Madonna Louise Ciccone (August 16, 1958) is an American singer, songwriter, actress, author, and record executive. Having been referred to as the “Queen of Pop” since the 1980s, she is regarded as one of the most impactful figures in popular culture. Madonna is noted for her continual reinvention and versatility in music production, songwriting, and visual presentation. She has pushed the boundaries of artistic expression in mainstream music, while remaining completely in charge of every aspect of her career. Her works, which incorporate social, political, sexual, and religious themes, have generated both critical acclaim and controversy. Madonna is often cited as an influence by other artists.
Born and raised in Michigan, Madonna moved to New York City in 1978 to pursue a career in modern dance. After performing as a drummer, guitarist, and vocalist in the rock bands Breakfast Club and Emmy, Madonna signed with Sire Records in 1982 and released her eponymous debut album the next year. She followed it with a series of successful albums, including all-time bestsellers Like a Virgin (1984) and True Blue (1986) as well as Grammy Award winners Ray of Light (1998) and Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005). Madonna has attained many number-one singles throughout her career, including “Like a Virgin”, “La Isla Bonita”, “Like a Prayer”, “Vogue”, “Take a Bow”, “Frozen”, “Music”, “Hung Up”, and “4 Minutes”.
Madonna’s popularity was further enhanced by roles in films such as Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), Dick Tracy (1990), A League of Their Own (1992), and Evita (1996). While Evita earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, many of her other films received poor reviews. As a businesswoman, Madonna founded an entertainment company called Maverick (including the label Maverick Records) in 1992. Her other ventures include fashion brands, children’s books, health clubs, and filmmaking. She contributes to various charities, having founded Ray of Light Foundation in 1998 and Raising Malawi in 2006.
Having sold over 300 million records worldwide, Madonna is certified as the best-selling female music artist of all time by Guinness World Records. She is the most successful solo artist in the history of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and holds the record for the most number-one singles by a female artist in Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. With a revenue of U.S. $1.4 billion from her concert tickets, she remains the highest-grossing solo touring artist of all time. Madonna was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, her first year of eligibility. She was ranked as the greatest woman in music by VH1 in 2012, and as the greatest music video artist of all time by Billboard in 2020. Rolling Stone also listed Madonna among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born to Catholic parents Madonna Louise (née Fortin; 1933–1963) and Silvio Anthony “Tony” Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan, on August 16, 1958. Her father’s parents were Italian emigrants from Pacentro, while her mother was of French-Canadian descent. Tony worked as an engineer designer for Chrysler and General Motors. Since Madonna had the same name as her mother, family members called her “Little Nonnie”. Madonna later commented about her name, “How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna? I would either have ended up a nun or this.” She has two older brothers, Anthony and Martin, and three younger siblings, Paula, Christopher, and Melanie.
Upon being confirmed in the Catholic Church in 1966, she adopted Veronica as a confirmation name. She was raised in the Detroit suburbs of Pontiac and Avon Township (now Rochester Hills). Months before her mother died of breast cancer at age 30 on December 1, 1963, Madonna noticed changes in her behavior and personality, although she did not understand the reason. Her mother was at a loss to explain her medical condition, and often began to cry when Madonna questioned her about it. Madonna later acknowledged that she had not grasped the concept of her mother dying.
Madonna turned to her paternal grandmother for solace. The Ciccone siblings resented housekeepers and rebelled against anyone brought into their home who they thought would try to take the place of their beloved mother. Madonna later told Vanity Fair that she saw herself in her youth as a “lonely girl who was searching for something. I wasn’t rebellious in a certain way. I cared about being good at something. I didn’t shave my underarms and I didn’t wear make-up like normal girls do. But I studied and I got good grades… I wanted to be somebody.” Terrified that her father Tony could be taken from her as well, Madonna was often unable to sleep unless she was near him.
In 1966, Tony married the family’s housekeeper Joan Gustafson. They had two children, Jennifer and Mario. Madonna resented her father for getting remarried, and began rebelling against him, which strained their relationship for many years afterward. She attended St. Frederick’s and St. Andrew’s Catholic Elementary Schools, and West Middle School. Madonna was known for her high grade point average, and achieved notoriety for her unconventional behavior. She would perform cartwheels and handstands in the hallways between classes, dangle by her knees from the monkey bars during recess, and pull up her skirt during class—all so that the boys could see her underwear.
Madonna’s father put her in classical piano lessons, but she later convinced him to allow her to take ballet lessons. Christopher Flynn, her ballet teacher, persuaded her to pursue a career in dance. She later attended Rochester Adams High School, where she became a straight-A student and a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating, she received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan and studied over the summer at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina.
In 1978, Madonna dropped out of college and relocated to New York City. She said of her move to New York, “It was the first time I’d ever taken a plane, the first time I’d ever gotten a taxi cab. I came here with $35 in my pocket. It was the bravest thing I’d ever done.” She had little money while working as a waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts and with modern dance troupes, taking classes at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and eventually performing with Pearl Lang Dance Theater. She also studied dance under the tutelage of Martha Graham, the noted American dancer and choreographer. Madonna started to work as a backup dancer for other established artists. One night, while returning from a rehearsal, a pair of men held her at knifepoint and forced her to perform fellatio. She later found the incident to be “a taste of my weakness, it showed me that I still could not save myself in spite of all the strong-girl show. I could never forget it.”
While performing as a backup singer and dancer for the French disco artist Patrick Hernandez on his 1979 world tour, Madonna became romantically involved with musician Dan Gilroy and they lived in an abandoned synagogue in Corona, Queens. Together, they formed her first rock band, the Breakfast Club, for which Madonna sang and played drums and guitar. In 1980 or 1981 she left Breakfast Club and, with her then boyfriend Stephen Bray as drummer, formed the band Emmy. The two began writing songs together, but Madonna later decided to promote herself as a solo act. Her music impressed DJ and record producer Mark Kamins who arranged a meeting between Madonna and Sire Records founder Seymour Stein.
After Madonna signed a singles deal with Sire, her debut single, “Everybody”, was released in October 1982, and the second, “Burning Up”, in March 1983. Both became big club hits in the United States, reaching number three on Hot Dance Club Songs chart compiled by Billboard magazine. After this success, she started developing her eponymous debut album, Madonna, which was primarily produced by Reggie Lucas of Warner Bros. However, she was not happy with the completed tracks and disagreed with Lucas’ production techniques, so decided to seek additional help. Around this time, Madonna was dating artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, but she ended the relationship due to his heroin addiction.
Madonna moved in with boyfriend John “Jellybean” Benitez, asking his help for finishing the album’s production. Benitez remixed most of the tracks and produced “Holiday”, which was her third single and her first international top-ten hit. The overall sound of Madonna was dissonant and in the form of upbeat synthetic disco, using some of the new technology of the time, like the Linn drum machine, Moog bass and the OB-X synthesizer. The album was released in July 1983 and peaked at number eight on the Billboard 200 six months later, in 1984. It yielded two top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100, “Borderline” and “Lucky Star”.
Madonna’s look and style of dressing, her performances, and her music videos influenced young girls and women. Her style became one of the female fashion trends of the 1980s. Created by stylist and jewelry designer Maripol, the look consisted of lace tops, skirts over capri pants, fishnet stockings, jewelry bearing the crucifix, bracelets, and bleached hair. Madonna’s popularity continued to rise globally with the release of her second studio album, Like a Virgin, in November 1984. It became her first number-one album in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, the UK, and the US. Like a Virgin became the very first album by a female to sell over five million copies in the U.S. It was later certified diamond, and has sold over 21 million copies worldwide.
The album’s title track served as its first single, and topped the Hot 100 chart for six consecutive weeks. It attracted the attention of conservative organizations who complained that the song and its accompanying video promoted premarital sex and undermined family values, and moralists sought to have the song and video banned. Madonna received huge media coverage for her performance of “Like a Virgin” at the first 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. Wearing a wedding dress and white gloves, Madonna appeared on stage atop a giant wedding cake and then rolled around suggestively on the floor. MTV retrospectively considered it one of the “most iconic” pop performances of all time. The second single, “Material Girl”, reached number two on the Hot 100 and was promoted by a music video recreating Marilyn Monroe’s performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. While filming this video, Madonna started dating actor Sean Penn. They married on her birthday in 1985.
—Madonna on the backlash for “Like a Virgin”
Madonna entered mainstream films in February 1985, beginning with a brief appearance as a club singer in Vision Quest, a romantic drama film. Its soundtrack contained two new singles, her U.S. number-one single, “Crazy for You”, and another track “Gambler”. She also played the title role in the 1985 comedy Desperately Seeking Susan, a film which introduced the song “Into the Groove”, her first number-one single in the UK. Her popularity caused the film to be perceived as a Madonna vehicle, despite how she was not billed as a lead actress. The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby named it one of the ten best films of 1985.
Beginning in April 1985, Madonna embarked on her first concert tour in North America, The Virgin Tour, with the Beastie Boys as her opening act. She progressed from playing CBGB and the Mudd Club to playing large sporting arenas. The tour saw the peak of Madonna wannabe phenomenon, with many female attendees dressing like her. At that time, she released two more hits, “Angel” and “Dress You Up”, making all four singles from the album peak inside the top five on the Hot 100 chart. In July, Penthouse and Playboy magazines published a number of nude photos of Madonna, taken in New York in 1978. She had posed for the photographs as she needed money at the time, and was paid as little as $25 a session. The publication of the photos caused a media uproar, but Madonna remained “unapologetic and defiant”. The photographs were ultimately sold for up to $100,000. She referred to these events at the 1985 outdoor Live Aid charity concert, saying that she would not take her jacket off because ” might hold it against me ten years from now.”
In June 1986, Madonna released her third studio album, True Blue, which was inspired by and dedicated to her husband Penn. Rolling Stone was impressed with the effort, writing that the album “sound as if it comes from the heart”. Five singles were released—”Live to Tell”, “Papa Don’t Preach”, “True Blue”, “Open Your Heart”, and “La Isla Bonita”—all of which reached number one in the US or the UK. The album topped the charts in 28 countries worldwide, an unprecedented achievement at the time, and remains Madonna’s best-selling studio album, with sales of 25 million copies. True Blue was featured in the 1992 edition of Guinness World Records as the best-selling album by a woman of all time.
Madonna starred in the critically panned film Shanghai Surprise in 1986, for which she received her first Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress. She made her theatrical debut in a production of David Rabe’s Goose and Tom-Tom; the film and play both co-starred Penn. The next year, Madonna was featured in the film Who’s That Girl. She contributed four songs to its soundtrack, including the title track and “Causing a Commotion”. Madonna embarked on the Who’s That Girl World Tour in June 1987, which continued until September. It broke several attendance records, including over 130,000 people in a show near Paris, which was then a record for the highest-attended female concert of all time. Later that year, she released a remix album of past hits, You Can Dance, which reached number 14 on the Billboard 200. After initially filing for an annulment in December 1987, Madonna filed for divorce from Penn in January 1989, citing irreconcilable differences.
In January 1989, Madonna signed an endorsement deal with soft-drink manufacturer Pepsi. In one Pepsi commercial, she debuted “Like a Prayer”, the lead single and title track from her fourth studio album. The music video featured Catholic symbols such as stigmata and cross burning, and a dream of making love to a saint, leading the Vatican to condemn the video. Religious groups sought to ban the commercial and boycott Pepsi products. Pepsi revoked the commercial and canceled her sponsorship contract. “Like a Prayer” topped the charts in many countries, becoming her seventh number one on the Hot 100.
Madonna co-wrote and co-produced Like a Prayer with Patrick Leonard, Stephen Bray, and Prince. Music critic J. D. Considine from Rolling Stone praised it “as close to art as pop music gets … proof not only that Madonna should be taken seriously as an artist but that hers is one of the most compelling voices of the Eighties.” Like a Prayer peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 15 million copies worldwide. Other successful singles from the album were “Express Yourself” and “Cherish”, both peaked at number two in the US, as well as the UK top-five “Dear Jessie” and the US top-ten “Keep It Together”. By the end of the 1980s, Madonna was named as the “Artist of the Decade” by MTV, Billboard and Musician magazine.
Madonna starred as Breathless Mahoney in the film Dick Tracy (1990), with Warren Beatty playing the title role. The film went to number one on the U.S. box office for two weeks and Madonna received a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress. To accompany the film, she released the soundtrack album, I’m Breathless, which included songs inspired by the film’s 1930s setting. It also featured the U.S. number-one song “Vogue” and “Sooner or Later”. While shooting the film, Madonna began a relationship with Beatty, which dissolved by the end of 1990.
In April 1990, Madonna began her Blond Ambition World Tour, which was held until August. Rolling Stone called it an “elaborately choreographed, sexually provocative extravaganza” and proclaimed it “the best tour of 1990”. The tour generated strong negative reaction from religious groups for her performance of “Like a Virgin”, during which two male dancers caressed her body before she simulated masturbation. In response, Madonna said, “The tour in no way hurts anybody’s sentiments. It’s for open minds and gets them to see sexuality in a different way. Their own and others”. The live recording of the tour won Madonna her first Grammy Award, in the category of Best Long Form Music Video.
The Immaculate Collection, Madonna’s first greatest-hits compilation album, was released in November 1990. It included two new songs, “Justify My Love” and “Rescue Me”. The album was certified diamond by RIAA and sold over 31 million copies worldwide, becoming the best-selling compilation album by a solo artist in history. “Justify My Love” reached number one in the U.S. becoming her ninth number-one Its music video featured scenes of sadomasochism, bondage, same-sex kissing, and brief nudity. The video was deemed too sexually explicit for MTV and was banned from the network. Her first documentary film, Truth or Dare (known as In Bed with Madonna outside North America), was released in May 1991. Chronicling her Blond Ambition World Tour, it became the highest-grossing documentary of all time (surpassed eleven years later by Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine).
In 1992, Madonna starred in A League of Their Own as Mae Mordabito, a baseball player on an all-women’s team. It reached number one on the box-office and became the tenth highest-grossing film of the year in the U.S. She recorded the film’s theme song, “This Used to Be My Playground”, which became her tenth Hot 100 number-one hit, the most by any female artist at the time. The same year, Madonna sponsored the first retrospective for her former boyfriend Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She also founded her own entertainment company, Maverick, consisting of a record company (Maverick Records), a film production company (Maverick Films), and associated music publishing, television broadcasting, book publishing and merchandising divisions. The deal was a joint venture with Time Warner and paid Madonna an advance of $60 million. It gave her 20% royalties from the music proceedings, the highest rate in the industry at the time, equaled only by Michael Jackson’s royalty rate established a year earlier with Sony. Her company later went on to produce multi-platinum artists such as Alanis Morissette and Michelle Branch.
Upon achieving total artistic control with Maverick, Madonna released simultaneously her fifth studio album, Erotica, and her coffee table book, Sex. Consisting of sexually provocative and explicit images, photographed by Steven Meisel, the book received strong negative reaction from the media and the general public, but sold 1.5 million copies at $50 each in a matter of days. The widespread backlash overshadowed Erotica, which ended up as her lowest selling album at the time. Despite positive reviews, it became her first studio album since her debut album not to score any chart-topper in the U.S. The album entered the Billboard 200 at number two and yielded the Hot 100 top-ten hits “Erotica” and “Deeper and Deeper”. Madonna continued her provocative imagery in the 1993 erotic thriller, Body of Evidence, a film which contained scenes of sadomasochism and bondage. It was poorly received by critics. She also starred in the film Dangerous Game, which was released straight to video in North America. The New York Times described the film as “angry and painful, and the pain feels real.”
In September 1993, Madonna embarked on The Girlie Show World Tour, in which she dressed as a whip-cracking dominatrix surrounded by topless dancers. In Puerto Rico she rubbed the island’s flag between her legs on stage, resulting in outrage among the audience. In March 1994, she appeared as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman, using profanity that required censorship on television, and handing Letterman a pair of her panties and asking him to smell it. The releases of her sexually explicit book, album and film, and the aggressive appearance on Letterman all made critics question Madonna as a sexual renegade. Critics and fans reacted negatively, who commented that “she had gone too far” and that her career was over.
Biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli described her ballad “I’ll Remember” (1994) as an attempt to tone down her provocative image. The song was recorded for Alek Keshishian’s film With Honors. She made a subdued appearance with Letterman at an awards show and appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno after realizing that she needed to change her musical direction in order to sustain her popularity. With her sixth studio album, Bedtime Stories (1994), Madonna employed a softer image to try to improve the public perception. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and generated two U.S. top-five hits, “Secret” and “Take a Bow”, the latter topping the Hot 100 for seven weeks, the longest period of any Madonna single. Something to Remember, a collection of ballads, was released in November 1995. The album featured three new songs: “You’ll See”, “One More Chance”, and a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”. Around this time, Madonna dated basketball player Dennis Rodman and rapper Tupac Shakur. Shakur revealed in a 1995 prison letter to Madonna that he ended their relationship because she is white. She later became romantically involved with fitness trainer Carlos Leon.
In the 1996 musical, Evita, Madonna played the title role of Eva Perón. For a long time, Madonna had desired to play Perón and wrote to director Alan Parker to explain why she would be perfect for the part. She said later, “This is the role I was born to play. I put everything of me into this because it was much more than a role in a movie. It was exhilarating and intimidating at the same time. And I am prouder of Evita than anything else I have done.” After securing the role, she received vocal coaching and learned about the history of Argentina and Perón. During filming Madonna became ill several times, after finding out that she was pregnant, and from the intense emotional effort required with the scenes. Upon Evita‘s release in December 1996, Madonna’s performance received acclaim from film critics. Zach Conner of Time magazine commented, “It’s a relief to say that Evita is pretty damn fine, well cast and handsomely visualized. Madonna once again confounds our expectations.” For the role, Madonna won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
The Evita soundtrack, containing songs mostly performed by Madonna, was released as a double album. It included “You Must Love Me” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”; the latter reached number one in countries across Europe. Madonna was presented with the Artist Achievement Award by Tony Bennett at the 1996 Billboard Music Awards. On October 14, 1996, she gave birth to Lourdes “Lola” Maria Ciccone Leon, her daughter with Leon. Biographer Mary Cross writes that although Madonna often worried that her pregnancy would harm Evita, she reached some important personal goals: “Now 38 years old, Madonna had at last triumphed on screen and achieved her dream of having a child, both in the same year. She had reached another turning point in her career, reinventing herself and her image with the public.” Her relationship with Carlos Leon ended in May 1997 and she declared that they were “better off as best friends”.
After Lourdes’s birth, Madonna became involved in Eastern mysticism and Kabbalah, introduced to her by actress Sandra Bernhard. Her seventh studio album, Ray of Light, (1998) reflected this change in her perception and image. She collaborated with electronica producer William Orbit and wanted to create a sound that could blend dance music with pop and British rock. American music critic Ann Powers explained that what Madonna searched for with Orbit “was a kind of a lushness that she wanted for this record. Techno and rave were happening in the 90s and had a lot of different forms. There was very experimental, more hard stuff like Aphex Twin. There was party stuff like Fatboy Slim. That’s not what Madonna wanted for this. She wanted something more like a singer-songwriter, really. And William Orbit provided her with that.”
The album garnered critical acclaim, with Slant Magazine calling it “one of the great pop masterpieces of the ’90s” Ray of Light was honored with four Grammy Awards—including Best Pop Album and Best Dance Recording—and was nominated for both Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Rolling Stone listed it among “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Commercially, the album peaked at number-one in numerous countries and sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. The album’s lead single, “Frozen”, became Madonna’s first single to debut at number one in the UK, while in the U.S. it became her sixth number-two single, setting another record for Madonna as the artist with the most number-two hits. The second single, “Ray of Light”, debuted at number five on the Billboard Hot 100. The 1998 edition of Guinness Book of World Records documented that “no female artist has sold more records than Madonna around the world”.
Madonna founded Ray of Light Foundation which focused on women, education, global development and humanitarian. She signed on to play a violin teacher in the 1999 film Music of the Heart but left the project, citing “creative differences” with director Wes Craven. She recorded the single “Beautiful Stranger” for the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, which earned her a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. Madonna starred in the 2000 film The Next Best Thing, and contributed two songs to the film’s soundtrack; “Time Stood Still” and a cover of Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie”.
Madonna released her eighth studio album, Music, in September 2000. It featured elements from the electronica-inspired Ray of Light era, and like its predecessor, received acclaim from critics. Collaborating with French producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï, Madonna commented: “I love to work with the weirdos that no one knows about—the people who have raw talent and who are making music unlike anyone else out there. Music is the future of sound.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic felt that “Music blows by in a kaleidoscopic rush of color, technique, style and substance. It has so many depth and layers that it’s easily as self-aware and earnest as Ray of Light.” The album took the number-one position in more than 20 countries worldwide and sold four million copies in the first ten days. In the U.S., Music debuted at the top, and became her first number-one album in eleven years since Like a Prayer. It produced three singles: the Hot 100 number-one “Music”, “Don’t Tell Me”, and “What It Feels Like for a Girl”. The music video of “What It Feels Like for a Girl” depicted Madonna committing acts of crime and vandalism, and was banned by MTV and VH1.
She first met director Guy Ritchie, who would later become her second husband, in the summer of 1998 and gave birth to their son Rocco John Ritchie on August 11, 2000 in Los Angeles. Rocco and Madonna suffered complications from the birth due to her experiencing placenta praevia. He was christened at Dornoch Cathedral in Dornoch, Scotland, on December 21, 2000. Madonna married Ritchie the following day at nearby Skibo Castle. After an eight-year absence of touring, Madonna started her Drowned World Tour in June 2001. The tour visited cities in the U.S. and Europe and was the highest-grossing concert tour of the year by a solo artist, earning $75 million from 47 sold-out shows. She also released her second greatest-hits collection, titled GHV2, to coincide with the home video release of the tour. GHV2 debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200.
Madonna starred in the film Swept Away, directed by Ritchie. Released direct-to-video in the UK, the film was a commercial and critical failure. In May 2002 she appeared in London in the West End play Up For Grabs at the Wyndhams Theatre (billed as ‘Madonna Ritchie’), to universally bad reviews and was described as “the evening’s biggest disappointment” by one. That October, she released “Die Another Day”, the title song of the James Bond film Die Another Day, in which she had a cameo role, described by Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian as “incredibly wooden”. The song reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for both a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original Song.
Following Die Another Day, Madonna collaborated with fashion photographer Steven Klein in 2003 for an exhibition installation named X-STaTIC Pro=CeSS. It included photography from a photo shoot in W magazine, and seven video segments. The installation ran from March to May in New York’s Deitch Projects gallery and also traveled the world in an edited form. The same year, Madonna released her ninth studio album, American Life, which was based on her observations of American society. She explained that the record was “like a trip down memory lane, looking back at everything I’ve accomplished and all the things I once valued and all the things that were important to me.” Larry Flick from The Advocate felt that “American Life is an album that is among her most adventurous and lyrically intelligent” while condemning it as “a lazy, half-arsed effort to sound and take her seriously.” The title song peaked at number 37 on the Hot 100. Its original music video was canceled as Madonna thought that the clip, featuring violence and war imagery, would be deemed unpatriotic since America was then at war with Iraq. With four million copies sold worldwide, American Life was the lowest-selling album of her career at that point.
Madonna gave another provocative performance later that year at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, when she kissed singers Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera while singing the track “Hollywood”. In October 2003, she provided guest vocals on Spears’ single “Me Against the Music”. It was followed with the release of Remixed & Revisited. The EP contained remixed versions of songs from American Life and included “Your Honesty”, a previously unreleased track from the Bedtime Stories recording sessions. Madonna also signed a contract with Callaway Arts & Entertainment to be the author of five children’s books. The first of these books, titled The English Roses, was published in September 2003. The story was about four English schoolgirls and their envy and jealousy of each other. The book debuted at the top of The New York Times Best Seller list and became the fastest-selling children’s picture book of all time. Madonna donated all of its proceeds to children’s charity.
The next year Madonna and Maverick sued Warner Music Group and its former parent company Time Warner, claiming that mismanagement of resources and poor bookkeeping had cost the company millions of dollars. In return, Warner filed a countersuit alleging that Maverick had lost tens of millions of dollars on its own. The dispute was resolved when the Maverick shares, owned by Madonna and Ronnie Dashev, were purchased by Warner. Madonna and Dashev’s company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Warner Music, but Madonna was still signed to Warner under a separate recording contract.
In mid-2004 Madonna embarked on the Re-Invention World Tour in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. It became the highest-grossing tour of 2004, earning around $120 million and became the subject of her documentary I’m Going to Tell You a Secret. In November 2004, she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame as one of its five founding members, along with the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, and U2. Rolling Stone ranked her at number 36 on its special issue of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, featuring an article about her written by Britney Spears. In January 2005, Madonna performed a cover version of the John Lennon song “Imagine” at Tsunami Aid. She also performed at the Live 8 benefit concert in London in July 2005.
Her tenth studio album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, was released in November 2005. Musically the album was structured like a club set composed by a DJ. It was acclaimed by critics, with Keith Caulfield from Billboard commenting that the album was a “welcome return to form for the Queen of Pop.” The album won a Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album. Confessions on a Dance Floor and its lead single, “Hung Up”, went on to reach number one in 40 and 41 countries respectively, earning a place in Guinness World Records. The song contained a sample of ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”, only the second time that ABBA has allowed their work to be used. ABBA songwriter Björn Ulvaeus remarked “It is a wonderful track—100 per cent solid pop music.” “Sorry”, the second single, became Madonna’s twelfth number-one single in the UK.
Madonna embarked on the Confessions Tour in May 2006, which had a global audience of 1.2 million and grossed over $193.7 million, becoming the highest-grossing tour to that date for a female artist. Madonna used religious symbols, such as the crucifix and Crown of Thorns, in the performance of “Live to Tell”. It caused the Russian Orthodox Church and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia to urge all their members to boycott her concert. At the same time, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) announced officially that Madonna had sold over 200 million copies of her albums alone worldwide.
While on tour Madonna founded charitable organization Raising Malawi and partially funded an orphanage in and traveling to that country. While there, she decided to adopt a boy named David Banda in October 2006. The adoption raised strong public reaction, because Malawian law requires would-be parents to reside in Malawi for one year before adopting, which Madonna did not do. She addressed this on The Oprah Winfrey Show, saying that there were no written adoption laws in Malawi that regulated foreign adoption. She described how Banda had been suffering from pneumonia after surviving malaria and tuberculosis when she first met him. Banda’s biological father, Yohane, commented, “These so-called human rights activists are harassing me every day, threatening me that I am not aware of what I am doing … They want me to support their court case, a thing I cannot do for I know what I agreed with Madonna and her husband.” The adoption was finalized in May 2008.
Madonna released and performed the song “Hey You” at the London Live Earth concert in July 2007. She announced her departure from Warner Bros. Records, and declared a new $120 million, ten-year 360 deal with Live Nation. In 2008, Madonna produced and wrote I Am Because We Are, a documentary on the problems faced by Malawians; it was directed by Nathan Rissman, who worked as Madonna’s gardener. She also directed her first film, Filth and Wisdom. The plot of the film revolved around three friends and their aspirations. The Times said she had “done herself proud” while The Daily Telegraph described the film as “not an entirely unpromising first effort Madonna would do well to hang on to her day job.” On March 10, 2008, Madonna was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility. She did not sing at the ceremony but asked fellow Hall of Fame inductees and Michigan natives The Stooges to perform her songs “Burning Up” and “Ray of Light”.
Madonna released her eleventh studio album, Hard Candy, in April 2008. Containing R&B and urban pop influences, the songs on Hard Candy were autobiographical in nature and saw Madonna collaborating with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams and Nate “Danja” Hills. The album debuted at number one in 37 countries and on the Billboard 200. Caryn Ganz from Rolling Stone complimented it as an “impressive taste of her upcoming tour”, while BBC correspondent Mark Savage panned it as “an attempt to harness the urban market”.
“4 Minutes” was released as the album’s lead single and peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. It was Madonna’s 37th top-ten hit on the chart and pushed her past Elvis Presley as the artist with the most top-ten hits. In the UK she retained her record for the most number-one singles for a female artist; “4 Minutes” becoming her thirteenth. At the 23rd Japan Gold Disc Awards, Madonna received her fifth Artist of the Year trophy from Recording Industry Association of Japan, the most for any artist. To further promote the album, she embarked on the Sticky & Sweet Tour, her first major venture with Live Nation. With a total gross of $408 million, it ended up as the second highest-grossing tour of all time, behind The Rolling Stones’s A Bigger Bang Tour. It remained the highest-grossing tour by a solo artist until Roger Waters’ The Wall Live surpassed it in 2013.
In July 2008, Christopher Ciccone released a book titled Life with My Sister Madonna, which caused a rift between Madonna and him, because of unsolicited publication. By fall, Madonna filed for divorce from Ritchie, citing irreconcilable differences. In December 2008, Madonna’s spokesperson announced that Madonna had agreed to a divorce settlement with Ritchie, the terms of which granted him between £50–60 million ($66.67–80 million), a figure that included the couple’s London pub and residence and Wiltshire estate in England. The marriage was dissolved by District Judge Reid by decree nisi at the clinical Principal Registry of the Family Division in High Holborn, London. They entered a compromise agreement for Rocco and David, then aged eight and three respectively, and divided the children’s time between Ritchie’s London home and Madonna’s in New York, where the two were joined by Lourdes. Soon after, Madonna applied to adopt Chifundo “Mercy” James from Malawi in May 2009, but the country’s High Court rejected the application because Madonna was not a resident there. She re-appealed, and on June 12, 2009, the Supreme Court of Malawi granted her the right to adopt Mercy.
Madonna concluded her contract with Warner by releasing her third greatest-hits album, Celebration, in September 2009. It contained the new songs “Celebration” and “Revolver” along with 34 hits spanning her musical career with the label. Celebration reached number one in several countries, including Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. She appeared at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards to speak in tribute to deceased pop singer Michael Jackson. Madonna ended the 2000s as the best-selling single artist of the decade in the U.S. and the most-played artist of the decade in the UK. Billboard also announced her as the third top-touring artist of the decade—behind only The Rolling Stones and U2—with a gross of over $801 million, 6.3 million attendance and 244 sell-outs of 248 shows.
Madonna performed at the Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief concert in January 2010. Her third live album, Sticky & Sweet Tour, was released in April, debuting at number ten on the Billboard 200. It also became her 20th top-ten on the Oricon Albums Chart, breaking the Beatles’ record for the most top-ten album by an international act in Japan. Madonna granted American television show, Glee, the rights to her entire catalog of music, and the producers created an episode featuring her songs exclusively. She also collaborated with Lourdes and released the Material Girl clothing line, inspired by her punk-girl style when she rose to fame in the 1980s. In October, she opened a series of fitness centers around the world named Hard Candy Fitness, and three months later unveiled a second fashion brand called Truth or Dare which included footwear, perfumes, underclothing, and accessories.
Madonna directed her second feature film, W.E., a biographical account about the affair between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Co-written with Alek Keshishian, the film was premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival in September 2011. Critical and commercial response to the film was negative. Madonna contributed the ballad “Masterpiece” for the film’s soundtrack, which won her a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
In February 2012, Madonna headlined the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her performance was visualized by Cirque Du Soleil and Jamie King and featured special guests LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A. and CeeLo Green. It became the then most-watched Super Bowl halftime show in history with 114 million viewers, higher than the game itself. During the event, she performed “Give Me All Your Luvin'”, the lead single from her twelfth studio album, MDNA. It became her record-extending 38th top-ten single on the Billboard Hot 100.
MDNA was released in March 2012 and saw collaboration with various producers, including William Orbit and Martin Solveig. It was her first release under her three-album deal with Interscope Records, which she signed as a part of her 360 deal with Live Nation. She was signed to the record label since Live Nation was unable to distribute music recordings. MDNA became Madonna’s fifth consecutive studio record to debut at the top of the Billboard 200. The album was mostly promoted by The MDNA Tour, which lasted from May to December 2012. The tour featured controversial subjects such as violence, firearms, human rights, nudity and politics. With a gross of $305.2 million from 88 sold-out shows, it became the highest-grossing tour of 2012 and then-tenth highest-grossing tour of all time. Madonna was named the top-earning celebrity of the year by Forbes, earning an estimated $125 million.
Madonna collaborated with Steven Klein and directed a 17-minute film, secretprojectrevolution, which was released on BitTorrent in September 2013. With the film she launched the Art for Freedom initiative, which helped to promote “art and free speech as a means to address persecution and injustice across the globe”. The website for the project included over 3,000 art related submissions since its inception, with Madonna regularly monitoring and enlisting other artists like David Blaine and Katy Perry as guest curators.
By 2013, Madonna’s Raising Malawi had built ten schools to educate 4,000 children in Malawi at a value of $400,000. When Madonna visited the schools in April 2013, President of Malawi Joyce Banda accused her of exaggerating the charity’s contribution. Madonna was saddened by Banda’s statement, but clarified that she had “no intention of being distracted by these ridiculous allegations”. It was later confirmed that Banda had not approved the statement released by her press team. Madonna also visited her hometown Detroit during May 2014 and donated funds to help with the city’s bankruptcy. The same year, her business ventures extended to skin care products with the launch of MDNA Skin in Tokyo, Japan.
Madonna’s thirteenth studio album, Rebel Heart, was released in March 2015, three months after its thirteen demos leaked onto the Internet. Unlike her previous efforts, which involved only a few people, Madonna worked with a large number of collaborators, including Avicii, Diplo and Kanye West. Introspection was listed as one of the foundational themes prevalent on the record, along with “genuine statements of personal and careerist reflection”. Madonna explained to Jon Pareles of The New York Times that although she has never looked back at her past endeavors, reminiscing about it felt right for Rebel Heart. Music critics responded positively towards the album, calling it her best effort in a decade. Rebel Heart became Madonna’s first album to miss the top position of the Billboard 200 since Ray of Light, but reached number one in other major music markets, including Australia, Canada, Germany and Italy.
From September 2015 to March 2016, Madonna embarked on the Rebel Heart Tour to promote the album. The tour traveled throughout North America, Europe and Asia and was Madonna’s first visit to Australia in 23 years, where she also performed a one-off show for her fans. Rebel Heart Tour grossed a total of $169.8 million from the 82 shows, with over 1.045 million ticket sales. While on tour, Madonna became engaged in a legal battle with Ritchie, over the custody of their son Rocco. The dispute started when Rocco decided to continue living in England with Ritchie when the tour had visited there, while Madonna wanted him to travel with her. Court hearings took place in both New York and London. After multiple deliberations, Madonna withdrew her application for custody and decided to resolve the matter privately.
In October 2016, Billboard named Madonna its Woman of the Year. Her “blunt and brutally honest” speech about ageism and sexism at the ceremony received widespread coverage in the media. The next month Madonna, who actively supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, performed an impromptu acoustic concert at Washington Square Park in support of Clinton’s campaign. Upset that Donald Trump won the election, Madonna spoke out against him at the Women’s March on Washington, a day after his inauguration. She sparked controversy when she said that she “thought a lot about blowing up the White House”. The following day, Madonna asserted she was “not a violent person” and that her words had been “taken wildly out of context”.
In February 2017, Madonna adopted four-year-old twin sisters from Malawi named Estere and Stella, and she moved to live in Lisbon, Portugal in summer 2017 with her adoptive children. In July she opened the Mercy James Institute for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care in Malawi, a children’s hospital built by her Raising Malawi charity. The live album chronicling the Rebel Heart Tour was released in September 2017, and won Best Music Video for Western Artists at the 32nd Japan Gold Disc Award. That month, Madonna launched MDNA Skin in select stores in the United States, after getting “tired of hearing people complain here that they can’t get it in America”. A few months earlier, the auction house Gotta Have Rock and Roll had put up Madonna’s personal items like love letters from Tupac Shakur, cassettes, underwear and a hairbrush for sale. Darlene Lutz, an art dealer who had initiated the auction, was sued by Madonna’s representatives to stop the proceedings. Madonna clarified that her celebrity status “does not obviate my right to maintain my privacy, including with regard to highly personal items”. Madonna lost the case and the presiding judge ruled in favor of Lutz who was able to prove that in 2004 Madonna made a legal agreement with her for selling the items.
In January 2018, Madonna revealed that she had started working on her 14th studio album. She later clarified the album would be infused with Portuguese fado music, with its release scheduled in 2019. Four months later, she appeared at the Met Gala and performed a new song called “Dark Ballet”, along with “Like a Prayer” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. At the MTV Video Music Awards, Madonna paid tribute to singer Aretha Franklin, who had died the previous week. In October, she contributed guest vocals to the track “Champagne Rosé” on American rapper Quavo’s debut album, Quavo Huncho. Her other projects include directing the MGM film, Taking Flight, based on ballet dancer Michaela DePrince’s memoir, as well as adapting Andrew Sean Greer’s novel, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, into a film.
On April 14, 2019, Madonna revealed that Madame X would be the title of her upcoming fourteenth studio album. The first single, a collaboration with Colombian singer Maluma called “Medellín”, was released on April 17. Madonna also features on the track “Soltera” on Maluma’s 2019 album 11:11. She also announced the Madame X Tour, focused on small venues in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In May, Madonna was the interval act at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest; she performed “Like a Prayer”, and then “Future” with rapper Quavo. Madame X was released on June 14 and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
Madonna and Missy Elliott provided guest vocals on a remixed version of Dua Lipa’s single “Levitating”, from Lipa’s 2020 remix album Club Future Nostalgia.
—Rick Nowels, on co-writing with Madonna.
Madonna’s music has been the subject of much analysis and scrutiny. Robert M. Grant, author of Contemporary Strategy Analysis (2005), commented that what has brought Madonna success is “certainly not outstanding natural talent. As a vocalist, musician, dancer, songwriter, or actress, Madonna’s talents seem modest.” He asserts Madonna’s success is in relying on the talents of others, and that her personal relationships have served as cornerstones to the numerous reinventions in the longevity of her career. The author believed that Madonna’s approach was far from the music industry wisdom of “Find a winning formula and stick to it”. Her musical career has been a continuous experimentation with new musical ideas and new images and a constant quest for new heights of fame and acclaim. Grant concluded that “having established herself as the queen of popular music, Madonna did not stop there, but continued re-inventing.” According to Thomas Harrison in the book Pop Goes the Decade: The Eighties, Madonna was “an artist who pushed the boundaries” of what a female singer could do, both visually and lyrically.
Throughout her career Madonna has been involved in writing and producing most of her own music. Stuart Price, one of her past collaborators, said that “You don’t produce Madonna, you collaborate with her. She’s a really good producer herself and obviously a great writer too. She has her vision and knows how to get it.” Madonna’s early songwriting skill was developed during her time with the Breakfast Club in 1979. According to Carol Gnojewski, her first attempts at songwriting are perceived as an important “self-revelation”. Madonna later became the sole writer of five songs on her debut album, including “Lucky Star” which she composed on synthesizer. As a songwriter, she has registered a total of 287 songs to ASCAP, including 18 songs written entirely by herself. Rolling Stone has named her “an exemplary songwriter with a gift for hooks and indelible lyrics.” According to Freya Jarman-Ivens, Madonna’s talent for developing “incredible” hooks for her songs allows the lyrics to capture the attention of the audience, even without the influence of the music. Despite having worked with producers across many genres, Rolling Stone writes that Madonna’s songs have been “consistently stamped with her own sensibility and inflected with autobiographical detail.” She has criticized “songwriting camps” which she had to undergo during album cycles for Rebel Heart and MDNA, due to the fact that people are always in a hurry. She clarified her preference for writing material with other artists “from beginning to the end” of a record, and described her songs as “meant to be ironic and not taken literally, and some are just straight-up, ‘Open my veins, this is who I am’.” Madonna has been nominated for being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame three times, for 2014, 2016 and 2017 ceremony. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Madonna at number 56 on the “100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time” list.
Madonna spent her early years dabbling in rock music with Breakfast Club and Emmy. While performing with Emmy, Madonna recorded about 12–14 songs that resemble the punk rock of that period. Her early rock roots also can be found on the demo album Pre-Madonna. Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted that with her self-titled debut album, Madonna began her career as a disco diva, in an era that did not have any such divas to speak of. In the beginning of the 1980s, disco was an anathema to the mainstream pop, and according to Erlewine, Madonna had a huge role in popularizing dance music as mainstream music. The album’s songs reveal several key trends that have continued to define her success, including a strong dance-based idiom, catchy hooks, highly polished arrangements and Madonna’s own vocal style. Her second album, Like a Virgin (1984), foreshadowed several trends in her later works. It contained references to classical works (pizzicato synthesizer line that opens “Angel”); potential negative reaction from social groups (“Dress You Up” was blacklisted by the Parents Music Resource Center); and retro styles (“Shoo-Bee-Doo”, Madonna’s homage to Motown).
Her mature artistic statement was visible in True Blue (1986) and Like a Prayer (1989). In True Blue, she incorporated classical music in order to engage an older audience who had been skeptical of her music. Like a Prayer introduced live recorded songs and incorporated different genres of music, including dance, funk, R&B and gospel music. Her versatility was further shown on I’m Breathless, which consists predominantly of the 1930s Broadway showtune-flavored jazz, swing and big band tracks. Madonna continued to compose ballads and uptempo dance songs for Erotica (1992) and Bedtime Stories (1994). Both albums explored element of new jack swing, with Jim Farber from Entertainment Weekly saying that “she could actually be viewed as new jack swing’s godmother.” She tried to remain contemporary by incorporating samples, drum loops and hip hop into her music. With Ray of Light, Madonna brought electronic music from its underground status into massive popularity in mainstream music scene.
Madonna experimented with more folk and acoustic music in Music (2000) and American Life (2003). A change was noted in the content of the songs in Music, with most of them being simple love songs, but with an underlying tone of melancholy. According to Q magazine, American Life was characterized by “a thumping techno rhythm, liquid keyboard lines, an acoustic chorus and a bizarre Madonna rap.” The “conventional rock songs” of the album were suffused with dramatic lyrics about patriotism and composition, including the appearance of a gospel choir in the song “Nothing Fails”. Madonna returned to pure dance songs with Confessions on a Dance Floor, infusing club beats and retro music with paradoxical and metaphorical lyrics. She moved to an urban direction musically with Hard Candy (2008), mixing R&B and hip hop with dance tunes. MDNA (2012) largely focused in electronic dance music, which she has embraced since Ray of Light.
Possessing a mezzo-soprano vocal range, Madonna has always been self-conscious about her voice, especially in comparison to her vocal idols such as Ella Fitzgerald, Prince, and Chaka Khan. Mark Bego, author of Madonna: Blonde Ambition, called her “the perfect vocalist for lighter-than-air songs”, despite not being a “heavyweight talent.” According to MSNBC critic Tony Sclafani, “Madonna’s vocals are the key to her rock roots. Pop vocalists usually sing songs “straight,” but Madonna employs subtext, irony, aggression and all sorts of vocal idiosyncrasies in the ways John Lennon and Bob Dylan did.” Madonna used a bright, girlish vocal timbre in her early albums which became passé in her later works. The change was deliberate since she was constantly reminded of how critics had once labeled her “Minnie Mouse on helium”. During the filming of Evita, Madonna received vocal coaching, which increased her range further. Of this experience she commented, “I studied with a vocal coach for Evita and I realized there was a whole piece of my voice I wasn’t using. Before, I just believed I had a really limited range and was going to make the most of it.”
Besides singing, Madonna has the ability to play several musical instruments. She learned to play drum and guitar from her then-boyfriend Dan Gilroy in the late 1970s, before joining the Breakfast Club line-up as the drummer. This helped her to form the band Emmy, where she performed as the guitarist and lead vocalist. Madonna later played guitar on her demo recordings. On the liner notes of Pre-Madonna, Stephen Bray wrote: “I’ve always thought she passed up a brilliant career as a rhythm guitarist.” Following her career breakthrough, Madonna focused mainly in singing but was also credited for playing cowbell on Madonna (1983) and synthesizer on Like a Prayer (1989). In 1999, Madonna had studied for three months to play the violin for the role as a violin teacher in the film Music of the Heart, before eventually leaving the project. After two decades, Madonna decided to perform with guitar again during the promotion of Music (2000). She took further lessons from guitarist Monte Pittman to improve her guitar skill. Since then, Madonna has played guitar on every tour, as well as her studio albums. At the 2002 Orville H. Gibson Guitar Awards, she received nomination for Les Paul Horizon Award, which honors the most promising up-and-coming guitarist.
According to Taraborrelli, the death of her mother had the most influence in shaping Madonna into the woman she would become. He believed that the devastation and abandonment Madonna felt at the loss of her mother taught her “a valuable lesson, that she would have to remain strong for herself because, she feared weakness—particularly her own.” Author Lucy O’Brien opines that the impact of the sexual assault Madonna suffered in her young adult years was the motivating factor behind everything she has done, more important than the death of her mother: “It’s not so much grief at her mother’s death that drives her, as the sense of abandonment that left her unprotected. She encountered her own worst possible scenario, becoming a victim of male violence, and thereafter turned that full-tilt into her work, reversing the equation at every opportunity.”
Madonna said that the first song to ever make a strong impression on her was “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” by Nancy Sinatra; she said it summed up her own “take-charge attitude”. As a young woman, she attempted to broaden her taste in literature, art, and music, and during this time became interested in classical music. She noted that her favorite style was baroque, and loved Mozart and Chopin because she liked their “feminine quality”. Madonna’s major influences include Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, Karen Carpenter, The Supremes and Led Zeppelin, as well as dancers Martha Graham and Rudolf Nureyev. She also grew up listening to David Bowie, whose show was the first rock concert she ever attended.
During her childhood, Madonna was inspired by actors, later saying, “I loved Carole Lombard and Judy Holliday and Marilyn Monroe. They were all incredibly funny … and I saw myself in them … my girlishness, my knowingness and my innocence.” Her “Material Girl” music video recreated Monroe’s look in the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). She studied the screwball comedies of the 1930s, particularly those of Lombard, in preparation for the film Who’s That Girl. The video for “Express Yourself” (1989) was inspired by Fritz Lang’s silent film Metropolis (1927). The video for “Vogue” recreated the style of Hollywood glamour photographs, in particular those by Horst P. Horst, and imitated the poses of Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, and Rita Hayworth, while the lyrics referred to many of the stars who had inspired her, including Bette Davis, described by Madonna as an idol.
Influences also came to her from the art world, such as through the works of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The music video of the song “Bedtime Story” featured images inspired by the paintings of Kahlo and Remedios Varo. Madonna is also a collector of Tamara de Lempicka’s Art Deco paintings and has included them in her music videos and tours. Her video for “Hollywood” (2003) was an homage to the work of photographer Guy Bourdin; Bourdin’s son subsequently filed a lawsuit for unauthorised use of his father’s work. Pop artist Andy Warhol’s use of sadomasochistic imagery in his underground films were reflected in the music videos for “Erotica” and “Deeper and Deeper”.
Madonna’s Catholic background has been reflected throughout her career, from her fashion use of rosary to her musical outputs, most notably on Like a Prayer. On the Who’s That Girl World Tour, she dedicated the song “Papa Don’t Preach” to Pope John Paul II. Her album MDNA (2012) has also drawn many influences from her Catholic upbringing, and since 2011 she has been attending meetings and services at an Opus Dei center, a Catholic institution that encourages spirituality through every day life. Her study of the Kabbalah was also observed in Madonna’s music, especially albums like Ray of Light and Music. Speaking of religion in an interview with Harry Smith of Today Madonna stated, ‘The God that I believe in, created the world (…) He/Her/They isn’t a God to fear, it’s a God to give thanks to. Also talking to Andrew Denton’s Interview she added, ‘The idea that in any church you go, you see a man on a cross and everyone genuflects and prays to him (…) in a way it’s paganism/idolatry because people are worshipping a thing.’
In The Madonna Companion biographers Allen Metz and Carol Benson noted that more than any other recent pop artist, Madonna had used MTV and music videos to establish her popularity and enhance her recorded work. According to them, many of her songs have the imagery of the music video in strong context, while referring to the music. Cultural critic Mark C. Taylor in his book Nots (1993) felt that the postmodern art form par excellence is video and the reigning “queen of video” is Madonna. He further asserted that “the most remarkable creation of MTV is Madonna. The responses to Madonna’s excessively provocative videos have been predictably contradictory.” The media and public reaction towards her most-discussed songs such as “Papa Don’t Preach”, “Like a Prayer”, or “Justify My Love” had to do with the music videos created to promote the songs and their impact, rather than the songs themselves. Morton felt that “artistically, Madonna’s songwriting is often overshadowed by her striking pop videos.” In 2003, MTV named her “The Greatest Music Video Star Ever” and said that “Madonna’s innovation, creativity and contribution to the music video art form is what won her the award.” In 2020, Billboard ranked her atop the 100 Greatest Music Video Artists of All Time.
Madonna’s initial music videos reflected her American and Hispanic mixed street style combined with a flamboyant glamor. She was able to transmit her avant-garde downtown New York fashion sense to the American audience. The imagery and incorporation of Hispanic culture and Catholic symbolism continued with the music videos from the True Blue era. Author Douglas Kellner noted, “such ‘multiculturalism’ and her culturally transgressive moves turned out to be highly successful moves that endeared her to large and varied youth audiences.” Madonna’s Spanish look in the videos became the fashion trend of that time, in the form of boleros and layered skirts, accessorizing with rosary beads and a crucifix as in the video of “La Isla Bonita”. Academics noted that with her videos, Madonna was subtly reversing the usual role of male as the dominant sex. This symbolism and imagery was probably the most prevalent in the music video for “Like a Prayer”. The video included scenes of an African-American church choir, Madonna being attracted to a statue of a black saint, and singing in front of burning crosses.
Madonna’s performances on films have been frequently received negatively by film critics. Stephanie Zacharek stated in Time that, ” seems wooden and unnatural as an actress, and it’s tough to watch, because she’s clearly trying her damnedest.” According to biographer Andrew Morton, “Madonna puts a brave face on the criticism, but privately she is deeply hurt.” After the box office bomb Swept Away (2002), Madonna vowed that she would never again act in a film, hoping her repertoire as a bad actress would never be discussed again. In 2016, a career retrospective, titled Body of Work, was shown at New York’s Metrograph hall. According to The Guardian‘s Nigel M. Smith, Madonna’s film career suffered mostly due to lack of proper material supplied to her, and given a chance ” could steal a scene for all the right reasons”.
Chris Nelson from The New York Times commented that “artists like Madonna and Janet Jackson set new standards for showmanship, with concerts that included not only elaborate costumes and precision-timed pyrotechnics but also highly athletic dancing. These effects came at the expense of live singing.” Thor Christensen of The Dallas Morning News commented that while Madonna earned a reputation for lip-syncing during her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, she has subsequently reorganized her performances by “stay mostly still during her toughest singing parts and the dance routines to her backup troupe … ather than try to croon and dance up a storm at the same time.” To allow for greater movement while dancing and singing, Madonna was one of the earliest adopters of hands-free radio-frequency headset microphones, with the headset fastened over the ears or the top of the head, and the microphone capsule on a boom arm that extended to the mouth. Because of her prominent usage, the microphone design came to be known as the “Madonna mic”.
Metz noted that Madonna represents a paradox as she is often perceived as living her whole life as a performance. While her big-screen performances are panned, her live performances are critical successes. Madonna was the first artist to have her concert tours as reenactment of her music videos. Author Elin Diamond explained that reciprocally, the fact that images from Madonna’s videos can be recreated in a live setting enhances the realism of the original videos. She believed that “her live performances have become the means by which mediatized representations are naturalized”. Taraborrelli said that encompassing multimedia, latest technology and sound systems, Madonna’s concerts and live performances are “extravagant show piece, walking art show.” Madonna always films her concert tours, saying: “It’s like documenting and archiving your artwork. It’s a record of something I created with a lot of great and talented people… They’re stages of my career, and they tell a story. They’re an important part of my legacy, so I’m documenting them,” she explained. Madonna has expressed her desire to create a stripped-down, acoustic only concert “that continues to involve music and dance poetry and humor”. She also wanted to involve water elements in her productions but had been discouraged due to logistical problems.
Various music journalists, critical theorists, and authors have noted Madonna’s legacy and deemed her the most influential female music artist of all time. She topped VH1’s “100 Greatest Women in Music” list and The Daily Telegraph‘s “20 Greatest Female Artists” list. According to Rodrigo Fresán, “saying that Madonna is just a pop star is as inappropriate as saying that Coca-Cola is just a soda. Madonna is one of the classic symbols of Made in USA.” Rolling Stone Spain wrote, “She became the first master of viral pop in history, years before the internet was massively used. Madonna was everywhere; in the almighty music television channels, ‘radio formulas’, magazine covers and even in bookshops. A pop dialectic, never seen since the Beatles’s reign, which allowed her to keep on the edge of trend and commerciality.” Laura Barcella and Jessica Valenti in the book Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop (2012) wrote that “Madonna changed everything the musical landscape, the ’80s look du jour, and most significantly, what a mainstream female pop star could (and couldn’t) say, do, or accomplish in the public eye.” William Langley from The Daily Telegraph felt that “Madonna has changed the world’s social history, has done more things as more different people than anyone else is ever likely to.” The Guardian writer Alan McGee called Madonna “post-modern art, the likes of which we will never see again” and asserted that she and Michael Jackson invented the terms Queen and King of Pop.
According to Tony Sclafani from MSNBC, “It’s worth noting that before Madonna, most music mega-stars were guy rockers; after her, almost all would be female singers … When the Beatles hit America, they changed the paradigm of performer from solo act to band. Madonna changed it back—with an emphasis on the female.” Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, asserted that “Madonna and the career she carved out for herself made possible virtually every other female pop singer to follow … She certainly raised the standards of all of them … She redefined what the parameters were for female performers.” According to Fouz-Hernández, subsequent female artists such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Kylie Minogue, the Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, Jennifer Lopez, and Pink were like her “daughters in the very direct sense that they grew up listening to and admiring Madonna, and decided they wanted to be like her.” Madonna has also influenced male artists, inspiring rock frontmen Liam Gallagher of Oasis and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park to become musicians.
Madonna’s use of sexual imagery has benefited her career and catalyzed public discourse on sexuality and feminism. As Roger Chapman documents in Culture Wars: An Encyclopedia of Issues, Viewpoints, and Voices, Volume 1 (2010), she has drawn frequent condemnation from religious organizations, social conservatives and parental watchdog groups for her use of explicit, sexual imagery and lyrics, religious symbolism, and otherwise “irreverent” behavior in her live performances. The Times wrote that she had “started a revolution amongst women in music … Her attitudes and opinions on sex, nudity, style and sexuality forced the public to sit up and take notice.” Professor John Fiske noted that the sense of empowerment that Madonna offers is inextricably connected with the pleasure of exerting some control over the meanings of self, of sexuality, and of one’s social relations. In Doing Gender in Media, Art and Culture (2009), the authors noted that Madonna, as a female celebrity, performer, and pop icon, is able to unsettle standing feminist reflections and debates. According to lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, Madonna represents woman’s occupancy of what Monique Wittig calls the category of sex, as powerful, and appears to gleefully embrace the performance of the sexual corvée allotted to women. Professor Sut Jhally has referred to Madonna as “an almost sacred feminist icon.”
Madonna has received acclaim as a role model for businesswomen in her industry, “achieving the kind of financial control that women had long fought for within the industry”, and generating over $1.2 billion in sales within the first decade of her career. According to Gini Gorlinski in the book The 100 Most Influential Musicians of All Time (2010), Madonna’s levels of power and control were “unprecedented” for a woman in the entertainment industry. Professor Colin Barrow from Cranfield School of Management described her as “America’s smartest businesswoman … who has moved to the top of her industry and stayed there by constantly reinventing herself.” London Business School academics called her a “dynamic entrepreneur” worth copying; they identified her vision of success, her understanding of the music industry, her ability to recognize her own performance limits (and thus bring in help), her willingness to work hard and her ability to adapt as the keys to her commercial success. Morton wrote that “Madonna is opportunistic, manipulative, and ruthless—somebody who won’t stop until she gets what she wants—and that’s something you can get at the expense of maybe losing your close ones. But that hardly mattered to her.”
Madonna is the wealthiest woman in the music business, with an estimated net worth between US$590 million to $800 million. She has sold over 300 million records worldwide. The Guinness World Records acknowledged her as the best-selling female music artist of all time. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), she is the best-selling female rock artist of the 20th century and the third highest-certified female albums artist in the United States, with 64.5 million certified album units. Madonna is the most certified artist of all time in United Kingdom, with 45 awards from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) as of April 2013.
Madonna remains the highest-grossing solo touring artist of all time, with over US$1.4 billion earned from her concert tours throughout her career. As of 2016, Billboard Boxscore ranked Madonna as the third highest-grossing touring act of all time, with over $1.31 billion in concert gross since 1990, behind only the Rolling Stones ($1.84 billion) and U2 ($1.67 billion). Madonna also remains the only woman in history with two solo concerts attended by 100,000 people; her Who’s That Girl World Tour’s concert in Parc de Sceaux, Paris, drew over 130,000 audience, while her Girlie Show World Tour’s concert in Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, drew over 120,000 audience. Madonna has also won seven Grammy Awards and twenty MTV Video Music Awards, including the 1986 Video Vanguard Award for which she became the first female recipient.
According to Billboard, Madonna is the most successful solo artist in the Hot 100 chart history (second overall behind the Beatles) and the most successful dance club artist of all time. With a total of 50 Dance Club Songs chart-toppers, Madonna became the artist with the most number-one songs on any single Billboard chart, pulling ahead of George Strait with 44 number-one songs on the Hot Country Songs chart. She has also scored 38 top-ten singles on the Hot 100, more than any other artist in history. Internationally, Madonna holds the record for the most number-one singles by a female artist in Australia (11), Canada (25), Italy (23), Spain (21), and the United Kingdom (13). At the 40th anniversary of the GfK Media Control Charts, Madonna was ranked as the most successful singles artist in German chart history.