The cultural significance of Madonna

Assess the cultural significance of Madonna in the context of the American 1980's.

This essay will aim to discuss and focus on the cultural significance of Madonna as a musical entertainer during America in the 1980's. It will look at her ever changing fashion styles, how she had an impact on women and women's independence as well as her overall impact upon society, not only through her music but as her as a result of her individual strength.
Madonna entered the world of celebrities with her first single which was released in 1983, named 'Holiday'. Madonna shocked the country of America as she was extremely different to other performers that were around at the same time. Madonna did not look like other conventional pop stars, she was not beautiful, overtly slim, nor did she posses a magnificent figure. In her first performance Madonna wore dread locks in her hair, heavy dark make-up and lots of chains and bracelets around her wrists. Madonna broke down fashion barriers which ideas and made her unusual style mainstream. Her style was edgy, daring and demanded a response from her audience. Her fashion sense inspired many of her fans and followers as she always kept her style up to date and thrived on impressing and shocking her audiences. '...Madonna has been involved in one way or another, either starting the trend or attracting attention to the existing trend to increase its popularity'[1].This was very true with Madonna when she first emerged onto the music scene and unusually wore a crucifix earring only in one ear, this became one of her many trademarks, but young women hung onto this and started to copy her. Young people, women in particular admired Madonna as she was able to experiment with many different looks and make fashion statements, which may have been one of many reasons as to why she became as popular as she did. A lot of the time Madonna would replicate older looks and styles from some of the well known celebrities that she admired, such as Marilyn Monroe in her music video, 'Material Girl'. She started the fashion trends therefore many teenage girls wanted to be associated with her. 'These teenage girl fans, Madonna 'wannabes', with peroxide hair, 1950s sunglasses, frilly pink dresses and clutching Madonna posters, were prominent amongst the 77,000 strong crowd which attended the singer's 1987 concert at London's Wembley Stadium.' [2]
Many of her outfits caused controversy as with her hit single 'Vogue' many believed that her lace blouse, bright white blonde hair and unusual dance moves were too provocative, however American teenagers loved this and Madonna was seen as a major icon of the 1980's because she was different to anyone they had seen before. Madonna was not afraid of how others may have perceived her look; she was head strong and acted with confidence about her style. 'The fact that "Material Girl was popular and was replayed constantly contributed to the impact that her image made on American culture and provoked many people to desire these attributes of glamour and style that defined beauty as depicted in the song's music video and lyrics'. [3] Many religious groups were afraid and anxious that Madonna was too forward and her songs were offensive and should not be listed to by teenagers. Such as 'Papa Don't Preach' which sent a "'... potent message to teenagers about the glamour of sex, pregnancy and childbearing'[4] It would be fair to say that as a result of various groups that objected to young people listening to Madonna, in actual fact these caused teenagers to be more interested, they therefore felt intrigued and wanted to listen to her more.

It could be argued that the fact that Madonna was able to reinvent herself and fashion styles to suit the decade made her revolutionary as a music artist, as she was one of the only musicians that had the ability and power to do this. Every music video that she shot she would have had a whole new different look, including hair, make-up and clothing. It was as if she was acting out different characters and roles.
She also became a role model for many teenage girls who wanted to peruse a career in the music industry as well as those who felt that they did not fit in to society's stereotypes. Madonna made it cool for one to not conform and to be different.
Madonna showed what it was to be an independent woman, 'Madonna takes her destiny in her own hands, and fights to succeed in a man's world.'[5] Madonna had a major influence whereby she helped to change women's ideas of the world around them and showed them that they could be as powerful as men. She gave confidence and hope to other women, no matter what they were going through in their lives, she showed them that they could succeed in whatever they wanted to it, if they had a goal and worked hard to achieve it. As a result of her background and unconventional rise to fame, as well as her look, as she did not fit in with stereotypical views of pop singers. 'The analysts all generally agree that Madonna's power derives from her success at manipulating her own image.' [6] Madonna became revolutionary. Many critics believed that it was Madonna's power that was the main reason for her global success and the fact that she hid behind different characters in her videos, and therefore no-one knew what her true personality was really like.
Madonna forced society to question and form views on her sexually explicit song lyrics and music videos. Her provocative music videos, costumes and photo shoots caused an outcry in society. It could be argued that these videos and songs were publicity stunts by Madonna to gain more publicity. Even bad publicity meant that people were talking about her and taking an interest in what she was doing. 'The manner in which Madonna uses her body to wear fashion, perform sexual acts, dance, and simply take part in daily activities causes people to pay attention to her and become aware of her presence'.[7] The 'Like a Virgin' music video displayed ideas of religion and sex, Madonna was said to have played on the fact that she was more than likely not a virgin. '...'Like a Virgin,' sung in a manner making it clear she was anything but.' [8] This video was released at a time when America was obsessed with sex and Madonna used this to her advantage. However with issues that were raised with her sexually explicit lyrics, the most important being 'Like a prayer' which contributed to Madonna losing her Pepsi contract as a result of this video.[9]
It could have been argued that Madonna was a feminist during the 1980's, in the ways in which showed women what it was to be a women and how therefore to act correctly to fulfil their role in society. On the other hand Madonna loved men and was also not afraid to show this in her videos. Madonna played a great role in boosting women's' self-esteems and influenced them to do the same. 'She also has played an important role in reflecting the changing definitions of beauty through the constant reinventions of her image...' [10]
Madonna and her music became the centre of many debates, they caused her audiences to sit up and take notice of what her songs were about and what they were tried to convey. Some of Madonna's videos that were shown on MTV were censored as a result of them being too explicit however this material encouraged her audiences to find the videos by other means as they became interested and intrigued as to why they were banned. It could have been argued that she would do anything to promote herself and this gave her a way of doing this, on the other hand it could have been said to have given different members of society a voice and paved the way for others to come by using her as their influence as she had already broken down boundaries. Madonna claimed that "Art should be controversial...It should make people think about what they do and don't believe in. It's good to get people to question their beliefs, their values. So much music and entertainment today just puts people in a trance. [11]This idea was challenged in her book named, 'Sex' [12] which demonstrated it was ok to have confidence and to embrace new things. Madonna was not only a musician but an artist and choreographer. Many believed that she was a bad influence on young impressionable girls.
Madonna invented herself as a gay icon, she appealed to the gay community as well as the straight community. She was introduced into the gay scene whilst still at high school and felt comfortable in such environments. It was in these clubs that she experienced 'voguing' by homosexual males, this was a great example of how Madonna was able to 'bring the underground, into the main stream'[13], and her audiences loved this. Madonna became involved with working with the AIDS association which may have changed societies view towards her. Madonna was now not only seen as a controversial musical artist but someone who was seen helping the community. Doing this work would have assisted her in her career as well as the AIDS complain to gain support for it by having a well known figure being associated with it.
The role of MTV contributed to the ways in which Madonna was portrayed and thus had an impact on society. A number of her music videos were banned from being played on the television music channel, whose target audience were teenagers. Some of the videos were deemed too offensive or sexually explicit for this audience to see. However as these videos were banned, it made Madonna look like a rebel because she did not change her music style even though the videos were not being played. Her fans found other ways of finding and watching these videos, as it caused a fuss and outrage which drew more attention to the situation. She was always able to keep up to date with the latest genres of music; her fans loved this about her just as much. Her fans looked forward to being shocked by her, and it became something that they expected from Madonna.
It was suggested that it was not Madonna's personality, music or links with various organisations that made her so popular in the 1980's but the fact that she was able to possess such a great power. 'Madonna's appeal is based on "who she is and what she stands for?' [14] As many of her songs were not even written by herself but other people, she merely just sang them. Her personality was false, as it seemed as though she always put on an act. Even in Madonna's books the reader did not get an indepth insight into what she was like as a person.

Madonna had a great impact culturally in the 1980's. It was a combination of things that lead to this success, such as appeal of feminism, power as well as her sense of fashion. She was able to give women the confidence they needed not to feel suppressed by males. She allowed women to feel liberated and by being such a dominant female figure she encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

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[1] Masuda, A. (2005) Madonna's Impact on Society, Associated Content.[Online]. Available at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/6611/madonnas_impact_on_society.html?cat=9 Date of access: (29/11/09).

[2] Shuker, R. (1994) Understanding Popular Music, USA: Routledge P.132

[3] Masuda, A. (2005) Madonna's Impact on Society, Associated Content.[Online]. Available at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/6611/madonnas_impact_on_society.html?cat=9 Date of access: (29/11/09).

[4] Moran, A. (1986) 'in' Schulze, L., White, B. A. And Brown, J. "A Sacred Monster in Her Prime: Audience Construction of Madonna as Low-Other 'in'Schwichtenberg, C. (ed.) (1993) The Madonna Connection, USA: Westview Press,P.21

[5] Guilbert, C.-G. (2002) Madonna as Postmodern Myth: How One Star's Self-Construction Rewrites Sex, Gender, Hollywood, and the American Dream, USA: McFarland & Co. Inc. P.184

[6] Tetzlaff, D. Metatexual Girl: patriarchy postmodernism power money Madonna 'in' Schwichtenberg, C. (ed.) (1993) The Madonna Connection, USA: Westview Press, P.243

[7] Masuda, A. (2005) Madonna's Impact on Society, Associated Content.[Online]. Available at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/6611/madonnas_impact_on_society.html?cat=9 Date of access: (29/11/09).

[8] Rooksby, R. (2004) Madonna, The Complete Guide to her Music, New York: Omnibus Press, P.6

[9] Schafer, C. (2002) Music Censorship, Schafer's Site[Online]. Available at: http://www.unc.edu/~schafer/censorship.html Date of access: (20/11/09).

[10] Masuda, A. (2005) Madonna's Impact on Society, Associated Content.[Online]. Available at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/6611/madonnas_impact_on_society.html?cat=9 Date of access: (29/11/09).

[11] Madonna 'in' Rooksby, R. (2004) Madonna, The Complete Guide to her Music, New York: Omnibus Press P.6

[12] Madonna, (1992) Sex, USA: Warner Books

[13] Channel 4 (2009) T4: Rimmel London: The Worlds Greatest Pop Stars: Madonna

[14] Fiske, J. (1989) Reading the popular, Boston, Mass: Unwin Hyman, 'in' Tetzlaff, D. Metatexual Girl:postmodernism money Madonna 'in' Schwichtenberg, C. (ed.) (1993) The Madonna Connection, USA: Westview Press, P.241

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