Monday, August 10, 2009

Week 1: Donell Recommends Madonna

Okay, so this 10 for 10 is going to be a little different than the ones to come, I'm sure. Since my dear co-writer James claims he doesn't know Madonna I have decided to give him a crash course in the woman that is the Queen of Pop and why she rightfully deserves that title. (You can read my recent Madonna entry at THE DJF here.)
Madonna Louise Ciccone emerged onto the music scene in 1983 after moving to NYC from Michigan and claiming that she was going to "rule the world". She has become one of the highest selling artists of all time as well as winning a Golden Globe for the film Evita. Madonna has 11 studio albums (Madonna, Like a Virgin, True Blue, Like a Prayer, Erotica, Bedtime Stories, Ray of Light, Music, American Life, Confession on a Dance Floor, and Hard Candy), 2 live albums, 2 soundtrack records, and multiple award winning singles. Madonna has had at least 1 single out every year since 1983, with the exception of 2004.

Madonna, also know as Madge, Mo, or The Material Girl is best known for her visual career and her ever-changing style. With almost every album Madonna emerges looking different and taking on many different styles. If she has new music coming out, you can bet she'll have a new look. That being said, Madonna's music videos are ART. She is a person who puts lots of thought into how her songs are represented visually. So as EXTRA CREDIT I encourage you to look up the music videos that accompany the songs listed below. The songs themselves don't represent even half of why she's a star. She is a visual artist.

As you listen to these songs I also want you to listen to the way her styles change throughout the years. To me, just like her appearance, she likes to take on different styles with every album. When her debut album, Madonna, dropped it had heavy club/dance influences. When she released her sophomore album, Like a Virgin, she made a swift change to bubblegum pop. Listen to how her style changes throughout the years from pop, gospel, r&b, house, to hip-hop.

Edit: the links with the song titles are either music videos or live performances. The links of the album titles give more information about the album.

"Like a Virgin" Like a Virgin (1984)
This is the Madonna the world fell in love with. With the success of her debut album behind her, Madonna made a swift transition from dance hits to bubble gum pop. All of Madonna’s songs would have heavy dance roots from this point on, but there was a distinct change in her sound to appeal to a more pop audience. “Like a Virgin” because Madonna’s first #1 single in the US. The single was fueled forward thanks to a racy performance at the MTV VMAs that year, where Madonna rolled around and humped the floor dressed in a white wedding gown including a belt that read “BOY TOY”. She knew how to push people’s buttons and this would definitely not be the last time she would do it. Madonna would cause controversy on several on her world tours when she would perform the song, most recently dedicating the song to the Pope while she was in Rome. In 1990 while performing the song in concert in Toronto she simulated masturbation on a bed. The police threatened to arrest her if she didn’t change the number. She refused and ended up not being arrested.

"Crazy for You" Vision Quest (1985)
My 2nd favorite Madonna song is her 2nd #1 single. One of Madonna's first ballads, "Crazy for You" was from the film soundtrack for Vision Quest. This was a time for Madonna to show her ability to be considered a legitimate singer. Before this time her image had overpowered the public's opinion of her as someone with actual vocal ability.

"Papa Don't Preach" True Blue (1986)
Madonna stirred controversy with a song many viewed as a pro-pregnancy rant. People thought Madonna was telling young girls to go out and get pregnant and that was promoting an image of it being "cool". In concert Madonna dedicated the song to Pope John Paul II, which led him to urge Italian fans to boycott her concert. But back to the music, shall we? True Blue marks a time in Madonna's career where she was very interested in Spanish culture and music. Throughout the album she uses Spanish influences to aid her sound. Can you hear any of that in this song?

"Like a Prayer" Like a Prayer (1989)
Who doesn't love a gospel choir? I truly feel like a gospel choir can take any song to new heights. Madonna uses that in this song to give it the spiritual boost that she was looking for. In the grand tradition of controversy Madonna upset many with the music video for "Like a Prayer" showing images of burning crossed and representing Jesus as a black man. Madonna has lots of religion images in her music from beginning to end. She even lots her endorsement (got to keep the money) with Pepsi when this video was aired. This song would become one of Madonna's highest selling singles of her career.

"Vogue" I’m Breathless (1990)
If Madonna weren’t already God to gay men across the world, “Vogue” would definitely set her atop that pedestal. Based on a form of dancing found in underground gay clubs, Madonna brought this type of dance to the mainstream. To “vogue” is to pose and use elaborate hand gestures to imitate models and old famous Hollywood stars. Nowadays there are tons of songs where the artist tells you what kind of dance to do and Madonna was at the forefront of this movement. Although it has nothing to do with the I’m Breathless (which is music from the film version of Dick Tracy) Madonna’s record label felt the song was too good to be released as a B-side, so they slapped it on the end of the soundtrack. Until 2008 “Vogue” would be Madonna’s biggest selling single of her career, catapulting her from pop star to icon.

"Justify My Love" The Immaculate Collection (1990)
My favorite Madonna song of all time is her 9th of 12 #1 singles. “Justify My Love” was an original song that was recorded to promote The Immaculate Collection, a compilation of greatest hits. The song features background vocals and production by Lenny Kravitz. Based on a poem, the song contains no singing. Madonna speaks and whispers all of the lyrics (singing a few background lines) giving heavy sexual overtones. This seductive song would give in a glimpse into her next album, Erotica, which would become her most controversial album to date due to its heavy sexual content (as well as a book entitled Sex that was released alongside the album, which features Madonna in the nude photographed in various poses, and sometimes with other celebrities). Madonna stirred up controversy due to the music video that accompanied “Justify My Love”. It’s shot in black and white and features Madonna in a hotel engaging in sexual acts with a lover. The doors to other hotel rooms are ajar and you can see different sexual acts happening including s&m, androgynous dancers, and bisexual acts. The video only aired twice and then was banned from MTV. In turn Madonna released the video on VHS and it became the highest selling video single of all time, reinforcing her ability to turn controversy into dollar signs.

After the sexual awakening of her career Madonna decided to take a turn to the smoother sounds of R&B. This was also around the time that Madonna gave birth to her first child. "Take a Bow" was produced by the R&B king of the time, Babyface. You can also hear him on the background vocals. There is something so haunting about this song that it's always been a favorite of mine. Bedtime Stories also marks the last time a Madonna song was on the R&B charts. "Take a Bow" also marks the longest amount of weeks Madonna has spent at the #1 spot. Check out the string section leading into the bridge. Stunning.

Considered one of Madonna's best songs, "Frozen" gave fans something completely different from the star. Madonna uses heavy electronic influences with darker tones to enrich the Middle East inspired track. Whereas the title song from Ray of Light gave fans more of the house/dance music they had grown to love with Madonna, "Frozen" was something fans had not expected from her. The song was a huge success overseas but did not see it's star truly shine due to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" topping the charts in the US. Definitely check out this music video, especially after watching something like "Like a Virgin" and you will truly see the transformation of Madge, herself.

"Music" Music (2000)
As of right now "Music" has been the last Madonna single to hit #1 on the charts. Working with a brand new unknown producer, Madonna tweaked her sound but continued to display her heavy dance roots. The funny thing about "Music" (which features the "music makes the people come together" chorus) is that the song was released at the height of Napster's popularity. The song was leaked before it was finished and Madonna joined forces with other artists to protect their work. The controversy surrounding the song made it soar and become one of the biggest selling singles of her career. The music video features a practically unknown Sacha Baron Cohen.

"Give It 2 Me" Hard Candy (2008)
From Madonna's latest album, "Give It 2 Me" is quickly becoming one of my favorite Madonna songs. Not nearly as successful as the other songs on this list, I think "Give It 2 Me" displays something that Madonna is a genius at. Many fans were weary about her new album being mainly produces by Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes. The album has heavy hip-hop influences but still remains pop. "Give It 2 Me" is the prime example of this. The song is easily translatable from the dance floor to the ghetto basement. The middle bridge of "get stupid, get stupid" while somewhat laughable, still shows Madonna tapping into a generation that wasn't even alive when she released "Like a Virgin". She is still the Queen of Pop.


  1. LOVE the toreador costumes in Take A Bow. I used to love when that would come on the radio - it was never over-played.

    Now, pls check out the other blog I write for - we have a music contributor whom I think you'd enjoy!!