Perhaps as much as anyone and certainly as much as any other female solo artist of the time, Madonna ruled the '80s completely - in her case with a lacy, gloved fist. From her bewitching image to her astounding achievements on the pop music charts, Madonna became a larger-than-life figure especially well-suited for the brand new MTV video age. Here's a chronological look at some of her most memorable contributions to not only the music world but also the deeper strands of pop culture.
1. Memorable Performance at First MTV Music Video Awards
Though she had already become a fledgling star on the strength of her enthusiastic dance-pop and distinctive sense of style, Madonna launched into a plane of inarguable superstardom following her memorable performance of "Like a Virgin" at the first annual MTV Music Video Awards in 1983. Cavorting on stage and sometimes doing nothing short of full-fledged writhing in a lacy, wedding-dress-resembling outfit, Madonna perfected for the first time her trademark combination of sex kitten innocence and button-pushing attention grabbing. The appearance was iconic and unforgettable, certainly helping to make the singer's album release of the same title one of pop music's all-time best-selling records.
2. Madonna the Movie Star
Madonna had little difficulty establishing a comfort zone in front of the camera, and after her unbelievable 1984 run to the top of the entertainment world perhaps it was inevitable that she'd take the next step in becoming (or at least attempting to become) a bona fide movie star. Her first major film role was in 1985's Desperately Seeking Susan, a film that enjoyed a mixed critical reception but co-starred legitimate box office draws in Rosanna Arquette and Aidan Quinn. In later years, Madonna's film career particularly polarized audiences, ranging from panned turns in Dick Tracy and Body of Evidence to an award-winning starring role in 1996's Evita. We won't even go into the post-millennial disaster known as Swept Away.
3. Marriage to Actor Sean PennHollywood connections continued to play an active role in Madonna's public life with her whirlwind courtship and 1985 marriage to then-up-and-coming actor Sean Penn. The relationship was stormy from the beginning and would ultimately end in divorce at the arrival of 1989, but it also happened to coincide with what must have been a chaotic few years of stratospheric success that made romance difficult for the pair. Penn's well-documented fits of disdain and even violence toward a tremendously interested, rabid press added to the notoriety of the marriage, but the couple also enjoyed several film collaborations during the late '80s. Still, Hollywood was probably pleased that Penn would not be Madonna's last high-profile celebrity romance.
4. Madonna Handles the Storm When Nude Photos Are PublishedIntentional or not, Madonna's courtship with the limelight and her flirtation with controversy had become more than typical by 1985, when nude photos of the pop star surfaced in both Playboy and Penthouse. The singer took the incident in considerable stride, admitting that she had struggled financially upon her initial arrival in New York City and remaining consistently unapologetic about agreeing to the photo shoots in 1978. Having already displayed a modern, empowered attitude regarding female sexuality in her life and work, Madonna would later make this incident look rather tame by comparison, especially upon release of her much-ballyhooed Sex book in 1993.
5. Vatican Versus Madonna, Part 1
She never ripped up a picture of the Pope on stage or anything, but Madonna certainly was one of the first pop stars to stage memorable battles with the Vatican over entertainment issues. In 1987, following the release of her latest smash studio album, True Blue, and film project/soundtrack, Who's That Girl?, Pope John Paul II found it necessary for the first time during Madonna's '80s reign to warn Catholic fans against attending Ms. Ciccone's concerts on her world tour. It didn't really work, of course, and in a humorous twist Madonna would give the pope bigger reasons to gasp at her artistic activity in just a couple of years, without losing a shred of her popularity in the process.
6. Pepsi "Like a Prayer" Controversy
After inking an advertising deal with Pepsi - following in the footsteps of fellow pop megastar Michael Jackson - Madonna made plenty of waves again once her tie-in album Like a Prayer and its title track and music video saw their release in 1989. And it's not because the director accidentally captured a can of Coke on camera. Featuring images of burning crosses and various other Catholic symbols in the midst of a tale of apparent interracial romance, the clip was a powder keg for controversy, and Pepsi responded by canceling its contract with Madonna, bowing to pressure over the similarities between the advertisement and video. The Vatican again renounced Madonna and her work, of course, which probably just sparked sales further.
7. Madonna, '80s Queen of the Top 10
Having completed a chronological trip through some of the most memorable events of Madonna's '80s career, let's take a look now at one of her notable comprehensive achievements. During her decade of emergence, Madonna released a total of 26 singles, out of which only eight failed to reach the Billboard Top 10. That's a tremendously impressive success percentage and begins to paint a portrait of just how popular and savvy Madonna was as a pop musician. Perhaps it's just as amazing how long she proved able to sustain her relevance as a singles artist, all the way through the '90s and into the new millennium. But for an artist in a non-album-centered genre, Madonna demonstrated an unrivalled consistency in songwriting and song selection.