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Photos: Madonna

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  1. Material grills

    Madonna flashes her new diamond-encrusted grills as she visits the Hard Candy Fitness center at Colosseo on Aug. 21, 2013 in Rome, Italy. (Ernesto Ruscio / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Top touring artist

    Madonna poses in the press room during the 2013 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 19, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada where she accepted awards such as Top Touring Artist. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. What a punk

    Brahim Zaibat, Madonna and designer Riccardo Tisci attend the Costume Institute Gala for the "PUNK: Chaos to Couture" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013 in New York City. (Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Visiting Malawi

    Madonna visits school children in Chorwe, Malawi, on April 3, 2013. Madonna returned to the African nation, the home country of two of her adopted children and the place where her foundation, Raising Malawi, has built 10 schools. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Family trip

    Madonna, second from left, sits with her children, from left, David Banda, Lourdes, Mercy James, and Rocco at Mkoko Primary School in Malawi on April 2, 2013. (Amos Gumulira / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Hello, boys

    Anderson Cooper, left, and Madonna pose backstage at the 24th Annual GLAAD Media Awards on March 16, 2013, in New York. Madonna used the awards show podium to declare her opposition to the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 3 cheers

    Madonna performs during her "MDNA" tour at Atanasio Girardot stadium in Colombia on Nov. 28, 2012. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Super appearance

    Madonna performs during the halftime show for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5, 2012. During the act, British singer M.I.A. gave the finger to the audience, reportedly upsetting Madonna. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Interview with NBC

    The Material Girl stops by The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Jan. 30, 2012 for an interview. (Nbc / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Golden girl

    Madonna poses with her Golden Globe award for best original song in a motion picture on Jan. 15, 2012. She won for the song "Masterpiece," which appears in her movie, "W.E." The song was not eligible for an Oscar because it was the second, rather than first, song heard during the film's closing credits. (Paul Buck / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Surrounded by family

    Madonna, right, arrives with her boyfriend Braihim Zaibat, in scarf, at London's Heathrow airport on her birthday, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011. The 53-year-old singer's children are also in tow, including David Banda, second from right, Mercy Ritchie, in white shirt, and Lourdes Ciccone Leon, far left. (Tilak Desai / Splash News) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A friend signs off

    Oprah Winfrey speaks with Tom Hanks, left, and Madonna on stage during the taping of the third to last "Oprah Winfrey Show" at the United Center in Chicago on May 17, 2011. (Peter Wynn Thompson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Dressed to party

    Lourdes, left, and Madonna arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar party at Sunset Tower in West Hollywood, Calif., on Feb. 27, 2011. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Bringing hard bodies to the masses

    Madonna poses during the opening of her gym called Hard Candy Fitness in Mexico City on Nov. 29, 2010. (Alfredo Estrella / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The quality of Mercy

    Madonna holds her daughter Mercy James, who was adopted from Malawi, during a visit to that country's Gumulira village on Monday, April 5, 2010. Madonna is in the country on a charity tour and is starting a girls' academy there. (Mike Hutchings / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Madonna on marriage

    Madonna joins Larry David, left, and Ricky Gervais on an episode of "The Marriage Ref" in March 2010. They discussed the case of a couple who were fighting over possessions left from past relationships. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Cultured bunch

    Madonna and daughters Lourdes and Mercy James, as well as boyfriend Jesus Luz, watch a samba school perform in a parade in Rio de Janeiro on Feb. 14, 2010. (Marcelo Sayao / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Offering hope

    Madonna performs at the "Hope For Haiti Now: A Global Benefit For Earthquake Relief" event in New York City on Jan. 22, 2010. (Kevin Mazur / Hope For Haiti Now via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Sweet as can be

    Madonna performs during her "Sticky & Sweet" tour in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. It's her eighth concert tour, and is the highest grossing tour by a solo artist. (Manu Fernandez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Paying respects

    On Sunday, July 19, Madonna visited some of the eight workers injured when a stage set for her tour collapsed in Marseille, France. Two men were killed in the accident. (Claude Paris / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Welcome to the family

    Madonna holds 3-year-old Chifundo "Mercy" James in an undated photo. In June 2009, Malawi 's highest court overruled a lower court, saying the singer can adopt the girl. (Tom Munro / Warner Brothers Records via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Visiting the children

    Madonna and son, David Banda, visit the Mphandula Child Care Centre, built by Madonna's charity, Raising Malawi, in Lilongwe, Malawi. The singer adopted David from the African country in 2009 and is in the process of adopting a daughter from the country. (Amos Gumulira / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Return to Malawi

    Madonna is watched by local children during a visit to Chinkhota village near Lilongwe, Malawi, on Sunday, March 29, 2009. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Madonna and Jesus

    Madonna and model Jesus Luz are seen on the streets of Manhattan on March 1, 2009. Reports suggested the pop star and the Brazilian model became an item during a steamy shoot for W magazine after her marriage to Guy Ritchie fell apart. In July 2009, they reportedly broke up. (Arnaldo Magnani / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Tip of the cap

    Madonna performs at the Pepsi Center -- her first performance ever in Denver -- as part of the North American leg of her "Sticky & Sweet" tour on Nov. 11, 2008. (Bill Ross / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. United before the fall

    Madonna and her then-husband Guy Ritchie arrive at the festival palace for the gala screening of director Steven Soderbergh's film "Che" at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, May 21, 2008, in Cannes, France. The couple was dogged by rumors throughout the summer that their marriage of almost eight years was on the rocks and that Madonna was having an affair with baseball star Alex Rodriguez. By fall the rumors of a split were confirmed and the first phase of the couple's divorce became official on Nov. 21, 2008. (Christophe Karaba / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Bringing sexy back, again

    Madonna is joined by Justin Timberlake for a duet during a performance to celebrate the release of her new CD "Hard Candy" at Roseland Ballroom on Wednesday, April 30, 2008, in New York. (Evan Agostini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Madonna and children

    Madonna embraces her daughter Lourdes, 9, left, son Rocco, 6, right, and David Banda, 13 months, whom she adopted with her husband Guy Ritchie. Madonna said that David is healthy and thriving in her London home, in an interview that aired Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006, on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." (Shavawn Rissman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Mother of 'Reinvention'

    Madonna strikes a pose during The Re-Invention Tour in 2004, complete with a red string around her wrist, a custom associated with Judaism's Kabbalah. Since the late 1990s, Madonna has been a devotee of the religion. (Chad Rachman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Bedtime stories

    In 2003, Madonna released her first children's book, "The English Roses." Her latest fable, "Lotsa de Casha," illustrates that money can't buy love or guarantee happiness. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. True 'Confessions'

    Madonna performs at the first London concert of her "Confessions" world tour at Wembley Arena in 2006. Once again, the singer ignited controversy with her use of religious symbols, such as the crucifix and crown of thorns, during her performance. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Disco diva

    Madonna sings her dance single "Hung Up" from her tenth album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor," at the 12th annual MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon, Portugal. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images for MTV) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Sealed with a kiss

    Britney Spears, left, and Madonna kiss during the opening performance of the MTV Video Music Awards at New York's Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2003. The two pop princesses sang "Like A Virgin" in white wedding dresses, mimicking Madonna's performance during the inaugural show in 1984. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Great Scot

    Madonna jams on a guitar while wearing a Scottish kilt during the "Drowned" World Tour 2001. The tour was Madonna's first in eight years, following her 1993 "The Girlie Show" tour. (Colin Braley / REUTERS) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Mamma Mia!

    Madonna gave birth to her son, Rocco John Ritchie, on Aug. 11, 2000. Later that year, she married Rocco's father, Guy Ritchie, whom she met in 1999 through mutual friends Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler. (Martin Cleaver / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Shining brightly

    Madonna's critically acclaimed 1998 album, "Ray of Light," featured personal lyrics about motherhood, fame and spirituality. Produced by William Orbit, the music was heavily influenced by electronica, techno and trip-hop. (Hector Mata / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Don't cry for me, Argentina

    After much campaigning, Madonna landed the role of Eva Peron in the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, "Evita," in 1996. She won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her portrayal. The singer was pregnant with her first child, Lourdes Maria (Lola) Ciccone Leon, during filming. (Buena Vista Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. S-E-X

    In 1993, Madonna hit the road on "The Girlie Show" tour in support of her sexually charged album, "Erotica." Along with the album, the singer released "Sex," a soft-core pornographic book that featured erotic photographs of herself, models and other celebrities. (Bertrand Guay / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. 'Truth or Dare'

    In April 1990, Madonna began her year-long Blonde Ambition tour, which featured the dance-club favorite "Vogue," and the infamous cone bras. The tour's successful documentary, "Truth or Dare," was released the following year. (Jerry Lampen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Hello, God? It's me, Madonna

    Madonna's fourth album, "Like a Prayer," sparked controversy due to the title track's 1989 music video, which combined religious and sexual imagery. (Sire Records) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. The marrying kind

    Sean Penn and Madonna began dating in 1985 and married later that year on the singer's 27th birthday. The marriage lasted less than four years. (Craig Mathew / Associated Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Who's that girl?

    In 1985, Madonna starred in the romantic comedy "Desperately Seeking Susan," along with Rosanna Arquette. The singer-turned-actress received positive reviews from critics for her performance. "If there's any moment in my career that I'm the most fond of, I would say it's the beginning," she told NBC's TODAY. "You don't have any preconceived notions and any kind of cynicism. You're totally naive, pure, innocent." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. 'Like a Virgin'

    This provocative song was the pop star's first No. 1 single, topping the charts in 1984 and 1985. Madonna's memorable performance of "Like a Virgin" at the first MTV Video Music Awards featured her writhing on stage wearing a wedding gown. (Courtesy Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Pop princess

    Raised in a Catholic family in the Detroit suburbs, Madonna suffered tragedy at an early age when her mother died of breast cancer in 1963, when Madonna was just 5. She told NBC's Meredith Vieira, "Because of it, I'll always have an affinity and connection for children who have lost their mothers." (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
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msnbc.com contributor
updated 8/12/2008 6:54:40 PM ET 2008-08-12T22:54:40

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just come right out with it. As Madonna’s 50th birthday approaches on Aug. 16, it’s looking like her influence on pop music has outshone that of the Beatles.

Let me qualify the above statement before all the peace-and-love baby boomers start hating. It’s Madonna’s impact on the course of pop music that bests the Fab Four, not her sociological importance, songwriting skills or recording innovations. Influence means an artist has an effect on the future direction of music. While the Beatles influenced scads of artists in their time, after their breakup, their sound became yesterday’s news. Artists that tried to copy them (Badfinger, the Raspberries, Squeeze) seemed quaint or quirky.

But a quarter century after Madonna emerged, artists still use her ideas and seem modern and edgy doing so. Beyond the obvious Madonna wannabe 1980s singers, Madonna’s influence is felt in artists from Gwen Stefani to Britney Spears to boy bands, who found in the 1990s there was an audience beyond the old rock crowd.

Madonna, like Elvis, recast the focus of popular music. By emphasizing modern R&B grooves where most singers used rock beats, she was the catalyst that changed music from being rock-centric to being dance and R&B-oriented. (Disco, which influenced Madonna, might have done the same thing had it not died because of rock resentment.) It’s worth noting that before Madonna, most music mega-stars were guy rockers; after her, almost all would be female singers.

Combining genres, inventing styles
How did this happen? Let’s scroll back to 1983, the year of Madonna’s first album.

Like Elvis and the Beatles, Madonna combined genres. So her first two singles (“Everybody” and “Burning Up”) may have been lost on people because of the way they didn’t quite fit in with R&B or rock. Top 40 and MTV back then treated black music like a subgenre — not the backbone of 20th century American music, as it’s recognized now. With her music and videos, Madonna sliced away at genre straightjackets like a surgeon, opening the doors for the future hip-hop explosion.

Madonna lookalikeAs for style, well, Madonna’s rag-tag early clothing get-up defined much of what was to come in the 1980s. She was also perhaps the ultimate video pioneer, because her videos were integral to her presentation, not an appendage of it.

Her career highlights came early on. She famously rolled around on the stage singing “Like a Virgin” in a wedding dress at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. She had a featured role in “Desperately Seeking Susan” and got a huge hit out of that with “Into the Groove.” She topped the charts with “Crazy for You,” which wasn’t even on one of her albums. Forbes recently dubbed her the richest woman in music. The Billboard Book of Top 100 Hits lists her as the top female pop artist of the 1980s. (For a roll call of her accomplishments, check Wikipedia or Madonnalicious.)

Women’s work
The word “female” is significant in that assessment of Madonna because she presented herself in a fresh way for women artists. She didn’t try to be one of the boys, but she wasn’t a girly-girl or a singer-songwriter.

When the Beatles hit America, they changed the paradigm of performer from solo act to band. Madonna changed it back — with an emphasis on the female. With female artists everywhere these days, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary her success was (historically challenged Millennials especially seem not to realize this). But look at old music magazines or Billboard charts for proof that in the pre-Madonna era, women were the aberration, not the norm.

Video: Madonna one-on-one Madonna’s countless hit records opened people’s minds as to how successful a female artist could be. Nineties artists such as Tori Amos and Bikini Kill have zilch in common with Madonna, but benefited from her opening the ears of teen-female pop fans to something other than the usual heavy metal shouters (trust me, teen girls in the 1980s loved that stuff).

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Her early audience was the recipient of some panic-stricken journalism early on, much of which took the tone of: “Madonna’s come to ruin your daughters!! Arghghgh!” The consensus then was that Madonna probably wouldn’t have the longevity of Cyndi Lauper (who immediately preceded her) and would disappear like other recent suggestive singers (remember Dale Bozzio? Terri Nunn?).

But Madonna also had the Beatles-like tendency to anticipate the maturing of her audience and also the ability to reinvent her style. Her personal life became fodder for 1989’s “Like a Prayer,” just when her audience was looking beyond dance music. When Gen X grew more mature, she told erotic “Bedtime Stories” and unleashed her “Sex” book on the world.

Still in vogue
Madonna’s no-holds-barred example broadened the palette of what artists — especially female artists — could attempt. Liberate yourself, Madonna seemed to say, and the rest will follow. When her popularity didn’t fade, as predicted, people — especially skeptical Boomer critics —  were forced to take her seriously.

Madonna was also responsible for throwing off some of the unconscious modesty of pop music. Peripheral artists had attempted this, but Madonna was unique in that she brought a no-apologies approach to sex to her music. As she sung in “Burning Up:” “Unlike the others, I’d do anything / I’m not the same, I have no shame.” She could be calculating one minute and coy the next. Her concert tours, like 1992s “Girlie Show,” brought this to the fore, blurring sexuality, satire and social commentary.

The late rock critic Lester Bangs observed in 1975 the Beatles’ jangly sound and somewhat naive worldview was unable to transcend its 1960s origins. Bangs never gave the band enough credit for their songs, but he was right that some of their continuing appeal was fueled by hippie era nostalgia. That’s still the case.

It’s hard to get nostalgic about Madonna, though, because her influence stayed current. Not bad for someone who is about to hit the half-century mark.

© 2013 msnbc.com.  Reprints


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