US singer and film actress, who has sold more records worldwide than any other female performer.
Born into an Italian family in Rochester, Michigan, Madonna Ciccone studied performing arts at the University of Michigan and dance at the Alvin Ailey studios in New York. From 1979 she worked as a dancer in Paris and played in New York rock bands. Her first recordings as a singer, made in 1982, enjoyed some success in US dance clubs; the following year ‘Holiday’ became a national hit and she released her first album.
Although her records had a certain infectious appeal, Madonna's rise to stardom in 1984–85 owed more to her skilful use of video, which allowed her to exploit her striking looks, talent as a dancer, and ability to project a strong identifiable image. In 1985 the album Like a Virgin became a million seller in both the USA and Europe, spawning no less than five best-selling singles. The same year saw her first major screen role in the comedy Desperately Seeking Susan; subsequent films, which have been less well received, include Who's That Girl (1987), Dick Tracy (1990), the documentary In Bed with Madonna (1991), and Body of Evidence (1992). Her success as a singer has continued with such albums as True Blue (1986), which topped the charts in twenty-eight countries, Like a Prayer (1989), and Bedtime Stories (1994); hit singles of the 1990s included ‘Vogue’ (1990), ‘Justify My Love’ (1991), ‘I Remember’ (1993) and ‘Ray of Light’ (1998).
An astute self-publicist, Madonna caused particular controversy with her videos and stage performances of the early 1990s, which have provoked charges of blasphemy and indecency. Her knowing, sometimes ironic, exploitation of her status as a sex symbol provoked much discussion about her significance as a role model for women in the 1980s and 1990s. However, her much-hyped book Sex (1992), which featured semi-pornographic texts and photographs, was widely condemned as banal and proved her first bad career move. Although her record sales declined appreciably during the mid-1990s, she made an impressive comeback with a highly praised performance in the title role of the film Evita (1996). Since the much-publicized birth of her daughter, Lourdes, in 1996 she has presented a more restrained and mature image, as on the album Ray of Light (1998).