For the last quarter of the 21st century, Madonna was arguably the biggest and boldest pop star. It’s hard to argue with her commercial success; “in 2000, Guinness World Records listed Madonna as the most successful female recording artist of all time, with estimated worldwide sales of 120 million albums; in 2005, her record company credited her as having sold over 200 million albums worldwide. Madonna is the highest earning female singer of all time according to both the 2007 Guinness Book of Records, and Billboard Magazine. Forbes magazine has estimated her net worth at $325 million. In addition, Madonna holds the record for the top-grossing concert tour by a female artist” (wikipedia).
Critical acclaim, however, has been another matter. “A common criticism against Madonna regards her singing voice and vocal range, which some consider to be weak, limited and mannered” (wikipedia). Of course, “Madonna rocketed to stardom so quickly in 1984 that it obscured most of her musical virtues…Discussing her lifestyle became more common than discussing her music” (Erlewine). “She has also been criticised for egocentrism, publicity stunts and a tendency to generate controversy” (wikipedia). “However, one of Madonna's greatest achievements is how she manipulated the media and the public with her music, her videos, her publicity, and her sexuality. Arguably, Madonna was the first female pop star to have complete control of her music and image” (Erlewine).
“Madonna…was the third of six children born to Silvio ‘Tony’ Ciccone, an Italian-American Chrysler engineer whose parents originated from Pacentro, and Madonna Louise Fortin, who was of French-Canadian descent…She was raised in a Catholic family in the Detroit suburbs of Pontiac and Avon Township (now Rochester Hills). Madonna’s mother died of breast cancer at age 30 on December 1, 1963. Her father later married the family housekeeper, Joan Gustafson, and they had two children together” (wikipedia).
“Madonna convinced her father to allow her to take ballet classes. Her ballet teacher, Christopher Flynn, exposed Madonna to gay discotheques. She attended Rochester Adams High School, where she was a straight-A student and a member of the cheerleading squad. Madonna received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan” (wikipedia), but left for “New York in 1977, with dreams of becoming a ballet dancer” (Erlewine). “She had little money and for some time lived in squalor, working low-paying jobs including a stint at Dunkin’ Donuts. She also worked as a nude model. She studied with Martha Graham and Pearl Lang, and later performed with several modern dance companies, including Alvin Ailey and the Walter Nicks dancers” (wikipedia).
“While performing as a dancer for the French disco artist Patrick Hernandez on his 1979 world tour, Madonna became involved with the musician Dan Gilroy” (wikipedia). “Upon returning to New York, the pair formed the Breakfast Club, a pop/dance group. Madonna originally played drums…but soon became the lead singer. In 1980, she left the band and formed Emmy with her former boyfriend, drummer Stephen Bray. Soon, Bray and Madonna broke off from the group and began working on some dance/disco-oriented tracks. A demo tape of these tracks worked its way to Mark Kamins, a New York-based DJ/producer. Kamins directed the tape to Sire Records, which signed the singer in 1982” (Erlewine).
1982-1984: Her Debut
“In 1982, Madonna signed a singles deal with Sire Records (a new wave label belonging to Warner Bros. Records) in the United States that paid her $5,000 per song” (wikipedia). “Kamins produced Madonna’s first single, Everybody, which became a club and dance hit at the end of 1982” (Erlewine). “It also gained airplay on U.S. R&B radio stations, leading many to assume that Madonna was a black artist” (wikipedia).
“Her second single, 1983’s Physical Attraction, was another club hit” (Erlewine). The success of the two singles “convinced Sire Records' executives to finance an album” (wikipedia) “of dance songs [that] was primarily produced by Reggie Lucas, but in the process both realized they could not work well together. After initial production on the album was completed, Madonna took the record to her then boyfriend, John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, who remixed and rearranged it” (wikipedia).
Madonna’s self-titled debut album hit the charts in September 1983, eventually peaking at #8 on the U.S. albums chart and reaching “sales of thirteen million worldwide” (wikipedia). The album was preceded by “the bubbly Holiday, which was written by…Benitez” (Erlewine). It became “her third club hit” (Erlewine) “in June of 1983” (Erlewine) and would eventually be her first top 20 pop hit in the U.S. It was followed by Borderline, which “became her first Top Ten hit in March of 1984, beginning a remarkable string of 17 consecutive Top Ten hits” (Erlewine) and Lucky Star.
1984-1985: Like a Virgin, Films, Nude Photos, and Sean Penn
“During 1985, Madonna became an international celebrity, selling millions of records on the strength of her stylish, sexy videos and forceful personality” (Erlewine). “Thousands of teenage girls adopting her sexy appearance, being dubbed ‘Madonna wannabes’” (Erlewine).
Things kicked off when “Madonna’s second album, the Niles Rodgers-produced Like a Virgin, was released at the end of 1984” (Erlewine). It “was an international success, and became her first number one album on the U.S. albums chart…The title track reached number one in the U.S.…[followed by] hit singles with Material Girl (#2 US, kept out of the number one spot due to USA For Africa’s ‘We Are The World’ single), Angel, and Dress You Up” (wikipedia).
“Her performance of …[Like a Virgin] at the first MTV Video Music Awards, during which she writhed on the stage (on top of a wedding cake) wearing a combination bustier/wedding gown, lacy stockings, garters, and her then-trademark ‘Boy Toy’ belt, was the first of several public displays that boosted Madonna’s fan base as much as they incensed some critics, who felt that her provocative style attempted to disguise an absence of talent” (wikipedia).
It was also in 1985 that Madonna “embarked on her first concert tour in the U.S….titled The Virgin Tour, with opening act The Beastie Boys” (wikipedia), and she “entered mainstream films, beginning with a brief appearance as a club singer in the film Vision Quest. The soundtrack to the film contained her second number one pop hit, the Grammy-nominated ballad Crazy for You, as well as the UK hit Gambler. Later that year she appeared in the commercially and critically successful film Desperately Seeking Susan, with her comedic performance winning her positive reviews. The film introduced the dance song Into the Groove, which…[was] a major hit internationally, and her first number one in the UK” (wikipedia).
Her movie success “also prompted a planned video release of A Certain Sacrifice, a low-budget erotic drama she filmed in 1979. A Certain Sacrifice wasn’t the only embarrassing skeleton in the closet dragged into the light during the summer of 1985 — both Playboy and Penthouse published nude photos of Madonna that she posed for in 1977” (Erlewine). “The publications caused a swell of public discussion of Madonna, who at first tried to block them from being published, but later remained unapologetic and defiant” (wikipedia). “Nevertheless, her popularity continued unabated” (Erlewine).
“In August, she married actor Sean Penn” (Erlewine), whom she met “while filming the music video for ‘Material Girl’” (wikipedia). “Their relationship was marred by Penn’s frequent outbursts against the press, leading the couple to be dubbed the ‘Poison Penns.’ After filing and withdrawing divorce papers in December 1987, Madonna and Penn separated on New Year’s Eve of 1988 after allegations of abuse on Penn’s part, and were officially divorced in September 1989. Of her marriage to Penn, Madonna later told Tatler, ‘I was completely obsessed with my career and not ready to be generous in any shape or form’” (wikipedia).
1986-1987: True Blue, Who’s That Girl?, and You Can Dance
“Madonna began collaborating with Patrick Leonard at the beginning of 1986; Leonard would co-write most of her biggest hits in the ‘80s, including” (Erlewine) “the soulful ballad Live to Tell, …[written] for the film At Close Range, starring…Sean Penn” (wikipedia). The song “hit number one in June of 1986” (Erlewine).
Madonna’s third album, “True Blue, was released the following month, to both more massive commercial success…and critical acclaim. Papa Don’t Preach became her fourth number one hit in the U.S.” (Erlewine); Open Your Heart also hit #1 and True Blue and La Isla Bonita were top 5 hits.
“The music videos for the album displayed Madonna’s continued interest in pushing the boundaries of the video medium to a cinematic level, including elaborate art direction, cinematography, and film devices such as character and plot. Though Madonna had already made videos expressing her sexuality, she added religious iconography, gender archetypes, and social issues to her oeuvre, and these concepts would carry through her work for years to come” (wikipedia).
“While her musical career was thriving, her film career took a savage hit with the November release of Shanghai Surprise. Starring Madonna and Sean Penn, the comedy received terrible reviews, which translated into disastrous box office returns” (Erlewine). “In 1987, Madonna starred in the box office failure Who’s That Girl?, and contributed four songs to its soundtrack, including the film’s title track, which became a hit and Madonna's sixth #1 single in the U.S” (wikipedia).
“In 1987, Madonna embarked on the successful Who's That Girl World Tour” (wikipedia) and “released a remix album of past hits, You Can Dance, which included one new song, Spotlight. The album sold nearly two million copies in the U.S. upon release” (wikipedia).
1989: Like a Prayer and the Pepsi Commercial
“In early 1989, Madonna signed an endorsement deal with soft drink manufacturer Pepsi, which would debut her new song, Like a Prayer, in a Pepsi commercial that Madonna would also appear in…Although the commercial itself was not controversial, the video for ‘Like a Prayer’ caused an uproar…[It] featured many Catholic symbols…and was condemned by the Vatican for its ‘blasphemous’ mixture of Catholic symbolism and eroticism…Pepsi was bombarded with complaints and boycotts. Since the commercial and music video were nearly identical in visual terms, the soft drink manufacturer was unable to convince the public that their commercial actually had nothing that could be deemed inappropriate. Pepsi pulled the commercial but Madonna kept her five million dollar fee, as Pepsi had nullified the contract, not she” (wikipedia).
Of course, the song would hit #1, as did the album of the same name. “Like a Prayer, released in the spring of 1989, was her most ambitious and far-reaching album” (Erlewine); it “presented more personal lyrics and a more mature vocal style…[and] garnered Madonna the strongest reviews of her career and attracted a more mature audience…Rolling Stone hailed the album as ‘…as close to art as pop music gets’” (wikipedia). The album generated four top ten hits – the #1 title cut as well as Express Yourself, Cherish, and Keep It Together” (wikipedia). Another single, Oh Father, was Madonna’s first song to miss the U.S. top 10 in six years.
1990: Dick Tracy and Warren Beatty
“In 1990, Madonna starred as Breathless Mahoney in a film adaptation of the popular comic book series Dick Tracy” (wikipedia). “It was her most successful film appearance since Desperately Seeking Susan” (Erlewine). “To accompany the launching of the film, …she released I’m Breathless, which included songs from and inspired by the film's 1930s setting. It featured the #1 house music anthem Vogue (which was an homage to the Hollywood stars), the Gershwin-esque , and three songs by Stephen Sondheim, including Sooner or Later, which won an Academy Award for 'Best Original Song.'” (wikipedia).
“Madonna began a highly-publicized relationship with Warren Beatty while working on the film Dick Tracy early in 1989. Despite rumors that the two had become engaged in May 1990, the couple's relationship seemed to have ended by the summer” (wikipedia).
“From April until August 1990, Madonna toured Japan, North America, and Europe on her highly successful Blond Ambition Tour, which the singer likened to musical theatre. Featuring religious and sexual themes and symbolism, the tour drew controversy from Madonna's performance of ‘Like a Virgin,’ during which she allowed two male dancers to caress her body before she simulated masturbation. Despite the controversy, however, the tour is now considered to have changed the look and feel of concert tours, and remains one of the singer's most popular tours amongst her fans” (wikipedia).
1990-1991: Another Controversial Video, a Documentary, and A League of Their Own
“In November 1990, Madonna released her first greatest hits compilation album, The Immaculate Collection, which included two new songs, Justify My Love and Rescue Me. The music video for ‘Justify My Love’…showed Madonna in a Parisian hotel, in suggestive scenes with her then-lover, model/actor Tony Ward, as well as scenes of S&M, bondage with gay and lesbian characters, and brief nudity. It was deemed too sexually explicit for MTV, and…subsequently banned from the station. Warner Bros. Records released the video as a video single – the first of its kind – and it became the highest-selling video single of all time” (wikipedia).
“In 1991, Madonna starred in her first documentary film, Truth or Dare (also known as In Bed with Madonna outside North America), which chronicled her…Blond Ambition Tour, as well as her personal life. The following year, she appeared in the baseball film A League of Their Own, and recorded the film’s theme song, This Used to Be My Playground, which became her tenth #1 single in the United States” (wikipedia).
1992-1993: The Sex Book and Erotica
In 1992, “Madonna released Sex, an expensive, steel-bound soft-core pornographic book that featured hundreds of erotic photographs of herself, several models, and other celebrities — including Isabella Rossellini, Big Daddy Kane, Naomi Campbell, and Vanilla Ice — as well as selected prose. Sex received scathing reviews and enormous negative publicity” (Erlewine).
“The accompanying album, Erotica” (Erlewine) “was disregarded as simply being a ‘porn’ album, with most believing that all the album tracks were about sex; but in truth the album only featured three (out of fourteen) overtly sexual songs… [including] title track Erotica, which became the highest-debuting (number two) single in the history of the U.S. Hot 100 Airplay chart. The controversial music video that accompanied the song only aired three times on MTV due to its highly charged sexual content” (wikipedia).
“The Girlie Show Tour in 1993 was Madonna’s most explicit and controversial concert tour to date and featured Madonna dressed as a whip-cracking dominatrix, surrounded by topless dancers, including Luca Tommassini and Carrie Ann Inaba. The controversy caused by the tour followed Madonna when she caused uproar in Puerto Rico by rubbing the island’s flag between her legs on stage, while Orthodox Jews protested against her first-ever show in Israel” (wikipedia).
1994-1996: Bedtime Stories, and Her First Child
“Bedtime Stories…was a more subdued affair than Erotica” (Erlewine). It “features Madonna turning to a more R&B-flavoured sound” (wikipedia). “Initially, it didn't chart as impressively, prompting some critics to label her a has-been, yet the album spawned her biggest hit, Take a Bow, which spent seven weeks at number one” (Erlewine) in the U.S. However, it also became only Madonna’s third song to miss the top ten in the U.K. “The Michael Haussman Spanish-themed video, meanwhile, would later help her win the lead role in Evita” (wikipedia).
The album “also featured the Björk-penned Bedtime Stories, which became her first single not to make the Top 40; its follow-up, Human Nature, also failed to crack the Top 40. Nevertheless, Bedtime Stories marked her seventh album to go multi-platinum” (Erlewine).
“In September 1994, while walking in Central Park, Madonna met Cuban fitness trainer Carlos Leon who became her personal trainer and lover. On October 14, 1996, Madonna gave birth to the couple's child, Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon. The couple ended their relationship in 1997” (wikipedia).
“Beginning in 1995, Madonna began one of her most subtle image makeovers as she lobbied for the title role in the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. …Madonna recast herself as an upscale sophisticate, and the compilation Something to Remember fit into the plan nicely. Released in the fall of 1995, around the same time she won the coveted role of Evita Peron, the album was comprised entirely of ballads, designed to appeal to the mature audience that would also be the target of Evita” (Erlewine).
“The movie was greeted with generally positive reviews and Madonna began a campaign for an Oscar nomination that resulted in her winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress (Musical or Comedy), but not the coveted Academy Award nomination. The soundtrack…, however, was a modest hit, with a dance remix of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and the newly written You Must Love Me both becoming hits” (Erlewine). The latter “won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song From a Motion Picture the following year” (wikipedia).
1997-1999: Ray of Light and Kabbalah
“During 1997, [Madonna] worked with producer William Orbit on her first album of new material since 1994’s Bedtime Stories. The resulting record, Ray of Light, was heavily influenced by electronica, techno, and trip-hop” (Erlewine). The album “received uniformly excellent reviews upon its March 1998 release” (Erlewine) and “has been widely considered by critics to be one of her greatest artistic achievements” (wikipedia). “Ray of Light produced five singles, including the European number one Frozen. The album won four awards at the 1999 Grammy Awards and has been ranked #363 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” (wikipedia).
“Madonna followed…with the top-ten single Beautiful Stranger, a late 60s psyche-pop song she wrote with William Orbit and recorded for the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack (1999) ” (wikipedia).
“Since the late-1990s, Madonna has become a devotee of the Kabbalah Centre and a disciple of its controversial head Rabbi Philip Berg and his wife Karen. Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie attend Kabbalah classes and have been reported to have adopted a number of aspects of the movement associated with Judaism…Madonna said in a BBC interview that she believes Christianity is intolerant of questioning, whereas Kabbalah is not. Madonna has also defended Kabbalah against detractors who claim it is a cult designed to extort money from followers” (wikipedia).
2000-2001: Another Box Office Bomb, Guy Ritchie, a Son, and Music
In 2000, Madonna starred in The Next Best Thing, which “was a disappointment at the box office and was panned by critics. Madonna contributed two songs to the film's soundtrack, …Time Stood Still and European number one American Pie, a dance cover version of the 1970s Don McLean single” (wikipedia).
“On August 11, 2000, Madonna gave birth to a son, Rocco John Ritchie, with [filmmaker] Guy Ritchie, whom she had met in 1999 through mutual friends Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler. On December 22, 2000, Madonna and Ritchie were married in Scotland. As of 2007, Madonna resides in London and her country estate in Wiltshire, with Ritchie and their children” (wikipedia).
“Music, her eighth studio album, had Madonna slightly step away from the exploration of spirituality and fame to get back to the ‘party’ spirit of dance, pop, and house music. However, she retained the introspective poignancy of Ray of Light…and introduced guitars for a more folk-like note…Music debuted at number one on the U.S. albums chart and became her first number one album release since her 1989 Like a Prayer. Mainly co-written and produced with French house musician Mirwais Ahmadzai, the album produced three singles, including the worldwide number one Music. The album's third single, What It Feels Like for a Girl, featured a controversial music video, directed by Madonna's husband, Guy Ritchie, and was banned by MTV and VH1 after just one airing due to its graphic violence” (wikipedia).
“In 2001, Madonna embarked on the Drowned World Tour, her first tour in eight years. The concert tour was successful, was the subject of a television special in the US, and was released on DVD in November 2001 to coincide with the release of her second greatest hits album, GHV2” (wikipedia).
2002-2003: Swept Away, American Life and “The Kiss”
2002 saw the release of Madonna’s most panned film yet; a remake of Swept Away with new husband Guy Ritchie, in the director’s chair. “It tanked at the box office, failing to crack seven digits, making it one of the least profitable films of the year” (Erlewine).
That year, Madonna slo “wrote and performed the theme song to the James Bond film Die Another Day. The song reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for both a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and a Golden Raspberry for Worst Song” (wikipedia).
“Her sober 2003 album, American Life” (Erlewine) “became the lowest selling album of her career” (wikipedia), producing a couple of singles that didn’t even chart in the U.S.
“The music video for the first single, American Life, caused controversy in the U.S., as it contained visceral scenes depicting war, explosions, and blood. The day before the video was to air on European television, Madonna pulled it and released instead an edited version, which showed her singing in front of flags from around the world” (wikipedia).
She would generate more attention with her performance of Hollywood alongside “Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott at the MTV Video Music Awards. Madonna kissed Spears and Aguilera during the performance, resulting in tabloid press frenzy” (wikipedia).
“That same year she released a successful children’s book, The English Roses (it was followed by several more over the coming years)” (Erlewine).
2005-2007: Conversations on a Dance Floor and the Adoption Debacle
“Madonna's tenth studio album, the Grammy-winning Confessions on a Dance Floor” (wikipedia) “marked her return to music and to the dance-oriented material that had made her a star” (Erlewine). The song Hung Up “became one of the most successful singles of all time, reaching number one in a record breaking 41 countries. Madonna opened the 2006 Grammy Awards with ‘Hung Up,’ alongside the nominated computer-generated band, Gorillaz” (wikipedia).
“Madonna's Confessions Tour kicked off in late May 2006. The tour grossed a reported $260.1 million and set the record for the top-grossing tour ever by a female artist in history. Madonna’s tour also had a global audience of 1.2 million. However, it also sparked controversy when she used religious symbols such as the crucifix and crown of thorns in her performance of ‘Live to Tell’” (wikipedia).
“In October 2006, Madonna flew to Malawi to help build an orphanage, which she also funded, as part of the Raising Malawi initiative. While there, she adopted a baby boy, named David” (wikipedia). “The adoption raised public controversy about whether special treatment was given to Madonna considering the fact that Malawian law normally requires one year of residence for potential adoptive parents” (wikipedia). “It was reported that Yohane Banda, David Banda's birth father, did not understand what "adoption" meant and that he had not realized that he was giving up his son "for good." He had assumed that this arrangement was more like a fostering agreement…Madonna responded to Banda's comments on an Dateline NBC interview with Meredith Vieira by saying that Yohane Banda had known what he was doing, having refused to accept her offer to financially support him and the child without adopting the child” (wikipedia). “Because of Malawi laws, Madonna and Guy Ritchie remain David Banda’s foster parents for the required eighteen-month period” (wikipedia).
“In January 2007, Forbes Magazine reported that Madonna was the 4th wealthiest woman in entertainment (behind Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling and Martha Stewart) with a reported worth of between $350-$400 million dollars. Her ‘Confessions Tour’ in 2006, netted her with a paycheck of $65 million dollars. The tour itself cost $100 million and netted $260 million” (Erlewine).
2008: Hard Candy
Madonna was back again in 2008 with her new album Hard Candy, led by 4 Minutes, a duet with Justin Timberlake that reached #1 in 23 countries and was a US top 5. Hard Candy was Madonna’s seventh #1 album in the US and her tenth UK chart-topper, putting her only behind Elvis Presley with 11 and the Beatles with 15.