By Chris Rosa - vh1.com
It seems hard to believe, but Madonna‘s second studio album Like a Virgin turns 30 today.
The groundbreaking pop LP did more than establish the Material Girl — single No. 2 off the record — as a cultural phenomenon, it defined a decade. After Virgin, Madonna became a style and music icon; her rough-and-tumble yet glam look was mimicked by teens around the world. With the record, Madonna became arguably the world’s first dance-pop superstar. Oh, and the best.
Before there was Beyoncé, Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, there was Madonna. Millennials, take a stadium of seats, because we’re about to unload several truths about the pop icon that you don’t — and definitely should — know.
1. She is still relevant.
Ask a group of youths what they think of Madonna, and the word “irrelevant” will more than likely be uttered. But this is just not the case, guys. Yes, Madonna is an ’80s icon first and foremost, but she’s still permeating mainstream culture today, whether you like it or not. Her 2012 Super Bowl halftime show drew more than 114 million viewers, the most-watched set by a female artist (even surpassing Beyoncé). Her MDNA Tour was the highest-grossing tour of 2012 and the second most profitable for any female artist in history. The first? Madonna, for ’08-’09′s Sticky & Sweet Tour. Her last three albums all debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200. Evidently, people are still interested in Madge — and these numbers prove it.
2. Her age is irrelevant — and people really need to stop obsessing over it.
In an era of incredibly necessary female empowerment, it’s disappointing how many times we hear people (sometimes even women) criticize Madonna’s age; the phrase, “She’s too old to be doing what she’s doing” comes up too many times. The fact of the matter is Madonna does not need to justify her controversial performance style now or ever. We should applaud the singer for still pushing society’s boundaries and causing us to think, or in her opinion, wake up. In fact, Madonna’s constant reinvention — even in her mid-50s — is proof age doesn’t define us. And that’s a pretty fantastic message.
3. She was talking about social issues before it was “cool.”
It’s exciting to live in a time very close to fully embracing all walks of life. Now more than ever, those of different sexual orientations, gender expressions and other nuances can proudly express themselves without general fear of judgment. We give props to artists like Lady Gaga and Spears for encouraging this revolution of love; however, they are endorsing a now-popular opinion. Madonna was urging for the same rights in the ’80s and ’90s when it was very unpopular. Her sexual exploration, especially during her Blonde Ambition Tour (’90-’91) and Erotica (1992) era, pushed some serious buttons but started necessary conversations. And when Canadian officials threatened to arrest Madonna for simulating masturbation on stage in 1990, did she censor herself? Nope. That’s rock ‘n’ roll.
4. She’s a damn good songwriter.
The central concept of Madonna’s career is reinvention — new looks, statements and sounds . The jarring visual transformations may cause people to forget the incredible songs that accompanied every Madonna era. Madge took a prominent songwriting role with 1986′s True Blue and has continued to wow us with her confessional lyrics and addictive choruses. Since 1989′s Like a Prayer, she’s co-written every song on her studio albums (except “Fever” and “Bedtime Story”). In an age of hit-makers like Max Martin and Dr. Luke, that’s an incredible feat.
5. Yes, she can sing
While Madge has been known to lip-synch, it doesn’t dispel the fact she has some pipes. Watch her 1991 performance of “Sooner or Later” at the Academy Awards if you have doubts. Better yet, check out Evita (1996) or listen to Ray of Light (1998). The proof is in the very-much-in-tune pudding.
6. She didn’t peak in the ’80s.
There’s a reason why Madonna hasn’t co-headlined a “Stars of the ’80s” reunion tour (cringe). It’s because she’s still putting out music that’s both commercially and critically successful — some more than her early works. 2000′s Music reached No.1 in more than 15 countries and received a stellar four-star rating from Rolling Stone. Like a Virgin, while fantastic, received a lower RS rating and hit No.1 in eight countries. It’s safe to say Madonna hasn’t peaked yet, and with new music due out next year, may never.
7. Like a Prayer and Ray of Light will always be more influential than Blackout (2007), The Fame Monster (2009) and — yes —Beyoncé (2014).
While the aforementioned albums are certainly iconic in their own rights, let’s not forget the pop records that paved the way for “Gimme More,” “Telephone” and “Drunk in Love.” Like a Prayer, with its strong religious and feminist themes and sexually ambitious promotional tour, charted territory not yet explored by a woman. Ray of Light is widely credited for ushering electronic music into mainstream pop, notably by the Los Angeles Times. The thematic and sonic elements of these two albums have undoubtedly influenced Spears and Gaga’s electro-pop sound and Beyoncé’s female-empowering music. In many ways, they are the new icons; however, Madge made it possible.
8. She paved the way for every female artist. And they should thank her.
Speaking of new icons, Rihanna knocked Madge out of our Pop Queen Faceoff last week. We respect RiRi and all of our contenders for their bravery and overall fabulousness; however, we must credit Madonna for blazing the trail for them. Without Madonna’s gutsy “Justify My Love” music video, Spears may have never released In the Zone (2003). If Madonna hadn’t executed the crazy-creative “Bedtime Story” video, Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” candy wonderland may have just been a fantasy. And let’s be real: without “Express Yourself,” there would be no “Born this Way.”
9. Sorry Jay-Z, but Madonna is pop music’s greatest living entertainer.
Beyoncé is fantastic, don’t get us wrong, but she’s competing against a legend with a 30+-year catalog and showstopping tours to boot. If there’s one thing Madonna knows how to do, it’s put on a show. The theatrics! The back-up dancers! The social commentary! Everything is perfectly crafted to create a pop performance art experience that cannot be paralleled. At the center of the dizzying production is one focused powerhouse with a fire in her eyes. And that’s why her performances are so great. Madonna brings an inexplicable oomph to any performance — passionate precision dancing and a feeling that she’s right on the edge with us. At any moment, she could jump. And this thrilling intrinsic element cannot be taught.
10. Believe it or not, she’s starred in a few decent films.
We’re realistic. We know Madonna won’t be winning an Oscar anytime soon; however, it would be lazy to write off all her acting efforts as bad. She garnered positive reviews as Susan in the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan. A League of Their Own has a 76 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Madonna’s portrayal of Eva Perón in Evita is breathtaking. That’s a fact.
Want to see what Queen Madge is up to these days? Read on!