Madonna is still the clearest, most insistent and passionately sustained female voice in pop culture around the world. She remains a constantly transforming cultural icon – at once revolutionary, chameleon, provocative, fearless, vampish, defiant, impresario, celestial body, maternal, child like, enabler, seductive spinning top, liberator, show off and show down – more facets than the crown jewels. A fact of daily life –not simply a mirror of the times – but a one-woman multi-channel cable system. Google “Pope” and you get 48 million hits. Google “Madonna” and you get 76 million.
It’s pretty amazing how long Madonna has managed to hold on to the slippery pole of public celebrity. She proudly announced from the get go to Dick Clark circa 1982, “I wanna rule the world”. This was around the time she was also being dismissed as a “one hit wonder”…Luckily, the naysayers propelled Madonna to “dance and sing – get up and do her thing” in bigger and bolder ways. Like Babe Ruth, she pointed up at the stands (in Madonna’s case – to the stars) and predicted where that ball was going and the home run that would follow. And waddaya know – she knocked it out of the park.
Amidst Madonna’s involvement in realms as diverse as fashion, humanitarianism, author of a sex book and a series of children’s books, feminism, art, politics, journalism, video visionary, photography, philanthropy, documentary films to name a few, it’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of her genius for writing and producing songs for the last 26 years.
Let’s just stroll down the groove-yard of the past a bit: “Hung Up,” “Music,” “Vogue,” “4 Minutes,” “Holiday,” “Everybody,” “Like A Virgin,” “Into the Groove,” “Like a Prayer” and “Ray of Light.” Then close your eyes and think of her videos: Ducking for cover under bridges in Venice performing “Like A Virgin” – on a gondola – going backwards, naturally…Urban drag culture in “Vogue”…Pentecostal drama of justice and mercy in the context of a black church in “Like A Prayer”…Making love in a seedy French hotel with men and women in “Justify My Love”…A smartened-up Marilyn Monroe in “Material Girl”…Master of all she surveys in a Fritz Lang “Metropolis” inspired factory in “Express Yourself”…Frolicking in the ocean with several hunky mermen... Running away from her peep show job in “Open Your Heart” after her shift a la Charlie Chaplin in the “Little Tramp”…Dancing to the urban symphony of the pulse of humanity in “Ray of Light.”
She was also starring in her own now legendary life tales: Madonna’s arrived from Michigan with $38.00 in her pocket and a little suitcase. “Take me to the center of everything,” she told the cab driver who drove her directly to Times Square. She waited in the hallway for hours in between dance class for a glimpse at her idol, Martha Graham. She ate potato chips out of garbage cans in a run down studio building, which doubled as her home. She posed nude for art classes to earn money. She started a band “The Breakfast Club” in an abandoned synagogue in Queens, her next home. She auditioned for record giant Seymour Stein in front of his hospital bed -- where he immediately signed her. A career-suicide or career-defining moment at the first MTV Awards where Madonna rolled around the floor lasciviously in a wedding dress. And that’s not even the end of the first chapter. Eight years later, Madonna proclaimed to People Magazine, “Don’t tell me what to do just ‘cause I’m a girl. Don’t tell me I can’t be sexual and intelligent at the same time.”
Besides stretching out her own artistic visions and abilities, she’s also demonstrated again and again a savvy knack for talent spotting. In matrix with her music career, she forged working relationships with pioneering producers including Stuart Price. Mirwais Ahmadzai, William Orbit and others who helped her slingshot facets of European trance music and electronica onto a new international stage. She’s also worked together with Hip Hop Hipsters including Pharrell, Timbaland, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake.
As one of the first superstars of the MTV era, she brought the subject of image and iconography to a whole new level working with legendary photographers – Herb Ritts, Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Mario Testino, Tom Munro and Stephen Klein – and commercially successful Hollywood directors including David Fincher, Warren Beatty and Mary Lambert. This marriage of images and music took the power of radio popularity and wedded it to mainstream reach television, which has all now been magnified by the World Wide Web.
Legions of fans on every continent have followed Madonna by song, video, book, TV, film, live performance, CD, DVD and satellite. She’s sold more than 200 million records and has appeared on well over a thousand magazine covers. She’s won seven Grammy Awards and a Golden Globe for “Evita” and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Her voice still takes us there over and over – again and again. Her lyrics have entered the global cultural landscape as coins of the realm. What a musical journey it’s been.
Long Live Madonna!