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Her Six personas that changed pop

WHEN IT COMES TO HER VISUAL AND CULTURAL IDENTITY, MADONNA HAS REMAINED ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE ZEITGEIST THROUGHOUT HER CAREER, TAKING LOOKS FROM THE UNDERGROUND TO THE MAINSTREAM, CAUSING CONTROVERSY WITH TABOO IMAGERY, AND SETTING TRENDS IN HIGH FASHION, ON STAGE, ON SCREEN AND ON THE HIGH STREET. HERE, CLASSIC POP GAZES AT THE MANY PIONEERING MADONNAS WE’VE WITNESSED OVER THE YEARS…

1 the ground- breaker

Although Like A Virgin’s title track and Material Girl were the two songs from Madonna’s 1984 album that became most synonymous with her, it is a lesser-known cut from that record which provided the most accurate insight into the workings of pop’s brightest hope. On Over And Over, Madonna sang: “I’m not afraid to say I hear a different beat/ And I’ll go out in the streets/ And I will shout it again from the highest mountain,” something she’s done time and again as she’s headed down “the road less travelled” for over 35 years.

With a single-minded vision and extraordinary trust in her instincts, Madonna has been happy to be an innovator in her field, unafraid to experiment with different styles and genres and tackle controversial subject matters, blazing a trail for her peers.

Taking cues from Prince and Bowie, she reinvigorated the world of stadium rock by incorporating fashion, dance, theatre and art with the seminal Blond Ambition World Tour in 1990. A year later, she took fans behind the scenes of that jaunt with her In Bed With Madonna/Truth Or Dare documentary, still one of the most intimate, frank and bold depictions of the life of a celebrity ever made. In between these career milestones, she turned the ban of her Justify My Love promo into a major money-spinner by releasing it as a video single and redefined the stagnant award-show performance with her theatrical interpretation of Vogue at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards.

That track itself is the perfect example of Madonna’s knack for taking an underground subculture and repackaging it for the masses – in this case, the flamboyant dance style of Harlem drag clubs. “People seem to forget the good that came from this great, pop, gay icon taking voguing and putting it onto the world stage,” says former backup dancer Jose ‘Xtravaganza’ Gutierez. “She came to the club and took two of the community’s own – myself and Luis [Camacho], and took us with her. That was her way of honouring it, and giving it credit, and keeping it what voguing traditionally is.”

Synchronising schedules with everyone last time round became impossible, with Kanye and Diplo jetting off around the world to fulfil other commitments, so studio time was sporadic and rough cuts of songs were sent back and forth until they were completed. Although the final album included some of Madonna’s strongest material in years, she found that creative process “frustrating and chaotic” and insisted on something simpler next time round.

“I’m old-school,” Madonna said. “I like to choose a producer to work with – or two – and then I write and produce everything with those people. The whole thing is just done within this little bubble. With something as personal as songwriting, you have to make yourself open to people and vulnerable to people, especially if you’re writing about something personal or a sensitive subject, something close to your heart.”

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About Classic Pop

Issue 48 is on sale now! In our latest issue we look ahead to the most hotly-anticipated album of 2019 – it’s the return of Madonna. We also analyse her six personas that changed the face of pop and wax lyrical about her classic album Like A Prayer. We’ve got outrageous must-read interviews with Paul Heaton plus Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and Ultravox fans will love our chat with the legendary Midge Ure. Our panel of experts look back over the year to count down their pick of the finest albums, reissues, compilations and books of 2018 and elsewhere we catch up with The Fizz to hear about their rollercoaster year as well as tracing the make-or-break record that saved The Jam’s career. We review new releases by Trevor Horn, Joe Jackson and Fun Lovin' Criminals while in our packed reissues section we look at Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Brian Eno and much more. We also check out gigs by Heaven 17, Rick Astley and Blancmange.