Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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MADONNA

(b Madonna Louise Ciccone, 16 Aug. '58, Bay City MI) Pop singer, actress. Brought up on Motown soul; trained as dancer at U of Michigan; took interest in music through infl. of boyfriend, drummer Steve Bray. In '91 she told Robert Sandall of The Times in London, 'My musical career was an accident. I got a record deal in 1982 and just veered off that way. But the more I did it, the less interested I became in being superficial.' She moved to NYC, then to Paris as backup singer for French disco star Patrick 'Born To Be Alive' Hernandez; soon back to NYC with a succession of New Wave groups, graduating from drummer in Breakfast Club to lead singer in group Emmy, which took her name when Bray came East to join. A demo tape got her a contract with Sire, aided by exposure from new boyfriend, disc jockey Mark Kamins, who prod. first single 'Everybody'; meanwhile the vaultingly ambitious Madonna hired Michael Jackson's manager to push her. Ex-Miles Davis sideman Reggie Lucas prod. most tracks for Madonna '83 (later retitled The First Album, with a classier sleeve photo), adding some distinction to otherwise routine disco tracks enlivened only by her voice, described as Minnie Mouse on helium. No fewer than five tracks were hit singles incl. 'Holiday', prod. by new boyfriend John 'Jellybean' Benitez (ace dance music expert also worked with Billy Joel, Pointer Sisters, others; signed prod. deal with WB '85). 'Holiday' made top 20 UK as well, but UK breakthrough came with 'Like A Virgin', title track of second LP '84 prod. by Nile Rogers: single was no. 3 UK, both LP and single no. 1 USA.

New and old discs turned to gold; she was the first female to have three hits in the UK top 15 since Ruby Murray 30 years earlier. First film (now disowned) was a non-musical blood and guts skinflick A Certain Sacrifice; hits from second film Vision Quest incl. 'Crazy For You', 'The Gambler'; Like A Virgin became no. 1 LP UK nearly a year after its release. Her secret was good promotion, clever timing and stage persona, with distinctive layered clothing (showing the famous belly button), cutoff tights, 'boy toy' belt, exaggerated makeup: boys lusted while pre-teens girls became clones called 'wannabes'. Picture discs in UK helped. Film Desperately Seeking Susan '85, debut of dir. Susan Seidelman, was a surprise hit; hers was not a leading role but her acting received critical raves compared to her singing; featured song 'Into The Groove' benefited. Her marriage to movie brat Sean Penn turned into a media event as publicity seekers suddenly didn't want any for the moment. She worked with Nick Kamen, widely regarded as sexy after his Levi's TV advert, co-writing and prod. his UK hit 'Each Time You Break My Heart'; her film The Missionary '86 was retitled Shanghai Surprise, co-starred Penn and was widely panned: the role, far removed from pre-teen sexuality, suggested a change in image, but album True Blue '86 was more of the same. Film/album Who Was That Girl? '87 was marked by a tour in which she unashamedly aped Marilyn Monroe; You Can Dance '87 had seven dance tracks remixed. The next album was Like A Prayer '89.

She was an ideal icon, her skilful stage act, image and music combining to make an oddly innocent pop phenomenon, harking back to the flirtatious glamour of earlier times; it was an obvious illusion, and then she became even more ambitious. She appeared in film Dick Tracy '90 ('Vogue' from padded soundtrack album I'm Breathless was perhaps the peak of her pop career), further films A League Of Their Own and Body Of Evidence '92, and on Broadway in Speed-The-Plow, all to no great effect; she published a book of pictures of herself naked called Sex '92, in a sealed package (otherwise bookshops wouldn't have stocked it), 'and there you have it,' wrote Chrissy Iley in the Sunday Times, 'the boil-in-the-bag orgasm. No longer a pioneer of sexual liberation, but a peddler of sexual fantasy.' Her album that year was called Erotica, and 'Secret' '94 was a taster from the album Bedtime Stories, reinforcing a change of image to something seductive, but the magic had become threadbare. 'I would like to be able to leave the impression that Marilyn Monroe made, to be able to arouse so many different feelings in people,' she had said '84, and that she did; she disgusted some critics as a narcissistic fraud, while academics were willingly defrauded, taking her work seriously as social statement. The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Subcultural Identities And Cultural Theory '92 had essays edited by Cathy Schwichtenberg, a teacher of speech communication at the U of Georgia; one critic described the essays as reading like Harvard Lampoon parodies of academic criticism. There was a lot of this stuff, but academics have to make a living too; and who can argue with over 30 consecutive hit singles? Madonna knew how to make money, and that's the name of the game. Truth Or Dare: In Bed With Madonna was a documentary film '91 dir. by Alex Keshishian that made a candid statement about her stardom: it wasn't just the tour being documented but her life that was a performance. If Michael Jackson is the superstar-as-victim, she is the superstar-as-winner: they once tried to write a song together, but she gave up because he wanted to write a song called 'In The Closet'. She didn't need another superstar; her fame was exactly what she wanted, and furthermore, a good businesswoman, she did it all herself. Forbes estimated '91 that her earnings over 20 years had been 71m; she was already the richest woman performer in the world before she signed a contract with Time- Warner that year briefly making her the highest-paid performer in history; as Christopher Ciccone put it, 'My sister is her own masterpiece.'

The Sex book was probably a mistake, but she restarted her career playing the title role in the long-awaited film of the Rice/Lloyd Webber musical Evita '96: she worked very hard on using her voice well, and the film was well reviewed in the USA on release, Time calling it the best film of a Broadway musical for a very long time (she was disappointed not to be nominated for an Oscar). She had a daughter, Lourdes Maria Ciccone, on 14 Oct. '96, the father Carlos Leon, a Cuban-born fitness trainer she met while jogging in Central Park; the baby was delivered in LA by Dr Paul Fleiss, whose daughter Heidi used to run a Hollywood call-girl business. Album Ray Of Light '98 was co-written and prod. by British 'electronica' wizard William Orbit, said to be her best yet, her ability to be in the right place at the right time apparently restored.