Madonna at 60: The Queen of Pop's cultural impact, from feminism to female sexuality

Here’s why we need to rediscover our love for Madonna [Photo: Getty]
Here’s why we need to rediscover our love for Madonna [Photo: Getty]

When I was a kid growing up in the 80s, I wanted to be Madonna.

With her punky hair, colour-pop eye shadow, belly-flashing outfits and lacy, fingerless gloves, I thought the singer was all-kinds-of cool.

Fast forward a few decades and when my editor asked me earlier this week if I liked the material girl my response was the decidedly luke warm ‘not particularly’.

I don’t think I’m alone in my emotional u-turn towards the pop princess, so what’s changed?

The stats offer no clue. Having sold 300 million albums, the Guinness World Records recognises Madonna as one of the best-selling female recording artists of all time.

And her touring record is no less impressive as she still holds the title as the highest-grossing solo touring artist in Billboard Boxscore history. Eat your heart out Beyonce, Taylor and Co.

Back in the 80s there’s no doubt that when Madonna first burst onto the scene as a rebellious young popstar, the world stood up and took note.

Her breakthrough 1983 single, ‘Holiday’, saw teenagers everywhere coveting her oversized headscarf, armfuls of bangles and unashamed sexiness. (“I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art,” she once boasted.)

From that moment on she became a total style influencer, a sort of fashion chameleon who wasn’t afraid to switch up her look from material girl to Marilyn-esque Hollywood glam, Vogue vixen to bustier babe.

Fashion aside, it was her gritty determination to do things her way that also drew the fans. That IDGAF (to quote Dua Lipa) attitude which saw her continually stir up controversy, making her the rebellious icon for a generation looking for the perfect figure-head. She was very much it.

Thirty or so years on and the original Queen of Pop’s crown is not quite so shiny. These days the headlines are more likely to attack the singer, than appreciate her achievements.

From age-shaming, to the spiky custody battle with her son Rocco, her relationships with younger men, and that one time she tripped over her outfit on stage, the mockery of Madonna in 2018 is oh-so-real.

But caught up, as we often are in all the negativity, it’s easy to forget quite how influential our Madge has been during her near four decades in the spotlight.

So now, as she turns the milestone age of 60 (how time flies?), what better time to explore the reasons why we should all (me included) fall back in love with Madonna.

Madonna gave a rousing speech at the Billboard Women in Music event in 2016 [Photo: Getty]
Madonna gave a rousing speech at the Billboard Women in Music event in 2016 [Photo: Getty]

She’s a champion of women

In 2016, accepting her Billboard Woman of the Year award, Madonna gave an incredibly personal speech, which delivered spectacularly on both sexism and feminism fronts.

“I stand before you as a doormat, Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer,” she started. “Thank you 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.”

The singer went on to open up about the struggles she faced early on in her career, and how she’d learnt that women in music were not extended the same creative freedom as their male counterparts.

“If you’re a girl, you have to play the game,” she said before going on to describe the gender ‘rules’ she’d observed. “You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness,” she continued.

She also hit back at claims from a female writer that her sexy image goes against feminism. “Oh, if you’re a feminist, you don’t have sexuality, you deny it,” she retorted. “So I said, ‘F*ck it. I’m a different kind of feminist. I’m a bad feminist.'”

In the same empowering speech, Madonna concluded that ultimately the key to winning the sexism battle is women supporting other women.

“As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and enlightened by.”

Preach Madonna, preach.

The age-shamers were out in force when Madonna dared to don a leotard aged 47 [Photo: Getty]
The age-shamers were out in force when Madonna dared to don a leotard aged 47 [Photo: Getty]

She’s showing that age is no barrier to success

Too revealing, too old-fashioned, too wrinkly, too irresponsible – despite the fact that she isn’t doing anything different to the 80s Madonna who was praised for her actions, the insults are constantly being slung in the direction of modern-day Madge.

The reason? Her age.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when she drew the gaze of the age police, but it likely started during her “Confessions on a Dance Floor” era, when she dared do don a leotard at, shock horror, 47.

Thankfully Madonna isn’t about to let a little age-shaming get her down.

Regularly hitting back at those who believe women of a certain age should just, well, go away, it’s one particular rant that really put the trolls back in their box.

Speaking to Harper’s Bazaar, she said: “[My ex-husband] used to say to me, ‘But why do you have to do this again? Why do you have to make another record? Why do you have to go on tour? Why do you have to make a movie?’

“And I’m like, ‘Why do I have to explain myself?’ I feel like that’s a very sexist thing to say.”

“Does somebody ask Steven Spielberg why he’s still making movies? Hasn’t he had enough success? Hasn’t he made enough money? Hasn’t he made a name for himself? “ she continued.

“Did somebody go to Pablo Picasso and say, ‘Okay, you’re 80 years old. Haven’t you painted enough paintings?’ No.

“I’m so tired of that question. I just don’t understand it. I’ll stop doing everything that I do when I don’t want to do it anymore.

“I’ll stop when I run out of ideas. I’ll stop when you f**king kill me. How about that?”


She’s a total badass

“I’m tough, I’m ambitious and I know exactly what I want,” Madonna once said. “If that makes me a b****, OK.”

See we told you badass.

Madonna’s iconic cone corset during her ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour [Photo: Getty]
Madonna’s iconic cone corset during her ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour [Photo: Getty]

She made it ok for women to express their sexuality

From her debut performance of ‘Like a Virgin’ at the MTV Music Awards in 1984, which saw her stalking the stage in a low-cut wedding dress, to the sadomasochism and BDSM on her fifth album ‘Erotica’, Madonna has never been afraid to express her sexuality.

What’s more she wants to encourage women to do the same.

“Do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world,” she warned ironically in her Billboard speech. “Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men.”

One moment that sums up her metaphoric encouragement of women to ‘Express Yourself’ came in the video for the song with the same name. Dressing in a man’s suit and completely bossing an army of male subordinates, the images and lyrics became a sort of anthem of female empowerment.

But perhaps Madonna’s bravest expression of sexuality came during her “Blond Ambition” tour, which saw her parading the stage in a Jean Paul Gaultier corset revealing that iconic cone bra.

Oh and lets not forget that infamous kiss with Britney Spears?

Madonna and Britney’s infamous kiss at the MTV VMA awards in 2003 [Photo: Getty]
Madonna and Britney’s infamous kiss at the MTV VMA awards in 2003 [Photo: Getty]

She went out and got what she wanted

“I went to New York. I had a dream. I wanted to be a big star. I didn’t know anybody. I wanted to dance. I wanted to sing. I wanted to do all those things. I wanted to make people happy. I wanted to be famous. I wanted everybody to love me. I wanted to be a star. I worked really hard and my dream came true,” the singer once said.

If there’s a more motivational life quote we’d love to hear it.

Madonna: still going strong at 60 [Photo: Getty]
Madonna: still going strong at 60 [Photo: Getty]

She’s a survivor

“I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around,” she concluded her famous acceptance speech at the Billboard Women in Music event in 2016.

“Michael is gone. Tupac is gone. Prince is gone. Whitney is gone. Amy Winehouse is gone. David Bowie is gone. But I’m still standing. I’m one of the lucky ones and every day I count my blessings.”

And she’s not about to hang up her mic any time soon, having recently revealed that she’s working on a 14th studio album.

She’s also currently preparing to direct the film Taking Flight, which is based on the life of ballet dancer Michaela DePrince.

And she’s still rocking those lace gloves.

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