Madonna had the music industry burning up so fast after she released her first single in 1982 that a short item about it in the Nov. 6 issue of Billboard introduced her as “a young New York duo.” (Forty-one years later, we’d like to offer an immaculate correction: Madonna is one person.) Since then, Billboard has lived to tell about the Queen of Pop’s 14 studio albums and 12 No. 1 Hot 100 hits. Now, as she prepares to embark on her career-spanning Celebration Tour, which starts July 15 in Vancouver, we’re sharing some confessions from our dance lore.

‘Borderline’ Praise

By the time Madonna’s 1983 debut album came out, Billboard had figured out she was a person — a “young blonde singer/songwriter whose music is in the R&B/dance mode,” to be specific — and offered qualified praise in the Aug. 27 issue. “The songs here are pretty standard dance tunes,” read a ‘Top Album Pick,’ “but Madonna has the pipes and presence to make them a bit special.”

Lucky Spar

Not all Billboard critics were hung up on the future Queen of Pop. A Nov. 24, 1984, review of the Like a Virgin album clucked that “her come-hither image and vivid video profile have made Madonna Ciccone a pop provocateur regardless of her musical gifts.” On the other many-braceleted hand, however, a May 18, 1985, review of The Virgin Tour in Los Angeles gave her props as a performer: “Those of us who figured that Madonna was strictly a studio creation and would fall apart onstage were in for a pleasant surprise.”

Like a Player

“Controversy becomes Madonna,” noted the April 22, 1989, Billboard, after Pepsi pulled a TV ad that featured her following “complaints by Christian groups upset by the use of religious imagery” in her “Like a Prayer” video. But “with Madonna pocketing big money for an ad that aired twice, she is widely perceived at having beaten Madison Avenue folk at their own game.” That game was up, however, by the time she unveiled her coffee-table book, Sex. “Madonna has been jolting the public so consistently for so long now,” said a piece in the Oct. 31, 1992, Billboard, “that we’ve become almost numb to the juice.

Ray of Might

Madonna returned to her club roots in 1998 with Ray of Light. And in a Feb. 28 dance column, Billboard reported on how she introduced “her latest hippie chick/Earth mama persona” at “New York’s brutally hip Roxy nightclub.” The album set a record for first-week sales by a woman. Interviewed about her follow-up, Music, Madonna admitted in the Aug. 5, 2000, Billboard that “I can’t lie; I care about whether or not this record sells a little or a lot.” She needn’t have worried — it outperformed Ray of Light.

Take a Bow

“I don’t ever think about my age until someone says something about it,” Madonna told Elizabeth Banks for a Dec. 10, 2016, cover story after Billboard named her Woman of the Year. “I feel that I have wisdom, experience, knowledge and a point of view that is important. Can a teenager relate to that? Probably not. But that’s OK.” Besides, “I think the most controversial thing I’ve ever done,” she said, when receiving the honor at a Manhattan event, “is to stick around.”

This story originally appeared in the June 10, 2023 issue.

Joe Lynch
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