It was on August 16, 49 years ago, that the world bestowed upon us the magnificence of Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. The little girl born in Bay City, Michigan would arrive in New York in 1978 with $35 in her pocket . . . and the world would never be the same.
Madonna has reinvented the model of a successful businesswoman; reinvented the music industry; challenged our pre-conceived notions about sexuality and art; shown us the proper use of a riding crop; and taken the world on a journey of empowerment, individualism and sheer electro-ecstasy. Along the way, she has also discovered Kabbalah, campaigned for an end to the AIDS epidemic, adopted an orphan from Malawi, had two children of her own, married a successful film star (then a successful film director) and sold 175 million albums. She has, as the character Edwina Monsoon noted on Absolutely Fabulous, “dragged us kicking screaming” into the future.
For all that, and so much more, we take a moment to give thanks for her Madge-sty and the empire of fabulousness she has built for us. We are, after all, only guests on her dance floor.
When she first appeared on the music scene, one critic wrote that Madonna wouldn’t last, but Cyndi Lauper would be with us forever. With apologies to Cyndi, one hopes the critic has been appropriately tarred, feather and shipped off to Siberia. There has, perhaps, never been a more mistaken prophecy in the history of pop culture. Mrs. Ritchie has stayed . . . perservered . . . and dominated. She teaches classes, amazes masses, and inspires countless gay men to want to be her.
“I am my own experiment,” she once said. “I am my own work of art.”
Along the way, Madonna has always taken her gay friends along for the adventure. “In school and in my neighborhood and everything, I felt like such an outsider, a misfit, a weirdo,” she told The Advocate. “And suddenly, when I went to the gay club, I didn’t feel that way anymore. I just felt at home. I had a whole new sense of myself.” She went on to say that, “I feel like I’m always working with gay men. For some reason, that’s who I have the most camaraderie with. I don’t really know why. I think, on the one hand, I feel their persecution. They are looked at as outsiders, so I relate to that. On the other hand, I feel that most gay men are so much more in touch with a certain kind of sensitivity that heterosexual men aren’t allowed to be in touch with, their feminine side. To me, they’re whole human beings, more so than most of the straight men that I know.”
And when asked if the music industry was homophobic, she replied: “They’re not going to be when I get finished with them.”
Madonna is a woman of her words, and she rarely minces any of them.
“I like the human body,” she also told The Advocate. “I like flesh. I like things that are living and breathing. And a finger will do just fine. . . . I’m not really interested in dildos.”
From lecturing us about the wastefulness of dildos to buying a house for the Messiah, the Queen of Pop has done it all.
Madonna has shown us how to be spiritual (“There’s Mary Magdalene—she was considered a fallen woman because she slept with men, but Jesus said it was OK. I think they probably got it on, Jesus and Mary Magdalene.”); powerful (“Sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done.”); and opinionated (“Listen, everyone is entitled to my opinion.”). And on top of it all, she’s shown us all how to put our fierceness on display, without shame, and “get up on the dance floor . . . Vogue.”
Yes, we owe much to her Madge-sty. She defined the 80s, sang to us from the balcony of the Casa Rosada in the 90s (for which she was robbed of an Oscar) and danced into the new century a reinvented icon of magnificence. She’s always been there for us, even when “time goes by so slowly.”
And she's never once been shy about living her life like she wants it.
“When I get down on my knees,” she once pronounced, “it’s not to pray.”
And so today, as we near a half-century of living in Madonna’s world, let’s get down on our knees . . . on the dance floor . . . and show some love for the Material Girl who dared to be herself, and along the way, dared us to be who we are, too.