Throughout Madonna’s four decade career, she’s pissed off a lot of people. Backlash against Madonna has brought otherwise divergent groups to consensus, from Pope John Paul II to Planned Parenthood. As an artist, she has given us so many iterations of herself that she’s been able to remain both relevant and agitating across generations.
Her incessant experimentation, whether with her albums or her Instagram, is often irreverent and offensive, but her refusal to apologize no matter how severe the public outrage set a precedent for female musicians. For years, Madonna insisted that her lyrics and sexual expressions were no more explicit than those of her male counterparts, and that most of the criticism she received was rooted in sexism. She never relented in exploring topics of sexuality and gender, and in doing so paved the way for other women artists pushing the boundaries beyond a safe marketing strategy.
Despite her groundbreaking victories in music, she is still getting trolled 30+ years later. But it’s okay if you want to body shame her or watch that video of her falling off stage at the BRIT Awards, because Madonna already knows she’s flawed. That’s her point. She was never America’s sweetheart, but she offered the music industry an icon that had been missing for years: a woman with an arc.
There is no better method to explore that arc than assessing her discography, a canon of her varied vocal stylings, cultural samplings, and even spiritual callings. Though her 13 studio albums are often distinct departures from each other in sound and identity, her lack of apology has been a consistent message throughout, reminding us that you have to express yourself if you want to respect yourself.
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