After a star reaches
a certain point, it's easy to forget what they became famous for
and concentrate solely on their persona. Madonna is such a star.
Madonna rocketed to stardom so quickly in 1984 that it obscured
most of her musical virtues.
Appreciating her music became even more difficult as the decade
wore on, as discussing her lifestyle became more common than discussing
her music. 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
Madonna moved from
her native Michigan to New York in 1977, with dreams of becoming
a ballet dancer. She studied with choreographer Alvin Ailey and
modeled. In 1979, she became part of the Patrick Hernandez Revue,
a disco outfit who had the hit "Born to Be Alive." She
traveled to Paris with Hernandez; it was there that she met Dan
Gilroy, who would soon become her boyfriend. Upon returning to
New York, the pair formed the Breakfast Club, a pop/dance group.
Madonna originally played drums for the band, but she 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, who signed the singer during 1982.
Kamins produced Madonna's first single, "Everybody,"
which became a club and dance hit at the end of 1982; her second
single, 1983's "Physical Attraction," was another club
hit. In June of 1983, she had her third club hit with the bubbly
"Holiday," which was written by Jellybean Benitez. Madonna's
self-titled debut album was released in September of 1983; "Holiday"
became her first Top 40 hit the following month. "Borderline"
became her first Top Ten hit in March of 1984, beginning a remarkable
string of 17 consecutive Top Ten hits. While "Lucky Star"
was climbing to number four, Madonna began working on her first
starring role in a feature film, Susan Seidelman's Desperately
Madonna's second album, the Niles Rodgers-produced Like a Virgin,
was released at the end of 1984. The title track hit number one
in December, staying at the top of the charts for six weeks; it
was the start of a whirlwind year for the singer. During 1985,
Madonna became an international celebrity, selling millions of
records on the strength of her stylish, sexy videos, and forceful
personality. After "Material Girl" became a number two
hit in March, Madonna began her first tour, supported by the Beastie
Boys. "Crazy for You" became her second number one single
in May. Desperately Seeking Susan was released in July, becoming
a box-office hit; it 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. Nevertheless, her popularity continued unabated,
with thousands of teenage girls adopting her sexy appearance,
being dubbed "Madonna Wannabes." In August, she married
actor Sean Penn; the couple had a rocky marriage that ended in
Madonna began collaborating with Patrick Leonard at the beginning
of 1986; Leonard would co-write most of her biggest hits in the
'80s, including "Live to Tell," which hit number one
in June of 1986. A more ambitious and accomplished record than
her two previous albums, True Blue was released the following
month, to both more massive commercial success (it was a number
one in both the U.S. and the U.K., selling over five million copies
in America alone) and critical acclaim. "Papa Don't Preach"
became her fourth number one hit in the U.S. 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.
At the beginning of 1987, she had her fifth number one single
with "Open Your Heart," the third number one from True
Blue alone. The title cut from the soundtrack of her third feature
film, Who's That Girl?, was another chart-topping hit, although
the film itself was another box-office bomb. 1988 was a relatively
quiet year for Madonna, as she spent the first half of the year
acting in David Mamet's Speed the Plow on Broadway. In the meantime,
she released the remix album You Can Dance. After withdrawing
the divorce papers she filed at the beginning of 1988, she divorced
Penn at the beginning of 1989.
Like a Prayer, released in the spring of 1989, was her most ambitious
and far-reaching album, incorporating elements of pop, rock, and
dance. It was another number one hit and launched the number-one
title track, and "Express Yourself," "Cherish,"
and "Keep It Together," three more Top Ten hits. In
April 1990, she began her massive Blonde Ambition tour, which
ran throughout the entire year. "Vogue" became a number
one hit in May, setting the stage for her co-starring role in
Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy; it was her most successful film appearance
since Desperately Seeking Susan. Madonna released a greatest-hits
album, The Immaculate Collection, at the end of the year. It featured
two new songs, including the number one single "Justify My
Love," which sparked another controversy with its sexy video;
the second new song, "Rescue Me," became the highest-debuting
single by a female artist in U.S. chart history, entering the
charts at number 15. Truth or Dare, a documentary of the Blonde
Ambition tour, was released to positive reviews and strong ticket
sales during the spring of 1991.
Madonna returned to the charts in the summer of 1992 with the
number one "This Used to Be My Playground," a single
featured in the film A League of Their Own, which featured the
singer in a small part. Later that year, 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,
yet that didn't stop the accompanying album, Erotica, from selling
over two million copies. Bedtime Stories, released two years later,
was a more subdued affair than Erotica. 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. It 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.
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. Backing away from the overt sexuality
of Erotica and Bedtime Stories, 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. As the filming completed,
Madonna announced she was pregnant and her daughter, Lourdes,
was born late in 1996, just as Evita was scheduled for release.
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 for
Evita, 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.
During 1997, she 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, thereby updating her classic dance-pop sound for
the late '90s. Ray of Light received uniformly excellent reviews
upon its March 1998 release and debuted at number two on the charts.
Within a month, the record was shaping up to be her biggest album
since Like a Prayer. Two years later she returned with Music,
which reunited her with Orbit and also featured production work
from Mark "Spike" Stent and Mirwais, a French electro-pop
producer/musician in the vein of Daft Punk and Air. The year 2000
also saw the birth of Madonna's second child, Rocco, who she had
with filmmaker Guy Richie; the two married at the very end of
the year. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide