Madonna turns 53 today, and her influence is felt now more than ever

Today is Madonna Ciccone's 53rd birthday. And while the eternal Material Girl has wisely ceded the pop spotlight of today to the younger generation of starlets, her influence is still felt in the way modern female musicians are viewed, regarded 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.

But, for a testosterone-charged teenage boy that was only interested in classic rock and hip-hop in the '80s, Madonna held an entirely different appeal. 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. I never owned one of her albums or really listened to her music 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. She knew that there were other ways to win over an audience than just relying on her music.

But there was a power and authority to Madonna that appealed to me as well. The fact that she was making up her own rules as she went along, that she wasn't just a pretty puppet being manipulated by the industry--that aspect of her public image attracted me as much as her obvious 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. She 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 in their own lives.

So, while her music didn't impact me nearly as much as her subversive message and raw physicality did, Madonna clearly 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 well over two-decades. Any current pop-tartlet that denies that Madonna is an influence or an inspiration to them is either lying or simply ignorant of music history. For each new batch of pretty little faces that make a run up the pop charts are all doing a song and dance that Madonna perfected long ago. Cheers to you and your boundless blond ambition on your birthday, Madge!

Madonna turns 53 today, and her influence is felt now more than ever

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