Madonna Louise Veronica 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 the most successful female solo artist of all time, according to Guinness World Records.
Madonna was born in Bay City, Michigan, to an Italian-American Chrysler engineer, Silvio Ciccone, and his 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 more children.
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 gifted dancer.
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 Nicks dancers.
After performing as a dancer for French disco star Patrick Hernandez on his 1979 world tour, Madonna abandoned her fledgeling 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”. .
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 by advertising that Madonna was white.
In 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, 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.
Benitez said that based on the success of Madonna’s first album he had expected to produce her follow-up, but Madonna had other plans.
Like a Virgin and The Virgin Tour.
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, Dress You Up, and what was to become her signature song, Material Girl. 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 sexual decadence.
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 first of many Grammy nominations, and the song’s video, combining clips from the movie with Madonna singing, was in heavy rotation on MTV for months. 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.
Truth or Dare and A League of Their Own.
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 Brown.
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.
Sex and Erotica.
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. The book was bound in sheet metal and Mylar, and came with a CD single of the song “Erotic” , 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” 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 risqué 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 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 Life album.
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.
Music and the Drowned World Tour.
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 at Skibo Castle in Scotland, Madonna married director Guy Ritchie. Madonna 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 Ritchie, and then began working on Swept Away, a remake of the classic film, Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August, in which Ritchie cast Madonna as a rich, bitchy socialite who, after a shipwreck, is trapped on a desert island with a slovenly servant who smacks and humiliates her; the woman is called Amber Leighton, the name of Ritchie’s mother. 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, and was Madonna’s first world tour since 1993’s Girle Show 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 in “I Deserve It”, “Secret”, “La Isla Bonita” and a new song only heard in concert, and simply referred to as “The Funny Song”. This marked the first time that Madonna used her newly learned guitar skills live in concert. 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 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.
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 lighter shaped like 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, the video was revoked, presumably at Madonna’s request, on the day it premiered ; 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 Estée 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 legacy.