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“Her Unsaintly, Sexy Image Sells Records” : USA Today (February 25 1985)

Madonna - USA Today / February 25 1985

She bleats, she writhes, she offends, she titillates. And she sells records — 6 million in two years.

Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born to be a star. She’s known that since she was a little girl in Bay City, Mich.

“I’ve always known this was going to happen to me,” says Madonna. “It was just a matter of time. My success is something that was meant to be. I’m surprised my first album stayed on the charts so long, but everything happens when you least expect it.”

“Everything” includes:
– Her album, Like a Virgin, No. 1 on this week’s Billboard chart for the third straight week, has sold more than 3 million copies. The first single, Like a Virgin, was No. 1 for six weeks; the follow-up, Material Girl, is No. 24 this week.
– Her debut LP, Madonna, sold more than 2 1/2 million copies and had three hit singles.
– She sings two songs, Crazy for You and Gambler, on the soundtrack of the film Vision Quest.
– Desperately Seeking Susan, in which she makes her movie debut as a featured actress, is scheduled to be released March 29.
– Her first tour, a two-month effort, is to begin in mid-April in Seattle.
– Her Wazoo line of clothing, with sexy, midriff-baring styles, including a lace top and skin-tight leggings, will be introduced in April.
“We noticed there were a lot of young girls who copy the way Madonna dresses,” says Dave Alan, sales manager of the company that licenses the new line.
Says her friend, jewelry designer Maripol, who has a New York boutique: “Kids come in the shop all the time looking just like her. I call them little Madonnas.”
– A compilation of four of her hits is on videocassette.
– And she just completed photos for a 1986 Madonna calendar, shot in Hawaii.

Not bad for a 24-year-old who recorded her first single in 1982.

Madonna — despite her success — is regarded with suspicion by some rock critics and fans. A Los Angeles Times critic characterized her voice as sometimes “sounding like a sheep in pain.”

There’s also her ultrasexy video image and her wardrobe, which includes a bizarre collection of necklaces with religious symbols, a belt buckle that reads “Boy Toy” and odd bits of underwear, including corsets.

Then there was the time she told an interviewer for a British magazine that she viewed the loss of her virginity as “a career move.”

“She seems like a walking sexist cliche. She seems to have this calculated slut image that puts a lot of people off,” says Kurt Loder, a writer and reviewer for Rolling Stone. “She’s not the world’s best vocalist, and I reviewed her first album as being really thin.”

“Madonna has had a short career. So that’s one reason a lot of critics put that sort of black widow spider label on her, because that’s an easy hook,” says Mark Bego, a New York-based writer whose unauthorized biography, Madonna!, will be published in April.

“She’s phenomenally talented, but there’s no question that she’s developed an ‘attitude’ lately,” Bego says. “She’s almost inaccessible. I think her record company is grooming her as a pop diva and her manager agrees with that. She agrees, too.”

Rock writer Christopher Connelly has implied that Madonna used musician friends to further her career, then cast them aside for others more important. But most old friends say they remain loyal.

“All my boyfriends turned out to be very helpful to my career, but that’s not the only reason I stayed with them,” Madonna told The Record magazine.

“I’m not Alexis from Dynasty. And going around in corsets is not all I am, either.”

The latest former boyfriend is record producer John “Jellybean” Benitez. She has been seen with actor Sean Penn lately.

“We broke up about five weeks ago,” says Benitez. “We’re still friends. I know a lot of her ex-boyfriends and I don’t think she used them. She took advantage of the opportunities given her. Other people do the same thing.”

“The fact of the matter is that you can use your beauty and use your charm and be flirtatious and you can get people interested in you,” says Madonna.

She told one interviewer, “Maybe at the start they’re only interested in your beauty. But you cannot maintain that.”

In Desperately Seeking Susan, she says she gets to be “impulsive, adventurous and irresponsible. I can relate to that. I certainly felt a lot of those qualities in myself.”

Susan Seidelman, Susan’s 31-year-old director, has emphasized that Madonna was chosen for the film because she could contribute to it, not because she was a pop star.

“We were nervous about how she would come across on the screen, and I think she comes across very exciting. And that’s been a pleasant surprise,” Seidelman told an interviewer.

“My goal is not to make her act so much as be Madonna in front of a camera.”

Says Madonna: “Acting is just another kind of performing. It’s just an expression, it’s just being honest with your audience. So, to me, it’s just an extension of what I do already.”

Most of her videos emphasize her sensuous image. Another woman rocker, Gina Schock, drummer with the Go-Go’s, says of Madonna: “People like her give us a hard way to go. She doesn’t help anybody take women seriously. But I love the record.”

In defense of herself, Madonna says, “What I do is not risque. People often have the wrong idea of me and my music. I couldn’t believe that people would think Like a Virgin is about sex. The song to me is about people experiencing life and adventure for the first time. It’s not an act or an affectation with me.”

“My videos aren’t degrading to women, so why should anyone be upset? I don’t get beaten or show any violence in them. I just act out the notion that a girl can have fun and be sexual at the same time.”

Another rock critic, Wayne King, thinks her image is tongue-in-cheek, but adds it’s “too close to the characters she plays in the videos for some people to get the joke. It’s easy to hold her up as a negative symbol. But she did write a lot of the songs on her albums, including some of the best ones.” (Lucky Star is one of her compositions.)

“Madonna is a prime example of how an artist can use MTV to launch a video career. She’s created a very loyal audience,” says MTV programming vice president John Sykes. “We’ve had no negative feedback on the content of the videos. They’ve built up an expectation for her tour.”

Before stardom, there was suburban Detroit, where Madonna grew up with five brothers and two sisters. Her mother, her namesake, died when Madonna was 6.

She rebelled against her father, stepmother and the nuns at the Catholic schools she attended. For her, the best part of growing up was dancing and the music of Motown stars such as the Supremes and Smokey Robinson.

At 17, she moved to New York City, danced briefly with the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe and was an assistant to Pearl Lange in Martha Graham’s dance company. She auditioned as a background singer for French disco star Patrick Hernandez in 1980; his managers offered her a chance to be a star herself if she moved to Paris. No hits materialized and she returned to New York City.

After working with a couple of bands, she signed with Sire Records on the strength of a tape produced by New York dance club disc jockey Mark Kamins.

Something to have fun to is how she characterizes her music: “I knew when I recorded Like a Virgin, it would appeal to teenagers with active hormones.”

“She knows what she wants when she goes into the studio,” says Benitez. “People say she’s just a producer’s creation because she’s a woman. But she plays a very important part in the production of her music. She’s always learning new things about the studio and how to use it.”

“In the end, talent is the only thing,” Madonna says. “My work is the only thing that’s going to change any minds.”

© USA Today