One of the LGBTQ community’s fiercest and most outspoken allies, Madonna has been fighting for acceptance and pushing the gay agenda with her art since the release of her first single “Everybody” in 1982.
She was introduced to the LGBTQ community from a very young age: At 16, Her Madgesty met her ballet instructor Christopher Flynn, an openly gay man who taught her about art, music, dance and the LGBTQ universe. He became her mentor and their relationship changed her life: She became a longtime AIDS activist, she fights for equality, and she speaks out against homophobia.
You can pick just about any track from Madonna’s 13 studio albums and get into the Pride groove, but we took it upon ourselves to single out our 10 favorite picks.
Initially planned to be a throwaway song on the B-side of “Keep It Together,” “Vogue” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three weeks in 1990. Inspired by the underground black and latinx queer subculture of the ball communities in Harlem, Madonna helped introduce vogueing to the world. The iconic black-and-white video directed by David Fincher is a lavish celebration of old Hollywood glamour, beautiful gay men and an awareness of the AIDS crisis.
Some of Madonna’s best music is about mindless fun; house beats, disco groove and dance routines are usually involved. So when you see Madonna walking into a dance studio in high heels, wearing a pink leotard, sporting perfectly Farrah-Fawcetted hair and carrying a boombox, you know you are in for a treat. Then you hear a sample of ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!,” and Madonna starts dancing like a maniac, doing John Travolta moves in front of a giant mirror. Now you know you’ve hit the gay jackpot. That was the concept for the video for “Hung Up,” the lead single from her 10th studio album, Confessions on a Dance Floor. The song also made Madonna tie with Elvis Presley with 36 top 10 Hot 100 hits before breaking the record three years later with “4 Minutes.”
Two songs by Madonna are named “Forbidden Love”: One appears in her 1994 Bedtime Stories album; the other was released 11 years later on Confessions on a Dance Floor. In both of them, she reflects on what it feels like for someone who’s not allowed to love whomever he, she or they want. The first version starts with Babyface whispering a free-for-all love mantra: “Love without guilt, love without doubt, rejection, love without doubt.” In the sensual, minimal midtempo R&B song, Madonna sings about the right to love. “I don’t, don’t care if it’s not right to have your arms around me. I want to feel what it’s like to take all of you inside of me.”
“Justify My Love”
The video for Madonna’s ninth No. 1 hit was so controversial that even MTV banned it from rotation. Directed by fashion photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, it shows Madonna walking through a hotel with fetishes on display as she passes by the open doors.
“Open Your Heart”
In 2014, Madonna joined Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to sing “Same Love” in a celebration of same-sex unions at the Grammy Awards. During the performance, Queen Latifah married 33 couples, gay and straight, and Madonna closed the very emotional ceremony singing her 1986 hit “Open Your Heart.”
“In This Life”
In 1992, Madonna released her fifth studio album Erotica simultaneously with her Sex coffee-table book. While Her Madgesty was clearly living out her fantasies in the public eye, rejecting conventions and breaking taboos, that time — shortly after the peak of the AIDS epidemic — was also one of introspection. Madonna had recently lost two very close friends to the disease, and some songs took on a more introspective tone. “In This Life” was dedicated to her gay friend and mentor Christopher Flynn.
’80s pop music perfection! The second single from Like a Virgin became one of Madge’s most iconic songs, and the phrase “material girl” became her nickname forever — which is something she regrets to this day. In the video, she pays homage to Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — which is something Madonna also expresses regret for doing.
The video for “Music,” the title track from her eighth studio album, shows a girls’ night out with Madonna, longtime friend Debi Mazar and her backup singer and friend Niki Haris. They get into a limo, fill up their champagne glasses and then head to the club. The song is about partying and having fun, but it also talks about the power that music has to unite people. “Music makes the people come together/ Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel.” It can overcome differences of race, class, gender and sexuality.
That’s how Madonna does self-help: When people do you wrong, find your inner-strength and let them have it! “It might sound like I’m an unapologetic bitch/ But sometimes you know I gotta call it like it is/ You know you never really knew how much your selfish bullshit cost me/ Well, fuck you.” She explained the rage to Billboard in 2015: “If I say to you, ‘I’m a badass bitch,’ I’m owning myself, I’m saying, ‘I’m strong, I’m tough, and don’t mess with me.’ If I say, ‘Why are you being such a bitch to me?,’ well, that means something else.”
“Keep It Together”
The final single from Like a Prayer is a song about our chosen families. At the end of Truth or Dare, the feature documentary that chronicled Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour, Madonna appears kissing her dancers good night. In a very touching moment, you can see the tenderness among them: She’s like a mother putting her kids to sleep. “It’s the show’s ultimate statement about the family, because we’re absolutely brutalizing with each other, while there’s also no mistaking that we love each other deeply,” she told The New York Times in a 1991 interview.
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