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A life in pictures: Madonna

We take a look back at Madonna's life, career and most defining moments through her most iconic pictures...
On top of selling over 300 million records worldwide and being one of the most prolific and iconic singer, songwriters and actresses today, Madonna has also continued to push boundaries and challenge conventions along the way, championing everything from gay rights to feminism and gender equality with aplomb. Here we take a look at her impressive life so far:

The Early Years

The undisputed queen of pop, Madonna Louise Ciccone, was born August 16th 1958, in Michigan—but her early years were a far cry from the stardom she would go onto achieve. Brought up in the suburbs of Detroit, Madonna learnt to grow up quickly, with her mother passing away at the tender age of five.

Baby steps

Her teenage years found Madonna training as a dancer, having received a dance scholarship from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. She specialised in ballet, before dropping out of college in 1978 and moving to New York.

New York, New York

A Dunkin’ Donuts waitress by day, backing dancer by night, Madonna immersed herself in the New York underground scene, eventually winding up as a member of various no-wave bands. Together with her then lover, musician Dan Gillroy, they formed the band Breakfast Club, where Madonna played drums, guitar and also sang. She then went on to form the band Emmy, before eventually going solo.

Lucky star

Iconic 80s via NME
In 1982, at just 24, Madonna signed her first record deal with Sire records and released her eponymous debut album the following year. It spawned the singles Lucky Star, Borderline and Holiday—her first international hit—and fully cemented her as a true icon of the 80s: lace tops, fishnets, crucifixes and all.

Into the groove

In 1984, Madonna put on a much talked about performance at the first MTV awards [her locking of lips with Britney Spears at the MTV’s Awards in 2003 also became legendary] - appearing dressed as bride atop a 17ft wedding cake, before proceeding to writhe around the stage to Like a Virgin. Two months later she released of titular album Like a Virgin, which also included hit singles Material Girl and Into The Groove. The following year, she embarked on her first North American tour—The Virgin Tour—supported by the Beastie Boys. It set the precedent for what was to come: she’s now the highest grossing solo tourist artist of all time.

Strike a pose

To date, Madonna has appeared in over twenty films—and is currently directing one about the life of a Dutch ballerina—but it was comedy-drama Desperately Seeking Susan, in 1985, which helped to catapult Madonna further into the stratospheres of fame.

Material girl

While Madonna has cited many influences including Debbie Harrie, Chrissie Hynde and David Bowie, it was her 1985 release of single Material Girl which provided an audio and visual ode to actress Marilyn Monroe. In fact, the video of Material Girl was a recreation of and homage to Marilyn’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend from her film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Blonde ambition

Following her pioneering performances of the 1980s, Madonna’s live shows, such as her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, continued to amaze, impress and shock well into the nineties. For many, her Jean Paul Gaultier designed breast cones have now become synonymous with this decade.

Grammy success

Madonna may have seven Grammy awards to her name, but it was the release of her seventh studio album, 1999’s Ray of Light, produced by William Orbit, which picked up three, and garnered much critical acclaim. It’s deemed to be her most forward-thinking and experimental album, combining a variety of genres including techno and electronica, and is what Madonna deems as being the most “emotional” and ultimately, personal release.

Express yourself

Not one to shy away from using awards ceremonies as a soapbox, Madonna gave a rousing and inspiring speech after accepting her Billboard’s Woman of the Year award in 2016. She thanked her fans for “acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse” and also went on to credit her critics in particular, who haven’t refrained from making themselves heard during her time in the spotlight, for making her who she is today: “But to the doubters and naysayers and everyone who gave me hell and said I could not, that I would not or I must not — your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am today. It made me the woman that I am today. So thank you.”

Madonna at 60

No matter her power, influence or longevity—indeed, many of her peers including Michael Jackson, Tupac, Prince, Whitney and David Bowie are no longer here today—Madonna continues to exert an enviable amount of self-awareness that can only come from someone who still has their feet firmly on the ground. On top of a sense of humour, it’s clear the sixty-year-old is also blessed with a keen sense of humility, as she once famously summarised: “I laugh at myself. I don’t take myself completely seriously. I think that’s another quality that people have to hold on to… you have to laugh, especially at yourself.” Wise words indeed from the Madgesty herself.

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