Cultural impact of Madonna

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Madonna, seen here on the Rebel Heart Tour (2015). International intellectuals have noted the continued Madonna's cultural influence and legacy in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Since the beginning of her career in the early 1980s, American singer and songwriter Madonna has had a social-cultural impact on the world through her recordings, attitude, clothing and lifestyle. Called the "Queen of Pop", over the course of her career, she has been labeled by multiple international authors as the "greatest" woman in music or the most "influential" female recording artist of all time.

Madonna has built a legacy that goes beyond music and has been studied by sociologists, historians and other social scientists.[1][2][3] Her musical influence has been compared with that of older and long-established icons like Elvis Presley and The Beatles. In terms of record sales, Madonna is regarded as the best-selling woman in music history. Critics have retrospectively credited her presence, success and contributions with paving the way for female artists and changing the music scene for women in music, mainly the pop stage. Reviews of her work have served "as a roadmap for scrutinizing women at each stage in their music career".[4]

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Madonna is the first multimedia pop icon in history. Frenchman scholar Georges Claude Guilbert, felt that she has greater cultural importance, like a myth, that has apparent universality and timelessness. Academic Camille Paglia called her a "major historical figure". References to Madonna in popular culture are found in the arts, literature, the music and even science. In a general sense, journalist Peter Robinson noted that "Madonna invented contemporary pop fame so there is a little bit of her in the DNA of every modern pop thing."[5]

She is also a polarizing figure. During her career, Madonna has attracted contradictory cultural social attention from family organizations, feminist anti-porn and religious groups worldwide with boycott and protests.

General overview[edit]

She's a major historical figure and when she passes, the retrospectives will loom larger and larger in history because right now we just see the present Madonna and it's, like, cringe-making.

Camille Paglia on Madonna (2017).[6]

A wax figure of Madonna in Mexico depicted with the flag of the United States and a provocative style.

Multiple academics and authors have noted Madonna's cultural influence since she appeared on the scene in the 1980s. The New York Times critic Ann Powers wrote in 1998 that she is a "secular goddess, designated by her audience and pundits alike as the human face of social change".[7] Around this time, academics described her as "a barometer of culture that directs the attention to cultural shifts, struggles and changes".[8] George Pendle from Bidoun explained that she defined a way of living in the 1980s and 1990s and this led to consistently described her as a "cultural icon".[9]

In newer reappraisals, intellectuals and authors have commented her continued influence and legacy. In this line, Janice Min of Billboard declared in 2016 that "Madonna is one of a miniscule number of super-artists whose influence and career transcended music".[1] In the description of Strawberry Saroyan, Madonna is a storyteller and a cultural pioneer. She stated: "Madonna's ability to take her message beyond music and impact women's lives has been her legacy".[10] Canadian professor Karlene Faith asserted Madonna's peculiarity is that "she has cruised so freely through so many cultural terrains" and she "has been a 'cult' figure within self-propelling subcultures just as she became a major".[11] American poet Jane Miller, cited in the The Madonna companion: two decades of commentary commented that "Madonna functions as an archetype directly inside contemporary culture" and compared its with the Black Virgin.[12]

Among retrospect views from media and newspapers, The Cut editor Rebecca Harrington expressed "Madonna's actual accomplishments are too much for the modern human to even contemplate".[13] William Langley from The Daily Telegraph feels that "Madonna has changed the world's social history, has done more things as more different people than anyone else is ever likely to."[14] Contributor from company Spin Media concluded that "Madonna has changed society through her fiery ambition and unwillingness to compromise".[15] Marissa G. Muller from W magazine expressed that "Madonna has left her mark on every facet of culture" and "it's hard to image a world without [her], because it would likely look so different".[16]

In United States[edit]

Madonna has been called an "American icon" overseas. Both her early impact and legacy in the culture of United States have been noted either by Americans or international authors. Academics in American Icons (2006) felt that like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley or Coca-Cola, Madonna image "is immediately recognizable around the world and instantly communicates many of the values of U.S. culture".[17] A consultant and musicologist in a 2015 Madonna course at the University of Oviedo asserted that her history and evolution is "comparable" and can be "useful to analyze the historical development of the United States".[18] Rodrigo Fresán viewed her as one of the "classic symbols of Made in USA".[19] French academic Georges Claude Guilbert felt that "today, America knows more about Madonna than about any passage of the Bible".[20] U.S. cultural historian and author Jim Cullen wrote that "few figures in American life have managed to exert as much control over their destinies as she has, and the fact that she has done so as a woman is all the more remarkable. That Madonna has done this is indisputable".[21] American editor Annalee Newitz stated that the singer has given to American culture, and culture throughout the world, "is not a collection of songs; rather, it is a collection of images".[2]

Professor Beretta E. Smith-Shomade stated that only Madonna rivaled the space Oprah Winfrey occupied in the late twentieth century and in the psyche of national culture.[22] In the American society of the 20th century, she was referenced by her sexual feminist political movement. Ann Powers, writing in 1998 for The New York Times noted that "intellectuals described her as embodying sex, capitalism and celebrity itself".[7] Retrospectively, Sara Marcus described with the height of her career, "the singer brought the changes to American culture". She felt "her revelatory spreading of sexual liberation to Middle America, changed this country for the better. And that's not old news; we're still living it". She ends saying that "the woman [Madonna] remade American culture".[23] Historian professor Glen Jeansonne, said that the singer "freed Americans from their inhibitions and made them feel good about having fun".[24] Scottish author Andrew O'Hagan felt that "Madonna is like a heroic opponent of cultural and political authoritarianism of the American "establishment".[25]

Madonna as an icon[edit]

Icon of Madonna, taken in 1990 at the AIDS Project Los Angeles. Is created by Alan Light.

Marcel Danesi, a professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto cited that the word "icon" is a "term of religious origin and used for the first time in celebrity culture to describe the American pop singer Madonna".[26] He further explained that word "is now used in reference to any widely known celebrity, male or female".[26] Some dictionaries around the world such as Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas included her name to illustrate the new meaning of that word.[27][28]

Her career, impact and influence has been analyzed from different perspectives of several social studies and theories, such as femenist, sexual, queer, gender and race studies, largely derived from the Madonna studies. Also, she has been described as an "icon" in many of these fields (e,g: "feminist icon", "sexual icon" or "gay icon"). Associate professor Diane Pecknold documented in American Icons (2006) that "the fact that not only her work but her person was open to multiple interpretations contributed to the rise of Madonna studies".[29]

In the late 20th century, Q magazine described her as one of the most important cultural figures of that century.[30] Other authors such as Jefferson Hack called to her a 21st-century icon.[31] Rolling Stone once stated that "she is a living icon not just for her contrivances and a life lived large, even less for her music or other artistic achievements, but because Madonna as idea, example, archetype exits simultaneously with the real woman".[32] Reader editor Brian McNair wrote that "Madonna more than made up for in iconic status and cultural influence".[33]


With over 300 million record sales worldwide, she is certified as the best-selling woman in music history by Guinness World Records.[34]

Rolling Stone described her as a musical icon without peer.[35] In addition to being cited as an influence by other artists, various authors and media outlets deemed Madonna as the most "influential" or "greatest" female artist of all time.[36][37][38][39] Ben Kelly writing for The Independent said that she has "ensured her legacy as the greatest female artist of all time".[38] Musicologist David Nicholls asserted: "Madonna became the most successful woman in music history by skillfully evoking, inflecting, and exploiting the tensions implicit in a variety of stereotypes and images of women".[40]

Her contributions on music has been generally praised by critics, which have also been known to induce controversy. Academics and authors credited her as the first female to have complete control of her music and image.[41][42][43] Ana Laglere, an editor of Batanga Media explained that before Madonna, record labels determined every step of artists, but she introduced her style and conceptually directed every part of her career.[3] Associate professor Carol Benson and author Allen Metz wrote that Madonna entered the music business with definite ideas about her image, but "it was her track record that enabled her to increase her level of creative control over her music".[44] Many years after, she founded Maverick Records which became the most successful "vanity label" according to Spin. While under Madonna's control it generated well over $1 billion for Warner Bros. Records, more money than any other recording artist's record label at that time.[45] She also normalized the idea that pop stars could and should write their own songs according to Marissa G. Muller from W.[16]

Critics felt in retrospect that Madonna's presence is defined for changing contemporary music history for women's, mainly dance and pop scene.[15][46][47][48][49] Deutsche Welle praised her and documented that she is "the first woman to dominate the male world of pop".[50] Further explanations came from sources such as The Times: "Madonna, whether you like her or not, started a revolution amongst women in music".[51] Similarly Joe Levy, Blender editor in chief, said that she "opened the door for what women could achieve and were permitted to do".[41]


Madonna during the Blond Ambition World Tour. Her conical corset designed by Jean Paul Gaultier is one of her most emulated outfits.[52]

Time magazine included her as one of the Top 100 icons of all time in fashion, style and design.[53] Musicologist Susan McClary wrote that "great deal of ink has been spilled in the debate over Madonna's visual image".[54] Sabrina Barr from The Independent discussed her influence in this area and stated "that way in which the singer used her style to represent her identity was a fresh concept when she first came into the music scene".[55] Barr also found that "the coalescence between Madonna's fashion choices and her identity inspired her fans to explore their own evolving identities in the process", and the effect she's had over and will have can be described as a "phenomenon" as stated academic Douglas Kellner.[55]

Writing for The Journal of Popular Culture in 2014, a scholar noted that Madonna uses clothes as a "cultural signifier to communicate her persona du jour" and "she is the creator of numerous personae".[56] Professors in Oh Fashion (1994) wrote that "the Madonna phenomenon suggests that in a postmodern image culture identity is constructed through image and fashion, involving one's look, pose, and attitude". Authors added that "fashion and identity for Madonna are inseparable from her aesthetic practices, from her cultivation of her image in her music videos, films, TV appearances, concerts, and other cultural interventions".[57]

Among her achievements in the fashion scene, professor Diane Asitimbay declared that "Madonna changed fashion forever when she brought bras out [and] wore them publicly".[58] Asistimbay further suggested that Madonna and Michael Jordan "did more for the fashion industry in the United States than many of our fashion models put together".[58] Historian Michael Pye felt that the singer "not only makes fashion, she is fashion".[59] Similarly Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of fashion magazine Vogue declared: "Madonna has been one of the most potent style setters of our time. She, just as much as Karl Lagerfeld, makes fashion happen".[59] Under Wintour's control, Madonna became the first celebrity to be pictured on the cover of Vogue.[60] From the start of her career, Madonna has been noted for her constantly image and style changes, while Australian scholar McKenzie Wark assured that alongside David Bowie both "raised this to a fine art by becoming ever new versions of themselves".[61]


Madonna expressing her support to the Russian feminist group, Pussy Riot during The MDNA Tour

Madonna as a feminist icon has generated variety of opinions worldwide over the decades. Canadian commentator Mark Steyn explained that "she has her feminist significance pondered by college courses" and named her a "metaphor for the industry".[62] Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt wrote in Introducing Postmodernism: A Graphic Guide (2014) that for some "Madonna is the cyber-model of the New Woman".[63] In 2012, activist and writer Jennifer Baumgardner felt that Madonna "gave birth to 'femme-inism'".[64] Professor Sut Jhally said that the singer "is as an almost sacred feminist icon".[65] In 1990, academic Camille Paglia called Madonna a "true feminist" and labeled as "the future of feminism".[66] Retrospectively, Paglia asserted in 2017 that "it happened".[6]

In 2011, Madonna was included in The Guardian list of the Top 100 women and editor Homa Khaleeli declared "no matter the decade or the fashion, she has always been frank about her toughness and ambition". She further added that Madonna "inspires not because she gives other women a helping hand, but because she breaks the boundaries of what's considered acceptable for women".[67] In 2012, Spanish cultural critic Víctor Lenore convened a researchers panel discussion her as a feminist icon.[68] One of the comments, included that "she democratized the idea of women as protagonists and as agents of their own action", while some ambiguous ones stated that she contributed to women's empowerment of a few Western women, straight and gay middle class, but that empowerment is not feminism, because it is individualistic.[68]

Sex symbol[edit]

Madonna has been referred to as a sexual icon, and sex symbol; most notable in the decade of the 1980s and 1990s.[22][69] Although some references such as American Masters suggested that Madonna's continued to be a sexual icon as "she's gotten older".[70] Sexual connotation has been a part of her career, while Courtney E. Smith in the book Record Collecting for Girls (2011) wrote that most people associate Madonna with sex.[71] Chuck Klosterman in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (2003) commented that "whenever I hear intellectuals talk about sexual icons of the present day, the name mentioned most is Madonna".[72] Culture columnist Robin Meltzer for New Statesman assured that the singer "irrevocably changed the media image of female sexuality".[73] Jaime Anderson taught at the European School of Management and Technology that she is one of the world's first performers to "manipulate the juxtaposition of sexual and religious themes".[74]

In the 1990s, author and psychiatrist Jule Eisenbud documented that Madonna's refusal to accept that power and femininity is equivalent to masculinity has allowed her to maintain her status as a sex symbol.[75] Scholars Shari Benstock and Suzanne Ferriss, authors of Oh Fashion (1994) commented that the singer "is a toy for boys, but on another level boys are toys for her".[76] In newer commentaries, American editor Janice Min wrote that "long before Sex and the City, Madonna owned her sexuality. She made people cringe but also think differently about female performers. Her role as a provocateur changed boundaries for ensuing generations."[41] Although Jewish rabbi Shmuley Boteach criticized Madonna, he said: "Before Madonna, it was possible for women more famous for their voices than their cleavage[,] to emerge as music superstars". He ends saying that in "the post-Madonna universe", many artists "now feel the pressure to expose their bodies on national television to sell albums".[77] Professor Vicki Karaminas cited in Queer Style (2013), gives another view explaining that the singer "transmogrified from virgin to dominatrix to Über Fran, each time achieving iconic status". She added that Madonna was "the first woman to do so-and with mainstream panache and approbation".[78]

Queer and gay[edit]

A Madonna impersonator at the High Heel Drag Queen Race, c. 2007.

Associate professor Judith A. Peraino wrote that "no one has worked harder to be a gay icon than Madonna, and she has done so by using every possible taboo sexual in her videos, performances, and interviews".[79] She has been discussed by numerous LGBT publications, while The Advocate named Madonna the greatest gay icon.[80] Scholars Carmine Sarracino and Kevin Scott in The Porning of America (2008), wrote that Madonna "gained particular popularity with gay audiences, signaling the creation of a career-long fan base that would lead to her being hailed as the biggest gay icon of all time".[81] Out magazine declared that Madonna "positioned herself to be a gay icon before it was cool to be one".[82] President and CEO of organization GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis stated that Madonna "always has and always will be the LGBTQ community's greatest ally".[83]

Madonna is also referred to as a queer icon and icon of queerness. Theologist, Robert Goss wrote: "For me, Madonna has been not only a queer icon but also a Christ icon who has dissolved the boundaries between queer".[84] Musicologist Sheila Whiteley wrote in her book Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender (2013) that "Madonna came closer to any other contemporary celebrity in being an above-ground queer icon".[85]


According to Lucy O'Brien "much has been made of Madonna as a postmodern icon".[86] Madonna is suggested by Frenchman author Olivier Sécardin to epitomise postmodernism.[87] Similarly, Christian writer Graham Cray commented that "Madonna is perhaps the most visible example of what is called post-modernism",[88] while for Martin Amis she is "perhaps the most postmodern personage on the planet".[88] However, academics Sudhir Venkatesh and Fuat Firat deemed her as "representative of postmodern rebellion".[87] Senior lecturers Stéphanie Genz and Benjamin Brabon in Postfeminism: Cultural Texts and Theories (2009) felt that "whether it is as a woman, mother, pop icon or fifty year old, the American singer challenges our preconceptions of who 'Madonna' is and, more broadly, what these identity categories mean within a postmodern context".[89]

Madonna in the contemporary arts[edit]

A political cartoon by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff inspired in the protests against the announcement of her performance at the Eurovision Song Contest 2019

Stephanie Eckardt, writing for W magazine in 2018, noted that Madonna's impact include her influence on the art world despite is less obvious and "has been made almost entirely behind the scenes".[90] Numerous art critics and art historians have reviewed her career through the arts that include John A. Walker.[91] Her personal relationships with plastic artists in her early career such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and her former boyfriend Jean-Michel Basquiat have been noted alongside with her collaborations with video-makers, designers and fashion photographers.[90][92] Within this context, The Irish Times mentioned that Madonna "was the first female pop star to fully engage with the visual elements of her art" while they highlighted her collaborations.[92] A contribuitor from W magazine said that the singer was "the first to make collaborations between pop artists and designers routine".[16] Other authors trace her roots from the underground scene in the 1980's cultural landspace of the New York with clubs such as Danceteria. Malina Bickford from Vice commented on this point, that "the story of Madonna's origins as an artist is as important as the music itself in understanding the impact she's had on bringing the underground into the mainstream".[93]

She donated money, contribuited or sponsored to numerous art exhibitions with positive reviews among art critics, including the first major retrospective of Tina Modotti which curator and art historian, Anne d'Harnoncourt commented that "introduces the artist to a broader public".[94] Similar feelings came from Rosie Millard, BBC art correspondent, when she presented the Turner Prize at Tate Britain in 2001.[95] She also sponsored Untitled Film Stills by Cindy Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1997.[96] She is also an art collector with a collection worth an estimated $100 million according to website Artnet.[97] In her collection of over 300 works, she has pieces from artists such as Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo.[98] She appeared in the 100 biggest collectors (c. 1996) by Art & Antiques,[99] and in the Top 25 Art Collectors by The Hollywood Reporter in 2013.[98]

As a female performer, she is credited to pioneering the crossover between pop and art.[90] Graffiti artist and cultural commentator, Fab Five Freddy described that "she is the perfect example of the visual artist".[100] In the terrain of video as an art form, film critic Armond White felt that her concepts led some artists have "art-consciousness", while further explained that "they'll never repeat the moment when Madonna's connection to the zeitgeist became historic".[101] In addition, she is credited by numerous critics as the first female artist to exploit fully the potential of the music video.[102] Following Michael Jackson's death, a panel of Latin art critics deemed her as "the only universal artist left standing". Those critics, including Daniel Molina, Graciela Speranza and Alicia de Arteaga explained that she is herself "a multimedia expression that condenses fashion, dance, photography, sculpture, music, video and painting".[103] Jon Pareles music editor-in-chief of The New York Times invited audience to see her as a "continuous multi-media art project".[104] Writing for Interview in 2014, American artist and illusionist David Blaine described that perhaps Madonna "is herself her own greatest work of art—something so vastly influential as to be unfathomable".[105] Professor John R. May concludes that the singer is a contemporary "gesamtkunstwerk",[106] and Alan McGee from The Guardian felt that she is "post-modern art, the likes of which we will never see again".[107] Curator and photographic critic, Vince Aletti described that "the photographic image has been at the forefront of Madonna's rise to iconic status".[108]

Commercial influence[edit]

Madonna's success and commercial strategies has been subject of analysis by economists, marketers, entrepreneurs and other business experts. Economist Robert M. Grant taught a class about her in 2008 highlighting the context of "intensely competitive" and "volatile world of entertainment".[109] Christopher Bergland writing for Psychology Today in 2013, analyzed her success from the perspective of neuroscience.[110] Marketer expert Stephen Brown from University of Ulster named her a "marketing genius".[111] Business professor Oren Harari coined the expression "Madonna effect" inspired in her business tactics and changes while deems its use for both individuals and organizations.[112] Doctor Peter van Ham writing for NATO Review explained the "Madonna-curve", an expression used by some business analysts to describe the "adapting to new tasks whilst staying true to one's own principles". He further explained that "businesses use Madonna as a role model of self-reinvention".[113]

As a businesswoman, she received acclaim and was called "America's smartest businesswoman".[114] In the perception of numerous business schools, she is more than a pop icon. Lucy O'Brien explained that Madonna became the first one to exploit the idea of pop artist as a brand in the 1980s.[115] Editor Gerald Marzorati wrote that "Madonna's contribution has been to usher in the phenomenon of star as multimedia impresario".[116] Kelley School of Business said that she is more than a "pop cult icon" and has been "an empire from day one".[117] Professor Robert Miklitsch described that "[she] is herself a corporation and a rather diverse one at that".[118] Similarly, Colin Barrow a visiting scholar at the Cranfield School of Management described her as "an organisation unto herself".[114] Scientist and organizational theorist, Jamie Anderson writing for London Business School said that she "is a born entrepreneur".[119]

In the 20th and 21st centuries, Guinness World Records have referred to her as "the most successful female artist".[120] The same or similar description has been applied in academic fields. Scholars writing for Journal of Business Research in 2020, concluded that "she's probably the most successful female music artist ever in terms of her record sales, tour receipts, brand recognition and longevity".[87] In 2015, musicologist Laura Viñuela in a Madonna's course at the University of Oviedo stated that the singer "is the only woman who has such a long and massively successful career in the world of music".[18] Madonna became the first woman entrepreneur to appear on a Forbes cover according to themselves.[121] In addition, she has been included in several of their earnings, fortune and power lists since her early career in the 1980s and once named the richest woman in music.[122][123] American business magazine, Fast Company discussed her in a 2015 article as "the biggest pop brand on the planet".[124]

Cultural trends[edit]

Nota bene: This section only include few examples
A Coca-Cola bottle designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and inspired in Madonna.[125]

Madonna has been cited as the motivation for the rise, introduction or popularity of several things such as terms, places, cultural practices, fashion trends, products or even other celebrities. MuchMusic called her "the world's top trend-maker".[126] Below are few examples:

Manuel Heredia, minister of tourism in Belize, discussed with El Heraldo de México how "La Isla Bonita" has helped to attract tourists to the San Pedro Town.[127] Similarly, Portuguese and Spanish media outlets noted that Madonna's presence contributed in the tourism sector of Portugal when she moved to Lisbon (c. 2017).[128][129] More than any other celebrity, numerous sources such as The Independent credited Madonna to popularise the Jewish mysticism in the Western.[130] Writer Matt Cain asserted that Madonna "opened up gay culture to the mainstream".[131] The New York Times concluded that more than anything else, she brought yoga to the masses.[132] She popularised voguing. MFA Stephen Ursprung from Smith College felt that "Madonna created a market for voguing" and further asserted that analyzed "through a close connection with the continued commercial success of Madonna, voguing has left its mark on the world".[133] She has carried the burlesque to mass culture according to Latin critics.[68]

Film and music critic Armond White felt that alongside Michael Jackson she popularized the music video format.[101] As is cited that MTV helped her, some writers like Mark Bego stated that Madonna helped make MTV (alongside Michael Jackson).[134] She has credit for the introduction of electronic music to the stage of popular music,[135] and innovated the rave culture.[136][137] Music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine said that she had a "huge role in popularizing dance music".[138] According to the company The Vinyl Factory, her single "Vogue" popularized the usage of Korg M1.[139] Academic Juliana Tzvetkova noted that Dolce & Gabbana "received their first international recognition thanks" to Madonna,[140] while journalists such as Lynn Hirschberg wrote that the attention around fashion designer Olivier Theyskens was intensified thanks to the singer.[141]

Professors in American Icons (2006) commented she helped to popularize words and phrases in the English lexicon. They included the term "wannabe" used by Time magazine back in 1985 to describe the Madonna wannabe phenomenon. Authors added the title of her first feature film Desperately Seeking Susan which produced a new idiomatic phrase considering the newspaper headlines.[142] Biographer Mick St Michael wrote that "girl power began with Madonna",[143] while authors like Kristin Lieb of BuzzFeed News felt the "fauxmosexual" phenomenon started with her kissing both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.[144]

The Daily Telegraph explained that Madonna helped transform Frida Kahlo into a collector's darling.[145] Scholars Rhonda Hammer and Douglas Kellner felt that the phenomenon of femininity inspired by South Asia as a tendency in Western media could go back to February 1998 when Madonna released her video for "Frozen". They wrote that "although Madonna did not initiate the Indian fashion accessories beauty [...] she did propel it into the public eye by attracting the attention of the worldwide media".[146] Mark Blankenship felt her first book Sex "literature changed forever",[147] while her success as a children's author was noted by Ed Pilkington from The Guardian, who believed that Madonna "lured a host of other celebrities and publishers into the [children's book] market".[148]

Madonna in the popular culture[edit]

Madonna as a pop icon and figure on popular culture has generated numerous analysis throughout the decades. Academic Douglas Kellner deemed her as "a highly influential pop culture icon" and "the most discussed female singer in popular music".[149] In 2012, Latin critics such as Víctor Lenore deemed Madonna as the most influential presence of current popular culture.[68] In 2015, scholars from Rutgers University stated "Madonna has become the world's biggest and most socially significant pop icon, as well as the most controversial".[150] She is the first multimedia figure in the popular culture according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[151]

However, some academics like the Frenchman Georges Claude Guilbert, felt that she has greater cultural importance, like a myth that has apparent universality and timelessness.[20] Similarly, author Carol Clerk wrote that "during her career, Madonna has transcended the term 'pop star' to become a global cultural icon".[152]

Public and media figure[edit]

Madonna in an interview with MTV International in April 2019.

She has elicited a number of public perceptions regarding her personality and media manipulation during years. Music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine felt that "one of Madonna's greatest achievements is how she has manipulated the media and the public with her music, her videos, her publicity, and her sexuality".[42] Becky Johnston from Interview magazine commented: "[F]ew public figures are such wizards at manipulating the press and cultivating publicity as Madonna is. She has always been a great tease with journalists, brash and outspoken when the occasion demanded it".[153]

Political activist Jasmina Tešanović called Madonna as "one of the most honest performers in pop culture" and further asserted that her changes "are well-calculated".[154] In 2013, lecturer Becca Cragin said that "Madonna has managed to hold the public's attention for 30 years now, in large part because of her skillful use of the visual in expressing herself and marketing her music".[154] However, back in 1996 journalist Mark Watts felt that the rise and (perceived) decline of Madonna has gone, so to say, hand-in-hand with that of postmodern theory — "but none the less pervasively influential for that".[155] Music editor Bill Friskics-Warren wrote that "Madonna's megastardom and cultural ubiquity had made her as much a social construct as anything else, a "person-turned-idea," as Steve Anderson put it, along the iconic lines of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe".[156] Caryn Ganz from Rolling Stone wrote that "[she] is the most media-savvy American pop star since Bob Dylan" and "was the most consistently controversial one since Elvis Presley".[157]

"Many different kinds of people[,] appreciate Madonna for many different reasons. Madonna has zealous fans who are young and old, straight and gay, educated and unschooled, First and Third World, black, white, brown, and yellow, and of every sexual preference, demografic category, and lifestyle imaginable. People who differ from one another in every way can all still find something relevant in Madonna's multidimensional, multimediated public imagery.

— Social scientist James Lull (2000)[158]


Madonna at the 2008 Berlinale. Her fame has been the subject of intellectual responses, including media studies approaches.

Stan Hawkins from University of Leeds said that Madonna was the first female solo artist to gain superstar status in the 1980s.[159] Historian Gil Troy confirmed Madonna as "the 1980's dominant female star".[160] In the 1990s, editor Annalee Newitz informed that the academic in the "fields of theology to queer studies have written literally volumes about what Madonna's stardom means for gender relations, for American culture and for the future".[2] A point of contrast in the American perspective is that her popularity in the 1990s declined according to academic Lynn Spigel while Andrew Ferguson argued that her "real crime" had been longevity.[161] Despite this, writing for Time in 2012, editor Erin Skarda said that "she essentially redefined what it meant to be famous in America".[53] Overseas, British journalist Peter Robinson from The Guardian further explained that "Madonna pretty much invented contemporary pop fame so there is a little bit of her in the DNA of every modern pop thing".[5]

She has been referred as "the most famous women" or "the most famous female artist" (other relative titles applies) by numerous international media outlets during four consecutive decades.[162] French academic Georges Claude Guilbert wrote that "in the American, British, Australian and French press" (his four principal sources) "it is generally taken for granted that Madonna is the most famous female in the world".[20] In another perspectives, Aaron Klein stated in 2007, that she is probably "the most well-known American celebrity in the Middle East".[163] One year later, economist Robert M. Grant described her as "the best known woman on the planet".[109] When she was living in the United Kingdom Rosie Millard from BBC said "arguably the most famous persona currently residing in the UK".[95] In 2003, financial adviser Alvin Hall placed Madonna as the "world's most powerful celebrity" at that time.[164] Matt Cain writing for The Daily Telegraph declared: "she's one of the most famous women ever to have lived".[165] According to Orlando Sentinel, Cornell University ranked Madonna in 2014 as the "most influential woman in history" based in a study of Wikipedia algorithms.[166]

In additional descriptions she has been deemed as an "omnipresent" figure or one of the most "recognizable names in the world".[151][167][74] Around 1993, media scholar David Tetzlaff commented that "the power of the omnipresent Madonna has to do with hyperreality, but an infinite accumulation of simulacra, an overabundance of information".[168] More than two decades later, music critic and professor T. Cole Rachel stated in 2015, that "there's an approximate 100% probability that any living human over the age of, say, 25 has some sort of specific Madonna-related memory... Even if you aren't a super fan—or even a fan at all—there's no escaping Madonna. She is everywhere".[169] In the Internet age she appeared in lists by publications such as Time magazine and Google. For example, she was among the most googled people in 2001,[170] and was part of the Google Zeitgeist year-end of 2002.[171] In 2014, Time magazine placed her behind George W. Bush and Barack Obama in their list of The 100 Most Obsessed-Over People on the Web, based on Wikipedia.[172]

Honorific nicknames for Madonna[edit]

Madonna has been called many things.[173] In regards her titles, honorific nicknames and epithets, Chilean magazine Qué Pasa stated in 1996 that "to Madonna can be attributed many titles and never be exaggerated. She is the undisputed Queen of Pop, sex goddess, and of course marketing".[174] Alan McGee from The Guardian asserted that Madonna and Michael Jackson invented the terms "Queen and King of Pop".[107] USA Today called her as "our lady of constant makeovers".[175] Also, Madonna was referred to as the Queen of MTV and CNN commented that MTV could stand for "Madonna Television".[176][177] British press dubbed her "Madge" when she moved to London in the late-1990s.[178]

In academic fields of the 1990s, she was referred to as a "modern Medusa" and by some as the "queen of gender disorder and racial deconstruction".[8] She was also named "Queen of Appropiation".[63] Professor Mathew Donahue called her "Queen of all Media".[154] American journalist Edna Gundersen described Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna as a "durable pop triumvirate".[41] In addition, she appeared in several listicles during her career. In 2011, William Langley from The Daily Telegraph noted that she "remains a permanent fixture on every list of world's most powerful/admired/influential women."[179]

Madonna's influence on other performers[edit]

"Madonna’s influence reigns supreme on today’s artists, her impact on pop culture through film and fashion may never be topped, and Madonna changed the role of women in pop music. She gave women power, the ability to do more than just record dance hits, and brought about change in the industry that gave birth to every single pop star today."

—Culture columnist Art Tavana from company Spin Media (2014).[15]

The National Geographic Society found that historians or anthropologists trace "her influences" from several cultural inspirations such as the Middle Eastern spirituality to feminist art history.[180] Also, she has been inspired by other performers and celebrities, while many biographers documented that her main inspirations came from the world of arts and cinema, instead music.[181][182]

A large number of international authors have noted and commented Madonna's influence on others, mainly among female artists. Reviewing her then 20-year career in 2003, Ian Youngs from BBC wrote that "her influence on others has come as much from her image as her music". Both Youngs and Paul Rees from Q agreed that Madonna "is aware of the influence she has" on others.[183] In a general overview of Madonna's widespread influence on others, Michelle Castillo from Time commented in 2010 that "every pop star has Madonna to thank in some part for his or her success".[184] Similar thoughts came from professor Mary Cross whose wrote that her "influence is undeniable and far reaching", adding that "new pop icons owe Madonna a debt of thanks".[185] Music journalist Tony Sclafani writing for MSNBC in 2008, explained what he calls Madonna's impact and effect on the future direction of music after she emerged saying that "artists still use her ideas and seem modern and edgy doing so".[46]

Outside the music industry, Madonna has been the subject of numerous books, essays and other literary works while more than a writer cited her as an influence. In this line, writer Maura Johnston said that "the appetite for books on Madonna is large, and the variety of approaches writers, editors, and photographers have taken to craft their portraits is a testament to how her career has both inspired and provoked". As an example, Italian writer Francesco Falconi stated in his book Madonna Regina del Pop (Madonna Queen of Pop) that she inspired his career.[186] Fashion designer Anna Sui cited Madonna as an influence in her career. She commented that an encounter with the singer gave her "confidence" and "boosted" the idea to start her first own runway show.[187] In a interview with Nigel Farndale, photographer Mario Testino said Madonna is the first non-model in collaborating with him and credited: "With her I knew I had discovered my style because I like to believe what I am photographing".[188]

In a 2014 article from Dazed by curator Jefferson Hack, she was "interpreted by contemporary artists" with portraits as an art forms and their feelings. One of them was Silvia Prada whose said: "For me, Madonna has became even more important than any art movement in terms of history and popular culture".[189] Scottish painter Peter Howson whose dedicated numerous pieces to the singer once commented that "she's a subject everyone is drawn to".[190] Mexican painter Alberto Gironella dedicated almost all his works in his latest days to Madonna and he described that "more than pop [she] is the last surrealist".[191]

"Madonna" as a nickname or title on others[edit]

Rihanna told the press in 2007 that she wanted to be the "Black Madonna".[192]

Since the 1980s diverse artists around the world (mainly female musicians) have been called a "Madonna" after her by press, critics or intellectuals. Taking Britney Spears as example, Canadian philosopher Paul Thagard explained that "when people say that [Spears] is the new Madonna, they do not literally mean that [she] is Madonna. Rather, they are pointing out some systematic similartities between the two".[193] In a general overview, Billboard magazine explained in 2017 that a Madonna "has to assume the role of a commander standing at the frontlines for womanhood" as well "the controversial complexities of human sexuality, despite the inevitable blacklash to ensue".[192] They added other characteristics such as a Madonna "has to be a trend-setter" or a muse for producers, songwriters, fashion designers or directors alike and match her record sales or achievements.[192] Givin another general sense of this treatment applied to several artists, biographer Isa Muguruza wrote in 2021, that every so often "there is a Mexican Madonna, a Latin Madonna and even a Black Madonna" and that's because she "transcended her own figure" and because she is "almost a powerful adjective that translates into a way of doing things".[194]

In the late-1980s, a couple of female performers were planned or initially promoted by their record labels as "a Madonna", including artists such as Martika by CBS Records or La India by Reprise, which this led to chose her stage name for the latter.[195][196] Ana Curra said that in her case Hispavox planned to promote her as the "Spanish Madonna".[197] In the early-1990s, this trend was described by Gloria Trevi (referred by press as the "Mexican/Latina Madonna") in a interview with Los Angeles Times: "Many artists in Mexico fight to be the Latina Madonna".[198] In the following three decades: 2000s, 2010s and 2020s a varied artists such as Rihanna, Anitta or Dua Lipa have been received the tag by some international publications.[192][199][200] As additional examples across different region and continents, singer Alisha Chinai gained notoriety as "the Indian Madonna" according to professors of ethnomusicology, Gregory D. Booth and Bradley Shope,[201] while South African artist, Brenda Fassie was nicknamed as the "Madonna of The Townships» or with other similar related-titles widely discussed by magazines such as Time.[202] In the mid-1980s, German singer Sandra was called "the Madonna of Europe" as reported publications such as Music & Media.[203]

Many of these artists have commented the comparison or nickname with mixed responses, while references in musical pieces include songs or albums. For example, artists such as Sarit Hadad or Hi Fashion released songs with the title "I'm Not Madonna". Indian rapper Baba Sehgal titled an album Main Bhi Madonna (I Am Also Madonna),[201] while Eminem included a verse in "Fubba U cubba cubba".

Contradictory perspective[edit]

Madonna depicted as Medusa. Aside comparisons with other mythical feminine monsters, she was called as a "modern Medusa" by some academics in the 1990s.[8]

Professors in American Icons noted that she was not only an omnipresent figure but a polarizing one. For example, in 1993, she was the subject of the I Hate Madonna Handbook and the following year the inspirations for I Dream of Madonna.[29] Critical theorist, Stuart Sim wrote that "Madonna now attained the status of cultural icon, she is however, an extremely problematic one, as her delight in simultaneously evoking and transgressing cultural stereotypes of feminity makes her exceedingly difficult to categorize; depending on one's point of view".[204] In 2000, scholar Audra Gaugler from Lehigh University explained that "there exists a large band of critics that at first praised her, but then became disillusioned with her as she became more and more controversial".[32] Sociologist John Shepherd wrote that Madonna's cultural practices highlight the sadly continuing social realities of dominance and subordination.[205]

During her career, Madonna attracted the attention of family organizations, feminist anti-porn and religious groups worldwide with boycott and protests. Authors like Jock McGregor from Christian organization L'Abri agreed "the sector of society most offended by Madonna, has been Christian community".[88] Professor and minister Bruce Forbes expressed that "some of the most important and interesting texts in recent American culture which have overlapping concerns with liberation theologies are by Madonna".[206]

In contrast, author of Sex symbols (1999) commented that she "has pushed the boundaries that most women do not wish to broach".[75] A large number of critics, including the Italian art critic Achille Bonito Oliva said that "Madonna has restored the [image of] Whore of Babylon, the pagan goddess banned by the last book of the Bible".[207] Authors of the academic compendium The Madonna Connection explained "another mythical feminine monster summoned up to make sense of Madonna is the succubus".[208] Professor Sheila Jeffreys and Cheryl Overs agreed that "Madonna was an important element in normal-izing the prostitute look as high fashion" and aided in the normalization of prostitution in the malestream culture.[209] Feminist Karen Fredericks writing for socialist newspaper Green Left Weekly questioned if does the "Madonna phenomenon" advance the cause of women's liberation within Western societies? she said that clearly, there's no point going to Madonna for help.[210] Educator John R. Silber lumped Madonna with Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein.[211]

Authors in Representing gender in cultures (2004) noted that "Madonna has been consistently denied a status of a 'real' musician and even accused of using, in a vampire-like way, fashionable musicians to update her sound".[212] Writer Michael Campbell felt that "neither Jackson nor Madonna has been a musical innovator", although explained that "their most influential and innovative contributions have come in other areas".[213] In the 1990s, critic Luc Sante called her "a barely adequate singer".[116]

Criticisms around the world[edit]

A protest against Madonna in Poland for her Sticky & Sweet Tour concert.

Some critics observed that Madonna has proved a master of cultural appropriation.[154] Alan McGee from The Guardian stated that she "has been banned by countries".[107] Head of British pro-North Korea group blamed Madonna for the collapse of the Soviet Union by making people listen to "the most rubbishy aspects of bourgeois imperialist pop culture".[214] Another allegation within this context came from Russian journalist Maksim Shevchenko whose wrote in 2012 that she is part of "a vivid symbol of everything superficial, deceitful and hateful that the West exhibits toward Russia".[215]

Aaron Klein in his book Schmoozing with Terrorists (2007) found that in the Middle East "everyone has heard of her" and "the terrorists know Madonna because she is regularly referenced on religious Arab television networks for corrupting humanity on earth". He further explained "when sheikhs cite samples of the U.S. attempting to pervert young Muslims with our demonic culture, they speak of Madonna".[163] In 2015 the International Music Council, informed that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) classified both her music and performances as haram stating that "represent anti-Islamic values".[216] American economist Patrick Clawson wrote that "Iranian radicals reject the Madonna of MTV".[217] A group of activists, academics and intellectuals Palestinian from PACBI criticised Madonna for defended her decision to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest 2019.[218]

Researchers at the University of Liverpool labelled the "Madonna effect" to the international adoptions and social issues followed by her first process in 2006. At that time, the child psychologist Kevin Browne found that closely related with the Madonna-style process, there were a rise in the number of children in orphanages across Europe due the trend of international adoptions, as well some parents in poor countries were giving up their children "in the belief that they will have a 'better life in the west' with a more wealthy family.[219] When she planned to adopt again in 2017, some activists expressed that would facilitate the child trafficking in Africa.[220] In 1988, Italian sculptor Walter Pugni planned a statue of Madonna in Pacentro, where are from her paternal grandparents, who said "Madonna is a symbol of our children and represents a better world in the year 2000". The then mayor of the city opposed to that idea.[221]


Academic Lynn Spigel noted that Madonna is a producer of cultural ambiguity and openness.[161]

Criticism on Madonna have generated extensive analysis and counter-responses as well. Stephen Brown from University of Ulster advised that "what people say about Madonna says more about them than it says about the singer".[111] Maria Gallagher wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992, that "there is no avoiding Madonna, so we might as well study her". She found sociologist Cindy Patton described that "[Madonna is] a social critic in a certain way" and "has an instinct for not just what's going to get people upset, but what's going to get people thinking".[222] Two decades later, Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist Caroline von Lowtzow said that interpreting Madonna has never been only a domain of tabloid media.[223] Musicologist Susan McClary suggests that Madonna is engaged in rewriting some very fundamental levels of Western thought.[205]

Economic historian Robert C. Allen found that she is "the site of whole series of discourses, many of which contradict each other but which together produce the divergent images of circulation".[224] Dutch academics in the article Madonna as a symbol of reflexive modernisation (2013) examined that "the communication of social and cultural tensions embodied in Madonna, explain the unparalleled public and scientific fascination for this cultural phenomenon".[225] Stan Hawkins from University of Leeds expressed in the late-1990s that "Madonna's act[s] can only infuriate those who are unfamiliar with the everyday forms of human expression visible in commercials, films, videos, fashion, literature, art and journalism".[159] In a 2005 congress, Lydia Brugué of Universitat de Vic gives her sympathetic view:

Madonna is an artist with multiple message leading frequently to ambiguity. It provokes, it's true, but it goes beyond creating controversy. Her influence in society is titanic and raises criticism not only among madonophobic and madonophilic feminist groups, but also in most of world population.[226]

Journalist Norman Mailer defended Madonna and called her as "our greatest living female artist".[99] Scholar Gaugler advocated for the singer expressing that "she has faced much criticism throughout her career, but much of it is unjust". She pointed that "instead of Madonna's actions eliciting criticism, they should elicit praise because she radically tries to change society by blurring the boundaries that separate different groups of people in society and she urges all people to gain power in their lives and lift themselves out of subordinate positions".[32]

In her essay You Don't Know Madonna (2002), American novelist Jennifer Egan confessed she "didn't really want to know" about her and over the years asked herself: "Why do I have to keep hearing about this woman?" and "Will she ever go away?". Then, her perception changed and among other things she found comments from others arguing that "Madonna has no real talent" are an "old one". Contrary to the opinions from critics like Luc Sante whose criticised her talent, Egan justified among other things that "it seems unlikely that a woman with fifteen American top-five hits to her credit — more than Elvis Presley or the Beatles–has no talent other than self-promotion".[116]

Critic lists and polls[edit]

Madonna on critic lists and polls
Year Publication List Rank Ref.
1997 Adams Media 365 Women Who Made Difference n/a [227]
1998 Ladies' Home Journal 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century n/a [228]
1998 Friedman/Fairfax Publishers 100 Remarkable Women of the 20th Century n/a [229]
2002 VH1 100 Greatest Women in Music (Poll) 1 [230]
2003 VH1 50 Greatest Women of the Video Era 1 [231]
2003 People/VH1 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons n/a [232]
2005 Discovery Channel 100 Greatest Americans n/a [233]
2005 Variety 100 Icons of the Century n/a [234]
2007 Quercus 50 Women Who Changed the World n/a [235]
2008 Encyclopædia Britannica 100 Most Influential Americans n/a [236]
2010 Time 25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century n/a [184]
2011 The Guardian Top 100 women: art, film, music and fashion n/a [67]
2012 VH1 100 Greatest Women in Music 1 [237]
2012 Time All-Time 100 Fashion Icons n/a [53]
2014 Smithsonian Institution 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time n/a [238]
2014 University of Toulouse Wikipedia's most influential people
(Based on all languages ranked)
n/a [239]
2015 The Daily Telegraph Pop's 20 Greatest Female Artists 1 [240]
2016 Esquire The 75 Greatest Women of All Time n/a [241]
2019 Encyclopædia Britannica 100 Women n/a [102]
2019 Time 100 Women of the Year: 1989
(100 women who defined the last century)
n/a [242]
2019 Laurence King Publishing 100 Women 100 Styles
(The Women Who Changed the Way We Look)
n/a [243]

Cultural depictions[edit]

Nota bene: This section only include some examples
Madonna depicted as the Vitruvian Man in a fan art

Madonna's life and career have been depicted in film, television, literature, music, arts, and even science. In a general sense, academic Georges Claude Guilbert found that she "is the ultimate reference in several domains" and her "likeness" has been exhibited in museums.[20]

In 2006, a new water bear species, Echiniscus madonnae, was named after her. The paper with the description of E. madonnae was published in the international journal of animal taxonomy Zootaxa in March 2006 (Vol. 1154, pp. 1–36). The Zoologists commented: "We take great pleasure in dedicating this species to one of the most significant artists of our times, Madonna Louise Veronica Ritchie".[244][245] Numerous contemporary artists have been inspired in Madonna. A book called Madonna In Art (2004) compiled pictures of the singer in art form by over 116 artists from 23 countries, including Andrew Logan, Sebastian Krüger, Al Hirschfeld, and Peter Howson.[246]

Madonna has been subject of music collectors. In 2008, Madonna topped the 100 Most Collectable Divas list by Record Collector.[247] Her songs have been covered by numerous performers in multiple languages. She also inspired the creation of new musical singles. In 2002, Australian rock band The Androids scored a top-five hit single on the ARIA Chart with "Do It with Madonna".[248] English singer Robbie Williams released "She's Madonna" in 2006, which reached the top five in many European countries. The song talks about his fascination with Madonna, and is a reference to Guy Ritchie who left his ex-girlfriend Tania Strecker for Madonna.[249] In 2010, South Korean girl group Secret reached number one on the Gaon Singles Chart with the song "Madonna" from the EP of the same name.[250] According to its songwriters, the song is about "living with confidence by becoming an icon in this generation, like the American star Madonna".[251]

See also[edit]


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