As Her Madge-esty turns 59 and gay Atlanta sets to celebrate, we take a loving look at the legend who won our hearts three decades ago and just won’t let go.
By Mike Fleming
True gay icons are hard to come by. Among a precious few equals and a ton of pretenders, Madonna still stands out. As the one-and-only celebrates another rotation around the sun on Aug. 16, we give you the 10 lessons from her that we couldn’t live without.
- Reinvent Yourself
With a world ready – even if they didn’t know it – for shaking up, Madonna brought the heat in 1983 with her eponymous debut. Music moguls, radio stations and middle America didn’t know what to do with her, and the MTV Generation loved that.
No one had seen anything like her, but what really makes Madonna Madonna is how she took that reaction, time and again, and successfully changed things up just as we got used to what she was doing.
- Never, Ever Apologize
From the moment she told Dick Clark that her life goal was to rule the world, to the time she told 20/20 to look up “reductive” in the dictionary, Madonna has served us a heaping helping of brash intelligence, focused intent, marketing genius, and a middle finger to tradition and “acceptable” female behavior.
- Act Boldly
Madonna moved from Detroit to New York in 1977 with $35 in her pocket, a dream, and no place to sleep. She still calls it the “bravest thing I’ve ever done.” One of the richest women in entertainment taught us about paying dues and working hard through scores of menial jobs like Dunkin Donuts. She even posed nude to pay the bills.
- Embrace Your Sexuality
Long before her book of the same name, Sex was a noun that no article about Madonna ever went without. Trendsetting clothes like underwear as outerwear, performances from flirty to aggressive to brazen, video themes from peep shows to S&M, and songs from Like a Virgin to Justify My Love and beyond, she redefined sex symbol in ways few can even approach and even fewer have matched.
- Love Wildly
Besides doing you, Madonna wants you to do the boys you like – all of them. Answering only to herself, Madonna has had men from boy toys to husbands, from relationships to flings, and from famous to just plain hot. She’s done them all and cast them aside when she was done.
- Work a Look
Which Madonna is your favorite? More than one? Thought so. The blonde coquette of the 80s became a bobbed brunette, a Marilyn-esque Glamour Goddess, Geisha, 70s Disco Queen, Retro Princess, and So. Many. More. Whatever you’re wearing, have fun, look fierce, and work it like a boss.
- Develop Outside Interests
Not content to live as just another pop star churning out content, Madonna broadened her horizons with forays into Kabbalah, Broadway musicals, children’s charities, line-dancing, British history, and movie-making, to name just a few.
- Court Controversy
From her early days wearing crucifixes and rosaries as jewelry, rolling around MTV’s live stage in a wedding dress singing “Like A Virgin,” and playing a pregnant teen in her “Papa Don’t Preach” video, Madonna knew that a little, maybe even a lot, of controversy goes a long way. Just last year, she superimposed a swastika over the image of a far-right French leader during a concert in Paris.
Rather than shy away from scandal, she embraces it, rubs our faces in it, and justifies every move as her right to artistic expression, freedom of speech, and independent thinking. She may not have invented the phrase “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but she turned it into an art form.
- Put on a Show
As her sold-out tours in the world’s biggest venues attest, there’s nothing quite like a Madonna concert. Among thousands of rabid gay fans, we’ve enjoyed dance numbers that trek every corner of the stage, as well as intimate spotlights on just a girl and her guitar. Madonna knows how to please a crowd.
The other lesson that gay guys love from her performances? Always leave them wanting just a little bit more.
- Have a Blast
If you aren’t having fun, why are you working so hard to have a life? With her life as the example, Madonna asks that question then answers it time and again.