Madonna - A Life and Career in MusicAmong pop musicians and entertainers, Madonna ranks near the top for overall success and notoriety.
The singer's career in music has spanned decades, yet her appeal endures to this day. With numerous chart-topping singles and successful tours under her belt, it might seem as though she's always been a star, but her massive achievement in the industry didn't quite happen overnight.
In fact, the "Queen of Pop" started off her career as a college-dropout...
Born Madonna Louise Ciccone in 1958 to Italian immigrant parents in Michigan, Madonna would face a tragic loss at an early age; that of her mother. In 1963, her mother passed away due to breast cancer and her father Tony remarried. The relationship between Madonna and her father would be severely strained as she grew up resenting him.
Madonna had a fairly positive time in school. Her grades were relatively high and she was awarded a scholarship to the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. She had an interest in ballet, but ended up dropping out of college in 1978 to pursue a career in music somewhere in New York.
Madonna in the Big Apple
Upon moving to New York, Madonna had very little to work with. She took whatever jobs she could find as a dancer in a variety of dance troupes and also worked at Dunkin' Donuts for a while.
Madonna met a musician by the name of Dan Gilroy while on tour as a backup singer and dancer for Patrick Hernandez. The two fell in love and formed a band together called "the Breakfast Club." The Breakfast Club played rock music and featured Madonna on drums and guitar as well as singing.
Unfortunately, its time was short-lived and she chose to leave the band by 1981. She quickly started another band with another boyfriend - this time naming the band "Emmy." Her and Stephen Bray, her boyfriend, wrote songs together for "Emmy," but Madonna began breaking away as a solo performer.
Madonna's Big Break
Madonna landed a singles deal with Sire Records and set about working on her first track.
1982 marks the year in which her debut single, "Everybody," released. The single was a massive success in the US - ranking near the top on Billboard's dance chart. Her second single, "Burning Up," followed suit in 1983.
Suddenly, the young performer was on track for releasing a full album. She worked on her eponymous album "Madonna" initially with the help of Warner Bros. producer Reggie Lucas. However, she decided to take her ideas to her boyfriend John Benitez, who helped to finish production on the album and produced "Holiday."
"Holiday," her third single, became Madonna's first international hit. Her album release in July of 1983 went over quite well too, with a peak rank of 8th on Billboard's top 200. A pair of singles from the album ranked high on Billboard's 100 chart as well; "Lucky Star" and "Borderline."
Like a Virgin, Marriage and Madonna's First Tour
Madonna's fame grew and grew in the years that followed. Her singular style - created by stylist Maripol - helped cement her as one of the most iconic performers of the 80's. When her second album, "Like a Virgin," released in 1984, it went number 1 in 7 countries and broke the record for female albums - selling enough copies to eventually be certified diamond.
For six weeks, the title track of the album topped the charts. Also on the album, "Material Girl" reached 2nd on the charts at the time.
Madonna met and married actor Sean Penn in 1985. That same year marked the beginning of the singer's film career. Her most successful appearance was in "Desperately Seeking Susan," a comedy that also featured her soon-to-be hit song "Get Into the Groove."
In April that same year, she began her first major tour "the Virgin Tour" with the Beastie Boys opening for her. It was a massive success.
Controversy and Continued Success
Like a Virgin had caused a minor uproar among moralists concerned with the song's sexual undertones. However, of a far more controversial nature were a series of photos of the singer nude published in Playboy and Penthouse in July of the same year.
The photos themselves were of a much younger Madonna, from 1978, when she'd needed money desperately. The singer shrugged off the issue and pushed through to greater success in the entertainment industry. Come 1986, Madonna would release a new album to best her others - "True Blue."
"True Blue" unveiled to fanfare and unprecedented success. It topped the charts in no less than 28 countries and was picked by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1992 as the best-selling female album of all time.
"True Blue" featured such memorable tracks as "La Isla Bonita," "Papa Don't Preach" and "Live to Tell" - all Billboard Top 5's.
1986 and 1987 saw the star performing in films such as "Shanghai Surprise" and "Who's That Girl" - the former of which helped her win a Golden Raspberry award for Worst Actress. Come 1989, she'd reacquaint herself with controversy.
Madonna in the Early 90's
1989 marks the year in which Madonna would divorce Sean Penn. Her success continued to grow, as did her controversial nature at the time. With the release of her hit song and video "Like a Prayer," she'd invoke harsh public scrutiny on the basis of religion - garnering religious condemnation from the Vatican and a dropped endorsement deal with Pepsi.
In spite of the controversy surrounding it, song's accompanying album was successful and featured a number of top 5 charting hits like "Express Yourself" and "Cherish."
In 1990, Madonna would return triumphantly to film as Breathless Mahoney in "Dick Tracey." Her soundtrack album for the film produced a chart-topper as well; "Vogue." When April came around, the singer set off on her "Blond Ambition World Tour." A recording of which would go on to win her a Grammy.
The tour's sexually suggestive choreography generated more negative religious feedback towards the artist, but not quite as much as subsequent Madonna creations would.
In November that same year, Madonna released a record-breaking compilation album of her greatest hits with bonus singles "Justify My Love" and "Rescue Me." The video for the former featured particularly explicit sexual imagery and nudity considered so graphic that MTV banned it. Then, in 1992, her relationship with rapper Vanilla Ice fell apart in the face of her explicit coffee table book "Sex's" release. The public's general reaction to the book was negative at the time, though it was commercially successful. It's success, however, did not transfer over to the album "Erotica" that she released at the same time. It became the worst performing album she'd released up until that time.
Things weren't all controversial for the artist in 1992, though. Her appearance in "A League of Their Own," a film about an all-women baseball team, was quite successful. The movie itself was number 1 at the box office and the attendant single Madonna released for it, "This Used to Be My Playground," topped the charts. Before year's end, she'd found her own company in the entertainment industry, "Maverick."
Madonna Embraces Controversy... Again
Madonna made a point of indulging in controversy in 1993.
She starred nude in 2 fairly provocative films entitled "Dangerous Game" and "Body of Evidence," then set out on her "The Girlie Show World Tour," dressed as a dominatrix amidst topless dancers.
On television, her language was strong enough to require expletive censoring and stunts such as asking David Letterman to sniff a pair of her panties caused many of her fans to doubt her career's potential longevity.
Shortly thereafter, there was a noticeable shift in the performer's behavior and artistic direction. A far less aggressive album followed by a collection of ballads would follow - signaling a new era for Madonna altogether.
Shortly after the release of her ballads and a brief relationship with rapper Tupac Shakur, Madonna began a relationship with her fitness trainer Carlos Leon. The relationship resulted in her becoming pregnant with her daughter Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon. During her pregnancy, Madonna made waves as Eva Peron in the musical "Evita" - netting a Golden Globe in the process.
After giving birth to her daughter, Madonna found faith in Kabbalah, which she then poured into her 7th studio album "Ray of Light." The album single "Frozen" ranked 1st and 2nd in the UK and the US respectively. The album itself also garnered a total of 4 Grammy's.
Madonna met her would-be second husband Guy Ritchie and, come 1999, she'd release the hit single "Beautiful Stranger" for "Austin Powers" and win yet another Grammy.
Millennium of Madonna
In 2000, Madonna's shift would mature to modern electronic dance music. "Music," her album release at the turn of the millennium, was hugely successful in over 20 countries - ranking 1st and selling millions. That same year, the singer married Guy Ritchie and gave birth to her son Rocco John Ritchie. The very next year, she was touring again. Her " Drowned World Tour" was a massive success with 47 sold-out shows.
2002 went relatively poorly for Madonna as her reputation as an actress soured due to several poor performances in film and on stage. That same year, her single for the James Bond movie "Die Another Day" would receive a nomination for 'Worst Song' in the Golden Raspberry awards.
Her luck would not improve from 2003 to 2004... Her album "American Life" was a failure and her provocative performance at the 2003 "MTV Video Music Awards" proved regrettably controversial due to her kissing Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears on stage.
She landed a lucrative children's book deal, but its success was overshadowed by her company's lawsuit against Warner Music Group.
Finally, in mid-2004 the performer's luck changed. Her "Re-Invention World Tour" was a massive success and the UK Music Hall of Fame inducted her into its ranks as one of the founding members. Her next album release, in 2005, would return her to the spotlight in style. "Confessions on a Dance Floor" won her a Grammy and its lead single "Hung Up" reached number 1 in 41 countries. The accompanying tour for the album went over well too, albeit with some religious controversy. This was all overlooked when Madonna founded a charity in Malawi during that same tour and adopted a boy by the name of David Banda.
2007 to Present
Madonna's career ploughed on in 2007 with her producing a documentary, directing a film and, the next year, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her 2008 album "Hard Candy" landed another top-ten charting single and continued success in the industry. Her "Sticky & Sweet Tour" became the second highest-grossing tour of all time.
Unfortunately, her marriage with Guy Ritchie came to an end in 2008, but 2009 saw her adopting another son in Malawi and taking the top spot as best-selling single artist of the decade.
Madonna designed a clothing line with her daughter, opened her own "Hard Candy" fitness centers around the world and, in 2012, gave a record-breaking half-time show at the super bowl.
The singer's album release and tour of 2012 entitled "MDNA" was largely successful and catapulted her to the number one position among celebrity earners of the year.
In 2015, Madonna released her most recent album, "Rebel Heart," another commercial success featuring a number of prominent producers and artists. The attendant tour was just as positive and grossed upwards of 160 million dollars overall. The next year, she proved outspoken as regards the U.S. presidential election and disappointed in its outcome. The very next year, she moved to Portugal with her two newly adopted daughters Esther and Stella.
Madonna's career has endured many changes in trends and demographics, but her enduring success has earned her a place in history as the "Queen of Pop."
Her music and performances continue to attract listeners and viewers to this day and her incredible career is still far from over.