The Material Girl. The Queen of Pop. Madge. Esther. Madonna Louise Ciccone has answered to a lot of names in the course of her 30-year career. But you’d expect nothing less from a woman who is almost more famous for her stylistic reinventions than she is for her music (which is saying a lot, given that she has had 37 Top 10 singles). She may have started out the thrift store-styled princess of Danceteria and ended up a British-accented ad for the power of yoga, but in between she’s invented, inverted, tried on and co-opted a dozen different artistic personas. So, on the occasion of her 53rd birthday, Hive celebrates five of Madonna’s most memorable incarnations.
1. The “Boy Toy” Era
Though she already had one hit record under her thick “Boy Toy” belt buckle (1983’s Madonna), it was 1984’s Like a Virgin (the album and the single) that really made Madonna a star, with her frizzy, dirty-blond hair, layers of cut-up clothes and strands of overlapping necklaces. In the video, she writhes around in a gondola in Venice, and coquettishly poses in a fluffy wedding dress in a Venetian palace. Even her animal co-star can’t deny her handmade East Village sex appeal. (Note the close up on the lion’s tongue panting in time at 2:21.) She would eventually have designers dying to dress her and Jean Paul Gaultier creating her cone bras, but first she had a style that was all her own.
2. The Brunette Controversy-Courting Era
Madonna seems just as happy when people are decrying her provocative ways as when they are celebrating them, just as long as they are talking about her. One of the earliest commotions came when, in 1989, she signed an endorsement deal with Pepsi, and debuted her “Like a Prayer” video in one of their commercials. The video, which features fields of burning crosses, Catholic symbols like stigmata and a romance with a black Jesus statue that comes to life, drew ire from religious groups, so Pepsi dropped their spokeswoman. But Madge didn’t care; the album was a critical and commercial success, and with her slipdress, large cross necklace and big brown curls, she got to look like an Italian cinema star from the ’60s while being backed by a killer gospel choir.
3. The Rave-Dominatrix Era
By the ‘90s it would take a little more than some interracial church loving to get people’s ire up. To that end, Madonna released Sex, a book of photos by Steven Meisel that depicted her sexual fantasies (as well as an in flagrante delicto Vanilla Ice), and Erotica, a more club-oriented album influenced equally by house music, S&M and the death of several close friends from AIDS. To go with her new sound, she adopted a new look — short, slick platinum hair, giant daisy barrettes, a gold tooth — that made her look like a cross between a raver and the mistress of ceremonies at an S&M club. In this MTV News interview, she discusses the controversial video for the album’s title track, defends her stance on safe sex and laughs about sending motorists to the eye doctor after a public photo shoot for the book in Miami during which she hitchhiked nude.
4. The Material Mom:
After the birth of her daughter, Lourdes, Madonna teamed up with British producer William Orbit for her earth-mama-on-the-dancefloor reinvention, Ray of Light. Emotionally open courtesy of new motherhood and the beginnings of spiritual reinvention, her style became much more casual and stripped down. She grew out her severe platinum ’do into long golden curls, and forwent costumes in favor of … jeans. In this in-studio interview with Kurt Loder, she looks more laid-back than ever, wearing very little makeup, a simple cardigan and wild, loose hair, as she discusses Lourdes’ influence on the album, and the Ayurvedic dosha types of her recording team.
5. The Yoga MILF:
After marrying director Guy Richie and having another baby, son Rocco, Madonna seemed set as a lady of the manor (complete with a weird fake British accent). But in 2005, she released her tenth album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, and with the video for its first single, “Hung Up,” proved that she was still in top fighting shape. How many folks would don a leotard at the age of 50 for the world to see? That’s certainly thanks, in part, to years of clean living and yoga (not to mention some recently acquired Farrah Fawcett hair). Also, props for hiding those scary-toned arms in long-sleeves, Madge.