Madonna is the Queen of Pop, but she could also be called the Chameleon of Pop. This legendary artist made a name for herself by breaking boundaries, writing about controversial themes, and performing with unconventional, even scandalous imagery and religious iconography.
But she wasn’t always a singer. In fact, Madonna started out as the complete opposite: a dancer.
From Dancer To Singing Star
Born to Catholic parents in 1958, Madonna Louise Ciccone grew up as a rebellious young girl who wanted something more out of life than mediocrity. She loved to dance; she took ballet lessons, received a dance scholarship at the University of Michigan, and attended the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC.
In 1978, Madonna moved to New York City and made her way working at Dunkin’ Donuts and performing in modern dance troupes, all while taking dance classes.
Her focus on dancing shifted to singing beginning in 1979, when she fell in love with Dan Gilroy. Gilroy was a musician, and together they formed the Breakfast Club Band in which Madonna sang. She also played the drums and the guitar. Later, she formed a new band with drummer Stephen Bray called Emmy and the Emmys.
Soon, though, Madonna decided to become a solo artist. She recorded a demo and promoted it to various DJs. One of them liked her work and introduced her to the president of Sire Records, where she signed on for three singles and an album option. Her singles “Everybody” and “Burning Up” turned into hits, and Madonna was able to release her self-titled debut album.
Becoming An Icon
Madonna’s debut album rose to number 8 on the Billboard 200 for 1983. Following this success, she gained even more exposure by performing on American Bandstand and Top of the Pops. In the process, she became a fashion and cultural icon for young women and girls. They emulated her signature fishnet stockings, capris, and crucifix jewelry.
Madonna released her second album, Like a Virgin, in 1984, and it was even more popular than the first. It became the first album released by a female artist to sell 5 million copies in the United States. Overall, it sold 21 million copies globally.
Breaking All The Rules
Madonna was a rule-breaker. After the release of her third album, True Blue, which featured 5 number one hit singles, she decided to make controversy with her fourth venture, Like a Prayer. The album featured a title track which she debuted during a Pepsi commercial. It showed scandalous themes like making love to a saint and cross burning. The Vatican condemned it, but the non-religious public loved it.
From then on, Madonna morphed into a symbol of bold, sexual artistry. She titled her fifth album Erotica and released a book at the same time called Sex, which contained graphic sexual imagery. This new provocative image, which was made even more scandalous with sexually suggestive stage performances, was not as well received by the public. Nevertheless, it served as a reminder that Madonna was her own person, her own artist, and she would not be held back by popular conventions.
“She Is Pop”
Throughout the 2000s, Madonna continued making music as well as writing and directing films. She broke records with her Re-Invention and Confessions tours, all the while rustling up controversy with sexual and religious imagery. She performed during the MTV Music Awards, at Super Bowl Halftime Shows, and around the world. She’s still making music and taking names today, at the age of 63.
In the words of Bianca Gracie, writer for Spin, Madonna is not just the Queen of Pop: “she is Pop.” She defined the sound and look of the genre for women for all time.
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