Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone (b. August 16,
1958), principally known by her first name, is an American pop singer,
actress, dancer, author, activist, and fashion icon. She rose to prominence
in the 1980s, and has become the most successful female solo artist of
all time, according to Guinness World Records. She is one of a small
number of singers who have been referred to as the "Queen of Pop".
Madonna was born in Bay City, Michigan, to an Italian-American Chrysler
engineer, Silvio Ciccone, and his wife, Madonna Fortin (from Québec,
Canada). She was raised in a Catholic family of six children in the
Detroit suburbs of Pontiac and Rochester Hills.
Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of thirty, when Madonna
was only five. The singer/icon has frequently discussed the enormous
impact her mother's death had on her life and career. Following his wife's
death, Silvio brought in a housekeeper, Joan Gustafson. He later married
her and had two more children.
Silvio required all of his children to take music lessons. After a few
months of piano lessons, Madonna convinced her father to allow her to
take ballet classes instead, and she proved to be a gifted dancer.
After graduating from Rochester Adams High School in 1976, Madonna received
a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. At the encouragement
of her ballet teacher, Christopher Flynn, Madonna left college after
only one semester and moved to New York City to pursue a dance career.
She studied with modern dance legend Martha Graham, as well as a Graham
disciple, Pearl Lange. Madonna later performed with several modern dance
companies, including Alvin Ailey and the Walter Nicks dancers.
After performing as a dancer for French disco star Patrick Hernandez
on his 1979 world tour, Madonna abandoned her fledgeling dance career
to pursue music. She formed several bands, including "Breakfast
Club" and "Emmy". She also wrote a number of songs that
brought her local fame in New York dance clubs, particularly Danceteria.
In 1982 the singer inked a deal with Sire Records. Her demo song, "Ain't
No Big Deal", was written by her frequent collaborator, Stephen
Bray, but was shelved for several years because it had recently been
recorded and released by the Epic Records group Barracuda. Five years
later, Madonna's version surfaced on the B-side of the "True Blue" single,
though it has never appeared on one of her albums.
During the sessions for her first album, Madonna recorded a song called "Sidewalk
Talk". However, after listening to the finished product, she and
her producers decided that its sound was too dated. They shelved the
track and replaced it with a more current-sounding song called "Holiday".
(It soon became a hit, and stands today as an iconic 1980's dance song. "Sidewalk
Talk" would later be used as a B-side for a single release.)
Madonna's first bona-fide hit was "Everybody", produced by
Mark Kamins. It gained heavy rotation on R&B radio stations, leading
many to assume that Madonna was a black artist. When "Everybody" was
released as a single, Madonna's picture did not appear on the album sleeve,
because Sire did not want to risk losing the black audience (Madonna's
core audience at that point) by advertising that Madonna was white.
In 1983 her self-titled first album, Madonna, was released, and its first
single, "Holiday", was a hit single in several countries. Other
hits on Madonna included "Borderline" and "Lucky Star".
The album was produced by John 'Jellybean' Benitez, with whom Madonna
had had a brief romance. Although the album sold only moderately at first,
thanks to heavy rotation on a brand new cable channel called MTV, Madonna
gained nationwide exposure and the album peaked at number eight on the
Billboard chart, and went platinum five times.
MTV aggressively marketed Madonna's image as a playful and sexy combination
of punk and pop culture, and she soon became a fixture on the network.
Her bleached blonde hair (with brown roots), sexy lace gloves, lingerie
on the outside and "Boy Toy" belt buckle became popular in
malls and schoolyards across America. In many ways, she defined pop fashion
of the era.
The hit club track, "Burning Up", was remixed for release
in the U.K. by DJ Rusty Egan (formerly of the new romantic group, Visage).
Benitez said that based on the success of Madonna's first album he had
expected to produce her follow-up, but Madonna had other plans.
Like a Virgin and The Virgin Tour
In 1984 Madonna released Like a Virgin. The album, produced by the legendary
Nile Rodgers, had a distinctive soul and funk flavor, with hard, loud
drums and plenty of bass guitar, yet remained pop-friendly and accessible.
The title track topped the U.S. charts for six weeks and is believed
to be first time in music history that the word "virgin" appeared
in a Top 40 song.
Madonna's performance at the First Annual MTV Video Music Awards in
1984 is considered to be the first controversial incident in a career
that would see many more. She took the stage to sing "Like A Virgin" wearing
a combination bustier/wedding gown, which included her trademark "Boy
Toy" belt. During the performance, she rolled around on the floor,
revealing lacy stockings and garters, and made a number of sexually suggestive
moves. While such a performance would probably not raise eyebrows today,
it was shocking to a mid-1980's audience. However, Madonna seemed to
thrive on the controversy, and it only served to increase her popularity.
The record spawned three other hits, all of which went to Billboard's
Top Five: Angel (number five), Dress You Up (number five), and what was
to become her signature song, Material Girl (number two). Since this
album's release, Madonna has often been referred to as "The Material
Like a Virgin was the first time Madonna used what became a continuing
career strategy: a change of image. Where Madonna had been mostly synthesizers
and dance beats, featuring a "street urchin" version of the
singer, the image projected in Like a Virgin was lacy and sensual, with
Madonna portraying Lolita-like sexual decadence.
The wild success of the release led Madonna to Hollywood. In 1985, she
made a brief appearance in the film Vision Quest playing a club singer,
with the song she performed, Crazy for You, becoming her second number-one
hit. It garnered her the first of many Grammy nominations, and the song's
video, combining clips from the movie with Madonna singing, was in heavy
rotation on MTV for months. Later that same year, she received commercial
and critical success for her starring role in Susan Seidelman's film
Desperately Seeking Susan.
This era of Madonna's career also saw the advent of the "Madonna
Wannabe". Across America, teenage girls went to great lengths to
emulate their idol, dressing in spandex, miniskirts, torn t-shirts, and
lacy bras, with armfuls of black rubber bangles, and teased, bow-tied
hair. Madonna has remarked in interviews that it was startling to see
girls dressing like her all over the country, because her "look" was
based mainly on recycled streetwear during her lean years, using old
hosiery to tie up her hair and cutting up old shirts.
Also in 1985, Madonna launched her first full-scale live performance
tour, called "The Virgin Tour". Every stop on the tour sold
out; tickets for the opening night performance in Seattle were gone in
Like a Prayer
In 1989, Madonna released the album Like a Prayer. The album released
five singles, including top ten hits Like a Prayer, Express Yourself,
Cherish, Oh Father, and Keep It Together. Prayer is often cited by
critics as the best album of her career.
To mark the release of Like a Prayer, Madonna changed her image once
again. Her previously short platinum coif was restyled into a long mane
of wavy brown hair. Some critics said that Madonna was taking on a hippie
look from the 1960s.
The music video for the title track featured Madonna as a woman who
witnesses a violent murder. A black man (played by Leon) is falsely accused
of the crime and is jailed. Madonna then goes into a church and prays
before a religious statue, assumed by some to be a statue of St. Martin
de Porres. Madonna then falls asleep and dreams that the statue comes
to life and passionately kisses her. Madonna then awakens with the resolve
to identify the real perpetrator of the murder. The falsely accused black
man, who resembles the statue, is then released.
The music video for Like a Prayer featured many Catholic symbols, such
as stigmata, and was denounced by the Vatican for its "blasphemous" mixture
of eroticism and Catholic symbolism. (Backing singer Niki Haris had turned
down Madonna's offer to dance with her in front of the field of burning
crosses. Haris, a black woman, said that she could not bring herself
to be in a scene with such a strong symbol of the KKK.)
Madonna had signed a deal with Pepsi, according to which the song "Like
a Prayer" would be debuted as a Pepsi commercial in which Madonna
would appear. The commercial was first broadcast during an episode of
The Cosby Show, but when the following week, Madonna's own music video
version of the song debuted on MTV, Pepsi pulled theirs off the air and
cancelled all plans for future commercials with Madonna. Though the contract
with Pepsi called for three future commercials, Madonna got to keep her
five-million-dollar endorsement fee without fulfilling her contractual
obligations. Madonna later said that it was apparent that Pepsi wanted
to rid themselves of the controversy as quickly as possible. (As part
of the endorsement deal, Pepsi had also agreed to sponsor Madonna's 1989
world tour. With the loss of their endorsement, Madonna had to postpone
her concert tour until the following year.) As a twist of irony, the
video won the MTV Video Viewer's Choice Award, which was sponsored by
Pepsi that year. Madonna came on stage to accept the award and thanked
The song, Dear Jessie, was released in Europe, with an accompanying
animated music video (her first animated music video), and went on to
be a European Top Ten hit.
The video for Express Yourself was the first of several to be directed
by then-unknown film director, David Fincher (Fight Club and Panic Room).
The Immaculate Collection
She also released her first greatest hits album, The Immaculate Collection,
towards the end of 1990. The album was dedicated to the "Pope",
her "divine inspiration" (the "Pope" is the nickname
Madonna gives to her brother Christopher, artistic director of both
the Blond Ambition and Girlie Show tours). She included fifteen of
her biggest hits and two new songs, both top-ten hits: "Rescue
Me" which reached number nine, and "Justify My Love",
co-written by Lenny Kravitz, which stayed at number one for four weeks.
Despite the radio success of "Justify My Love", the sexual
content of both the song's lyrics and its ground-breaking video proved
to be too much for MTV, and network executives decided they could not
air it. Somewhat surprisingly, rather than fight the ban, Madonna released
a statement indicating that she fully respected MTV's decision and expressing
her gratitude to the network for its ongoing support of her career. Madonna's
record company then decided to sell the video on VHS as a "video
single", the first one ever released. The video sold over 400,000
copies, and the CD single sold over one million. This success was yet
another example of Madonna's ability to turn controversy to her advantage,
as it is unlikely that either the CD single or the video would have sold
nearly as successfully had MTV simply decided to air the video.
Additional controversy developed when Prince protégé,
Ingrid Chavez, claimed partial songwriting credit for the lyrics of "Justify
My Love". The track sampled the Public Enemy instrumental, "Security
of the First World". Madonna claimed that she was unaware of any
deliberate copying and Chavez was later granted a percentage of the song's
royalties. The rap community was less forgiving and responded by releasing
three "answer records" to Madonna in defense of Public Enemy
producer Hank Shocklee: "To My Donna" by Young Black Teenagers, "Al
Will Justify Your Love" by Al B. Sure!, and "Justify Satisfy" by
D-Melo. The tracks failed to generate much public interest.
Truth or Dare and A League of Their Own
In 1991, Madonna starred in her first documentary film, In Bed with Madonna,
which chronicled her "Blonde Ambition Tour"; the title was
changed to Truth or Dare for its U.S. release. In it, her personality
and private life were explored in intimate detail: the star came across
as extremely ambitious, demanding, forthright, sexy, and highly intelligent.
It also showed her softer side as she confronted family members and visited
the grave of her mother. However, others in her entourage complained
that the film had been edited to remove embarrassing material about Madonna,
while their requests to remove embarrassing scenes involving them – such
as a dancer's admission that he was gay – were ignored. The documentary
grossed fifteen million in the U.S. and another twenty million overseas.
The film only cost a million dollars to make. It was parodied by the
U.K. television show, In Bed with Medinner, and the American TV spoof,
Medusa: Dare To Be Truthful, which starred former MTV personality, Julie
In 1992, Madonna appeared in the Penny Marshall film, A League of Their
Own, which revolved around a women's baseball team. Her performance was
heralded by critics as an impressive return to the form she'd hinted
at in Desperately Seeking Susan, though her character, "All-The-Way
Mae", a libidinous vamp, again seemed to play directly off Madonna's
then image. She wrote and performed the film's theme song; the number-one
hit, "This Used to Be My Playground". Its music video featured
film clips, and the song became a huge adult contemporary music hit and
Madonna's tenth Hot 100 number one single.
Sex and Erotica
The erotic book, Sex, photographed by Steven Meisel, was released October
21, 1992 and sold for $49.95 each. Adult in nature, it featured Madonna
as the centerpiece of photographs along with other pop music artists
of the time depicting various sexual fantasies and acts (including lesbianism,
anal sex, and sadomasochism). The book was bound in sheet metal and Mylar,
and came with a CD single of the song "Erotic" (a remix of
her new single "Erotica" with different lyrics), which was
packaged to look like a giant condom. Critics panned the book as another
of Madonna's preplanned controversies; Spy Magazine called it "a
fuck book that contained no actual fucking."
In the wake of publicity generated by the book, Madonna released her
next album, Erotica, in the same year. She co-wrote and produced this
record mostly with the legendary Shep Pettibone. Almost a companion piece
to the book, it featured bold sexual anthems that made no attempt to
disguise their star's appetite for erotic fantasy and role-playing. The
album spawned a number of top ten hits, including "Erotica" (which
became the highest-debuting (number three) single in the history of the
Hot 100 Airplay Chart) and "Deeper and Deeper" which stalled
at number seven. Outside of America "Fever" and "Bye Bye
Baby" were also hits, while domestically, "Rain" stalled
at number fourteen and "Bad Girl" went on to achieve modest
chart success, entering the top forty.
The music videos from Erotica were groundbreaking in a number of ways.
Two different treatments of the title video were released: an "uncut" European
version which featured graphic nudity and overt depiction of sexual acts,
and a censored American version, which contained more suggestive, rapidly
changing images, edited in such a way that the most risqué scenes
were obscured or omitted. Despite this, even the expurgated version of
the video was deemed too raunchy for America in 1992. Though the song
was a huge hit, the video only aired a total of three times on MTV, always
after midnight, and always preceded by a warning (issued by Kurt Loder)
that viewers should change the channel if S&M and homosexuality were
not to their taste.
At present, the censored version of the "Erotica" video has
been unbanned by MTV and VH1, and has been aired in its entirety several
times on VH1 and MTV2 within the past five or six years, not always late
at night or early in the morning. Indeed, since 2000, MTV2 has broadcast
the video several times in the middle of the afternoon, during Madonna-related
special programming, as occurred around the time of the 2003 release
of her American Life album.
The "Rain" video, one of the first directed by Mark Romanek,
was notable for its frame-by-frame colorization of black and white stock,
a painstaking process which lent it a highly stylized appearance. The "Fever" video,
one of Stephane Sednaoui's first, was also well-received, and the video
for "Bad Girl", which featured Christopher Walken as an angel,
told a disturbing tale of a woman whose lifestyle leads to her murder.
Despite numerous negative reviews and comments by the media, the book
became an instant bestseller. Like the book, the album received mixed
reviews, but peaked at number two on the Billboard chart, sold over five
million copies, and went platinum twice. Erotica had a number of hit
singles, including Erotica and Rain, both selling over one million copies
The Madonna "industry" appeared to go into overdrive in 1993
when she appeared in a number of film roles. Body of Evidence was regarded
by many commentators as an exercise in soft-core pornography, with Madonna
portraying a woman accused of killing her lover by means of sexual intercourse.
The film was R-rated and contained copious nudity and graphic sex scenes.
Dangerous Game was similar in plot and content. Madonna would later comment
that this entire period of her life was designed to give the world every
single morsel of what they seemed to be demanding in their invasion of
her private life. She hoped that once it was all out in the open, people
could settle down and focus on her work.
1993 also saw the release of the obscure single, "Get Over",
by actor/model Nick Scotti, which was written by Madonna and Stephen
Bray, and used in the 1992 soundtrack for the film, Nothing but Trouble.
It was a minor U.S. dance hit and was produced by Madonna and Shep Pettibone.
She also made a prominent appearance on the backing vocals.
In 1994, Madonna released Bedtime Stories. The album, which took her
back to her R&B roots, found her directly addressing her detractors
in the song, "Human Nature" – which included lines such
as: "I'm not sorry/I'm not your bitch" and "Did I say
something wrong? Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about sex" – appeared
to be directed at the media and critics who had questioned her decisions
in recent years. Other top ten hits included "Bedtime Story",
penned by singer Björk, and "Take a Bow", penned by singer
Babyface, who also sang vocals. "Take a Bow" topped the Billboard
Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks, breaking her previous record of
six weeks with "Like a Virgin", and would later assist her
in her winning the lead role in Evita. The album was nominated for a
Grammy in the same year, and Madonna sang "Take a Bow" at the
American Music Awards. The success of the album belied its uncertain
origins. It spawned several Unreleased Madonna songs, co-written with
Shep Pettibone in 1994, that were shelved as Madonna changed creative
gears. One throwaway song entitled "Love Won't Wait" was later
sent to Gary Barlow to record. He took his version of the song to number
one in the UK in 1997, earning Madonna yet another co-writing credit
on a number one hit.
At the time it was made in 1995, "Bedtime Story", which cost
over two million dollars, was the most expensive music video in history.
Madonna only held this record for a few months; Michael Jackson's "Scream" video – which
cost seven million dollars – broke it later that year.
Despite the maturity of Bedtime Stories, Madonna seemed in no rush to
put her reputation for controversy behind her. In March 1994, she made
an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in which she repeatedly
uttered profanities, saying the word "fuck" thirteen times
while smoking a cigar.
In an attempt to improve her acting credentials, Madonna opted over
the next few years to take small roles in independent films. She appeared
as a singing telegram girl in Blue in the Face (1995) and as a witch
in Four Rooms (1995). She played the part of a phone sex company owner
in Spike Lee's flop, Girl 6, in 1996.
In this period the world also saw her very public falling out with former
DJ pal and remixer/producer, Junior Vasquez, due to the release of his
huge club hit, "If Madonna Calls", of which she did not approve.
Madonna released a second greatest hits album in 1996, this time collecting
a number of ballads under the title, Something to Remember. She began
to wear fashionable designer dresses and softened her (by now medium
length) hair to honey blonde. This may have helped her to secure the
coveted role of Eva Perón in the 1996 film adaptation of Evita.
The film marked the first time that Madonna was heralded as an actress
in a leading role. She delivered a Golden Globe winning performance and
was critically praised. Her detractors still managed to point out the
similarities between the character (a former actress and fame-hungry
politician's wife) and Madonna's own life.
The Evita soundtrack went on to become Madonna's twelfth platinum album,
thanks to the singles, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "You
Must Love Me", the latter receiving an Oscar for best original song
in a film. While "You Must Love Me" was a moderate hit on radio
and MTV, it was actually a dance remix of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" that
cemented the soundtrack's mainstream pop success. The remix became a
worldwide top ten hit in early 1997, and helped "Argentina" to
peak at number eight on the Hot 100.
The third single, "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", became
a European top ten hit. The announced fourth single, "Buenos Aires",
was only released as a promo.
Ray of Light
In 1998 Madonna underwent another reinvention of style. During 1996 and
1998, she began studying Kabbalah, a mystical interpretation of the Torah.
She took Yoga lessons and pursued a vigorous exercise regime that brought
her body to a peak of toned fitness. She became pregnant by her then
lover, personal trainer Carlos Leon, and gave birth to her daughter,
Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon (Lola), on October 14, 1996. In 1998, she
released Ray of Light, an album co-produced by European techno music
performer, William Orbit. The release was Madonna's first critically-acclaimed
recording since "Like a Prayer"; her biggest hit in nearly
ten years, selling more than fifteen million copies worldwide. It spawned
the top-ten singles "Frozen", "Ray of Light", "Drowned
World/Substitute for Love", "Nothing Really Matters" (accompanied
by a video in which she portrayed a cross between a clubber and a geisha
girl), and "The Power of Good-Bye" (in which E.R.'s Goran Visnjic
appeared in the music video.)
Her vocals were notably stronger, likely an after effect of the vocal
training, she received for "Evita". The lyrics were some of
Madonna's most introspective. "Mer Girl" dealt with motherhood
from the perspective of a woman who had lost her own mother as a child; "Little
Star" was a paean to the wise choices, her own daughter would make
in the future; "Swim" addressed the topic of violence in popular
culture. Still, critics were quick to note that Madonna was doing only
what she knew best: taking things from the cultures around her (in this
case, techno, Eastern mysticism, and alternative rock) and refining them
for mass consumption. Madonna received three Grammy awards for Ray of
Light. Her only previous Grammy was for "The Blonde Ambition Tour",
which won the Best Longform video award in 1992.
After endlessly promoting Ray of Light, Madonna contributed the top
ten hit, "Beautiful Stranger", to the soundtrack of the Austin
Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me film in 1999. In 2000, Madonna focused
next on her pet project, a film called The Next Best Thing. Co-starring
her friend, the openly gay actor, Rupert Everett, the film told the story
of a heterosexual woman and her gay best friend. After a drunken night
of sex, they discover that she is pregnant and decide to raise the child
together, but outside romances intervene to cause conflict and estrangement.
Critics and audiences alike panned the film, which marked yet another
disappointment in Madonna's ill-fated film career. The soundtrack spawned
the worldwide (excluding the U.S.) number one hit, "American Pie",
a dance cover version of the Don McLean classic.
Music and the Drowned World Tour
In 2000, Madonna released the album, Music. A bona fide commercial and
critical hit, it saw Madonna abandon her earlier sexual and religious
themes for throwaway lyrics and the "party" spirit of dance,
pop, and techno. Music was produced partly by Orbit and partly by French
techno musician Mirwais Ahmadzai. It spawned her twelfth number one single, "Music",
plus the hits "Don't Tell Me" and "What It Feels Like
for a Girl". In late 2001, "Impressive Instant" also became
a huge club hit although it was never released commercially, to the disappointment
of many fans. Madonna was pregnant with her second child, Rocco, during
the shooting of the "Music" video, parts of which contain animation.
The "What It Feels Like for a Girl" video was directed by Madonna's
husband, film director Guy Ritchie. In it, Madonna robs an Automatic
Teller Machine, runs over several innocent bystanders, blows up a gas
station and eventually commits suicide by driving into a lamppost. The
video was meant to showcase the fact that when men in film commit violent
acts, it is accepted, but when women do it just as mercilessly, it is
shunned. Her point was arguably confirmed when the video was banned by
MTV and VH1, after both networks did a simultaneous broadcast of the
video once. Music was notable for another revamping of Madonna's image,
this time as a cross between a disco-loving party girl and a rustic cowgirl.
It started yet another fashion trend, with pink cowboy hats adorned by
tiaras seen on streets and catwalks around the world.
On 22 December 2000 at Skibo Castle in Scotland, Madonna married director
Guy Ritchie. Madonna released her second Greatest Hits album, GHV2, in
2001; unlike her previous greatest hits compilation, GHV2 featured a
selection of her hits from the 1992–2001 period, but did not contain
any new songs. Without a single to promote the album, Madonna decided
to release a promotional-only single and video, entitled the "Thunderpuss
GHV2 Megamix". While the medley earned relatively subdued radio
coverage, the video was a modest success on MTV, MTV2, and VH1. In June
2001, she appeared in Star, a short film directed for BMW by Ritchie,
and then began working on Swept Away, a remake of the classic film, Swept
Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August, in which Ritchie
cast Madonna as a rich, bitchy socialite who, after a shipwreck, is trapped
on a desert island with a slovenly servant who smacks and humiliates
her; the woman is called Amber Leighton, the name of Ritchie's mother.
The film, released in 2002, was critically panned and went on to become
yet another in a string of acting flops.
In 2001 Madonna went on her "Drowned World Tour". It was completely
sold out (some venues within thirty-five minutes), and was Madonna's
first world tour since 1993's Girle Show Tour. Madonna mostly perfomed
her more current songs from the Bedtime Stories album onwards, with the
exception of "Holiday" and "La Isla Bonita". On this
tour, the world saw a different Madonna, rocking on electric guitar in "Candy
Perfume Girl", and playing lead acoustic guitar (sometimes solo)
in "I Deserve It", "Secret", "La Isla Bonita" and
a new song only heard in concert, and simply referred to as "The
Funny Song." This marked the first time that Madonna used her newly
learned guitar skills live in concert. The tour concert in her home state
of Michigan was broadcast live on HBO on August 26, from the Palace of
Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Madonna had to postpone a concert
in Los Angeles at the Staples Center on September 11 because of the terrorist
attacks. She donated the proceeds of the rescheduled concert to the victims
of the terrorist attacks. Madonna led a prayer for peace at the third
concert in Los Angeles, and urged President Bush to show restraint in
retaliating against those responsible for the attacks.
In 2002, Madonna performed the theme song to the James Bond film, Die
Another Day, a top-ten hit (number eight) on the Billboard Hot 100. She
also had the opportunity to have a cameo in the film as a fencing instructor
named Verity. The theme song was released to mixed reviews. In one case,
the song was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song; however,
it was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original
While Madonna was apparently content with her second marriage, her career
continued to keep her in the limelight.
Her artistic reputation appeared to take a turn for the worse, however,
when the critical drubbing she received for Swept Away was followed by
an equally brutal critical reception for her 2003 album, American Life.
American critics described the album as "tired", monotonous,
and an indication that she was "in need of a vacation" from
the stress of her career. In yet another move that followed her pattern
of creating "controversy" in the wake of an album's release,
she filmed a music video for "American Life", which included
a scene of her tossing a lighter shaped like a hand grenade into the
lap of a President George W. Bush lookalike. Perhaps mindful of the protests
and boycotts that had greeted the Dixie Chicks, after they made some
anti-war comments (though she publicly denied it in an interview with
Matt Lauer), the video was revoked, presumably at Madonna's request,
on the day it premiered (it was aired for only a few hours); it was later
replaced by a less inflammatory treatment, a video simply featuring Madonna
performing the song in military garb in front of changing flags of the
Shortly after this incident, the online world was surprised and amused
when marketers and promoters of her album attempted to disrupt the Internet
file sharing networks by uploading a large number of "junk" musical
files bearing her name. Instead of downloading an actual Madonna song,
seekers of online music instead found themselves downloading a file of
Madonna saying, "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" The
Madonna Remix Project took this file and added music to mock Madonna's
attempt to "inspire guilt" in peer-to-peer users.
The album was a success outside the U.S. where the subsequent singles, "Hollywood" and "Love
Profusion", continued to place Madonna on the charts. Madonna tried
to warm up American radio to the collection with a promotional campaign
with rapper, Missy Elliott, sponsored by The Gap retail clothing chain,
using the tune "Into the Hollywood Groove". "Love Profusion" was
also used in commercials by Estée Lauder. Neither promotion however
was able to revive the album in the States.
Famous for her appearances at the MTV Video Music Awards, in 2003 Madonna
provoked the public once again by portraying a groom and kissing her
brides, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, on stage. The gender role-reversal
and lesbian theme instantly made front page headlines. The three singers
performed a medley of her early hit, "Like a Virgin", and her
then latest release, "Hollywood", with a guest rap by Missy
Elliott. The design resembled Madonna's performance of "Like a Virgin" at
the 1984 VMA's: the same wedding cake set, wedding dresses and "Boy
Toy" belt worn by Madonna in 1984 now adorned Aguilera and Spears,
who many — not least the pop "princesses" themselves — believe
to be the heirs and beneficiaries of Madonna's pop legacy.
Madonna currently resides primarily in England - with a $6.8 million
town-house in Marylebone, London; and the thirteen million dollar Ashcombe
House Estate in the rural county of Wiltshire. She also has homes in
Los Angeles, and New York City.
Despite spending markedly less time within the United States, Madonna
publicly endorsed Wesley Clark for the United States Democratic Party
2004 presidential nomination in December 2003.
In 2004, Madonna embarked on her greatest hits tour, the "Re-Invention
World Tour", during which she played 56 dates across the United
States, Canada, and Europe. The tour explored social, political and religious
themes, and included images of yoga, sacred geometry, tarot cards and
astrology, as well as Judeo-Christian iconography such as the tree of
life. "Re-Invention" became the highest-grossing tour of 2004,
earning 125 million dollars according to Billboard magazine, and once
again confirmed the longevity of Madonna's popularity. The tour ended
with the Palestinian and Israeli flags, side by side. Madonna had originally
planned a concert date in Israel but cancelled after threats against
her life and the lives of her children by Palestinian extremists. Many
believe that Madonna's next passion is protecting the children of Israel
and Palestine from continuous fighting. Her musical horizons also expanded
as she added a cover version of the John Lennon favorite, "Imagine",
to her live repertoire. Madonna met Fahrenheit 9/11 filmmaker, Michael
Moore, backstage for a photo opportunity during the tour and openly embraced
political commentary in her act, which included a scathing indictment
of George W. Bush and the 2003 Iraq war. Also in 2004, Madonna became
one of the five founding members of the UK Music Hall of Fame, joining
Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Marley, and U2 as automatic inductees.
After a brief battle with Warner Brothers Records (with whom she shared
record label Maverick), Madonna sold her shares in the label and announced
that she is no longer involved in its dealings.
In the same month, Madonna announced that she had adopted the name Esther,
a tribute to the legendary Jewish Queen of ancient Persia. In an interview
with ABC, she said: "This is in no way a negation of who my mother
is. In a metaphysical world, I wanted to attach myself to a different
This decision and much of the artistic imagery used in her recent work
have been driven by Madonna's intense study of Kabbalah at the controversial
Kabbalah Centre in London, and her abandonment of Catholicism. She became
a Kabbalist in 1997. The faith is popular among a number of other celebrities,
some of whom were introduced to it by Madonna herself. Devotees include
Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Streisand, Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Ashton
Kutcher, Winona Ryder, Roseanne Barr, Jerry Hall, Jeff Goldblum, Courtney
Love, and Paris Hilton.
Versace, aid, and 2005 lawsuit
During Thanksgiving 2004, Madonna held a photoshoot with Mario Testino
for her forthcoming (2005) Versace campaign. To date, six pictures of
the shoot have appeared in various fashion magazines around the world.
The campaign was a success; it "revived the Versace name" said
On December 26, 2004, after a tsunami hit India, Sri Lanka, Thailand,
and Indonesia among other countries, NBC organized an aid concert called
Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope, to which celebrities such as Madonna,
Diana Ross, Maroon 5, and Elton John, among others, donated their voices.
It was televised on January 15, 2005; Madonna sang a cover of John Lennon's
In February 2005, writers and producers of the song "Holiday" (not
Madonna, as is widely believed) sued singer Mary J. Blige, Eve, and producer/singer
Dr. Dre, citing copyright infringement. They alleged that the song "Not
Today", which appeared on the soundtrack for the film Barbershop
2, closely resembled Madonna's 1983 classic hit, "Holiday".
On July 2, 2005, Madonna participated in the British Live 8 concert
from Hyde Park, London. Madonna performed her hit songs "Like a
Prayer", "Ray of Light", and "Music". Before
performing, she greeted Birhan Woldu on stage, a young woman who had
almost died in the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. Woldu's unexpected
appearance on stage, followed immediately by Madonna's performance of "Like
a Prayer" (hand-in-hand with Woldu), was hailed worldwide as one
of the highlights of the event.
In an interview immediately after her performance, she mentioned that
she had never been to Africa but would consider going in the future.
She revealed that friends of hers, Bill Clinton and Christiane Amanpour,
had kept her informed of the problems there. The next day, some press
accounts published complaints about Madonna's use of foul language at
the concert (before one of her songs, she shouted "Are you fucking
ready, London?"), but whatever controversy there was about it quickly