Today is Madonna Ciccone's 60th birthday.
And while the eternal Material Girl has ceded much of the pop spotlight of today to a new generation of stars, her influence is still felt in the way modern musicians are viewed, regarded, heard, and accepted.
In the early '80s, Madonna broke down a lot of the industry doors that young entertainers stride through so brashly and confidently these days, while also giving music fans a reason to dance and think at the same time.
For me, a testosterone-charged teenage boy who was only interested in classic rock and hip-hop in the '80s, Madonna held an entirely different appeal—at least at first. She was a stone-cold sex symbol that opened everybody's eyes wide with her blatant disregard for society's conventions and inhibitions, flouting her sensuality and eroticism while single-handedly taking over the pop music world. As the music industry infiltrated society in new and original ways, Madonna’s songs were everywhere throughout that decade—on the radio, bumping out of boomboxes, soundtracking our daily escapades on newfangled personal Walkmans, and heating up our televisions.
Initially, I never owned one of her albums or listened to her music much by choice. But anytime one of her videos came on MTV I tuned in, transfixed by this audacious, brazen woman who seemed to be refashioning herself into one fantasy figure after another. At the heart of all those videos was a confident, pioneering artist who was reinventing both how music can sound and—with the advent of MTV—how it can look. She knew that there were other ways to win over an audience other than just relying on her music, and her artful and groundbreaking videos are still as iconic and memorable as her songs themselves.
There was a power and authority to Madonna that appealed to me as well. She was making up her own rules and trends as she went along, defiantly resisting ever being manipulated by an industry that has a long history of mistreatment and cruelty towards women. Madonna’s creative audacity and provocative public image attracted me as much as her obvious talent and undeniable beauty. She was dictating what direction MTV and the music world in general was going, and it was up to them to try and keep pace with her.
Madonna also rattled plenty of big cages along the way, upsetting the Catholic Church, Pepsi, and tightly-wound conservatives alike. And that type of cheeky defiance clearly resonated with angst-filled young people everywhere who were tired of rules and restrictions being placed on them in their own lives.
She spoke up for anyone who felt like they were being silenced, ostracized, or outcast, and gave a voice to those who were still finding their way toward living their truth. And to this day, whenever her songs play in a nightclub, she brings music lovers of ALL types together, unifying her fans with the enduring power and potency of her shimmering pop anthems.
From the moment she entered the scene, Madonna knew how to get people's attention. And once she had the spotlight fixed on her, she became an unstoppable creative force that dominated the charts and the headlines for much of her 35-year career.
On Madonna’s 60th birthday, let us celebrate her music, her ambition, her attitude, and her style. Madonna’s impact and influence over the music industry can still be heard within the current crop of pop hits making a run up the charts, and seen in the provocative videos that bring to life the fresh anthems of the modern era. Madonna is and always will be the material girl, this is her material world, and we are lucky to be living in it.