Madonna’s very first album dropped 40 years ago today, and she hasn’t stopped making music (or headlines!) since. Celebrate the Material Girl’s milestone with 40 of her most iconic life and career moments
Can you believe we’ve been living in a material world for 40 years?
Madonna dropped her very first album, aptly titled Madonna, on July 27, 1983, and the music world hasn’t been the same since.
In celebration of the 64-year-old singer’s major career milestone, take a look back on 40 iconic moments from her life and career.
The album that started it all! According to Billboard, the 24-year-old singer’s debut album eventually made it to No. 8 on the Billboard 200, “produced three top 20 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and two No. 1 hits on the Dance Club Songs chart.”
Her 1984 American Bandstand Appearance
Madge rocked out to “Holiday” before charming host Dick Clark in the pair’s first interview. “I think I’ve always had a lot of confidence in myself,” she said, before telling Clark her professional dream was “to rule the world.”
Her First MTV VMAs
Few will forget Madonna’s first VMAs performance, during which she sang “Like a Virgin” in a white bridal-inspired dress and accidentally flashed her butt when grabbing her shoes. When the performance wrapped, her manager told her backstage that her “career was over with,” she recalled to Jimmy Fallon in 2022.
However, “Like a Virgin” became Madonna’s first of 12 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and, in 2014, 30 years after the moment, MTV called Madonna’s performance “one of the most important and most unforgettable VMA performances ever, if not one of the most iconic pop performances of all time.”
Her Kisses with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera
Madonna returned to the VMAs stage many times, including in 2003, when she brought Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera out for another performance of “Like a Virgin” — and kissed them both. “Shock value gets more and more extreme or whatever. But honestly, at the time, yeah, I never thought anything of it,” Aguilera said of the moment in 2020. “It was like, ‘Okay, it’s two girls kissing.’ It wasn’t shocking back then. It’s not shocking now, to me. But it’s so many things.”
Once again pushing the boundaries, Madonna released a coffee table book of intimate images shot by photographer Steven Meisel, entitled Sex, in 1992. The book was released one day after the singer dropped her fifth studio album Erotica and spent three weeks on top of the New York Times Best Seller list.
Her Cannes Moment
In a Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra and miniskirt, a brunette Madonna made a grand entrance at the 1991 Cannes International Film Festival for the premiere of Truth or Dare.
Who’s That Girl
Madonna dipped her toe into acting not long after releasing her first album. She followed 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan and 1986’s Shanghai Surprise with 1987’s Who’s That Girl, which she starred in opposite Griffin Dunne. She took film promotion as an opportunity to perform around the globe on a tour of the same name, and contributed several songs to the soundtrack.
Truth or Dare
The singer gave fans an even more intimate look into her life with the 1991 documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare, which covered everything from her arrest threats in Canada and beef with the Pope to her relationship with Warren Beatty and a sexy game of truth or dare she played with her dancers while on the Blond Ambition Tour.
Blond Ambition Tour
Madonna’s third tour took her around the world, through some more controversies with the Catholic church, and gave us the iconic Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra.
Like a Prayer
Speaking of Catholic controversies … Madonna’s 1989 album Like a Prayer drew ire for, in part, the lead single’s video that depicted crosses burning, among other iconography. However, the album sold more than 15 million copies, produced hits including “Express Yourself” and “Cherish” and launched the aforementioned Blond Ambition Tour.
The ‘Vogue’ Video
The song is an earworm and the video iconic: everyone was doing the Vogue after the 1990 hit dropped. “The song ‘Vogue’ was inspired by walking into a nightclub and seeing the Xtravaganza crew voguing,” Madonna told iHeartRadio in 2019 of the music and moves based on ballroom culture, per HuffPost. “And I was like ‘Whoa, what the hell is that?’ It was just the most amazing thing.”
A League of Their Own
Madonna’s movie star continued to rise with her work in the beloved 1992 film. “No one knew what to expect from the world’s most recognizable, popular cultural icon,” costar Tom Hanks told ET in 1992, adding that the cast wondered if she’d “show up in a helicopter and descend into left field.”
Becoming a Mom
Material Mama! Madonna became a mom in 1996 when she gave birth to daughter Lourdes with actor Carlos Leon on Oct. 14 of that year. She has since gone on to welcome five more children: son Rocco Ritchie, 22, with director Guy Ritchie, and son David Banda, 17, daughter Mercy James, 17, and twin girls Stella and Estere, 10, by adoption.
Her Adoption Journeys
David, Mercy, Stella and Estere are all from Malawi, an East African country Madonna has called her “second home.”
When she met David in the mid-2000s, he was a baby battling pneumonia and malaria. Feeling an instant connection, she began the adoption process. But when she brought him home to London in 2008, the reception wasn’t anything she’d imagined. “Every newspaper said I kidnapped him,” Madonna recalled to PEOPLE. “In my mind, I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute. I’m trying to save somebody’s life. Why are you all s—-ing on me right now?’ I did everything by the book. That was a real low point for me. I would cry myself to sleep.” She called her daughters’ adoptions a “hard road,” too, but added, “it’s so worth it.”
RELATED: Madonna Shares Her 5 ‘House Rules’ for Her Kids: ‘Be Happy with What You Have’
Ray of Light
The singer reinvented herself once again in 1998 with her Ray of Light album, which brought a different sound (and an even bigger audience) for the singer. It also earned her her first album of the year Grammy.
One of Madonna’s most memorable big-screen moments is her work as Argentina’s First Lady, Eva Perón, in the 1996 movie-musical Evita. It was a box office success met with some critical acclaim, and earned Madonna a Golden Globe Award for her acting.
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Her Collaboration with Prince
The Queen of Pop and Prince himself got together for Like a Prayer, dueting on the track “Love Song.” According to Billboard, manager Guy Oseary was hopeful the superstars would tour together, but it never happened; as Prince said, “The world isn’t ready for this, it’s too big.”
Desperately Seeking Susan
Madonna’s first film credit was a big one: the buddy comedy co-starring Rosanna Arquette made $23 million at the box office and debuted in 1985, just as the singer’s star was on the rise. Fun fact: much of her wardrobe came from her own closet, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Her 1990 VMAs Performance
The singer had a ball at the 1990 awards show, channeling the look of Marie Antoinette’s court at Versailles for a performance of “Vogue.” Although the video snagged best direction, it lost video of the year (to Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”).
The star’s role in 1990’s Dick Tracy was that of a lounge singer, Breathless “The Blank” Mahoney. She released an album entitled I’m Breathless to accompany the film, performing the hits on the Blond Ambition Tour.
The 2011 film W.E. was the second of three Madonna has directed. Starring Abbie Cornish and James D’Arcy, it gave a dramatized take on the story of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ Video
Madonna’s 13th studio album, 2015’s Rebel Heart, brought one particularly iconic single: “Bitch I’m Madonna,” featuring Nicki Minaj.
Her Uncensored Runway Moment
Madonna got something off her chest (literally) at Jean Paul Gaultier’s fall runway show in 1992. The topless singer joined fellow stars like Billy Idol and Faye Dunaway at the charity event, which raised $750,000 for amfAR (the American Foundation for AIDS Research).
Pop lovers rejoiced when Madonna brought Justin Timberlake along for her heart-thumping 2008 single “4 Minutes” and its video. It ultimately hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
RELATED: Madonna Shows Off the Iconic Cone Bras in Her Wardrobe Archive: ‘Trip Down Memory Lane’
For the lead single off her 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna aptly sampled ABBA on “Hung Up.” The song was another hit, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Riding a Horse with David Letterman
In October 2005, Madonna and Late Show host David Letterman rode horses down N.Y.C.’s 53rd street, after she’d been thrown from a horse while riding in England in August. Madonna joked it was her first time back in the saddle “because my record company is not very keen on the idea of me injuring myself,” Today reported.
The horse accident was actually quite bad: she suffered three cracked ribs, a broken collarbone and a broken hand. So filming music videos, like this for 2005’s “Sorry,” was no easy feat.
Opening a Children’s Hospital in Malawi
In 2017, Madonna brought her children to Malawi to open the Mercy James Centre for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care, the first children’s hospital in the country.
While first visiting a hospital in Blantyre, the business capital, years prior, “there were not enough beds for bodies, everyone was emaciated, and people were dying — of AIDS, of malaria, of malnutrition,” she told PEOPLE. “I had children, and I was looking at all these kids who were going to become orphans or already were. I’m here to save lives.”
Her Super Bowl Halftime Show
The singer’s 2012 Super Bowl halftime show in Indianapolis was, of course, a memorable one. “Over the 25 years of performing that I’ve done, I have never worked so hard or been so scrupulous or detail-oriented or freaked out as much maintaining my sanity,” she said before her 12-minute set.
‘The Immaculate Collection’
Madonna’s greatest hits album — which encompasses her best songs from 1983 to 1990 — sits at No. 138 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and has sold just as well, too.
The ‘Material Girl’ Video
Paying homage to Marilyn Monroe’s performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (from 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Madonna charmed suitors and picked up baubles in a slinky pink satin gown in the 1985 video for “Material Girl.”
RELATED: Madonna Dances to ‘Lucky Star’ Weeks After Health Scare as She Celebrates 40th Anniversary of First Album
The ‘Music’ Video
“Music,” the first release off her new album by the same name, had the then-pregnant singer back in the clubs — at least in her video — in a white fur coat and a wide-brimmed hat. Fun fact: The gold limo that shuttled Madonna and her friends in the 2000 clip was driven by Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a. Ali G, then virtually unknown in the U.S.
‘The English Roses’
Madonna donned a Prada floral frock for the Sept. 14, 2003, launch of her children’s book, The English Roses. The author sat on a swing at London’s Kensington Roof Gardens between children Lourdes, then 6, and Rocco, then 3, and read passages from the book, about school friends who are jealous of another girl.
‘I Am Because We Are’
Madonna premiered her documentary I Am Because We Are, about orphaned children in Malawi, at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. The work was inspired by her own experience of welcoming son David Banda. “This is a film I want the world to see,” a choked-up Madonna told the audience.
Her Met Gala Moments
The Material Girl has made many show-stopping appearances at Met Galas through the years, and at 2018’s “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” she actually took the stage for a surprise performance, singing a reimagined version of “Like a Prayer” — performed with singers dressed as monks — and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah,” sung sitting on the Met’s stairs.
Madonna’s 1994 single wasn’t a huge hit, but it did let her hit back at critics. As Billboard wrote, “Lyrically, Madonna brushes off the prudes who faulted her for fixating on sex, pointing out that the ‘taboo’ subject is simply human nature — the most basic element of human nature at that.”
Her Viral TikTok Moment
In 2021, Madonna’s 1998 single “Frozen” got another life thanks to a remix that went viral on TikTok. Madonna took the tune — a Sickick’s remix featuring Fireboy DML — and later released it as a single, per Variety.
Her Classroom Instruments Moment on ‘The Tonight Show’
The singer has had a lot of fun moments with Jimmy Fallon, but one of the more memorable was her collaboration with The Roots and Fallon himself for a classroom instrument performance of “Music.”
Her 2015 BRIT Awards Performance (and Recovery)
After slipping down some stairs (but quickly recovering) during her 2015 BRIT Awards performance of “Living for Love,” Madonna posed on Instagram that “nothing can stop me and love really lifted me up!”
And So Much More
Celebrate Madonna’s incredible career with the new PEOPLE Special Edition Madonna The Queen of Pop, available on newsstands and Amazon.com beginning July 28.