Who's That Girl?
For 35 years and counting, Madonna has seemed always on the verge of stepping over the borderline. Here, to celebrate her 59th birthday, are a dozen of her most memorable provocations.
Nude Photos in Playboy and Penthouse (September 1985)
The naked truth: Madonna wasn't exactly thrilled when nude photos of her younger self appeared simultaneously in the era's two most notorious men's magazines. The black-and-white pix were taken in 1978, when the 20-year-old aspiring singer freelanced as a photographer's model for $30-$50 a session. Madonna couldn't stop publication, but she did make headlines when she proclaimed, "I'm not ashamed."
Lesbian Antics (July 1988)
Dressed identically in white T-shirts and denim shorts, Madonna and comedian Sandra Bernhard (seen here at a Rainforest Benefit earlier that year) appeared together on "Late Show With David Letterman" to stoke the notion that they were having a steamy affair. "I love you," Madonna said. "I love you," replied Bernhard, who later added, "We hook up, sometimes with Jennifer Grey."What a couch tease.
The "Like a Prayer" Video (March 1989)
Burning crucifixes, a simulated stigmata, and—gasp!—images of interracial relationships highlighted the controversial video for Madonna's seventh No. 1 single. The blowback, including condemnation by the Vatican, caused Pepsi to pull out of a deal to feature the song in a commercial and sponsor her Blond Ambition tour.
The Pope Weighs In (July 10, 1990)
Pope John Paul II urged Italians to stay away when Madonna brought her Blond Ambition tour to Rome. The call for a boycott stemmed from the show's use of Catholic iconography and explicit sexual imagery, including feigned masturbation on a bed during "Like a Virgin." The Vatican's newspaper called the display "a complete disgrace."
"Truth or Dare" (1991)
The behind-the-scenes documentary of the 1990 Blond Ambition tour showcased Madonna's command of the stage as well as her impressive deep throat skills on a soda bottle.
"Sex" (October 21, 1992)
"Sex" sells, even when spiral bound, encased in aluminum, and sheathed in Mylar. The controversial coffee-table book—written by "Mistress Dita," with sexually charged photographs by Steven Meisel—sold 150,000 copies on its first day of publication and topped the New York Times Best Seller list. Its companion piece, the adventurous "Erotica" album, premiered at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
WTF: "Late Show With David Letterman" (March 31, 1994)
Lady Madonna dropped more F-bombs than a Martin Scorsese movie during the most censored talk show episode in TV history. But first she presented Letterman with an unexpected housewarming gift: her underpants. "Wait a minute, aren't you going to smell them?" she asked. "I gave them to you for a reason." Dave's sly reply: "I'll take care of that later."
Banned by MTV (March 21, 2001)
The violent video for "What It Feels Like for a Girl," directed by then-husband Guy Ritchie, was banned by MTV and VH1. Network executives were apparently fine with Madonna driving recklessly and robbing a guy at an ATM, but they were skittish about the scene where she pulls a watergun and spritzes two police officers. Not surprisingly, the controversy paid off. The DVD video sold 6,200 copies in its first week and became the best-selling single of all time in that format.
The Kiss: MTV Video Music Awards (August 28, 2003)
Madonna locked lips with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York, stunning the live audience and TV viewers worldwide.
The MDNA Tour, Tel Aviv (May 31, 2012)
As Madonna sang "Nobody Knows Me," everybody noticed the background video that showed a swastika superimposed on the forehead of right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen, whose face then morphed into Adolf Hitler's. Le Pen responded by claiming Madonna kidnapped the two children she adopted in Malawi. When Madonna performed two months later in Nice, France, the swastika was replaced by a question mark.
Hails the President as a "Black Muslim." (September 24, 2012)
Madonna urged a concert audience in Washington, D.C., to re-elect "the black Muslim in the White House." The next day, she felt compelled to explain her "ironic" characterization. "Yes, I know Obama is not a Muslim," she said in a statement, "though I know plenty of people in this country think he is. And what if he were? The point I was making is that a good man is a good man, no matter who he prays to. I don't care what religion Obama is—nor should anyone else in America."
The Drake Kiss (April 12, 2015)
The 56-year-old icon was dubbed a dirty old man for shoving her tongue down the 28-year-old rapper's throat during a guest appearance at his show at Coachella. As Drake wiped his mouth in surprise, Madonna dropped the mic and declared, "Bitch, I'm Madonna"—the title of her soon-to-be-released single. Further proof she's always working it.
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