If you were alive and kicking in the ’80s and ’90s, you probably have a Madonna memory. Whether it included white-gloved dancing in some seedy club to ‘Into The Groove’, learning how to ‘Vogue’ or, like me, singing along loudly to ‘La Isla Bonita’ in the car (in a Spanish accent, no less), there’s no doubt that the Material Girl herself has had a profound effect on pop culture in the last thirty years.
Born in Bay City, Michigan on August 16, 1958, Madonna Louise Ciccone was the third of six children in a Italian Catholic family. After dealing with the tragic death of her mother from cancer when she was only 5 years old, Madonna sought solace in her grandmother and helped to raise her brothers and sisters, all the while maintaining high marks in school. It wasn’t until her teen years that she began to experience the rebellious streak that we all now consider trademark Madonna. Despite this change in attitude, she graduated from high school and briefly attended university on a dance scholarship before dropping out in 1977 and moving to New York with only $35 in her pocket and a dream of doing something big. The rest, as they say, is history.
Madonna’s self-titled debut album was released in July 1983 and launched three Top 10 singles in ‘Holiday’, ‘Borderline’ and ‘Lucky Star’. Not long after, she became a fashion icon as her trademark look of bleached hair, fishnet stockings, lace tops and crucifix accessories became must-have items for young girls everywhere. She quickly followed up with her second LP Like a Virgin in November 1984 and the album went on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
From there, her success has only continued.
Throughout the years, Madonna has continued to reinvent herself time and time again, never hesitant to change things up when they became too boring in her eyes. Exploring issues of race, religion, gender, sexuality and more, she has always dared to ask the difficult questions, to push the envelope in ways that have made many uncomfortable and others downright angry. She has been fearless and occasionally brutally candid, forcing us to confront parts ourselves as a culture that may be hypocritical or in need of re-examining.
Oh, and she’s made some pretty damn good music.
As a musical icon, Madonna is perhaps the quintessence of the phrase “pop star”, the original beacon of drive and unique vision that many who have come after her have been inspired by or attempted to emulate. Amongst the homogenous humdrum of mainstream pop music, Madonna struck out in a direction that was risky, uncertain and in the end, absolutely brilliant. Without Madonna, there is no Lady GaGa, no Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. She is the standard by which female popstars are often measured and for good reason.
No one does it quite like Madonna does.
She is the RIAA’s best-selling female pop artist of the 20th century and has also been named the top selling female artist of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records with over 300 million albums sold worldwide. Time magazine has named her one of the “25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century” while she is also considered to be Billboard’s most successful solo artist in the history of the charts. If that’s not icon status, I don’t know what is.
Happy birthday, Ms. Ciccone. May you continue to push boundaries and inspire for years to come.
Featured image by Deborah Feingold