Best & Worst of Madonna
Madonna, at 50, by the numbers.
By Sean Piccoli | POP MUSIC WRITER
November 21, 2008
This year Madonna turned 50 and marked 25 years since the release of her first CD. The numbers divide so neatly, you might wonder if the symmetry were planned.
The quarter-century Madonna has spent as a public figure hasn’t always proceeded according to design. But few people have navigated the course this far. Pop, by definition, is supposed to be a momentary burst, a flash in the pan. Not for Madonna, who’s played it like some unbeatable video-gamer, reaching levels nobody else has seen.
The story so far consists of setbacks as well as achievements. One moment, Madonna’s personal and professional lives look enviably in sync; the next, they seem to be caught in each other’s spokes. And she’s still inviting skeptical questions — some relevant, some frivolous. Will she ever make another great album? Why is she dumping a director for a jock?
But we are still asking. As Madonna prepares to perform Wednesday at Dolphin Stadium, we look back at a life that’s been lived in a league of its own.
1.Like a Prayer (1989) Pop instinct and topical seriousness align beautifully on songs about authority (Oh Father), love (Cherish) and empowerment (Express Yourself).
2. True Blue (1986) This veritable greatest-hits album offers up one winning song after another — Papa Don’t Preach and Open Your Heart just for starters.
3. Ray of Light (1998) Wherein she merges rock, pop, electronica and pure dance to create an audio-geek masterpiece.
4. Like a Virgin (1984) No slump befell the follow-up to Madonna’s self-titled debut, not with tracks such as Material Girl and Into the Groove to grow her appeal.
5. Madonna (1983). The debut that included Lucky Star and Holiday is quintessentially ’80s but still fresh and vivacious.
1. American Life (2003) Promoted at the time as Madonna’s most intensely personal record, this techno-acoustic platter of ‘tude is merely self-important.
2. Hard Candy (2008) Madonna’s latest CD substitutes beats and tricks for songs.
3. Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005) ’00s Madonna revisits ’80s Madonna with mixed results.
4. I’m Breathless (1990) And confused. Madonna sang orchestral oldies, per her role as the vamp in Dick Tracy, then abandoned the character by adding a (brilliant) dance track, Vogue.
5. Erotica (1992) The heavy-breathing companion to the picture book Sex almost gets by on handsome production values. Almost.
1. Vogue (1990) Her shimmering ode to gay style is really a call to unity: It pulls everyone onto the dance floor with its irresistible energy.
2. Live to Tell (1986) Madonna delivers her most delicate vocal over a slow, soft-rock minuet.
3. Borderline (1984) Madonna’s first Top 10 single charms with a lovers’ mix of cheer and despair.
4. Don’t Tell Me (2000) Madonna puts the lyrics of Joe Henry’s Stop to clever guitar edits and a plaintive melody of her own.
5. Substitute for Love (1998) Think Stairway to Heaven — an arena ballad full of heady, stargazing sensation.
1. Me Against the Music (duet with Britney Spears, 2003) Kissing Britney wasn’t the mistake.
2. Justify My Love (1990) This Lenny Kravitz-penned steamer announced Madonna’s early-’90s kinky phase. See also: Worst albums and Worst moves
3. American Life (2003) Madonna, rapping, rhymes “Pilates” with “hotties.”
4. Spanish Lesson (2008) The worst-ever Anglo pronunciation of “señorita” is the least of its flaws.
5. Causing a Commotion (1987) A lame movie, “Who’s That Girl”, got a lame rewrite of ‘Into the Groove‘.
1. Moving to New York.
2. Adopting “Madonna,” period, as her brand — blasphemous yet catchy.
3. Picking great producers, from the guys in Chic (Material Girl) to Shep Pettibone (Vogue) to William Orbit (Ray of Light).
4. Starring in Evita, the cine-musical that raised her filmography from “oy” to “eh.”
5. Not making a Christmas album.
1. The Clinton-era triple whammy of Sex, the book (1992); Erotica, the album (1992); and Body of Evidence, the movie (1993).
2. Shanghai Surprise (1986), co-starring future ex Sean Penn.
3. Swept Away (2002), directed by future ex Guy Ritchie.
4. Acquiring a thespian speaking accent.
5. Asking to be called “Esther.”
Simultaneously best and worst attributes:
1. A willingness to try almost anything.
2. A tendency to borrow ideas.
3. A high threshold of embarrassment.
Sean Piccoli can be reached at spiccoli@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4832. He blogs at SunSentinel.com/thebeat.