholarly essays by
academics who had been tracking the phenomenon of the Material
Girl for several years.
Madonna's career evolved with phases and images distinct and
carefully planned. There was her lacy underwear, big hair, and
black jewelry phase (her self-described "chubby" phase, as she
referred to it in an M-TV anniversary program); then the 1940s
and 1950s sultry, sleek glamour phase reminiscent of Rita
Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe; the lean dancer; the businesswoman;
and the unashamed, uninhibited sex goddess. Each phase seemed to
be accompanied by a different lover, including Chicago Bulls'
bad boy Dennis Rodman in the spring of 1994.
Part of Madonna's genius was to recognize when the mood of her
audience changed. In the late 1994 release of Bedtime Stories,
written primarily by Madonna, a new image emerged projecting a
softer eroticism and more soulful sound. By the mid-1990s she
seemed more intent on establishing herself as a serious artist
than making headlines with yet another boyfriend. She set her
sights on playing the leading role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's
movie musical Evita, and after repeated auditions convinced
producers that she would bring a unique understanding to the
portrayal of Eva Peron. Like Eva Peron, Madonna was a strong,
willful woman who mesmerized her followers and also felt
misunderstood by her critics.
Madonna was in the midst of personal as well as professional
change. In her personal life, she settled into a relationship
with Carlos Leon, her personal trainer. Meanwhile, in 1995, she
accepted an industry award for Most Fashionable Artist as well
as VH1's Viewer's Choice award for Most Fashionable Artist, and
in December of 1996, Billboard magazine's Artist Achievement
A New Propriety
Her determination to play the staring role in Evita paid off.
While the film - and her performance - received mixed reviews,
no one could take away her dedication, hard work, or box office
success. In January 1997 Madonna was nominated for and won the
Best Actress Award at the 54th Annual Golden Globe Award
Ceremony. Later that spring, the song "You Must Love Me" from
Evita won the Academy Award for Best Song. The film's premier in
late 1995 was upstaged in October when Madonna gave birth to a
girl named Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon. Madonna described the
event to People magazine as, "the greatest miracle of my life."
She even traded in her pink Hollywood mansion for a home in a
low key suburb of Los Angeles.
The Material Girl turned serious actress, singer, song writer
and mom appeared to have it all in the late 1990s. She accepted
it all - including the stress of living a fish-bowl existence -
with characteristic calm, as if she were planning the next
phase. She told Time magazine, "I never wish I had a different
life. I am lucky to be in the position of power that I am in and
to be intelligent…. It's not my nature to just kick back."
After a star reaches a certain point, it's easy to forget what
they became famous for and concentrate solely on their persona.
Madonna is such a star. Madonna rocketed to stardom so quickly
in 1984 that it obscured most of her musical virtues.
Appreciating her music became even more difficult as the decade
wore on, as discussing her lifestyle became more common than
discussing her music. However, one of Madonna's greatest
achievements is how she manipulated the media and the public
with her music, her videos, her publicity, and her sexuality.
Arguably, Madonna was the first female pop star to have complete
control of her music and image.
Madonna moved from her native Michigan to New York in 1977, with
dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. She studied with
choreographer Alvin Ailey and modelled. In 1979, she became part
of the Patrick Hernandez Revue, a disco outfit that had the hit
"Born to Be Alive." She travelled to Paris with Hernandez; it
was there that she met Dan Gilroy, who would soon become her
boyfriend. Upon returning to New York, the pair formed the
Breakfast Club, a pop/dance group. Madonna originally played
drums for the band, but she soon became the lead singer. In
1980, she left the band and formed Emmy with her former
boyfriend, drummer Stephen Bray. Soon, Bray and Madonna broke
off from the group and began working on some
dance/disco-oriented tracks. A demo tape of these tracks worked
its way to Mark Kamins, a New York-based DJ/producer. Kamins
directed the tape to Sire Records, which signed the singer in
Kamins produced Madonna's first single, "Everybody," which
became a club and dance hit at the end of 1982; her second
single, 1983's "Physical Attraction," was another club hit. In
June of 1983, she had her third club hit with the bubbly
"Holiday," which was written by Jellybean Benitez. Madonna's
self-titled debut album was released in September of 1983;
"Holiday" became her first Top 40 hit the following month.
"Borderline" became her first Top Ten hit in March of 1984,
beginning a remarkable string of 17 consecutive Top Ten hits.
While "Lucky Star" was climbing to number four, Madonna began
working on her first starring role in a feature film, Susan
Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan.
Madonna's second album, the Niles Rodgers-produced Like a
Virgin, was released at the end of 1984. The title track hit
number one in December, staying at the top of the charts for six
weeks; it was the start of a whirlwind year for the singer.
During 1985, Madonna became an international celebrity, selling
millions of records on the strength of her stylish, sexy videos
and forceful personality. After "Material Girl" became a number
two hit in March, Madonna began her first tour, supported by the
Beastie Boys. "Crazy for You" became her second number one
single in May. Desperately Seeking Susan was released in July,
becoming a box office hit; it also prompted a planned video
release of A Certain Sacrifice, a low-budget erotic drama she
filmed in 1979. A Certain Sacrifice wasn't the only embarrassing
skeleton in the closet dragged into the light during the summer
of 1985 -- both Playboy and Penthouse published nude photos of
Madonna that she posed for in 1977. Nevertheless, her popularity
continued unabated, with thousands of teenage girls adopting her
sexy appearance, being dubbed "Madonna wannabes." In August, she
married actor Sean Penn; the couple had a rocky marriage that
ended in 1989.
Madonna began collaborating with Patrick Leonard at the
beginning of 1986; Leonard would co-write most of her biggest
hits in the '80s, including "Live to Tell," which hit number one
in June of 1986. A more ambitious and accomplished record than
her two previous albums, True Blue was released the following
month, to both more massive commercial success (it was a number
one in both the U.S. and the U.K., selling over five million
copies in America alone) and critical acclaim. "Papa Don't
Preach" became her fourth number one hit in the U.S. While her
musical career was thriving, her film career took a savage hit
with the November release of Shanghai Surprise. Starring Madonna
and Sean Penn, the comedy received terrible reviews, which
translated into disastrous box office returns.
At the beginning of 1987, she had her fifth number one single
with "Open Your Heart," the third number one from True Blue
alone. The title cut from the soundtrack of her third feature
film, Who's That Girl?, was another chart-topping hit, although
the film itself was another box office bomb. 1988 was a
relatively quiet year for Madonna as she spent the first half of
the year acting in David Mamet's Speed the Plow on Broadway. In
the meantime, she released the remix album You Can Dance. After
withdrawing the divorce papers she filed at the beginning of
1988, she divorced Penn at the beginning of 1989.
Like a Prayer, released in the spring of 1989, was her most
ambitious and far-reaching album, incorporating elements of pop,
rock, and dance. It was another number one hit and launched the
number one title track as well as "Express Yourself," "Cherish,"
and "Keep It Together," three more Top Ten hits. In April 1990,
she began her massive Blonde Ambition tour, which ran throughout
the entire year. "Vogue" became a number one hit in May, setting
the stage for her co-starring role in Warren Beatty's Dick
Tracy; it was her most successful film appearance since
Desperately Seeking Susan. Madonna released a greatest-hits
album, The Immaculate Collection, at the end of the year. It
featured two new songs, including the number one single "Justify
My Love," which sparked another controversy with its sexy video;
the second new song, "Rescue Me," became the highest-debuting
single by a female artist in U.S. chart history, entering the
charts at number 15. Truth or Dare, a documentary of the Blonde
Ambition tour, was released to positive reviews and strong
ticket sales during the spring of 1991.
Madonna returned to the charts in the summer of 1992 with the
number one "This Used to Be My Playground," a single featured in
the film A League of Their Own, which featured the singer in a
small part. Later that year, Madonna released Sex, an expensive,
steel-bound soft-core pornographic book that featured hundreds
of erotic photographs of herself, several models, and other
celebrities -- including Isabella Rossellini, Big Daddy Kane,
Naomi Campbell, and Vanilla Ice -- as well as selected prose.
Sex received scathing reviews and enormous negative publicity,
yet that didn't stop the accompanying album, Erotica, from
selling over two million copies. Bedtime Stories, released two
years later, was a more subdued affair than Erotica. Initially,
it didn't chart as impressively, prompting some critics to label
her a has-been, yet the album spawned her biggest hit, "Take a
Bow," which spent seven weeks at number one. It also featured
the Björk-penned "Bedtime Stories," which became her first
single not to make the Top 40; its follow-up, "Human Nature,"
also failed to crack the Top 40. Nevertheless, Bedtime Stories
marked her seventh album to go multi-platinum.
Beginning in 1995, Madonna began one of her most subtle image
makeovers as she lobbied for the title role in the film
adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita. Backing away from the
overt sexuality of Erotica and Bedtime Stories, Madonna recast
herself as an upscale sophisticate, and the compilation
Something to Remember fit into the plan nicely. Released in the
fall of 1995, around the same time she won the coveted role of
Evita Peron, the album was comprised entirely of ballads,
designed to appeal to the mature audience that would also be the
target of Evita. As the filming completed, Madonna announced she
was pregnant and her daughter, Lourdes, was born late in 1996,
just as Evita was scheduled for release. The movie was greeted
with generally positive reviews and Madonna began a campaign for
an Oscar nomination that resulted in her winning the Golden
Globe for Best Actress (Musical or Comedy), but not the coveted
Academy Award nomination. The soundtrack for Evita, however, was
a modest hit, with a dance remix of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"
and the newly written "You Must Love Me" both becoming hits.
During 1997, she worked with producer William Orbit on her first
album of new material since 1994's Bedtime Stories. The
resulting record, Ray of Light, was heavily influenced by
electronica, techno, and trip-hop, thereby updating her classic
dance-pop sound for the late '90s. Ray of Light received
uniformly excellent reviews upon its March 1998 release and
debuted at number two on the charts. Within a month, the record
was shaping up to be her biggest album since Like a Prayer. Two
years later she returned with Music, which reunited her with
Orbit and also featured production work from Mark "Spike" Stent
and Mirwais, a French electro-pop producer/musician in the vein
of Daft Punk and Air.
The year 2000 also saw the birth of Madonna's second child,
Rocco, whom she had with filmmaker Guy Ritchie; the two married
at the very end of the year. With Ritchie as director and
Madonna as star, the pair released a remake of the film Swept
Away in 2002. It tanked at the box office, failing to crack
seven digits, making it one of the least profitable films of the
year. Her sober 2003 album, American Life, fared a little better
but was hardly a huge success. That same year she released a
successful children's book, The English Roses (it was followed
by several more over the coming years). Confessions on a Dance
Floor marked her return to music and to the dance-oriented
material that had made her a star; released in late 2005, it
topped the Billboard charts, and was accompanied by a worldwide
tour in 2006, the same year that I'm Going to Tell You a Secret,
a CD/DVD made during her Re-Invention Tour, came out. In 2007
Madonna released another CD/DVD, Confessions Tour, this time
chronicling her controversial tour of the same name.
Possessing one of the most distinctive voices in pop music and
one of the most distressing résumés on the big screen, Madonna
has proven that whatever the role -- screwball seductress,
martyred Argentinian first lady, embittered single mom-cum-yoga
instructrix -- her abilities as a performer will manage to
undermine any production whose credits bear her name. Like Elvis
before her, Madonna has proven that no matter how sterling a pop
reputation an artist may have, success on the Billboard Top 100
does not translate into similar plaudits at the box office.
Born Madonna Ciccone in Bay City, MI, in 1958, Madonna was
raised in a strict Roman Catholic household. She attended the
University of Michigan as a dance student for a brief period
before dropping out to move to New York City in 1977. There, she
quickly became a habitué of various downtown gay discos; spurred
on by her dance teacher and her deejay pals, she embarked on a
singing career. Before releasing her debut album, however, she
made a debut of another kind in an all-but-forgotten,
micro-budgeted date-rape melodrama entitled A Certain Sacrifice
(1979). In an omen of things to come, Madonna later tried to
halt the theatrical release of the film after her musical career
The artist's proper screen debut came courtesy of Susan
Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan. The 1985 release featured
Madonna in a supporting role as a funky girl/object of desire
around which the film's screwball plot revolved. Her rising star
helped to make Susan a minor hit; aided by Seidelman, she was
able to capitalize on her effervescent comic charm and her
kooky, uber-Soho, Material Girl persona.
Unfortunately, Madonna's relationship with volatile young actor
Sean Penn led her to accept a role opposite him, both in real
life as well as onscreen in Shanghai Surprise (1986). The
retro-styled, George Harrison-produced debacle endured a brief
and mercilessly lambasted life at the box office; Madonna's
marriage to Penn didn't last much longer. Next up for the
indefatigable entertainer was Who's That Girl? (1987), a
stillborn, flimsy imitation of the Melanie Griffith/Jeff Daniels
vehicle Something Wild, released just one year prior. Notable
only for its hit title track, the ostensible homage to Howard
Hawks starred a pained Griffin Dunne opposite a bubbly,
impetuous Madonna, apparently performing in the style of her
semi-controversial "Open Your Heart" video. Needless to say,
their chemistry did little to ignite box-office fireworks.
Madonna's next vehicle was undoubtedly her most high profile to
date; cast opposite Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy (1990), she
received lavish amounts of pre-film hype, particularly as she
was involved at the time with long-in-the-tooth, alpha-stud
Beatty. However, the much-anticipated feature failed to make
good on the promise that surrounded its production, and Madonna
herself came away with only a few choice Steven Sondheim
production numbers to her credit. However, the "inspired by the
motion picture" soundtrack album did help spark one of the
singer's most enduring cause celebres -- "voguing."
It took director Alex Keshishian to (literally) strip some of
the veneer from the Madonna mystique with his tell-all
documentary Truth or Dare the following year. The feature's
risqué subject matter -- including the songstress' unabashed
fellating of an Evian bottle -- created a ratings stink with the
MPAA and revealed some previously unexposed dimensions of
Madonna's relationship with Beatty, such as his incessant
ridicule of her.
Madonna next courted the best reviews of her film career to date
playing a feisty baseball player in the 1992 A League of Their
Own, in which she starred amongst a talented ensemble cast that
included Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, and offscreen gal-pal Rosie
O'Donnell. Those favorable reviews were soon overshadowed,
however, by the maelstrom of negative publicity just a few
months later, when she formed a troika of artistic shame with
her starring role in the pseudo-S&M thriller Body of Evidence
(1993), her show-and-tell photo book Sex, and her subpar dance
Madonna kept a relatively low profile during the next three
years, popping up occasionally for cameos in Blue in the Face
and Four Rooms as well as a leading part in Abel Ferrera's
barely-released Dangerous Game, co-starring Harvey Keitel.
Instead, she spent much of her free time hounding director Alan
Parker to cast her in the title role of the long-gestating film
version of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Evita. Madonna's efforts
eventually paid off when she won the part in the Christmas 1996
release; although critics responded with mixed opinions, the
singer/actress managed to garner a Golden Globe for her
Just when it seemed the actress had written off Hollywood for
good, fate came calling in the form of boy-toy gal pal Rupert
Everett and his script idea titled The Next Best Thing. Billed
as a romantic comedy, the John Schlesinger-helmed vehicle was in
actuality an uneasy melange of The Object of My Affection, My
Best Friend's Wedding, and, improbably, Kramer vs. Kramer.
Critics responded to the film with primal screams of derision,
many of which were aimed at Madonna's balsa wood-inspired and
deeply schizophrenic performance. Around this time, insult was
indeed added to injury when, in early 2000, the erstwhile
thespian was dubbed the Worst Actress of the Century at the
Razzie Awards, beating out such notables as Bo Derek, Pia
Zadora, and Elizabeth Berkley.
The stage was set for another of the actress' many career
reinventions, and it seemed as though she might do just that
with her marriage to film director Guy Ritchie, the father of
her second child, Rocco. Though she had not yet appeared in one
of the Brit's testosterone-laden heist films (including 1998's
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000's Snatch) she did
play a starring role in their lavish Scottish Highlands'
nuptials in December of 2000.
It wouldn't be long before Madonna collaborated artistically
with her new beau. Subscribing to the age-old Hollywood dictum
that a couple can't truly be in love without an accompanying
vanity project, the Material Girl and Ritchie dusted off Italian
director Lina Wertmuller's 1974 post-feminist chestnut Swept
Away... By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August for a
lavish remake, albeit one without the original film's rape scene
and communist subtext. Though many reviewers pointed out
Madonna's natural adeptness at portraying a spoiled, shrewish
heiress who engages in dominant/submissive sex games with a
lusty Italian seaman, they were less convinced of the positive
emotional "transformation" her character underwent over the
course of the film. True to form, audiences avoided Swept Away
like the plague, as it struggled to crack seven digits at the
box office, making it one of the least-profitable films of 2002.
In March of 2003, the Razzie Awards responded in kind, showering
Swept Away and its star with 5 wins including Worst Picture of
the year. Unfortunately, Madonna had to share her award for
Worst Actress with her acolyte, another pop star trying to segue
into film, Britney Spears.
Louise Ciccone, principally known by her first name, is an
American pop singer, composer, actress, dancer, author,
activist, and fashion icon. She rose to prominence in the 1980s,
and has become one of the best-selling female artists of all
time. She is one of a small number of singers who have been
referred to in the media as the "Queen of Pop".
Madonna was born in Bay City, Michigan to an Italian-American
Chrysler engineer, Silvio Ciccone, and his French-Canadian wife,
Madonna Fortin. She was raised in a Catholic family of six
children in the Detroit suburbs of Pontiac and Rochester Hills.
Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of thirty, when
Madonna was only five. The singer/icon has frequently discussed
the enormous impact her mother's death had on her life and
career. Following his wife's death, Silvio brought in a
housekeeper, Joan Gustafson. He later married her and had two
Silvio required all of his children to take music lessons. After
a few months of piano lessons, Madonna convinced her father to
allow her to take ballet classes instead, and she proved to be a
After graduating from Rochester Adams High School in 1976,
Madonna received a dance scholarship to the University of
Michigan. At the encouragement of her ballet teacher,
Christopher Flynn, Madonna left college after only one semester
and moved to New York City to pursue a dance career. She studied
with modern dance legend Martha Graham, as well as a Graham
disciple, Pearl Lange. Madonna later performed with several
modern dance companies, including Alvin Ailey and the Walter
After performing as a dancer for French disco star Patrick
Hernandez on his 1979 world tour, Madonna abandoned her
fledgling dance career to pursue music. She formed several
bands, including "Breakfast Club" and "Emmy". She also wrote a
number of songs that brought her local fame in New York dance
clubs, particularly Danceteria.
In 1982 the singer inked a deal with Sire Records. Her demo
song, "Ain't No Big Deal", was written by her frequent
collaborator, Stephen Bray, but was shelved for several years
because it had recently been recorded and released by the Epic
Records group Barracuda. Five years later, Madonna's version
surfaced on the B-side of the "True Blue" single, though it has
never appeared on one of her albums.
During the sessions for her first album, Madonna recorded a song
called "Sidewalk Talk". However, after listening to the finished
product, she and her producers decided that its sound was too
dated. They shelved the track and replaced it with a more
current-sounding song called "Holiday". (It soon became a hit,
and stands today as an iconic 1980's dance song. "Sidewalk Talk"
would later be used as a B-side for a single release.)
Madonna's first bona-fide hit was "Everybody", produced by Mark
Kamins. It gained heavy rotation on R&B radio stations, leading
many to assume that Madonna was a black artist. When "Everybody"
was released as a single, Madonna's picture did not appear on
the album sleeve, because Sire did not want to risk losing the
black audience (Madonna's core audience at that point) by
advertising that Madonna was white.
1983 her self-titled first album, Madonna, was released, and its
first single, "Holiday", was a hit single in several countries.
Other hits on Madonna included "Borderline" and "Lucky Star".
The album was produced by John 'Jellybean' Benitez, with whom
Madonna had had a brief romance. Although the album sold only
moderately at first, thanks to heavy rotation on a brand new
cable channel called MTV, Madonna gained nationwide exposure and
the album peaked at number eight on the Billboard chart, and
went platinum five times.
MTV aggressively marketed Madonna's image as a playful and sexy
combination of punk and pop culture, and she soon became a
fixture on the network. Her bleached blonde hair (with brown
roots), sexy lace gloves, lingerie on the outside and "Boy Toy"
belt buckle became popular in malls and schoolyards across
America. In many ways, she defined pop fashion of the era.
The hit club track, "Burning Up", was remixed for release in the
U.K. by DJ Rusty Egan (formerly of the new romantic group,
Benitez said that based on the success of Madonna's first album
he had expected to produce her follow-up, but Madonna had other
In 1984 Madonna released Like a Virgin. The album, produced by
the legendary Nile Rodgers, had a distinctive soul and funk
flavor, with hard, loud drums and plenty of bass guitar, yet
remained pop-friendly and accessible. The title track topped the
U.S. charts for six weeks and is believed to be first time in
music history that the word "virgin" appeared in a Top 40 song.
Madonna's performance at the First Annual MTV Video Music Awards
in 1984 is considered to be the first controversial incident in
a career that would see many more. She took the stage to sing
"Like A Virgin" wearing a combination bustier/wedding gown,
which included her trademark "Boy Toy" belt. During the
performance, she rolled around on the floor, revealing lacy
stockings and garters, and made a number of sexually suggestive
moves. While such a performance would probably not raise
eyebrows today, it was shocking to a mid-1980's audience.
However, Madonna seemed to thrive on the controversy, and it
only served to increase her popularity.
The record spawned three other hits, all of which went to
Billboard's Top Five: "Angel" (number five), "Dress You Up"
(number five), and what was to become her signature song,
"Material Girl" (number two). Since this album's release,
Madonna has often been referred to as "The Material Girl".
Like a Virgin was the first time Madonna used what became a
continuing career strategy: a change of image. Where Madonna had
been mostly synthesizers and dance beats, featuring a "street
urchin" version of the singer, the image projected in Like a
Virgin was lacy and sensual, with Madonna portraying Lolita-like
The wild success of the release led Madonna to Hollywood. In
1985, she made a brief appearance in the film Vision Quest
playing a club singer, with the song she performed, "Crazy for
You", becoming her second number-one hit. It garnered her the of
many first Grammy nominations. Later that same year, she
received commercial and critical success for her starring role
in Susan Seidelman's film Desperately Seeking Susan.
This era of Madonna's career also saw the advent of the "Madonna
Wannabe". Across America, teenage girls went to great lengths to
emulate their idol, dressing in spandex, miniskirts, torn
t-shirts, and lacy bras, with armfuls of black rubber bangles,
and teased, bow-tied hair. Madonna has remarked in interviews
that it was startling to see girls dressing like her all over
the country, because her "look" was based mainly on recycled
streetwear during her lean years, using old hosiery to tie up
her hair and cutting up old shirts.
Also in 1985, Madonna launched her first full-scale live
performance tour, called "The Virgin Tour". Every stop on the
tour sold out; tickets for the opening night performance in
Seattle were gone in thirty-three minutes.
Around this time, a number of black and white nude photos of
Madonna surfaced, published in both Penthouse and Playboy
magazines. The photos were taken during the late 1970s, when she
posed for art photographers in New York City as a way to make
money. Some feared that the nude photos of Madonna would damage
her career. Unsurprisingly, Madonna brushed off the scandal,
responding with "So what?" and "I'm not ashamed". Madonna's "So
What?" response was later quoted on a Ciccone Youth record
1985 proved to be a pivotal year both professionally and
personally for Madonna. Along with enjoying the commercial
success of the Like A Virgin album and tour and her film
appearances, she also met and fell in love with actor Sean Penn.
On her twenty-seventh birthday, August 16, 1985, Penn and
Madonna were married in an outdoor ceremony in Malibu,
California. Despite attempts to keep the media away from the
celebration, paparazzi in helicopters hovered so close that the
noise drowned out the couple's wedding vows.
In 1986, Madonna released her third album, True Blue. The album
was co-produced by Patrick Leonard and Madonna's longtime friend
Stephen Bray. It included the hits, "Open Your Heart", "True
Blue", "Live to Tell", "La Isla Bonita", and "Papa Don't
Preach". True Blue was described by Rolling Stone as her "blue
collar album", while other critics felt the songs were
reminiscent of the 1950s. With this album, Madonna also changed
her look to a more 1950s feel. Her new style consisted of short
bleached hair, plain white t-shirts, leather jackets, and
tapered pants. Madonna dedicated "True Blue" to her new husband,
Sean Penn, referring to him in the album's liner notes as the
"coolest guy in the world".
One of the hit songs, "Papa Don't Preach", caused some cultural
debate and controversy. In the song, a girl is confessing to her
father that she is pregnant, and the lyrics include the lines
"my friends keep telling me to give it up" and "I've made up my
mind, I'm keeping my baby". Though Madonna has indicated that
the song is about an unwed mother choosing not to give her baby
up for adoption, many believed that the girl was actually
deciding against abortion. Anti-abortion lobbyists found
themselves in the surprising position of supporting Madonna,
while some feminists and pro-choice activists accused Madonna of
glamorizing the lifestyle of unwed motherhood that they believed
would lead young women into poverty. This was perhaps the first
time in Madonna's career that some conservative political groups
supported her expression while more liberal groups criticized
Madonna portrayed a variety of characters in the music videos
that accompanied the True Blue album. In the video for "Open
Your Heart", Madonna played a stripper who befriends a young
boy. In "La Isla Bonita", she played a Spanish woman, which was
one of the first indications of Madonna's fondness for the
Hispanic culture. There are two versions of the video for the
song, "True Blue". In the U.S., Madonna collaborated with MTV in
an amateur video-making contest wherein viewers submitted their
own home-made music videos for the song. One amateur video was
chosen by Madonna and MTV to be designated as the official music
video for the song, "True Blue", in the United States. The MTV
"Make My Video" contest winners were Angel Gracia and Cliff
Guest. In Europe, however, Madonna starred in her own music
video for the song.
Madonna appeared with husband, Sean Penn, in the 1986 film
Shanghai Surprise, which was unanimously panned by critics. The
couple soon earned a reputation for hostility towards the media,
thanks to Penn's frequently violent outbursts against the
paparazzi. The paparazzi often referred to the couple as the
In 1987 Madonna starred in the film, Who's That Girl, which was
a flop in the U.S., but a minor success in the rest of the
world. Nevertheless, the soundtrack spawned three hits: the
title track, "Causing a Commotion", and "The Look of Love". She
also appeared as Hortense in a film called Bloodhounds of
Broadway, which was harshly dismissed by many reviewers.
Madonna embarked on the "Who's That Girl World Tour", beginning
her long association with backing vocalists and dancers Donna
DeLory and Niki Haris. The tour marked her first run-in with the
Vatican; the Pope urged fans not to attend her performances in
Italy. The fans were not affected, however, and the tour went on
That year she also released an album of dance remixes entitled
You Can Dance. It failed to sell as well as her previous
On September 14, 1989 she divorced husband Sean Penn, citing
In 1989, Madonna released the album Like a Prayer. It produced
three American Top Ten hits: "Express Yourself", "Cherish" and
"Keep It Together". "Oh Father" made it only into the Top
Twenty. Like a Prayer is often cited by critics as the best
album of her career.
To mark the release of Like a Prayer, Madonna changed her image
once again. Her previously short platinum coif was restyled into
a long mane of wavy brown hair. Some critics said that Madonna
was taking on a hippie look from the 1960s.
The music video for the title track featured Madonna as a woman
who witnesses a violent murder. A black man (played by Leon)is
falsely accused of the crime and is jailed. Madonna then goes
into a church and prays before a religious statue, assumed by
some to be a statue of St. Martin de Porres. Madonna then falls
asleep and dreams that the statue comes to life and passionately
kisses her. Madonna then awakens with the resolve to identify
the real perpetrator of the murder. The falsely accused black
man, who resembles the statue, is then released.
The music video for Like a Prayer featured many Catholic
symbols, such as stigmata, and was denounced by the Vatican for
its "blasphemous" mixture of eroticism and Catholic symbolism.
(Backing singer Niki Haris had turned down Madonna's offer to
dance with her in front of the field of burning crosses. Haris,
a black woman, said that she could not bring herself to be in a
scene with such a strong symbol of the KKK.)
Madonna had signed a deal with Pepsi, according to which the
song "Like a Prayer" would be debuted as a Pepsi commercial in
which Madonna would appear. The commercial was first broadcast
during an episode of The Cosby Show, but when the following
week, Madonna's own music video version of the song debuted on
MTV, Pepsi pulled theirs off the air and cancelled all plans for
future commercials with Madonna. Though the contract with Pepsi
called for three future commercials, Madonna got to keep her
five-million-dollar endorsement fee without fulfilling her
contractual obligations. Madonna later said that it was apparent
that Pepsi wanted to rid themselves of the controversy as
quickly as possible. (As part of the endorsement deal, Pepsi had
also agreed to sponsor Madonna's 1989 world tour. With the loss
of their endorsement, Madonna had to postpone her concert tour
until the following year.)
The song, Dear Jessie, was released in Europe, with an
accompanying animated music video (her first animated music
video), and went on to be a European Top Ten hit.
The video for Express Yourself was the first of several to be
directed by then-unknown film director, David Fincher (Fight
Club and Panic Room).
In 1990, she starred as Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy
alongside Warren Beatty, whom she also briefly dated. She earned
some good reviews for the role, though critics pointed out that
it continued her tradition of performing well when portraying
characters quite similar to herself (in this case, a demanding
and powerful vamp). I'm Breathless: Music from and Inspired by
the Film 'Dick Tracy' spawned the huge number-one hit, "Vogue",
which popularized a dance trend in which people struck poses
like fashion models in magazines (such as Vogue, hence the term
"voguing"). Widely considered one of her best songs, its video,
also directed by David Fincher, was named the number-two video
of all time by MTV, second only to Michael Jackson's "Thriller".
There has been a misconception that "Vogue" was written,
recorded for and used in the film, when in fact it was not (it
was originally intended as a B-side, but was put on the album at
the last minute because the song fit the album's concept).
Curiously, the song was used in a television trailer promoting
the film, which spawned this misconception. Another top ten
single inspired by, but not used in, the film was "Hanky Panky".
The album, however, did contain four songs that actually were in
the film: "Sooner or Later" (which won an Oscar for "Best
Original Song"), "What Can You Lose?", "More" (the song that's
actually heard at the end of the film), and "Now I'm Following
You" (a duet with co-star Warren Beatty but in a version
different from what was heard in the film). "I'm Breathless" is
one of actually three original soundtracks that were released
around the time of the film.
She also released her first greatest hits album, The Immaculate
Collection, towards the end of 1990. The album was dedicated to
the Pope, her "divine inspiration". She included fifteen of her
biggest hits and two new songs, both top-ten hits: "Rescue Me"
which reached number nine, and "Justify My Love", co-written by
Lenny Kravitz, which stayed at number one for four weeks.
Despite the radio success of "Justify My Love", the sexual
content of both the song's lyrics and its ground-breaking video
proved to be too much for MTV, and network executives decided
they could not air it. Somewhat surprisingly, rather than fight
the ban, Madonna released a statement indicating that she fully
respected MTV's decision and expressing her gratitude to the
network for its ongoing support of her career. Madonna's record
company then decided to sell the video on VHS as a "video
single", the first one ever released. The video sold over
400,000 copies, and the CD single sold over one million. This
success was yet another example of Madonna's ability to turn
controversy to her advantage, as it is unlikely that either the
CD single or the video would have sold nearly as successfully
had MTV simply decided to air the video.
Additional controversy developed when Prince protege, Ingrid
Chavez, claimed partial songwriting credit for the lyrics of
"Justify My Love". The track sampled the Public Enemy
instrumental, "Security of the First World". Madonna claimed
that she was unaware of any deliberate copying and Chavez was
later granted a percentage of the song's royalties. The rap
community was less forgiving and responded by releasing three
"answer records" to Madonna in defense of Public Enemy producer
Hank, Shocklee: "To My Donna" by Young Black Teenagers, "Al Will
Justify Your Love" by Al B. Sure!, and "Justify Satisfy" by D-Melo.
The tracks failed to generate much public interest.
In 1991, Madonna starred in her first documentary film, In Bed
with Madonna, which chronicled her "Blonde Ambition Tour"; the
title was changed to Truth or Dare for its U.S. release. In it,
her personality and private life were explored in intimate
detail: the star came across as extremely ambitious, demanding,
forthright, sexy, and highly intelligent. It also showed her
softer side as she confronted family members and visited the
grave of her mother. However, others in her entourage complained
that the film had been edited to remove embarrassing material
about Madonna, while their requests to remove embarrassing
scenes involving them such as a dancer's admission that he was
gay were ignored. The documentary grossed fifteen million in the
U.S. and another twenty million overseas. The film only cost a
million dollars to make. It was parodied by the U.K. television
show, In Bed with Medinner, and the American TV spoof, Medusa:
Dare To Be Truthful, which starred former MTV personality, Julie
In 1992, Madonna appeared in the Penny Marshall film, A League
of Their Own, which revolved around a women's baseball team. Her
performance was heralded by critics as an impressive return to
the form she'd hinted at in Desperately Seeking Susan, though
her character, "All-The-Way Mae", a libidinous vamp, again
seemed to play directly off Madonna's then image. She wrote and
performed the film's theme song; the number-one hit, "This Used
to Be My Playground". Its music video featured film clips, and
the song became a huge adult contemporary music hit and
Madonna's tenth Hot 100 number one single.
The erotic book, Sex, photographed by Steven Meisel, was
released October 21, 1992 and sold for $49.95 each. Adult in
nature, it featured Madonna as the centerpiece of photographs
along with other pop music artists of the time depicting various
sexual fantasies and acts (including lesbianism, anal sex, and
sadomasochism). The book was bound in sheet metal and Mylar, and
came with a CD single of the song "Erotic" (a remix of her new
single "Erotica" with different lyrics), which was packaged to
look like a giant condom. Critics panned the book as another of
Madonna's preplanned controversies; Spy Magazine called it "a
fuck book that contained no actual fucking."
In the wake of publicity generated by the book, Madonna released
her next album, Erotica, in the same year. She co-wrote and
produced this record mostly with the legendary Shep Pettibone.
Almost a companion piece to the book, it featured bold sexual
anthems that made no attempt to disguise their star's appetite
for erotic fantasy and role-playing. The album spawned a number
of top ten hits, including "Erotica" (which became the
highest-debuting (number three) single in the history of the Hot
100 Airplay Chart) and "Deeper and Deeper" which stalled at
number seven. Outside of America "Fever" and "Bye Bye Baby" were
also hits, while domestically, "Rain" stalled at number fourteen
and "Bad Girl" went on to achieve modest chart success, entering
the top forty.
The music videos from Erotica were groundbreaking in a number of
ways. Two different treatments of the title video were released:
an "uncut" European version which featured graphic nudity and
overt depiction of sexual acts, and a censored American version,
which contained more suggestive, rapidly changing images, edited
in such a way that the most risque scenes were obscured or
omitted. Despite this, even the expurgated version of the video
was deemed too raunchy for America in 1992. Though the song was
a huge hit, the video only aired a total of three times on MTV,
always after midnight, and always preceded by a warning (issued
by Kurt Loder) that viewers should change the channel if S&M and
homosexuality were not to their taste.
At present, the censored version of the "Erotica" video has been
unbanned by MTV and VH1, and has been aired in its entirety
several times on VH1 and MTV2 within the past five or six years,
not always late at night or early in the morning. Indeed, since
2000, MTV2 has broadcast the video several times in the middle
of the afternoon, during Madonna-related special programming, as
occurred around the time of the 2003 release of her American
The "Rain" video, one of the first directed by Mark Romanek, was
notable for its frame-by-frame colorization of black and white
stock, a painstaking process which lent it a highly stylized
appearance. The "Fever" video, one of Stephane Sednaoui's first,
was also well-received, and the video for "Bad Girl", which
featured Christopher Walken as an angel, told a disturbing tale
of a woman whose lifestyle leads to her murder.
Despite numerous negative reviews and comments by the media, the
book became an instant bestseller. Like the book, the album
received mixed reviews, but peaked at number two on the
Billboard chart, sold over five million copies, and went
platinum twice. Erotica had a number of hit singles, including
Erotica and Rain, both selling over one million copies each.
The Madonna "industry" appeared to go into overdrive in 1993
when she appeared in a number of film roles. Body of Evidence
was regarded by many commentators as an exercise in soft-core
pornography, with Madonna portraying a woman accused of killing
her lover by means of sexual intercourse. The film was R-rated
and contained copious nudity and graphic sex scenes. Dangerous
Game was similar in plot and content. Madonna would later
comment that this entire period of her life was designed to give
the world every single morsel of what they seemed to be
demanding in their invasion of her private life. She hoped that
once it was all out in the open, people could settle down and
focus on her work.
1993 also saw the release of the obscure single, "Get Over", by
actor/model Nick Scotti, which was written by Madonna and
Stephen Bray, and used in the 1992 soundtrack for the film,
Nothing but Trouble. It was a minor U.S. dance hit and was
produced by Madonna and Shep Pettibone. She also made a
prominent appearance on the backing vocals.
In 1994, Madonna released Bedtime Stories. The album, which took
her back to her R&B roots, found her directly addressing her
detractors in the song, "Human Nature" which included lines such
as: "I'm not sorry/I'm not your bitch" and "Did I say something
wrong? Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about sex" appeared
to be directed at the media and critics who had questioned her
decisions in recent years. Other top ten hits included "Bedtime
Story", penned by singer Bjork, and "Take a Bow", penned by
singer Babyface, who also sang vocals. "Take a Bow" topped the
Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks, breaking her
previous record of six weeks with "Like a Virgin", and would
later assist her in her winning the lead role in Evita. The
album was nominated for a Grammy in the same year, and Madonna
sang "Take a Bow" at the American Music Awards. The success of
the album belied its uncertain origins. It spawned several
Unreleased Madonna songs, co-written with Shep Pettibone in
1994, that were shelved as Madonna changed creative gears. One
throwaway song entitled "Love Won't Wait" was later sent to Gary
Barlow to record. He took his version of the song to number one
in the UK in 1997, earning Madonna yet another co-writing credit
on a number one hit.
At the time it was made in 1995, "Bedtime Story", which cost
over two million dollars, was the most expensive music video in
history. Madonna only held this record for a few months; Michael
Jackson's "Scream" video which cost seven million dollars broke
it later that year.
Despite the maturity of Bedtime Stories, Madonna seemed in no
rush to put her reputation for controversy behind her. In March
1994, she made an appearance on The Late Show with David
Letterman in which she repeatedly uttered profanities, saying
the word "fuck" thirteen times while smoking a cigar.
In an attempt to improve her acting credentials, Madonna opted
over the next few years to take small roles in independent
films. She appeared as a singing telegram girl in Blue in the
Face (1995) and as a witch in Four Rooms (1995). She played the
part of a phone sex company owner in Spike Lee's flop, Girl 6,
In this period the world also saw her very public falling out
with former DJ pal and remixer/producer, Junior Vasquez, due to
the release of his huge club hit, "If Madonna Calls", of which
she did not approve.
Madonna released a second greatest hits album in 1996, this time
collecting a number of ballads under the title, Something to
Remember. She began to wear fashionable designer dresses and
softened her (by now medium length) hair to honey blonde. This
may have helped her to secure the coveted role of Eva Per n in
the 1996 film adaptation of Evita. The film marked the first
time, Madonna was heralded as an actress in a leading role. She
delivered a Golden Globe winning performance and was critically
praised. Her detractors still managed to point out the
similarities between the character (a former actress and
fame-hungry politician's wife) and Madonna's own life.
The Evita soundtrack went on to become Madonna's twelfth
platinum album, thanks to the singles, "Don't Cry for Me
Argentina" and "You Must Love Me", the latter receiving an Oscar
for best original song in a film. While "You Must Love Me" was a
moderate hit on radio and MTV, it was actually a dance remix of
"Don't Cry for Me Argentina" that cemented the soundtrack's
mainstream pop success. The remix became a worldwide top ten hit
in early 1997, and helped "Argentina" to peak at number eight on
the Hot 100.
The third single, "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", became a
European top ten hit. The announced fourth single, "Buenos
Aires", was only released as a promo.
In 1998 Madonna underwent another reinvention of style. During
1996 and 1998, she began studying mystical Judaism and the
Kabbalah. She took Yoga lessons and pursued a vigorous exercise
regime that brought her body to a peak of toned fitness. She
became pregnant by her then lover, personal trainer Carlos Leon,
and gave birth to her daughter, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon
(Lola), on October 14, 1996. In 1998, she released Ray of Light,
an album co-produced by European techno music performer, William
Orbit. The release was Madonna's first critically-acclaimed
recording since "Like a Prayer"; her biggest hit in nearly ten
years, selling more than fifteen million copies worldwide. It
spawned the top-ten singles "Frozen", "Ray of Light", "Drowned
World/Substitute for Love", "Nothing Really Matters"
(accompanied by a video in which she portrayed a cross between a
clubber and a geisha girl), and "The Power of Good-Bye" (in
which E.R.'s Goran Visnjic appeared in the music video.)
Her vocals were notably stronger, likely an after effect of the
vocal training, she received for "Evita". The lyrics were some
of Madonna's most introspective. "Mer Girl" dealt with
motherhood from the perspective of a woman who had lost her own
mother as a child; "Little Star" was a paean to the wise
choices, her own daughter would make in the future; "Swim"
addressed the topic of violence in popular culture. Still,
critics were quick to note that Madonna was doing only what she
knew best: taking things from the cultures around her (in this
case, techno, Eastern mysticism, and alternative rock) and
refining them for mass consumption. Madonna received three
Grammy awards for Ray of Light. Her only previous Grammy was for
"The Blonde Ambition Tour", which won the Best Longform video
award in 1992.
After endlessly promoting Ray of Light, Madonna contributed the
top ten hit, "Beautiful Stranger", to the soundtrack of the
Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me film in 1999. In 2000,
Madonna focused next on her pet project, a film called The Next
Best Thing. Co-starring her friend, the openly gay actor, Rupert
Everett, the film told the story of a heterosexual woman and her
gay best friend. After a drunken night of sex, they discover
that she is pregnant and decide to raise the child together, but
outside romances intervene to cause conflict and estrangement.
Critics and audiences alike panned the film, which marked yet
another disappointment in Madonna's ill-fated film career. The
soundtrack spawned the worldwide (excluding the U.S.) number one
hit, "American Pie", a dance cover version of the Don McLean
In 2000, Madonna released the album, Music. A bona fide
commercial and critical hit, it saw Madonna abandon her earlier
sexual and religious themes for throwaway lyrics and the "party"
spirit of dance, pop, and techno. Music was produced partly by
Orbit and partly by French techno musician Mirwais Ahmadzai. It
spawned her twelfth number one single, "Music", plus the hits
"Don't Tell Me" and "What It Feels Like for a Girl". In late
2001, "Impressive Instant" also became a huge club hit although
it was never released commercially, to the disappointment of
many fans. Madonna was pregnant with her second child, Rocco,
during the shooting of the "Music" video, parts of which contain
animation. The "What It Feels Like for a Girl" video was
directed by Madonna's husband, film director Guy Ritchie. In it,
Madonna robs an Automatic Teller Machine, runs over several
innocent bystanders, blows up a gas station and eventually
commits suicide by driving into a lamppost. The video was meant
to showcase the fact that when men in film commit violent acts,
it is accepted, but when women do it just as mercilessly, it is
shunned. Her point was arguably confirmed when the video was
banned by MTV and VH1, after both networks did a simultaneous
broadcast of the video once. Music was notable for another
revamping of Madonna's image, this time as a cross between a
disco-loving party girl and a rustic cowgirl. It started yet
another fashion trend, with pink cowboy hats adorned by tiaras
seen on streets and catwalks around the world.
On 22 December 2000, Madonna married director Guy Ritchie at
Skibo Castle in Scotland. She released her second Greatest Hits
album, GHV2, in 2001; unlike her previous greatest hits
compilation, GHV2 featured a selection of her hits from the 1992
2001 period, but did not contain any new songs. Without a single
to promote the album, Madonna decided to release a
promotional-only single and video, entitled the "Thunderpuss
GHV2 Megamix". While the medley earned relatively subdued radio
coverage, the video was a modest success on MTV, MTV2, and VH1.
In June 2001, she appeared in Star, a short film directed for
BMW by Guy Ritchie, and then began working on Swept Away, a
remake of the classic film, Swept Away, the story of a wealthy
socialite who, after a shipwreck, is trapped on a deserted
island with a poor male servant. The film, released in 2002, was
critically panned and went on to become yet another in a string
of acting flops.
In 2001 Madonna went on her "Drowned World Tour". It was
completely sold out (some venues within thirty-five minutes),
and was Madonna's first world tour in over a decade (since the
Blonde Ambition Tour). Madonna mostly perfomed her more current
songs from the Bedtime Stories album onwards, with the exception
of "Holiday" and "La Isla Bonita". On this tour, the world saw a
different Madonna, rocking on electric guitar in "Candy Perfume
Girl", and playing lead acoustic guitar (sometimes solo) in
"Gone", "Secret", and "La Isla Bonita". This marked the first
time that Madonna used her newly learned guitar skills live in
concert (ironically, early print ads for her first album had
claimed she was a self-taught multi-instrumentalist). The tour
concert in her home state of Michigan was broadcast live on HBO
on August 26, from the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills,
Michigan. Madonna had to postpone a concert in Los Angeles at
the Staples Center on September 11 because of the terrorist
attacks. She donated the proceeds of the rescheduled concert to
the victims of the terrorist attacks. Madonna led a prayer for
peace at the third concert in Los Angeles, and urged President
Bush to show restraint in retaliating against those responsible
for the attacks.
In 2002, Madonna performed the theme song to the James Bond
film, Die Another Day, a top-ten hit (number eight) on the
Billboard Hot 100. She also had the opportunity to have a cameo
in the film as a fencing instructor named Verity. The theme song
was released to mixed reviews. In one case, the song was
nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song; however, it
was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst
Original Song (2002).
While Madonna was apparently content with her second marriage,
her career continued to keep her in the limelight.
Her artistic reputation appeared to take a turn for the worse,
however, when the critical drubbing she received for Swept Away
was followed by an equally brutal critical reception for her
2003 album, American Life. American critics described the album
as "tired", monotonous, and an indication that she was "in need
of a vacation" from the stress of her career. In yet another
move that followed her pattern of creating "controversy" in the
wake of an album's release, she filmed a music video for
"American Life", which included a scene of her tossing a hand
grenade into the lap of a President George W. Bush lookalike.
Perhaps mindful of the protests and boycotts that had greeted
the Dixie Chicks, after they made some anti-war comments (though
she publicly denied it in an interview with Matt Lauer), the
video was revoked, presumably at Madonna's request, on the day
it premiered (it was aired for only a few hours); it was later
replaced by a less inflammatory treatment, a video simply
featuring Madonna performing the song in military garb in front
of changing flags of the world.
Shortly after this incident, the online world was surprised and
amused when marketers and promoters of her album attempted to
disrupt the Internet file sharing networks by uploading a large
number of "junk" musical files bearing her name. Instead of
downloading an actual Madonna song, seekers of online music
instead found themselves downloading a file of Madonna saying,
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" The Madonna Remix
Project took this file and added music to mock Madonna's attempt
to "inspire guilt" in peer-to-peer users.
The album was a success outside the U.S. where the subsequent
singles, "Hollywood" and "Love Profusion", continued to place
Madonna on the charts. Madonna tried to warm up American radio
to the collection with a promotional campaign with rapper, Missy
Elliott, sponsored by The Gap retail clothing chain, using the
tune "Into the Hollywood Groove". "Love Profusion" was also used
in commercials by Est e Lauder. Neither promotion however was
able to revive the album in the States.
Famous for her appearances at the MTV Video Music Awards, in
2003 Madonna provoked the public once again by portraying a
groom and kissing her brides, Britney Spears and Christina
Aguilera, on stage. The gender role-reversal and lesbian theme
instantly made front page headlines. The three singers performed
a medley of her early hit, "Like a Virgin", and her then latest
release, "Hollywood", with a guest rap by Missy Elliott. The
design resembled Madonna's performance of "Like a Virgin" at the
1984 VMA's: the same wedding cake set, wedding dresses and "Boy
Toy" belt worn by Madonna in 1984 now adorned Aguilera and
Spears, who many not least the pop "princesses" themselves
believe to be the heirs and beneficiaries of Madonna's pop
Madonna currently resides primarily in England - with a $6.8
million town-house in Marylebone, London; and the thirteen
million dollar Ashcombe House Estate in the rural county of
Wiltshire. She also has homes in Los Angeles, and New York City.
Despite spending markedly less time within the United States,
Madonna publicly endorsed Wesley Clark for the United States
Democratic Party 2004 presidential nomination in December 2003.
In 2004, Madonna embarked on her greatest hits tour, the
"Re-Invention World Tour", during which she played 56 dates
across the United States, Canada, and Europe. The tour explored
social, political and religious themes, and included images of
yoga, sacred geometry, tarot cards and astrology, as well as
Judeo-Christian iconography such as the tree of life.
"Re-Invention" became the highest-grossing tour of 2004, earning
125 million dollars according to Billboard magazine, and once
again confirmed the longevity of Madonna's popularity. The tour
ended with the Palestinian and Israeli flags, side by side.
Madonna had originally planned a concert date in Israel but
cancelled after threats against her life and the lives of her
children by Palestinian extremists. Many believe that Madonna's
next passion is protecting the children of Israel and Palestine
from continuous fighting. Her musical horizons also expanded as
she added a cover version of the John Lennon favorite,
"Imagine", to her live repertoire. Madonna met Fahrenheit 9/11
filmmaker, Michael Moore, backstage for a photo opportunity
during the tour and openly embraced political commentary in her
act, which included a scathing indictment of George W. Bush and
the 2003 Iraq war. Also in 2004, Madonna became one of the five
founding members of the UK Music Hall of Fame, joining Elvis
Presley, The Beatles, Bob Marley, and U2 as automatic inductees.
After a brief battle with Warner Brothers Records (with whom she
shared record label Maverick), Madonna sold her shares in the
label and announced that she is no longer involved in its
In the same month, Madonna announced that she had adopted the
name Esther, a tribute to the legendary Jewish Queen of ancient
Persia. In an interview with ABC, she said: "This is in no way a
negation of who my mother is. In a metaphysical world, I wanted
to attach myself to a different name."
This decision and much of the artistic imagery used in her
recent work have been driven by Madonna's intense study of
Kabbalah at the controversial Kabbalah Centre in London, and her
abandonment of Catholicism. She became a Kabbalist in 1997. The
faith is popular among a number of other celebrities, some of
whom were introduced to it by Madonna herself. Devotees include
Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Streisand, Britney Spears, Demi Moore,
Ashton Kutcher, Winona Ryder, Roseanne Barr, Jerry Hall, Jeff
Goldblum, Courtney Love, and Paris Hilton.
In recent years, Madonna has become a very successful author. On
September 15, 2003, she released her first (of five) children's
books, The English Roses, and it instantly became the biggest
and fastest selling book ever by a first-time children's author.
The book debuted at number one on the New York Times Bestsellers
List for children's picture books and remained there for an
impressive eighteen weeks; it also received the widest launch in
publication history as it was released in over a hundred
counties on the same day; it also debuted in thirty languages.
It is now available in 40 languages and in more than 110
countries world wide.
Her series of books may very well mark the existence for the
first time of kabbalist children's books. All of the books
strive to teach lessons, the author has learned in her study of
this branch of Jewish mysticism. For example, in The English
Roses, her lead character's name, Binah (who is loosely modeled
on her daughter), comes from the word Kabbalists use for
Madonna's subsequent releases, Mr. Peabody's Apples and Yakov
and the Seven Thieves, were both released within a year of The
English Roses. They also debuted at number one on the New York
Times list and became international best sellers. Combined,
Madonna's first three children's books have sold over one and a
half million copies worldwide. The Adventures of Abdi was her
least successful book. Her latest book, Lotsa de Casha, debuted
at number three on the New York Times Bestsellers List. For the
Lotsa de Casha promotion, Madonna did a photoshoot with
photographer, Lorenzo Agius; 8 pictures (including the cover
picture) were released in the U.S. magazine Ladies Home Journal
with an exclusive interview inside.
In addition, a big screen adaptation of her book, The English
Roses, is scheduled for release in 2006. Its sequel, The English
Roses 2, will be launched in the Autumn of 2006.
In 2005, PageSix (a gossip column in the New York Post) reported
that an insider for the Post claimed to have evidence that
Madonna's books were actually written by the Kabbalah Center's
official ghostwriter, Eitan Yardeni. This report is as of yet
unsubstantiated by any reputable news source.
During Thanksgiving 2004, Madonna held a photoshoot with Mario
Testino for her forthcoming (2005) Versace campaign. To date,
six pictures of the shoot have appeared in various fashion
magazines around the world. The campaign was a success; it
"revived the Versace name" said Donatella Versace.
On December 26, 2004, after a tsunami hit India, Sri Lanka,
Thailand, and Indonesia among other countries, NBC organized an
aid concert called Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope, to which
celebrities such as Madonna, Diana Ross, Maroon 5, and Elton
John, among others, donated their voices. It was televised on
January 15, 2005; Madonna sang a cover of John Lennon's song,
In February 2005, writers and producers of the song "Holiday"
(not Madonna, as is widely believed) sued singer Mary J. Blige,
Eve, and producer/singer Dr. Dre, citing copyright infringement.
They alleged that the song "Not Today", which appeared on the
soundtrack for the film Barbershop 2, closely resembled
Madonna's 1983 classic hit, "Holiday".
On July 2, 2005, Madonna participated in the British Live 8
concert from Hyde Park in London. Madonna performed her hit
songs "Like a Prayer", "Ray of Light", and "Music". Before
performing, she greeted Birhan Woldu on stage, a young woman who
had almost died in the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. Woldu's
unexpected appearance on stage, followed immediately by
Madonna's performance of "Like a Prayer" (hand-in-hand with
Woldu), was hailed worldwide as one of the highlights of the
In an interview immediately after her performance, she mentioned
that she had never been to Africa but would consider going in
the future. She revealed that friends of hers, Bill Clinton and
Christiane Amanpour, had kept her informed of the problems
there. The next day, some press accounts published complaints
about Madonna's use of foul language at the concert, but
whatever controversy there was about it quickly wore off.
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This web page was last updated on:
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