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Jan 24 2018
Guest Column: Take A Bow, Queen Of Pop: The Always In Vogue Madonna And Her Cultural Legacy Comments (0)


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Ours is an era where digital music services automatically cater deep, on-demand content. We are the programmers of our own radio stations, and technology has made listening to music a highly personalized affair. In this current landscape of micro niches and playlists for one, it’s difficult to imagine a single artist cutting across genres, redefining celebrity and becoming a household name to everyone on the planet.

But the ‘80s were a different time for music, culture and the intersections in-between. The music video, and chiefly, MTV, was the de facto means for a pop-music-hungry public to discover new sounds. And for the first time, the masses not only heard artists but saw them.

By and large, we have the music video and this visual aspect to thank for launching the careers of many iconic artists in the ‘80s. Sadly, a few have left us in recent years: Michael Jackson. Prince. George Michael. But the Material Girl herself, Madonna, continues to leave her indelible mark of style and grace on the world four decades after exploding onto the New York music scene.

Born This Way: The Rise of an Icon

Madonna Louise Ciccone entered this crazy, beautiful world on August 16, 1958. Ostensibly, she grew up a prim-and-proper Catholic girl in suburban Detroit, Michigan, but the internal fire for greatness began to burn within Madonna at a young age. Her mother suffered an early death at the age of 30 due to breast cancer in 1963, a tragic event that instilled Madonna with her famous drive and sense to become somebody special.

Madonna developed as an all-around performer and attention-getter throughout her elementary and middle school years. A smart and savvy girl, she achieved high academic marks while gaining notoriety for her “unconventional behavior.” Madonna would often cartwheel down the hall and perform handstands or dances for her classmates.

At Rochester Adams High School, she continued dancing and joined the cheerleading squad. A dance scholarship to the University of Michigan followed, and Madonna honed her performance skills in Ann Arbor from 1975-1977.

But her eyes were set on a bigger prize, and by 1978, Madonna dropped out of college and moved to New York City with nothing but “blonde ambition” and $35 to her name. To support herself, she worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts while pursuing dance lessons and gigs in the dance crews of other artists.

Madonna worked the Big Apple grind for several years, slowly but surely making a name for herself in the local arts scene. It was during this time that she forged the first of her several quintessential '80s looks, donning heavy makeup, teased hair and large tribal earrings. After performing with several bands, Madonna snagged a deal with Sire Records. Her first single, “Everybody,” was released in 1982. A diva was officially born.

Queen of Culture, Trends, Fashion and More

When it comes to the math of Madonna, the only number outstripping her 35 years of chart-topping hits may be the number of fashion trends and cultural movements she has influenced. If you’ve ever vogued or worn underwear over your clothes, you can thank Ms. Ciccone for the inspiration. No one in the history of music or fashion has possessed Madonna’s chameleon-esque ability of successful identity reinvention.

While Her Highness’s personas — from leather jacket-wearing dime store punk to Material Girl Marilyn Monroe reincarnate to a pantsuited boardroom dominatrix that would make Hillary blush — are well-documented, Madonna’s affiliation with top fashion designers deserves recognition.

In 1990, she teamed up with celebrated and provocative designer Jean-Paul Gaultier to imagine her look for the Blond Ambition World Tour. The partnership yielded her famous pink corset and cone bra costume, one of Madonna’s most iconic looks. Gaultier returned in 2001 to design the neo-punk fashions showcased on the Drowned World Tour.

Over the years, Madonna has worked with an enviable coterie of top designers while launching the careers of promising unknowns — as if an association with the Material Girl could do anything less than skyrocket your fashion career! She joined forces with Dolce & Gabbana for the 1993 Girlie Show Tour, and often wore the designs of close friend Gianni Versace throughout the ‘90s. Brands from Gucci to Gap, Givenchy to Stella McCartney have all prospered from campaigns and shows featuring Madonna. And it doesn’t end there. The Material Girl even has a skincare line, MDNA Skin, that just hit the U.S. markets in 2017.

Of course, the Queen of Pop’s brand-boosting prowess extends beyond high fashion and beauty. She’s lent her beautiful countenance to countless merchandise opportunities, and even slot machines! A Madonna-licensed slot game series was recently introduced at the 2017 Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. Each slot features a unique theme based on one of Madonna’s iconic songs such as “Lucky Star.” What better way to celebrate the hitmaker than to brush up on your slot skills and play her namesake machine the next time you’re at the casino!

The Lasting Impact of the Material Girl

So, what’s the sum of Madonna’s wild string of fashion-forward identities, her unchallenged decades-long run of chart-toppers and the provocative pop artist turned humanitarian?

During the span of her career, no other artist has attracted more media attention, so say the cultural academics and media. Pamela Robertson Wojcik, an author and professor at Notre Dame, proclaims the “Borderline” singer “has been the most consistent subject of public debate” of any artist in history. Along with Michael Jackson, Madonna has changed the cultural status of a celebrity from talent to marketing. Journalist Peter Robinson of The Guardian considered that “Madonna practically invented contemporary pop fame, so there is a bit of it in the DNA of every modern pop thing.”

Even years after cementing her status as a legend, Madonna’s signature touches reverberate throughout the cultural landscape. From her tangible influence on other artists (would there be a Britney Spears or Lady Gaga without Madonna?) to being a role model for the modern, empowered woman to her impressive humanitarian work for AIDS research and orphans in Malawi, there’s seemingly nothing this superwoman can’t accomplish.

Long before Instagram and instant celebrity, the Material Girl was the original social influencer. No one else has shaped the definition of artistry and brand over the past 30 years and counting. And as admirers, we’ve enjoyed every second of the ride. So, take a bow, Ms. Ciccone, take a bow.