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How ‘Madonna’ Became Pop Music’s Blueprint

In 2023, Madonna’s self-titled debut album celebrated its 40th anniversary. Revisit the record that made her a pop phenomenon.

Electronic, Dance-pop
Vinyl, Album, Limited Edition, Reissue, Clear

After a performance on American Bandstand in January 1984, television host Dick Clark asked Madonna what her dreams were. Her answer: “To rule the world.”

The singer-songwriter was there to promote her self-titled debut album, which had taken over airwaves and dance floors the summer prior. July 27, 2023 marked the 40th anniversary of Madonna’s release — the eight track record that introduced Madonna to the mainstream and began her journey to pop superstardom.

Before she was the Queen of Pop, Madonna was a budding creative looking for her big break. In 1978, she left the University of Michigan and moved to New York with just $35 to pursue a career as a dancer. She found work as a backup dancer, and even performed with the Alvin Ailey and Pearl Lang dance companies, before touring Europe with singer Patrick Hernandez.

When Madonna returned to New York in the summer of 1979, she joined the new wave band Breakfast Club as their drummer. By the following year, she’d left Breakfast Club to form Emmy & The Emmys with musician Stephen Bray. However, after writing and recording a demo together, Madonna decided to promote herself as a solo artist.

She regularly visited nightclubs to persuade DJs to play her solo demo tape. Her persistence paid off — Danceteria’s resident DJ Mark Kamins took a liking to Madonna’s music and arranged for her to meet Seymour Stein, the president and co-founder of Sire Records, who offered her a recording contract.

Recording for Madonna began in the summer of 1982. The singer wrote the majority of the album’s songs and chose musician Reggie Lucas to produce the project. Unfortunately, Madonna clashed with Lucas when the tracks’ final versions didn’t live up to her expectations. She called in DJ John “Jellybean” Benitez to remix the songs — he also contributed the hit “Holiday” to the tracklist — before turning the record in to the label.

Madonna was released in 1983 and straddled the line between dance and pop during the post-disco era. The use of digital instruments, like the Linn drum machine, Moog bass, and OB-X synthesizer gave the album its danceable, synth-pop sound. The polished production complemented Madonna’s bright soprano vocals as she sang tight, catchy refrains about romance, desire, power, and partying. The record peaked at No. 8 on the US Billboard 200, scoring Madonna her first top 10 album.

The album spawned five singles and three of them — “Holiday,” “Borderline,” and “Lucky Star” — charted on the US Billboard Hot 100, peaking at Nos. 16, 10, and 4, respectively. Their accompanying music videos, supported by the rise of MTV, introduced Madonna’s star power to homes across the country and inspired young women to adopt her style.

Madonna was a quintessentially ’80s album that pushed dance-pop to the forefront and set the standard for pop music in the decades that followed. As the world’s best-selling female recording artist and the most successful solo artist in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, her influence and impact cannot be overstated. Madonna’s subversiveness, attention to detail, willingness to break the rules, and penchant for reinventing herself turned her into a cultural icon and made her the blueprint for the modern pop star.

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