By Edvin Muhic.
I chose Madonna, full name Madonna Louise Ciccone, also known as the “Queen of Pop”. She is a singer, songwriter, musical artist, model, and (according to some) a businesswoman. I consider her an iconic artist, not only because of her vocal ability and music, but because of the cultural, social, and very controversial impact of her work, and how she achieved her fame. An iconic artist is someone who has influenced music in such a way that, they either create a genre, or affect their genre significantly. Madonna did not only influence the Pop music itself, she also changed the way artists made music videos. By pushing the limits for what is a “normal” video, she has made an image for herself.
Let’s understand what made Madonna iconic and famous. There are three main reasons for this:
Her pop music, music videos, and the influence it had.
The controversy around her image.
How she gained attention, through things like erotic photo albums.
As you might understand, these reasons are not isolated from one another. She makes use of controversional erotic, almost pornographic, photo albums before her album releases to gather the maximum amount of attention and sales, and thus boosting her fame.
An artist , is by definition “a person who practises or performs any of the creative arts, such as a sculptor, film-maker, actor, or dancer”. For me, that definition is correct. As long as you’re creating a piece using your own creativity, you’re an artist. This could be a film-maker, a dancer, an actor, or arguably, for example, an architect.
Let us start with one of the most controversial music videos she has made. In 1989, “Like a Prayer” was released, which was filled with extreme controversy. In the video we can see a burning cross, referring to the Ku Klux Klan, then Madonna kissing a black saint. This controversial video lead to it getting banned from several channels, and Pepsi-Cola even firing her as a spokeswoman. This is something that characterizes Madonna: she is not a product. Before Madonna, companies would direct artists in their image and the music they were to produce. But as she introduced her style and her music, she directed every single part of her career on her own, permanently changing the way companies treat their artists. For me, this is an iconic artist, someone who pushes boundaries, creates different norms, influences music, and changes how artists are treated.
It is hard to mention a female pop star before Madonna - why? This is because there were no female pop stars like Madonna before she came. Yes, there were singers, but there were no stars like Madonna. Madonna projected herself as in charge. She was in control. She was independent and powerful. And she let the whole world know this. Madonna embraced and liberated femalse sexuality and erotica, through coffee-table books. This was not something new, however, Madonna did it different. Previously, when female pop stars would release these photo albums, they would be portrayed as innocent, beautiful objects. Madonna did the exact opposite. She was portrayed as dominant. She was not an object in the pictures; she was a subject. This is one of the ways she liberated female sexuality and fought against sexism. The picture to the left is from “Sex” (1992).
This is also a part of her legacy. If you think about modern pop artists today, for example Rihanna or Shakira, they’re all following the path Madonna made available for them. If you compare music videos from late Madonna and Shakira, they have several similarities. The actress in focus, often some degree of nudity, and dancing. This is was new when Madonna did it. She was the first to do music videos this way, and Shakira followed. Not only Shakira, several female pop stars as well. Rihanna, Beyoncé, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears. Madonna made it possible for them to create their music and express themselves without controversy. Rihanna herself has said that one of her biggest inspirations are Madonna, and Beyoncé has been dubbed “the Black Madonna”.
The biggest compliment I can give Madonna is how she always has a thought behind her works. Her songs and her music videos always tell a story or have a message. For example, Papa Don’t Preach (1986). This song is about teenage pregnancy, a daughter who needs help from her dad. Madonna said: “It just fit right in with my own personal zeitgeist of standing up to male authorities, whether it's the Pope or the Catholic Church or my father and his conservative, patriarchal ways.”, in an interview with Rolling Stone (2009). Another example, is Like a Prayer (1989), which is about liberating female sexuality. Madonna isn’t just music: she has a message in everything. For me, that is amazing.
The biggest critique I can give Madonna is that she does not have a great vocal ability. Listening to the old songs by Madonna, or the old live performances by her, you can clearly hear the difference between her voice then, and now. Her voice is not bad, however, it does not deserve the praise she gets. There have been snarky comments from different people involved in the music industry, for example, when Billy Joel used a spray for his vocal chords, he “saw Madonna use it, but it did not help her much.'' However, today, her vocal ability is great. Maybe it is because of training, maybe it is because of technology, who knows.