Madonna birthday: Queen of Pop turns 60 – how she became the cultural icon of a generation
She faced rejection after rejection and was told she would never make it so resorted to nude modelling and working as a waitress to pay for dance classes.
The knock-backs failed to quell her famously fierce determination and fast-forward four decades one of the most celebrated women in show-business is about to turn 60.
As Madonna prepares to mark her landmark birthday this week magazines and newspapers across the world are splattered with image – testament to her continued relevance.
Over the past 40 years she has amassed 12 UK number one albums; 13 number one singles; 228 weeks in the UK charts top ten; 300 million album sales worldwide; nine world tours; six Grammy Awards and two Golden Globes.
Her songs have provided many of us with a soundtrack to our lives, find someone who doesn’t have at least one or two favourites from her catalogue of hits.
But her influence spans way beyond the bubble-gum world of 80s and 90s pop music – Madonna became the cultural icon of a generation.
Women admire her for her strength and refusal, back in the day, to be cowed by the male-dominated world of media and entertainment.
Gay men and women worship her for fiercely defending the LGBT community at a time when nobody else dared and young girls still rock up to her concerts donning leather bangles with their hair tied up in rags.
The Queen of Pop turns 60 on Thursday
Madonna’s impact has been as much the result of her continued ability to stir controversy as it is her knack for churning out catchy pop tunes.
She has, through the years, offended everyone from the Catholic Church through her use of religious imagery to the censors for daring to bring up the subject of sex in the 90s, especially from the viewpoint of a woman.
Editors thought nothing of slapping pictures of naked girls on page three and pornography was fine as long as it was distributed by men for men.
But when a woman tried it the establishment went berserk. Her videos were banned from MTV, newspapers declared themselves ‘Madonna free zones’ and the Queen of Pop became the Queen of Sleaze.
Worse was her brazen refusal to conform to the stereotypical image of how a woman should behave – passive and compliant with not too much to say for herself.
Clad in conical-chested armour and toned like an athlete she presented herself as an almost Boudicca-like warrior smashing down boundaries she wasn’t supposed to and redefining what it was to be a woman in the 90s.
Her style has been copied ruthlessly through the years with every Britney, GaGa, Katie and Kylie drawing from her format in their stage shows.
The only difference being that all the risks taken by modern-day pop princesses were made safe by Madonna years ago.
Over the past 40 years Madonna has amassed 12 UK number one albums
In 1992 she released a book billed as a collection of her sexual fantasies, a collage of photographs and short stories titled simply ‘SEX’.
After weeks of carefully-orchestrated hype the book hit the shelves sealed in a silver wrapper and carrying a warning its contents may cause offence.
Once again the world went into meltdown and the media ripped into her with a renewed vigour, the headlines once again declared her career over.
It was at this time that Madonna suffered her first real setback with even die-hard fans seeming to tire of her continued attempts to shock.
Madonna became the cultural icon of a generation
Her 1993 Girlie Show world tour seemed to temper the backlash and put the emphasis back on what she did best.
However her Bedtime Stories album released around a year later was not met with the same vigour as her previous offerings, the damage was done.
Madonna has become famous through the years for her chameleon-like ability to change and adapt – her so-called reinventions.
As the sex scandal was cooling she re-emerged as the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón in the 1996 film musical Evita and a couple of years later released the album Ray of Light.
The world was presented with a new earth-mother Madonna, painted head-to-toe in henna and into spiritualism; the sleaze was long gone and the music was back.
Ray of Light earned four Grammy awards and served as a timely reminder why we love Madonna, she is just so good at what she does.
It always comes back to the music, from the early days of Borderline, Like a Virgin and Material Girl to her most recent Rebel Heart album and tour.
Her songs deal with issues from war to sex, religion to gay rights, racial intolerance, gender inequality, you name it, there isn’t a political issue she hasn’t addressed through her music.
It is safe to say Madonna’s legacy will forever be enshrined in pop history
She continues to fill stadiums and her spectacular, energetic and polished stage performances never disappoint.
Madonna has never shied away from controversy through her work although out of the spotlight she has shunned the typical rockstar lifestyle.
We have never seen pictures of her falling out of cars drunk, there have been no drug scandals or stints in rehab and she has never had a public breakdown.
She has been accused of exercising too much and following a macrobiotic diet and there was the inevitable criticism when it emerged she was studying Kabbalah – but that’s about it.
Madonna has become famous through the years for her chameleon-like ability to change and adapt
There have been a few failed relationships including marriages to actor Sean Penn and film director Guy Ritchie but let’s be honest, it must be difficult to hold down any semblance of a normal life when your job is being Madonna.
The Queen of Pop turns 60 on Thursday and there are already rumours of a new album, a new look and perhaps for another tour.
She may be about to reach a time in her life when most people think about taking it easy but she is Madonna, and that has never been her style.
Social media is abuzz with chatter about new music and the possibility of another tour – being the world’s most successful female pop artist makes no allowances for almost reaching pensioner status.
Whether she does or not, and you could argue she doesn’t need to any more, it is safe to say Madonna’s legacy will forever be enshrined in pop history.
Happy birthday your Madgesty, thank you for the music, and long may you reign.
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