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Madonna was born on August 16, 1958 in Bay City, Michigan, USA. Raised in a large Italian American (and devout Catholic) family, Madonna lost her mother to cancer when she was just a child. She took classes in piano and ballet, and was an active participant in a variety of artistic activities at school. She attended the University of Michigan for two years but quit and moved to the Corona, Queens district of New York in 1978 to pursue dance and acting professionally. She appeared in a short film called A Certain Sacrifice and joined several punk-pop bands including Breakfast Club and Emmy. She eventually penned a number of songs that brought her local fame in gay dance clubs such as Danceteria.
Madonna scored her first recording deal while sitting on the corner of the bed of an ailing music executive. Her first single "Everybody" was released without her photo on the jacket. This led many listeners to believe that she was, in fact, black. Thanks to the advent of MTV, however, her label was able to aggressively market Madonna's image. A playful and sexy combination of punk and pop culture, Madonna became a quick fixture on the network. Her bleached blonde hair (with black roots), sexy lace gloves, lingerie on the outside and "Boy Toy" belt buckle were soon all the rage on high streets across America.
Rise to fame
In 1983 her self-titled debut album was released, and the first hit "Holiday" topped the charts around the world. Other hit singles included "Borderline", "Burning Up", "Lucky Star", and "Everybody". The album was a smash hit, and catapulted Madonna into instant stardom.
In 1984 she followed her debut with Like a Virgin. The album's provocative subject matter (especially the title track) was praised by reviewers and fans but brought Madonna to the critical attention of the religious right. She aroused further controversy when she appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards singing "Like a Virgin" in a combination wedding dress/bustier, writhing on the floor and revealing her underwear. The album spawned three number one hits: "Angel", "Dress You Up", and "Material Girl". (The "Material Girl" moniker would stay with her for some time.)
Madonna's meteoric ascent into the firmament of pop stardom paved the way for her transition to Hollywood. In 1985 she made a brief appearance in the film Vision Quest playing a club singer. (The role seemed designed chiefly to introduce more top ten hits, namely "Crazy For You" and "Gambler".) She also played a supporting role alongside Rosanna Arquette in the hit film Desperately Seeking Susan, for which she received good reviews. Her acting generally received negative reviews for the following seven years.
On her 27th birthday (August 16, 1985) Madonna married actor Sean Penn. She appeared with him in the 1986 flop Shanghai Surprise, which was unanimously panned by critics. The couple soon earned a reputation for hostility towards the media, thanks to Sean's frequently violent outbursts against the paparazzi. Later in the year Madonna released her third hit album, True Blue. This included the hits "Open Your Heart" (accompanied by a video in which she played a stripper who befriends a young boy), "True Blue", "Live to Tell", "Where's the Party", "La Isla Bonita" (accompanied by a video in which she played a Spanish woman, the first introduction to the public of her apparent fetish for Latino culture) and "Papa Don't Preach", an anthem about keeping a baby conceived out of wedlock.
Around this time, a number of black and white nude photos of Madonna surfaced. They were published in both Penthouse and Playboy magazines. The photos were taken during the early 1980s when she posed for art photographers as a way to make money. Potentially devastating to her career, she shrugged them off (her unfazed response - "So what?" - was immortalized on a Ciccone Youth record sleeve) and they only served to fuel her popularity.
At this point Madonna transformed her image, something that would become a trademark for years to come. She began to pale her face and highlight her beauty spot, replacing her punky bleached blonde hair with a glamorous platinum blonde look reminiscent of her hero Marilyn Monroe. This coincided with her performance in the film Who's That Girl, which was also a flop. Nevertheless, the soundtrack spawned two hits: the title track and "Causing a Commotion".
In 1987 she released an album of dance remixes of some of her earlier material entitled You Can Dance. It failed to sell as well as her previous efforts. She also appeared as Hortense in a Broadway production of Bloodhounds of Broadway, which was harshly dismissed by many reviewers. Critics began to peg Madonna as a thing of the past; her career seemed to be fading fast.
Then, in 1989, Madonna once again changed her image. She traded in her closely shorn platinum coif for long, curly black hair and an almost wholesome look for her album Like a Prayer. Returning once more to provocative religious imagery, the title track compared the experience of lovemaking to praying. The video for the song featured Madonna portraying an apparent streetwalker who witnesses a violent rape and murder. A black man is falsely accused of the crime and is jailed. She goes into a church where a statue of St. Martin de Porres comes to life and passionatly kisses her. This experience motivates her to identify the actual criminal, and the falsely accused black man, who resembles the statue, is released. The video was denounced by the Vatican for its "blasphemous" mixture of eroticism and Catholic symbolism.
The video, which also featured burning crosses, sparked such controversy that Pepsi Cola, who had paid Madonna millions of dollars for a commercial endorsement, pulled out of their contract. As the single soared to number one, Madonna thanked them for the publicity.
The album produced two further top ten hits - "Express Yourself" and "Keep it Together" - although "Oh Father" only made the top twenty. Additionally it featured a duet with singer Prince called "Love Song".
Madonna's career has been continually marked by controversial episodes in which she has outraged various orthodox segments of society. Her critics have accused her of deliberately manufacturing controversy in order to market herself and thereby sell more albums. She responded to these charges by declaring herself to be "an artist", and therefore free to practice her craft in whichever manner she chooses.
In 1990 she starred as Breathless Mahoney in Dick Tracy alongside Warren Beatty, whom she also briefly dated. She earned some good reviews for the role though critics pointed out that it continued her tradition of performing well when portraying characters quite similar to herself (in this case, a demanding and powerful vamp). The film's soundtrack spawned the huge hit "Vogue", which popularized a dance trend in which people in clubs struck poses like fashion models. She also released her first greatest hits album, The Immaculate Collection. She included two new songs, both top ten hits, "Rescue Me" and "Justify My Love". The latter was co-written by singer Lenny Kravitz. The sexual content of the song, coupled with an erotically charged music video, caused MTV, who had been so instrumental in Madonna's early success, to ban it. In response, the video was sold standalone on videotape, the first "video single" ever released.
In 1991 Madonna starred in a hit documentary film, Truth or Dare, which chronicled her "Blonde Ambition Tour". In it her personality and private life were explored in intimate detail: the star came across as extremely ambitious, demanding, forthright, sexy and smart. It also showed her softer side as she confronted family members and visited the grave of her mother. Truth or Dare was retitled In Bed with Madonna for its UK release. This title was parodied by the UK TV show In Bed With Medinner.
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 real life.
1992 also saw the release of her erotic book, Sex. Adult in nature, it featured Madonna as the centerpiece of photographs depicting various sexual fantasies and acts (including lesbianism, anal sex, sadomasochism and simulated rape). The book was bound in sheet metal and mylar, and came with a CD single of her new song "Erotic", which was packaged to look like a giant condom.
She released her next album, Erotica, in the same year. 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" and "Deeper And Deeper". Outside of America "Fever" and "Bye Bye Baby" were also hits, while domestically "Rain" (considered by many to be one of Madonna's finest ballads) and "Bad Girl" went on to achieve modest chart success. Reviews of the book and album were, for the most part, unsympathetic, with many critics lambasting the "aging" provocatrice for her "tasteless" use of sexuality to "shift units". Nevertheless, despite the press brickbats, the book became an instant bestseller and the album went on to sell more than three million copies worldwide (less than previous albums, but still a huge hit by anyone else's standards).
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 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 actual work.
In 1994 Madonna released Bedtime Stories. The album, which took her back to her R&B roots, found her in sultry voice as she tackled a number of topics which extended far beyond the subject matter of her early songs. The top ten hit "Secret" told the story of a heterosexual man in love with a transsexual, while "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. The album was nominated for a Grammy in the same year, and Madonna sang "Take a Bow" at the awards.
Despite the apparent "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" 13 times.
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 also appeared as a phone sex company owner in Spike Lee's flop Girl 6 in 1996.
In a further attempt to soften her image, she 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 Peron in the 1996 film Evita. The film marked the first time Madonna was heralded as an actress in a leading role. She delivered a Golden Globe winning performance and was critically praised; nevertheless, her detractors still managed to point out the similarities between the character (a former actress and fame-hungry politican's wife) and Madonna's own life.
In 1998 Madonna reinvented herself yet again. During 1996 and 1998 she began studying mystical Judaism and The Kabbalah. 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 bore his child Lourdes Leon Ciccone in 1996. In 1998 she released Ray of Light, an album co-produced by European techno music performer William Orbit. The album became her biggest hit in nearly ten years, selling over ten million copies. 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 Goodbye".
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 music and Eastern mysticism) and refining them for mass consumption. Madonna received her first Grammy award in her 15 year career for Ray of Light.
After endlessly promoting Ray of Light, 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 she is pregnant, and decide to raise the child together, but outside romances intervene to cause conflict and estrangement. Critics praised the first half of the film, but panned the second half in which it assumed the trappings of a courtroom drama. The soundtrack spawned the top ten hit "American Pie", a dance cover version of the Don McLean classic. The film itself, released in 2000, was a flop. Madonna contributed the top ten hit "Beautiful Stranger" to the soundtrack of the Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me film in the same year.
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. It spawned the top ten hits "Music", "Don't Tell Me", and "What It Feels Like For a Girl". The latter was accompanied by a striking music video directed by Madonna's then boyfriend, 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 wall. 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. 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 cropping up on high streets and catwalks around the world.
In 2000 Madonna married director Guy Ritchie and appeared in a short film he directed for BMW called Star. She released her second Greatest Hits album in 2001, entitled GHV2, and began working on a remake of the classic film Swept Away about a wealthy socialite who, after a shipwreck, is trapped on a deserted island with a poor male servant. The film, released in 2002, was critically panned and went on to become yet another in a string of flops. She gave birth to her second child, a son - Rocco - in the same year.
In 2002 Madonna continued to make music ("Die Another Day" for the James Bond film of the same name), and to act. She seemed to have settled into the role of an Earth Warrior/Mother, spiritualist and elder "stateswoman" of pop. Apparently content with her second marriage, her career, although only a shadow of what it was in the mid 1980s, 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. 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 the album that included a scene of her tossing a hand grenade into the lap of a President George W. Bush lookalike. The video was revoked, presumably at her own request, on the day it premiered (it was aired for only a few hours) and replaced by a more "neutral" treatment. Almost immediately 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. 
Famous for her appearances at the MTV Video Music Awards, in 2003 Madonna provoked the public once again by kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on stage while the three singers performed a medley of "Like A Virgin" and her most recent single, "Hollywood". 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 believe - not least the pop "princesses" themselves - to be the heirs and beneficiaries of Madonna's pop legacy.
Madonna's albums with some of the main singles from each album.