Where on earth do you begin with a pop icon like Madonna – a star who has repeatedly reinvented herself, and changed the shape of music in the process? It’s a task that the Queen of Pop herself has taken on: she’s set to direct a new biopic about her life, with screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body) also on board.
Her direct involvement may not be the most terrible idea: Madonna is an artist who maintains fierce and uncompromising control over her image, and plus, she’s not afraid of painting herself in a less flattering light. Her 1991 documentary Truth or Dare shows her making gagging gestures at Kevin Costner, and when playing London at the start of this year, Madonna showed that she’s more than capable of taking the piss out of herself.
Still, with four decades of boundary-pushing to draw from – rich with scandal and hilarity – which chapters of the Madonna story deserve a look-in? Here are a few suggestions.
The Dunkin’ Doughnuts days
Legend has it that, pre-fame, Madonna headed to the hazy lights of New York City with $35 in her pocket – after a taxi driver dropped her off in the centre of town, she nabbed a job at the Times Square branch of coffee and doughnut chain Dunkin’ Donuts to pay her way. Madonna’s first gig didn’t last long; she was reportedly fired for squirting jam all over a customer. After a stint working in the cloakrooms at swanky restaurant The Russian Tea Room, she soon traded it all in for drumming in The Breakfast Club, playing infamous punk dive CBGB, and fronting a scrappy punk band called Emmy and the Emmys. Soon, she began frequenting the city’s disco destination Studio 54 – and Madonna the solo artist was born.
The Blonde Ambition carry-on
Few artists have angered entire religions and nations with their provocative work – but touring her fourth studio album ‘Like A Prayer’, Madge was singled out by Conservative Pepsi drinkers, Canadian police and the Catholic pope. The latter declared that her concert was “one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity”. Presumably he wasn’t all too fond of the artist’s taste for crotch-grabbing and Jean Paul Gaultier-designed conical bras.
After originally agreeing to sponsor the Blonde Ambition tour, Pepsi pulled the deal after Madonna’s music video for ‘Like A Prayer’ sparked outrage with its subversive church imagery, and when the live run reached Toronto, police threatened to arrest the singer if she went ahead with a segment which involved simulating masturbation on a velvet bed. The controversy only pushed the boundary-pushing star further. “Do you think that I deserve to be arrested?” she asked, on stage. “I hope so”.
Her unlikely bond with Letterman
Madonna and David Letterman go way back; when Madonna injured herself in 2002 after falling from her horse, the US telly host had two sent to her home – and then the pair went for a trot around New York City to get her back out riding. It’s a bond that goes back to 1994 – when Madge gave one of the sweariest appearances of all time on the Late Show. “Why are you so obsessed with my sex life,” she challenges him within moments, before refusing to play ball, and requiring a full thirteen sweary bleeps. “You are a sick fuck! I don’t know why I get so much shit.” Shortly after this, she presented Letterman with a pair of her pants, and ordered him to smell them.
Where so many pop stars are media trained within an inch of their life, and won’t dare put a foot out of line, Madonna didn’t give a shit – calling out the media’s fascination with her, and taking the conversation in a surreal direction whenever she could. The perfect foe for Letterman.
As with most evenings that don’t feature Madonna, the majority of the 2015 BRIT Awards ceremony was a fairly lacklustre affair; with two predictable big prizes for Ed Sheeran, and little in the way of drama. But at the very end of the night, a demonic performance of ‘Living For Love’ (from Madge’s new-at-the-time album ‘Rebel Heart’) was derailed by a wardrobe malfunction of epic proportions. A dancer tried to deftly snatch a lace cloak away from Madonna, but instead they accidentally pulled her backwards down the stairs. The Queen of pop was back on her feet in moments with minor whiplash, and assured fans that she was fine. Her Armani cape, she posted, was just “tied too tight”.
“Madonna, as we know, is very difficult,” the designer retorted, as reported by The New York Post. “This cape had a hook and she wanted a tie, and she wasn’t able to open it with her hands. That’s all there is to it.”
“I absolutely loathe hydrangeas”
Over the years, Madge has been vocal about her incredibly specific likes and dislikes. On the positive side, she’s really into plucking her eyebrows, and said in a Reddit AMA that the best present she’s ever received is a “penis shaped bong”. On the flipside, she apparently hates the colour orange, and accidentally revealed (thanks to a microphone which was still switched on) that she “absolutely loathe[s] hydrangeas”. Remarkably ahead of her time in that regard Madonna also hates sitting in unventilated rooms. “I have a problem with the fact that there is no air in here and I’m going to die,” she announced dramatically during one now-notorious interview. “Give me a fan!” Eventually, she accepts a journalist’s offer, and uses their sheet of questions to cool down.
All the staged snogs
In case it wasn’t clear by now, Madonna thrives when she’s courting controversy. And at the 2003 VMA awards, an unexpressed Avril Lavigne, a near-hysterical Snoop Dogg, a nonplussed Beyonce and a slightly-too-into-it Justin Timberlake looked on as she kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera onstage during a performance of ‘Hollywood’. She didn’t care for the sensationalisation that followed. “I love to fuck with people,” Madonna told The Advocate during a sprawling and candid interview just over a decade previously. “Just as people have preconceived notions about gay men, they certainly do about gay women. So if I could be some sort of a detonator to that bomb, then I was willing to do that. It was really fun.” 12 years later, an on-stage snog at Coachella with the rapper Drake didn’t go quite so smoothly.
An extended family reunion
For some reason, Madonna has a truly boggling selection of distant relatives – if the biopic doesn’t work out, she’d be ideal for an appearance on biographical telly show This Is Your Life. In the past, genealogists have claimed that she’s a distant cousin of [deep breath] Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Ryan Gosling, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, Justin Trudeau, Hillary Clinton, and, most bizarrely, Camilla Parker Bowles. Admittedly it sounds like the guestlist to the most chaotic dinner party of all time – and presents a few ideas for when casting time comes around.
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