Few artists besides Madonna have had a career filled with so many amazing moments, it's hard to pick just 50. But as we've counted down her 50 most memorable career highs and lows in anticipation of her 50th birthday on August 16, it was always obvious what the top five would be.
Unsurprisingly, they are some of her sexiest moments, too. That's sort of been her schtick from day one, after all.
Anyway, since this countdown has been going on for a week now, we're going to break format a little bit, and prolong the suspense just a little bit more, by listing Madonna's biggest five milestones in ascending order of awesomeness, 5 through 1.
Here's wishing a happy birthday to the hottest half-centenarian ever, and here's to another 50 years of Madonna's continued world domination. Something tells us we'll be running a "Top 100 Madonna Moments" blog in the year 2058, because this fearless female has a lot more living to do.
5) Madonna's Pepsi Challenge
Nowadays every artist has some sort of corporate sponsorship deal or song placed in one commercial or another--but when Madonna signed a $5 million endorsement deal with Pepsi in 1989, it was a very big deal. Madonna debuted the title track from her fourth album Like A Prayer in a Pepsi "Make A Wish" commercial, but once she shot an actual video for the song, she didn't remain on Pepsi's pep squad for long. Apparently the suits at the soft-drink company were none too thrilled with the "Like A Prayer" music video's Vatican-condemned imagery, which included stigmata, burning crosses, and interracial romance with what appeared to be a black Jesus statue come to life. Pepsi quickly yanked their Madonna ad after it aired only once (during The Cosby Show), and cancelled their contract with the pop star. The video later won the Viewer's Choice Award at the MTV Video Music Awards, and in her acceptance speech Madge snarkily thanked Pepsi "for causing so much controversy!" (No word on whether she switched to Coke, RC, or even Shasta after this incident.) Below is a clip of Madonna's seldom-seen Pepsi ad, as well as the music video that caused all the commotion:
4) Madonna Throws The Book At Us
With every album and every project, Madonna seemingly felt compelled to up the sexual ante. So by the time the controversial "Like A Prayer" video came out, her flash of bare midriff in her "Lucky Star" video or her decision to keep her baby in "Papa Don't Preach" seemed almost downright quaint. But Madonna might have finally gone too far in 1992, when she concurrently released the largely S&M-themed Erotica album, the bondage-heavy Body Of Evidence movie, and most notably a softcore porn coffeetable book self-explanatorily titled Sex. Besides its faulty spiral bounding and hefty $50 pricetag, Sex was a bit of an experiment gone wrong, filled with almost laughable poems dedicated to her private parts and nude pics of Madonna cavorting with Vanilla Ice. (Vanilla Ice???) An onslaught of negative publicity and protest ensued, with many detractors and even onetime Madonna fans holding Sex up as proof that Madge's sex-obsessed career had at long last jumped the shark. (Her Little Bo Beep costume at the book's release party didn't help matters.) But the book still managed to sell 500,000 copies in the U.S. (now out-of-print, it goes for a fortune on eBay), and Madonna's career eventually rebounded, of course. As she said in her 1994 song "Human Nature," she had "absolutely no regrets"--although she may have trouble down the road explaining to her kids why Mommy is romping naked in some bizarre book with Big Daddy Kane and Naomi Campbell:
3) Madonna Justifies Her Video
Madonna sure knew what she was doing when she made the "Justify My Love" video. She knew the clip, with its strong sexual content, would never get on MTV or any other channel. (It was in fact one of the first-ever videos to be banned from MTV.) So, in this pre-YouTube era, the only way to see "Justify My Love" was to BUY THE VHS. So it of course quickly became a bestselling "video single" upon its commercial release. (In an ABC News interview, when it was mentioned that she ironically stood to profit from the banning of the video, Madonna quipped, "Yeah, lucky me!") The video even inspired Canadian video channel MuchMusic to launch a new series, Too Much 4 Much, which aired "controversial" videos accompanied by panel discussions. (FYI, the Yahoo! taste police request that we not assault faint-of-heart/stomach readers' eyes by embedding the "Justify My Love" video, but if you just can't resist taking a peek, watch it HERE.)
2) The Kiss Heard Around The World
Does anyone actualy remember who won anything at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards? Of course not. All anyone remembers about that particular VMA ceremony is the opening number featuring Madonna and the two logical successors to her pop-starlet throne, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. We just think it's sad that all anyone remembers specifically is that Madge famously swapped spit with Britney--she kissed Christina too, you know! And Missy Elliott rapped with them, as well! But somehow it's only that Britney/Madonna smooch that remains ingrained in every VMA viewer's brain:
1) A Video Star Is Born
Older generations vividly recall the exact moment when they first saw Elvis twitch his pelvis on TV or when the Beatles first performed on Ed Sullivan. But for children of the '80s, THE defining televised music moment was when Madonna was the kickoff performer on the first annual VMAs in 1984. Given the many outrageous antics she'd pull off later in her career--including her Britney/Christina 2003 VMA performance, which spoofed her original 1984 VMA appearance--it's hard to fathom now that back in '84, viewers were completely SHOCKED SPEECHLESS when Madonna rolled around on the VMA stage in a see-through wedding gown, granny panties, and pile of rosary beads. But no one had ever seen anything like it at the time. Come to think, no one's seen anything like it since. Because in the past half-century, there's never been anyone like Madonna Louise Ciccone Ritchie:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MADONNA!