I remember back in 1992 when Madonna released her Erotica album, at the time she spoke about how much anger she felt. For me being young and trying to start a career (business, not music) I thought to myself, what could she possibly be angry about. Now many years and decades later I am also angry, for her. I understand now what she was talking about back then. Madonna single handedly changed the world and she gets no credit for it. That makes me angry in that it continues my theme of the media not getting it, not reporting and informing people of what really changes the world. Today Madonna is seen as an aging pop star when in reality she broke all the rules and wrote her own; she changed how women are perceived in the business world and was a trailblazer who set the stage for many women to follow. Before Madonna, no other woman had the gall to treat men the way men treat women: disposable. Madonna changed it all, in a good way and she should be celebrated for her accomplishments not only for women but for an entire generation.
Lets start at the beginning, I am old enough to remember the pre-M days. Sure there were lots of other female acts or groups, Donna Summer, Heart, Pat Bennetar, Blondie and many more. But M stood out from the crowd. I remember being introduced to her music at a college bar that played her first album (back in the day of vinyl records) from start to finish, then flipped it over and played the other side. I didnt pay much attention to the music at that time but I do remember in the following years when she became nationally popular realizing I already knew who she was. And I liked her music. I remember her next few albums were fun, ok, and embarrassing. Like a Virgin, True Blue were fun, but back then if you said you were a Madonna fan, in college, it was thought of as lame. Then Madonna went through the Who’s That Girl phase where I thought she was a joke and totally turned me off. It wasnt until 1989 with the release of Like a Prayer that everything changed. She rocked the world with the videos and songs.
And, with Madonna, it wasnt just the music. Her personality came through. The reports of her getting a $500,000 advance and saying Oh good, I can take a cab. Hearing about Madonna putting the nix on her Material Girl video where the “suits” wanted her rolling around on the floor and she wanted the Marilyn Monroe esque video. What that taught people of my generation is that you are in control, and you can buck authority. I think thats one of the reasons she influenced an entire generation of people through empowerment. Yes I Can came from her, not Obama. I remember the Time magazine cover with both M and Cindy Lauper, their view said M would fade away and Lauper would prevail. Quite the opposite happened. People ridiculed M for changing personas with each video or album/CD. What that taught many of my time is experimenting is good. Dont be afraid to try something new. She was a role model for men as well as women. I think she influenced me personally by her telling the world, I can do it, I have confidence in myself, and I can succeed. I took that message to heart. And seeing her succeed just proved she was right in what she was saying.
The way M changed a woman’s role in the business world is one like I have never seen or heard of. She was in charge of her image, songs, videos and performances. No woman before that had been so in control of her business; and I can think of very few men, especially in the music business, that were either. M portrayed, I have a vision, follow me or lose out. Like I mentioned earlier once Like a Prayer came out things skyrocketed. She no longer was a joke, she was ‘on the cover of a magazine’ or more precisely all magazines. She was one of the few brave stars to stand up for AIDS victims, she spoke out for equality for gay people when very few if none did. Elizabeth Taylor was the real pioneer but Madonna made it ok to be gay when she said she was a gay man in a woman’s body. Her Truth or Dare movie was one of the first reality based events in history. Back in 1990 and 1991 she was on top of the world, again setting the stage and being the first to try something different. I’ll never forget when Ted Koppel interviewed her for her banned video Justify My Love, she was the only person I had ever heard of who said “I have to go soon, can we speed this up” Talk about the no can lose attitude she portrayed for women and men and a generation who not only enjoyed her music but loved the confidence and the underlying lessons of ‘yes you can’
In the 90s M had that boring album of soft songs, then came kicking back with a new and untested synthesized music from her Ray of Light, which again was great. In 2000 her Music video rocked. The 2000’s saw some fun songs but also some lame attempts for M to seem young. Singing and dancing in a leotard with people that are your children’s age is not cool. Her latest album I didnt even buy; girl you are too old for a cheerleading outfit. And the songs werent up to par.
But, one should look at the greater picture. I dont see anyone else in the 20th and 21st Century making the impact Madonna has. She should be celebrated as a pioneer and an icon. She should not be compared to current acts. Madonna literally changed the world and should be treated that way. Almost a kin to Mick Jagger, only better. M if you are reading this I hope you know the influence you had on women, leadership, creativity and an entire generation.