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In 1983, when TV host Dick Clark asked the then 25-year-old pop music newcomer Madonna where she wanted to be in 20 years, she replied cockily that she wanted to "rule the world." It actually took something closer to a year and a half. A master of reinvention throughout her over a quarter of a century long career, Madonna evolved from unknown New York club kid to Grammy-winning singer, Golden Globe-winning actress, and one-woman empire - all without compromising her fearless approach to social commentary and talent for creating a media frenzy. At the outset, her in-your-face attitude and overt sexuality that teen girls admired and imitated drew ire from religious and conservative groups, and her later outspoken stance on politics, gay rights issues, and her own spiritual path continued to prove the adage "no publicity is bad publicity." From her peak album sales of the 1980s, beginning with the iconic Like a Virgin (1984) LP, Madonna went on to a dominatrix-themed phase which included the graphic photo book Sex and the album Erotica (1992), both of which led to a temporary dip in popularity. Later dance club-oriented releases like Grammy-winners Ray of Light (1998) and Confessions on a Dance Floor...
In 1983, when TV host Dick Clark asked the then 25-year-old pop music newcomer Madonna where she wanted to be in 20 years, she replied cockily that she wanted to "rule the world." It actually took something closer to a year and a half. A master of reinvention throughout her over a quarter of a century long career, Madonna evolved from unknown New York club kid to Grammy-winning singer, Golden Globe-winning actress, and one-woman empire - all without compromising her fearless approach to social commentary and talent for creating a media frenzy. At the outset, her in-your-face attitude and overt sexuality that teen girls admired and imitated drew ire from religious and conservative groups, and her later outspoken stance on politics, gay rights issues, and her own spiritual path continued to prove the adage "no publicity is bad publicity." From her peak album sales of the 1980s, beginning with the iconic Like a Virgin (1984) LP, Madonna went on to a dominatrix-themed phase which included the graphic photo book Sex and the album Erotica (1992), both of which led to a temporary dip in popularity. Later dance club-oriented releases like Grammy-winners Ray of Light (1998) and Confessions on a Dance Floor (2004) sold significantly better, though nothing could match the success of her early years as an apt symbol of the indulgent 1980s. The Material Girl remained unchallenged in the touring arena, however, consistently drawing sell-out crowds to her lavish productions. Her singles and album sales qualified Madonna as the top-selling female artist in America, and even as she entered her fifties, she remained an international music and fashion icon, full of surprises onscreen, on stage, and in the news.
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born and raised in suburban Detroit, MI (though some sources say Bay City, MI) on Aug. 16, 1958. In a house that would eventually include eight children, eldest Madonna was forced to grow up quickly after the death of her mother from breast cancer made her the de facto caretaker. By the time she reached adolescence, Madonna had settled into a role as an outsider - an arts-oriented teen who listened to classical music, had her own unusual personal style, and sought refuge from unkind high school peers by spending as much time as possible at a local dance studio. Her talent landed her at the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship, but after only a year, she decided she was ready to pursue a career onstage in New York City. In 1977, with only $35 in savings, Madonna moved to Manhattan where she worked minimum wage service jobs while at the same time, going to dance auditions. She did some modeling, starred in a racy student film, and worked with modern dance troupes before landing a gig touring as a dancer with French pop singer Patrick Hernandez in 1979. While in Paris, she was offered a record deal by a French record label. She extended her stay to study dance and take vocal lessons, but ultimately she decided to return to New York to pursue music.
With her career sights now firmly set, Madonna - who then favored dark, choppy hair but had already developed her signature mix-and-match thrift store look - formed the band Breakfast Club, followed by Emmy, the latter of which she fronted and played guitar. A four-song demo tape found a very receptive audience on the dance club scene, and word of the popular downtown dance tracks eventually spread uptown to Sire Records, who signed the promising and unusually confident new artist to a singles deal. A more synth-pop-oriented version of the Madonna-penned Emmy song "Everybody" was released on Sire in 1982 and became a popular club hit that made it onto Billboard's Hot Dance/Club Play chart. Confident that Madonna's strong showing would translate to album sales, Sire signed her to a record deal; the following year, the released her self-titled debut. The album quickly secured an audience beyond the dance floor, thanks to the rise of the music video, which enabled pop music fans across the country to appreciate Madonna's style and independent, electrifying persona. The album went on to sell a staggering eight million copies and helped launch just as many Madonna look-alikes. Right at the apex of Michael Jackson and Duran Duran mania, a female cultural phenomenon was unleashed, giving the male pop idols a run for their money.
Her follow-up album Like a Virgin (1984) sold twice as many LPs as its predecessor, establishing Madonna as an influential and inescapable pop culture icon. The album's controversial take on sexuality and religious imagery was met with backlash from the Catholic community, among others, but the outcry only made her more appealing to the adolescent audiences who now wore crucifixes ironically and showed as much underwear as outerwear in homage to their new idol. In 1985, Madonna's three-year relationship with boyfriend Jellybean Benitez, a producer who had worked hard to make her first recordings successful, came to an end. He would hardly be the last in a long line of men who served a purpose to the upwardly mobile "Material Girl." However, when Madonna met fellow renegade-at-heart, Sean Penn, many thought she had met her match as well. The pair was married that same summer amidst much media hoopla after Madonna completed her first sell-out U.S. tour. Naturally, Hollywood hoped that Madonna's enormous music fan base would translate to movie ticket sales, so the ever-eager star began segueing onto the big screen, first, with a cameo appearance as a nightclub singer in the film "Vision Quest" (1985), which spawned her no. 1 single "Crazy for You." A month later, Madonna cemented her rubber bracelet style by co-starring in her own wardrobe alongside Rosanna Arquette in the quirky "Desperately Seeking Susan" (1985), where director Susan Seidelman tapped her funky downtown New York persona to play a free-spirited bohemian whose lifestyle is emulated by a bored suburban housewife in a farcical tale of mistaken identity.
The film earned Madonna acclaim as a unique new screen presence, and her wisecracking talent was likened to tough and witty broads from 1940s cinema. In an attempt to capitalize on that strength, Madonna co-starred opposite husband Penn in the 1930s-set adventure comedy "Shanghai Surprise" (1986), which was a notorious box office and critical flop that compromised Madonna's ability to ever be taken seriously as an actress. She rebounded with the album True Blue (1986) which outsold her prior efforts and launched four No. 1 singles including "Papa Don't Preach" and "La Isla Bonita." A final failed attempt at stylish screwball comedy with "Who's That Girl?" (1987) bombed, but an international tour of the same name in the summer of 1987 was considered the highest grossing musical tour to date. Despite this unparalleled success, all was not well on the Madonna/Penn homefront. Amidst ugly rumors of physical and verbal abuse, the couple, who was - outside of the Prince and Princess of Wales - the most photographed in the world, began showing signs of strain. After one too many run-ins with the paparazzi, Penn bowed out. Madonna's media hungry nature and whirlwind success story was partly to blame for the dissolution of her marriage, but Penn's almost obsessive need for privacy equally doomed the combative couple.
Back in acting mode, Madonna received an "A" for effort for her Broadway debut in David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" (1988), before going on to appear in a small role in the episodic period film, "Bloodhounds of Broadway" (1989). The critically acclaimed album Like a Prayer (1989) raised more conservative ire over its use of religious iconography, but birthed the chart-topping title cut, as well as singles "Cherish" and "Express Yourself." The title song and video received its share of controversy for its overtly religious and racial overtones, with a revealingly dressed Madonna kissing an African-American man posing as Jesus, discovering stigmata on her hands, and dancing in front of burning crucifixes. The video was deemed so offensive toward organized religion, that Pepsi, who was sponsoring Madonna's upcoming tour and had shot a commercial set to the song before seeing the video, decided the risk was too great after boycott threats, canceling their sponsorship and putting their Madonna commercial on ice. The Blonde Ambition tour shouldered on, covering most of the following year; a time when the defiant entertainer fully permeated pop culture. In addition to the top-selling CD and tour, she landed a co-starring role in the big-budget comic book adaptation "Dick Tracy" (1990). Madonna's high-voltage glamour was utilized to good effect as Breathless Mahoney, and the film shoot begat a not-so-surprising (and short-lived) romantic relationship between her and co-star, Warren Beatty. In 1991, Madonna was the subject of Alek Keshishian's documentary "Truth or Dare," a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the Blonde Ambition tour and a riveting, self-important and fascinating look at superstardom. In another tough-gal comic role as a 1940s professional baseball player in Penny Marshall's "A League of Their Own" (1992), Madonna earned her best notices since "Susan," sparring memorably with her soon-to-be close off-screen friend, Rosie O'Donnell.
Sales of 22 million copies of the 1992 compilation album, The Immaculate Collection proved that after nearly a decade in the spotlight, Madonna was still the reigning queen of pop music. However, a shift in direction was about to compromise that firm footing. Her first outing as the founder of music, film, and publishing venture Maverick was the unintentional self-parody Sex (1992), an X-rated book of writings and photos of herself and "friends" in erotic S&M scenarios. Naturally the book release was accompanied by a highly orchestrated publicity blitz that led to a sold-out first edition wrapped in protective foil; on the flip side came the inevitable book banning debates, conservative protests, and accusations that the envelope pusher had finally pushed too far. Some critics perceived the book as a rather sterile, calculated attempt at creating buzz to coincide with the release of the album, Erotica and the launch of her Girlie Show tour, for which Madonna had adopted a dominatrix persona for both. Her gratuitous attempts at shocking the world this time fell flat, resulting in Erotica selling the least of any of her studio albums to that date. She further milked her current sex/nudity obsession in the big screen failure "Body of Evidence" (1993), a rip-off of "Basic Instinct" (1991) which included scenes of simulated sex acts between the actress and co-star Willem Dafoe. The unsuccessful "Sex" stint spelled the end of Madonna's three-year relationship with former bodyguard Jim Albright, and in an ill-fated pairing between two outrageously shameless self-promoters, she rebounded with NBA star Dennis Rodman before entering a long-term relationship with personal trainer Carlos Leon in 1994. Nestled throughout were also a number of rumored lesbian affairs with the equally profane comedienne Sandra Bernhard as well as with Miami club impresario, Ingrid Caseras.
In an attempt to soften her image, Madonna collaborated with talents including Babyface, releasing the more radio friendly R&B offering Bedtime Stories (1994). The album was met with a definite resurgence in album sales, though nothing that compared with her staggering numbers from the prior decade. She forewent an international tour and opted to make a series of lower-profile, independent film appearances, playing a telegram girl in Wayne Wang's "Blue in the Face" (1995), portraying a witch in Allison Anders' segment of the critically lambasted "Four Rooms" (1995), and briefly appearing as a phone sex veteran in Spike Lee's "Girl 6" (1996). The 38-year-old international superstar gave birth to a daughter, Lourdes, in the fall of 1996 to much hoopla. At the end of the year, she returned to movie theaters in what many felt was a role she was born to play, Argentine First Lady Eva Peron in Alan Parker's musical biopic, "Evita" (1996). The bit of brilliant casting resulted in a Golden Globe win for Best Actress and a boost in her recording career with a No. 2 charting soundtrack. The new mom spent some uncharacteristic time away from the spotlight raising her daughter, as well as a few eyebrows over her newfound devotion to the Jewish mystical movement, Kabbalah. When she resurfaced with the critically acclaimed album Ray of Light in 1998, her earthy, romantic, more natural look signaled a change in attitude and direction. Ray of Light won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Album, sold 14 million copies, and revived the pop goddess' flagging career with its electronica vibe and its spiritually influenced lyrics.
At age 40, the rebel from Detroit appeared to have settled into a quieter maturity that required less self-righteousness and grandstanding, though pontifications on her personal journey had now taken their place. She had also met a new man after things dwindled with Leon: British director du jour, Guy Ritchie, who was introduced to the pop singer by friends Sting and Trudie Styler. The kinder, gentler Madonna returned to film in the dramedy "The Next Best Thing" (2000), where she played opposite real-life friend Rupert Everett as a woman who conceives a son with her gay best friend. The heavy-handed addressing of gay rights issues and clunky acting spelled box office failure, but she bounced back with the well-received album Music (2000), which centered on techno beats and a European dance influence. In contrast, Madonna herself sported a cowboy hat and blinged-out Western wear, oddly keeping with current trends rather than setting them. Madonna became a mom again, this time to son Rocco, in the summer of 2000. She and Ritchie wed in December, settling down in London, where the once restless singer served tea, rode horses at the family cottage and affected her own twist on a British accent. She returned to the international stage in 2001 with The Drowned World tour, her first since 1993's The Girlie Show. She also revealed a startlingly wiry figure, courtesy of intense yoga and Pilates, in the sold-out tour which grossed $750,000.
In 2002, Madonna made another attempt to earn a solid acting reputation with "Swept Away," playing the role of a rich, spoiled wife who meets her match in a brash fisherman. The romantic comedy remake was outside both her reach as an actress and her director husband's usual comfort zone of slightly comical crime capers. Second only to the nepotistic infamy of "Shanghai Surprise" years earlier, "Swept Away" was a colossal dud, earning back only half a million on its $10 million budget. Her image was better utilized with a cameo appearance in the James Bond film "Die Another Day" (2002), for which she also wrote and performed the unfortunate title song. Even well into her forties, Madonna found herself at the center of controversy again with the release of 2003's American Life, which many radio stations refused to play, due to the album's anti-war message which was deemed unpatriotic at the time. Her political and societal critique did not appear to interest fans, but though the album was the least-selling of her career to date, a supporting North American and European tour brought in nearly a million fans eager to experience Madonna's notorious stage productions. The same year, Madonna performed guest vocals on the top-selling dance single of the year, Britney Spears' "Me Against the Music," which was an interesting juxtaposition of the 45-year-old former queen of pop with the new generation of female singers who could deliver solid album sales in the crucial teen market. Madonna raised the ire of many who had tired of her almost desperate button-pushing when she open-mouth kissed both Spears and her fellow Mouseketeer-turned-singer Christina Aguilera on the MTV Video Music Awards later that fall.
Despite Madonna's insistence that, due in part to motherhood and her devotion to Kabbalah, she "can't just write a silly pop song anymore, I have to share what I've learned," she turned around to produce the purely beat-driven dance club offering, Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005), which sold a respectable eight million copies internationally, earning a Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance album. Disproving theories of her growing irrelevance, Madonna supported the out-and-out disco extravaganza with the highest grossing tour by a female artist to date. But even the year of the endless dance remix was not without controversy when, while doing charitable work with an orphanage in Malawi, Madonna adopted a boy, David Banda, from the stricken country, only to discover that he was not actually an orphan but had been placed in the facilities' care temporarily. It was determined that the adoption did not violate any laws and the boy's father consented to giving his son a chance at a better life. Now a celebrated mother of three, Madonna announced that she was leaving her longtime record label Warner Bros., whose Sire imprint had released her very first singles; instead signing a 10-year deal with Live Nation, which was no doubt curious what their flagship artist would be unleashing upon the world at the age of 59.
Her final recording for Warner Bros., Hard Candy, was released in the spring of 2008 and its first single "4 Minutes," an ambitious blend of dance pop and R&B, went straight to No. 1 on the charts. Meanwhile, she celebrated her 50th birthday by hitting the road again, showcasing a return to a harder edged, sexed-up look. In true Madonna fashion, the album and tour coincided with the highly publicized breakup of her almost decade-long marriage to Guy Ritchie following months of tabloid speculation that she was seeing New York Yankee third baseman, Alex Rodriguez. During the split, Madonna moved back to New York City, where she unveiled her first feature as writer and producer "I Am Because We Are" (2008), a documentary about orphaned children in the African country of Malawi who lost parents or siblings to HIV/AIDS. That same year, she made her feature directing debut with the comedic drama "Filth and Wisdom" (2008), which met with lukewarm reviews and was released to cable after a limited theatrical run. Unfortunately, any work released at the time of her split was lost in the shadows of Madonna vs. Guy tabloid headlines - a favorite of gossip rags on both sides of the Atlantic.
Back to performing live in 2008-09, Madonna embarked on the Sticky & Sweet Tour which grossed over $408 million, surpassing the record she set with her own Confessions Tour. In 2010, she released her third live album, Stick & Sweet Tour, and allowed the musical series "Glee" (Fox, 2009- ) access to her entire catalogue, resulting in the well-received episode "The Power of Madonna." After releasing the Material Girl clothing line, which she designed with daughter Lourdes, she partnered with 24 Hour Fitness CEO Mark Mastrov to open a series of Hardy Candy Fitness gyms in Rome, Sydney, Mexico City and other major cities across the world. Turning back to filmmaking, Madonna wrote, produced and directed her second feature, "W.E." (2011), a romantic drama depicting the relationship between King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough). Following a premiere at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, "W.E." was greeted to scathing reviews and a poor showing at the box office, though her single "Masterpiece" won Madonna the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Going back to what she did best, Madonna had a memorable performance at Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, where a record 114 million saw her perform with Nicki Minaj, M.I.A. and Cee Lo Green.
Of course, Madonna's performance at the Super Bowl - which generated a small degree of controversy when M.I.A. gave 114 million viewers the finger - coincided with the release of her 12th studio album, MDNA (2012), a dance-inspired album, the title of which was both a play on her name and a not-so-veiled reference to MDMA, the drug commonly referred to as ecstasy. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 359,000 copies its first week. But most of the first week purchases were tied to ticket sales for her concerts, leading to the second largest sales drop ever when the album sold an underwhelming 48,000 the following week. Nonetheless, the album eventually went gold while she sold out stadiums across the world. In December 2012, Madonna announced building 10 schools in Malawi through her Raising Malawi organization, which was scheduled to educate over 4,800 boys and girls. She returned to Malawi for the first time in two years in April 2011, bringing her two adopted Malawian children, David and Mercy, as well as her then-boyfriend, dancer Brahim Zaibat. The release of a short film, "secretprojectrevolution" (2013), introduced the Art for Freedom global initiative, a partnership between Madonna and the media company Vice to promote the distribution of dissident art and music worldwide via the file-sharing network BitTorrent. Madonna's 13th album Rebel Heart (2015) was preceded by the gospel-influenced single "Living For Love," a collaboration with EDM producer Diplo.
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