When provocative, sexualized pop stars like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry perform, they can tip their hats to Madonna -- the original Material Girl who busted boundaries for future young women performers, industry observers say.
Today's more-flamboyant female pop stars enjoy the freedom to make music and perform the way they do, but they didn't create that freedom, says Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Madonna -- who is performing Tuesday at Consol Energy Center in Uptown -- did the moving and shaking when she burst onto the pop-music charts in the early '80s, he says, and followed with hit after hit.
"Madonna and the career she carved out for herself made possible virtually every other female pop singer to follow," Kramer says. "She certainly raised the standards of all of them.
"She redefined what the parameters were for female performers," he says about Madonna. "She is, without question, the most important female artist, and one of the most important artists of the last half-century."
M. Tye Comer, editor of Billboard.com, agrees.
"You could argue that Lady Gaga wouldn't exist if it weren't for Madonna," he says. "Certainly, she made life easier for the (female artists) to be a little more provocative and a little more sexual. ... She's already shocked everybody with the things she's done onstage."
Although Madonna had her influences, such as David Bowie, she created her own unmistakable style. Madonna is ... well, Madonna. There was no one like her before, and though some singers from the past two decades show a style reminiscent of Madonna, there never will be another artist quite like Madge, Kramer says.
"She wrote her own ticket; she didn't have to follow anybody's formula," he says. "She declared who she was ... and took possession of her music."
Madonna's biggest hits include the perky, happy dance jigs like "True Blue," "Material Girl," "Into the Groove," "Cherish" and "Lucky Star;" the ballads "Crazy For You" and "Live to Tell;" the intense "Like a Prayer" and "Like a Virgin;" and the sultry, seductive "Justify My Love."
Her music continues in this generation with this year's dance-heavy "MDNA," and other recent albums such as "Hard Candy" from 2008 and "Confessions on a Dance Floor" from 2005. Madonna has earned her fame not just for the prolific hit-making, but for her live shows known for visual spectacles, dancing, sensuality and theatrics, Kramer says.
"She's exactly what she wanted to be: She wanted to be the biggest thing in the world, and she succeeded," he says. "Very few people get there. ... Everybody who auditions for 'American Idol' wants that."
Madonna, who is 54, makes no apologies for her boldness that often offends people, and proudly and abrasively shares her liberal viewpoints. At a recent concert, she admonished the audience to "vote for (bleep) Obama!" At the recent concert in the Denver area, still reeling from "The Dark Knight" shooting in July, Madonna upset many concertgoers with her fake guns on stage.
"She still raises eyebrows. ... People were a little taken aback by it," Comer says. "It's a very provocative show, but ... that's who Madonna is. She continues to push buttons."
And, Madonna's Pittsburgh concert is Tuesday, which is election night. This ought to be interesting, Comer says.
"It doesn't really matter who you see; there's going to be that sort of anticipation in the air," he says. "The final results will come out when the show is still happening, especially with Madonna being so political."
Comer is a longtime Madge fan, and has been to at least a half dozen of her concerts. He says that the current "MDNA" Tour, which has been selling out, is one of the best he's seen.
"You expect to see a spectacle on stage," Comer says. "Beyond that, she herself is just an amazing performer. ... She could be a dancer in her own right.
"She continues to ... push her own boundaries as a performer in an effort just to give the audience something different and something new," he says.
Madonna was someone different and new in the early '80s, and somehow, no female pop star has seemed quite as new and different since, says Chip DiMonick, singer of his self-titled Pittsburgh-based rock band. "Bad girl" pop stars follow a well-defined formula, and may have the "copycat virus," he says.
"Female pop artists don't have to look too far or work too hard to find a template on how to be that bad girl," says DiMonick, of Moon, in an email. "But, for as titillating as these pop stars' personas are, things are feeling a little contrived to many like me.
"Madonna was the original bad-girl pop star," he says. "There was no template. She broke new ground. ... One can argue that today's style is simply a current manifestation of what Madonna was doing in the early '80s."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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