There’s no denying Madonna’s seismic impact on music. For nearly four decades now, she’s been a trendsetter, shape-shifter, and innovator—a provocateur of pop and fashion and culture. But this is a double-edged sword. Because Madonna is so bold when it comes to her music, that means it’s never safe. Translation? She’s produced some brilliant songs…and some misfires. Oftentimes, these are intermixed on the same album, which makes listening to her work a very polarizing experience. Diehard fans get this. They know that one of her best tracks can sometimes be followed by something they feel is unlistenable. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Madonna’s refusal to play by music’s rules is one of the things I love most about her. The fact that she continues to push boundaries—even up to her most recent album, 2019’s Madame X—is awe-inspiring. Because the thing is, when Madonna does make a hit, it’s not just a hit: It’s transcendent.
10. “Like a Virgin” (1984)
Madonna could have easily been a one-album wonder after her debut, but she followed it up with something the world couldn’t ignore: a splashy, synth-y jam called “Like a Virgin,” complete with a music video in which she wears a wedding dress. Pair this with a headline-making VMAs performance—where she rolled around the floor, also in a wedding dress—and you have one of pop’s most potent moments. Ever.
9. “Music” (2000)
Following 1998’s introspective, haunting Ray of Light album, Madonna went bright, colorful, and fun. “Music” is one of her most widely-celebrated tracks, with a sledgehammer chorus and fresh electronic production that could easily work on a 2020 Charli XCX record.
8. “Holiday” (1983)