Madonna is a prestigious artist from her time until today. Her musical pieces and performances have been successful and record breaking despite of many controversies. Her style of music is unique. She fits with various types of music. She can be classical. She can be in pop music and in R&B.
Many of her popular songs have been criticized because of its lyrical contents, how her music has been interpreted and shown in her music videos, or the way she dressed and acts. Madonna uses the freedom of expression with the artist’s point of view. Although most controversies are part society-related or religiously contained. Some are morally debatable. Instead of creating negative effect on her career, all of those controversies had helped her become successful. It could be the intrigues that make people look forward to hear and see her works. Since music is a form of art, also to include fashion in her manner of clothing, some who accepts her music as a way of expressing themselves tried to be like her. Madonna, in this aspect, has been a fashion-statement. She conveyed a great influence with teenagers and women. Thus, she had been a fashion icon by 1980. (Worrel)
Madonna used controversies as a way for audience to notice her. “Like A Virgin” is the song and the album that brought her to fame. This was welcomed with great controversy. The song is about a woman who found her man that touches her. The song neither said about physical or emotional means of touching. But it barely describes how she feels when she found a loving man. Madonna wore a wedding gown, with accessories of revealing suspender and garter belt, on a wedding cake. If you see it superficially, the video may really shows that it evoked sexual pleasures. The song actually describes how innocent the virgin girl through her description of the instant feelings she had experienced. Madonna only expresses herself artistically in her manner of dressing in this video. She loves lacy garments and heavy make-ups which she also uses as a tool for her artistic sides. Another thing is the title of the song
itself. During 1980’s, the use of vulgar and sexual words are uncommon in the society. “Like A Virgin” had received a lot of connotation associated with Madonna.
Other songs which are included in the album of “Like a Virgin” are “Over and Over”, “Material Girl”, “Dress you Up”, “Stay”, “Pretender”, “Angel” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”.
“Over and Over” describes determination and perseverance. It says that when she falls or made mistake, she will try again and waste no time. This song inspires people to learn from their mistakes and move on their life.
“Dress You Up” vaguely defines how Madonna loves satin and luxurious suits. But most of all, she also needed to be dressed with love. The touch of love and sweetness of kisses are what the dress been made of. At the hit of this song, Nude photos of Madonna were published in Playboy and Penthouse Men’s Magazine.
“Stay” is the song for a lover who leaves in time of difficulty of relationship. And the partner wishes for the lover to stay and live with her. This is the song of hurt and desperation.
“Pretender” is a story of a girl who knows that her man is a pretender. He only wanted to have one-night to stay with a girl. Unexpectedly, the girl in the song had fallen in love with the man. She believed that the man will be able to change and love her in return.
“Material Girl” is another controversial song and video she had made. This tells the story of a woman who has strong personality, girl who showed power to voice out her opinion and fires up discussions. Madonna portrayed two conflicting roles; one is a girl who is hungry of money. And one is the girl who is sick and tired of all the gifts she is receiving. The girl in this song eventually falls in love with a man who can only give her daisy as present. Controversy arise that Madonna is like the girl who wanted man and money. She was labeled with the dominant role she played on her video. This image sticks to her from then on.
Another album after “Like a Virgin” is the “True Blue”. This is a better and more maturely artistic work. She made comparison with many men she met with the man she truly love. She describes how things fit rightly in their places when she is with him.
Most controversial song she had in this album is “Papa Don’t Preach”. It was a story of a girl who got pregnant with the man who his father dislikes. No blessing from the father for the girl to be wed with the father of her unborn baby. The pregnant girl was so determined to keep the baby despite of social criticism she would encounter. Many critics praised her for this video but there are some who utters negative comments. “Madonna Don’t Preach” was again labeled on his name. Social discussion about pregnant women was tackled anywhere in conjunction with this song.
“Open Your Heart” is another single in her “True Blue” album. Madonna is an exotic dancer. She works in a strip club. The song is actually about a girl who wanted to have someone to see through her and love her. She is asking for attention and affection that comes from a pure heart. Unfortunately, she found it in the eyes of a young boy. This causes a great issue because the young boy is a minor, which in the end of the video Madonna gave a friendly kiss.
Madonna in 1987 had her “Who’s That Girl” Tour in Italy. The Pope condemned her show and discouraged people to watch it. She wore revealing costumes such as corset, fishnet stockings. She even had a teenage boy in her show who she flirted just like her music videos. She had indecent acts done during her shows.
During this tour period, in additional to her wild acts, Madonna was reported to have relationship with a lesbian comedienne.
Madonna’s next popular album is “Like A Prayer”. This album contains religious and sexual scenes. The video was about a girl who witnessed a rape scene. A white man who did
the crime was not arrested but instead the black man who helped the rape victim had been charged with the crime. Madonna went to church to find guidance for the unjustified crime. She was blessed by a saint. There are scenes that showed cult ritual and finally went to police, stood as a witness, freeing the black man.
Pepsi, a soft drinks company, withdrew their contract with Madonna as the above video received negative feedbacks. But still the company paid her for breaching the contract.
The video shows racism, crime and injustice in the society. Madonna showed example how these can be solved by the simple act of doing what is right.
“Express Yourself” is another video under the same album. Madonna was chained in bed in this video. She showed that a girl must not keep herself from doing anything she wants. If she cannot do what she wants, it is her own choice because nobody can prevent you from doing one thing until you do not want to do it by yourself.
“Oh Father” is another controversial video because there are scenes that she was hurt by her lover and her mother’s lips was stitched together. The song is about the girl who got away from his father’s roof. She was often hurt by his father for every sin she had done. And she tried to understand that her father is not that cruel as she had experienced. Some say that her ex-husband is hurting her the way the lover in the video scene had done. It is like comparing the father to the lover.
Blond Ambition Tour came up in 1990. More controversies had been with Madonna. In Italy, the Pope again discouraged people to watch her show. Some conditions like simulated masturbation in her song “Like a Virgin” must not be performed. But Madonna do not obey any of this condition and further say improper words on her interviews until some networks banned her and her shows (Woster). Madonna continued her shows and did her unique performances. She said that her performances had different sense. Success in her concert is bashing and uncontrolled.
With this concert tour, Madonna had released her “Hanky Panky” single. The song is about the act of spanking. The girl wants to be hurt. She asked to be treated like a bad girl. The girl in the song wants to be penalized of unknown reason. She wanted a guy who is mean and bossy. And even if the girl was hurt, she does not want any medical help, for physical or mental damages, from a doctor.
A documentary of her Blond Ambition Tour was created with a movie in 1991. Scenes showing Madonna with Police and against the Vatican, breast exposure and lesbianism had created so much issue.
“Immaculate Collection” is Madonna’s next album, title of which is after the Immaculate Conception. The most controversial song she had in this album is “Justify My Love”. The song is about wanting, waiting, needing, praying and hoping for the love she deserves in return, without any need for permission. The music video was banned due to so much exposure of private parts. Bisexual and sado-masochism is also shown in this video. It was banned in most music video programs. This then made the video to be shown and sold in VHS.
Because of too much sex activities in the video, Madonna was rumored to have HIV disease. But she answered the rumor with statement that she will be more afraid for how people will treat her rather than the disease.
Erotica, an album released with a coffee table book entitled “Sex”, it is about a girl named ‘Dita” who is exploring her sexuality. With the lyrics of the song, she is trying to convince somebody to do things as she had done. This album was full of frontal nudity and simulated sexual intercourse.
“Where Life Begins” is one of the singles under Erotica that had much focus of issue. It is because the song was about oral sex. The words in the song describe how oral sex is done in many exciting ways.
By 1993, Madonna had the “Girlie Show Tour”. She performed with back-up dancers that are half-nude. Her show contained again sex simulation and lesbianism. She even did the spanking moves. Madonna showed a very erotic and so much liberal role in her performances (Kulkarni). Because of controversial feedbacks of her shows, many people are still curious to see and watch her performances. Negative publicity keeps Madonna alive.
With the expressive sexual escapades in her music, Madonna used her potential and fully exploits music.
After all the pornographic and sexual performances in her show, Madonna came up with a new song of passionate love. “Take a Bow” is a song about a girl who was in- love with a man. Her love was taken for granted which in the end she was left alone. Its music video has been controversial because of the bull fighting in the background. Madonna was accused of promoting animal cruelty. She had explained that the bulls were not killed unlike the usual bull-fight. (Gardner)
“Human Nature” is about expressing oneself. The man’s nature, to be assertive and doing things because he or she wanted it, is the idea of this song. The music video showed great dances and choreography. Although, Madonna uses the word “shit” many times, the song itself gives an excuse of her indecent words. This song had received many nominations and awards. Madonna used this song to explain her behavior and let others understand her side.
Madonna had proven herself as a good artist when she won the major role for the movie “Evita”. She had said that she perfectly fits the role. She made justice to the role when she made herself look innocent and fragile. She also sang its theme song entitled Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. The song is about a girl who left her beloved country Argentina to explore the world and freed herself from any rules and events happening in her country. As a consequence of her choice, the song seems that her country disowned her.
In that time of her movie and the famous classical theme song, protest from Argentineans arose. Madonna was known for her sexual videos and indecency, as compared to Evita, who is a saint in character, had received many unwelcoming graffiti all through out the settings of the movie.
Moreso, Madonna during this time announced her pregnancy with her boyfriend
Another controversy that came out in this movie is the use of the original clothes worn by Evita while Madonna played her role. And some clothes she used are true animal fur. This was disproved by Madonna when she said that clothes made just for the movie are only synthetic fur. (BBC News)
“Ray of Light” describes how Madonna found solitude and become holy. In this song, she describes the feeling of being at home and flying in the sky. This song tells that like the speed of a ray of light, people may die from her sin and change for better at an instant.
Madonna had many tattoo markings that are considered holy by Hindus. Many Hindus were angry because she wore indecent clothes while markings in her face and body are holy. The tattoo symbols was dishonored and disrespected with her revealing clothes (Vaishnava News USA).
“Drowned World/Substitute for Love” is a song that describes how she exchange her famous career with her love. And when her love life became a failure, she eventually refocused herself into a new different religion. Madonna in real life had changed her religion from Christianity to Kabbalism (Udovitch). The paparazzi chased Madonna in the video that associated the scene with Princess Diana’s accidental death.
“The Power to Say Goodbye” is a song of letting go and learning to accept the truth. The song also tried to imply that sometimes we should learn to stop from what we are doing. The music video was interpreted by many that suicide was committed at the end when Madonna left her shoes and walks into the water.
“American Life” is a song of a girl who wanted to live up with her American dreams. She is asking what changes she needed to do in order to live up with it. Madonna even describes how rich and comforted she is with her life. She even mentioned her religious controversies in the song.
The video contained a projected scene of the upcoming Iraq war. Americans believed that the video was unpatriotic. Although Madonna confessed that she had not thought that the release of her music video was untimely. And she gave her support and prayers for the Military Forces.
“Hollywood” is the next single after the American Dream. The same as the meaning of this song, Madonna’s single had lost its praises. The city of dreams described in this song may lose everything including oneself. Madonna never put this song included in the hit chart.
Madonna’s tenth album is the “Confession on A Dance Floor”, with its hit single
“Hung Up”. This single was about a girl who became tired of waiting for her man to show up.
More songs included in this album are “Sorry”, “Jump” and “Get Together”. Their music videos are nature-inspired.
“Sorry” is about a girl who refuses to listen and forgives her man. The man kept lying, making up stories and promising to her. The girl had heard all kinds of excuses and lies which she cannot accept any longer.
Madonna’s stage performance in this song was criticized when she showed up being crucified in a cross while singing the song (Brunskill).
“Jump” is a song about being ready to face the reality and do what good thing to do instead of waiting and be afraid of speculations and consequences of the present situations.
“Get Together” is an inspiration song. It promotes unity and cooperation in order to achieve a sweet work in the end.
In line with above songs, “Frozen” is about someone who got hurt and made her heart closed with everything. She only chooses things she wanted to notice and feel emotions she wanted to feel. With its release, A Belgian songwriter sued Madonna for plagiarism and eventually won the case. Madonna did not appeal against the court decision and instead the song was removed from the album (Xinhua).
“Borderline” is a song of love which a girl was pushed to her limits by her man. She had given up everything in loving her man.
“What It Feels Like For a Girl” is a challenge of how will the boy feel and commented if he was a girl. Girl can be a boy but not as shameful as a boy becomes a girl. The girl experiences a lot of difficulties to keep her self neat and pretty all the time. She cannot voice out comments as boys can.
In the music video of the above song, Madonna robs an ATM machine and had a dangerous drive which in the end committed suicide. In the society during that time, men are more acceptable to commit crime than women doing criminal acts.
“Vogue” is a musical story of the life of models. Madonna mentioned popular models such as Greta Garbo, Monroe, Dietrich, DiMaggio, Marlon Brando, and Jimmy Dean. She gives thoughts of their life being in limelight. She suggested putting emotions in their pose and adding more personal artistry in their clothing.
In its music video, Madonna wore a see-through blouse that showed her breast specifically her nipples. She also refused to cut this scene during its review.
Madonna’s songs, music videos and performances are often associated with controversies in her life. She even lives with her songs. Madonna attracts people with either good or bad publicity and she even puts her emotional and rational comments on all the press stories into the lyrics of her music. She takes advantage of the controversies for the people to keep talking about her and putting her name in a stable popularity.
Whatever she did and will do, she had an artistic way to propose to the society the issues, either putting herself as an example or reflecting on the situation of the society itself. She does things in a very humorous and inventive ways.
_______. “Madonna loses plagiarism case.” Xinhua – English. 21 November 2005.
_______. “Madonna’s MTV Performance Offends Hindus.” Vaishnava News USA. 16 Sept. 1998.
BBC News. “Madonna criticised over fur coat.” BBC News. 8 December 2007.
Brunskill, Mary K. “Madonna Will Not Be Investigated In Germany For Crucifixion Stunt.” All Headline News. 21 August 2006.
Gardner, Elysa. “Madonna at a crossroads.” USA Today. 27 October 2005.
KulKarni, Dhananjay. “Madonna controversies continued.” Buzzle.Com. 15 May 2004. ;http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/5-14-2004-54134.asp;
Udovitch, Mim. Inside Hollywood’s Hottest Cult – Part Three: Madonna’s Magical Mystical Tour. 20 June 2005.
Worrel, Denise. “Madonna, Why She’s Hot.” Time Magazine. 27 May 1985.
Woster, James. “Briefly News and Comment: Madonna’s almost-banned video.” Live Daily. 20 March 2001.
Zalewski, Ken. “Madonna’s Lyrics Archive.” Pulse Technology Inc. 26 January 2007 <http://www.madonnalyrics.org/>