Madonna is an American singer, songwriter, musician, actress, producer and businesswoman who became one of the iconic figures of the 80s music scene and beyond. She gained fame by pushing the boundaries in terms of musical and lyrical content, as well as for her oft-provocative and innovative music videos which became a fixture of the MTV. She is known for her worldwide hits such as “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” “Crazy for You,” “Live to Tell,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Open Your Heart,” “Like a Prayer,” “Justify My Love,” “Take a Bow,” “Frozen,” “Music,” “Ray of Light,” and so many others. As an actress, her most notable films include A League of Their Own and Evita. Madonna is known as an artist who never stops to reinvent herself, and has complete control over her material. She is the best-selling female artist of all time, having sold over 300 million copies worldwide. When it comes to touring, she is also the best-selling female artist of all time, having amassed over a billion dollars from her concerts. She is active up to the present, having released her latest album Rebel Heart in 2015. She kicked off a world tour (from September 2015 through March 2016) to support the album.
Early life and career
Madonna was born Madonna Louise Ciccone on August 16, 1958 in Bay City, Michigan. Her father, of Italian lineage, was an engineer, while her mother was a homemaker. When she was five, her beloved mother died of breast cancer. Her death affected her profoundly, and would make a lasting impact throughout her life and even her work.
Her father eventually re-married in 1966, and that obviously didn’t sit well with Madonna and her siblings. Madonna especially resented her father, and eventually became rebellious. Despite that, she was doing well at school and in fact she was a straight-A student. Even then, she liked to shock people by doing crazy things including pulling up her skirt so that boys could see her underwear. She was also a cheerleader in their school.
Madonna’s true goal in life was to become a dancer. After graduating high school, she received a scholarship from the University of Michigan to study dance. However, in 1978 she dropped out of college in attempt to start her dancing career. She went to New York City with little money on hand, so she worked in some odd jobs.
French disco singer and artist Patrick Hernandez discovered Madonna when she auditioned to be one of his backup dancers. He wanted her to become a famous singer and so took her to Paris for training for a while. But she soon soured out and returned to New York, as she had no interest to become singer during that time.
She also became a member of a band called The Breakfast Club where she sang as well as played drums and guitar. The she formed her own band Emmy with her then-boyfriend, and the couple would write their own songs together. It was at this point where she wanted to embark on a solo career.
Breakthrough career in the 1980s
With the help of her manager Camille Barbone, Madonna had what it takes to rule in the male-dominated world of music business. She released her self-titled debut album in 1983 which was slowly but steadily becoming a success, spawning singles such as “Everybody,” “Holiday,” “Lucky Star,” and “Borderline,” with the two singles making at Top 10 of the Billboard pop chart.
Madonna followed her first huge music success with the release of her second album Like a Virgin in 1985. The title track climbed all the way to #1 on the Billboard pop chart, and other singles such as “Material Girl,” (#2 pop, #1 dance) and “Angel,” (#5 pop, #5 adult contemporary, #1 dance) also became big hits. Within a month, Like a Virgin shot to #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and was awarded with a platinum disc. Her songs came to symbolize self-assertion and female empowerment and a lot of girls wanted to be like her. They soon followed her unique fashion too.
Madonna had also begun her work in films, either providing soundtracks and/or acting in them. The first mainstream film she appeared in was Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) where she also performed the soundtrack’s single “Into the Groove” (#1 dance). She embarked on her debut tour, The Virgin Tour, which was held in United States and Canada only (although it was initially intended as an international tour). It was a huge success, grossing over $5 million dollars or $11 million dollars when adjusted for inflation.
Her success was also due to her penchant for scandal — for example, her music video for “Like a Virgin” drew controversy for she wore a wedding dress while writhing around. In 1985 she married actor Sean Penn, but the marriage was tarnished by reports of domestic violence (they divorced in 1989).
In her desire to cater to a more adult audience, she released her fourth album Like a Prayer (1989). The music video for its single, also titled “Like a Prayer,” garnered more controversy because it featured interracial relationships and burning crosses. It made the Vatican urging fans to boycott her concerts in Italy. For a behind-the-scenes look on the music video and other popular music videos in the 80s, check out our article, Behind the scenes on the Most Memorable Music Videos of the 1980s.
Inspite of the public outrage towards her taste for controversy (or even because of it), It made Madonna more popular than ever. “Like a Prayer” reached #1 in many parts of the world, including the US, UK, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and many others. The Like a Prayer album went to #1 in several countries. It has sold over 15 million copies and was certified multi-platinum.
Madonna was firm in controlling her career, so she established her own recording label Maverick Records, under Warner Music Group, in 1992.
She continued pushing musical and social boundaries. She released the documentary film Truth or Dare which chronicled her Blonde Ambition tour. It was followed by a coffee table book called Sex (1992), which as expected, garnered controversy. Despite that, it became a best-seller. She continued her seductive streak with another album Erotica, which became certified platinum. The following year she released another album Bedtime Stories (1994) which featured a beautifully wistful track “Take a Bow” (#1 pop and adult contemporary).
In 1996 she starred in the big-screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Evita. Although the film received mixed critical reviews, it became a box-office triumph, grossing $141 million worldwide. Around the same time, Madonna experienced motherhood with the birth of her first child Lourdes, by her personal trainer Carlos Leon.
Madonna continued to reinvent herself, which officially started by her seventh album Ray of Light in 1998, masterminded by British producer William Orbit. It proved to be a major departure from her earlier albums, as Ray of Light was heavy on electronic music and eclectic musical influences, as well as a reflection of her new-found spiritual light. Critics praised her vocal maturity and restraint, as well as for her new-found musical direction. The singles “Frozen” and “Ray of Light” went to the Top 10 notches of the Billboard Hot 100, while the latter’s music video won the MTV Award for Video of the Year (1998).
Career in the 2000 and beyond
She kicked off the new millennium with her eighth album Music, another electronically-laced album but with more apparent instrumentation thanks to the help of Orbit as well as French producer Mirwais. With the album’s country music influences, Madonna reinvented her image as a cowgirl. Music’s title track went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in several other countries as well. Music went on to sell 15 million copies worldwide.
Madonna changed her image once more, this time into a family-friendly one as she married British film director Guy Ritchie in 2000; in that same year she gave birth to their son Rocco. She branched out her talents, from acting in plays (West End’s Up for Grabs in 2002) to writing children’s books (The English Roses).
Despite personal turmoils including her adoptions issues in Malawi and her divorce from Ritchie in 2008, her career seemed to never slow down. Forbes magazine named her the richest female artists with an estimated wealth of $72 million that same year alone. Despite that she never stalled in her career as she continued to record, tour, act and pursue her business business interests.
Despite her world-renowned status as a pop star, she has also had some rough patches in her career. In 2011 she wrote and directed her second film W.E., a biographic tale about King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee for whom Edward gave up his throne and eventually married. Although the movie became a critical and commercial failure, Madonna did win a Golden Globe trophy for the song “Masterpiece,” which she co-wrote and sang.
Madonna courted controversy again while she was on her tour to support her album MDNA in 2012. In her concert in France, she occassionaly flahsed to her audiences and even flaunted some Nazi symbols. In Russia, where homosexuality is still very much taboo, she spoke out openly for LGBT rights. Because of this she was sent to court. But charges against her were later dismissed.
By 2014 she had begun working on her new album Rebel Heart, which was co-written and co-produced by Diplo, Avicii and Kanye West. Even then she fought off against anyone who leaked the album’s songs even before it was officially released.
Rebel Heart was issued on March 6, 2015 and debuted at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It eventually went to number one in several countries. To further promote the album, she kicked off with the worldwide tour, The Rebel Heart Tour, which started on September 9, 2015 and will conclude on March 20, 2016 as of this writing.
Her material may be considered as an oldies music one but her songs have continued to be enjoyed even by this recent generation. She became the first legitimate female megastar during the time that the music business was dominated by males. She really inspired every budding female artists to become superstars in their own right. She is a seven-time Grammy Award winner and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her legendary status, she does not have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as she herself refuses to have it.