From 'Hell' And Back, Madonna Lives To Tell

madonna
madonna

With mere hours until the release of her new album, Madonna sits behind a closed door in a suite at Interscope Records’ office near Times Square. A stylist darts into the room for a few touch-ups. “She wants to look good for you,” Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's longtime publicist, tells me. I pass a pair of security guards, then wait to be beckoned into the makeshift chamber. Not much has changed since 1984, when Madonna promised to “rule the world” and subsequently invented modern pop stardom. She is still the one to decide when, where and, most importantly, how we see her.

Over the past few months, however, a hacker challenged Madonna’s right to govern her own image. “Living hell” is how she describes the multiple Internet leaks that plagued her 13th studio album, “Rebel Heart." For someone who approves every thread of her dancers’ costumes before a performance, this was Madonna losing control, the very thing that made her the star she is. So it makes sense that the singer, who did almost no press for her previous album because its release was sandwiched between a Super Bowl halftime show and a world tour, has been ubiquitous in her promotion of “Rebel Heart,” which was released March 10. The high priestess of reinvention maintains her relevance with the headline-making narratives that grow from each hit album, single, video, film and performance -- distinct storylines that expand Madonna's brand. Like the sexual dare of “Erotica,” the spiritual-enlightenment yarn of “Ray of Light” and the political racket of “American Life,” the new album now carries with it another chestnut to add to Madonna’s biography. It’s just not one she invited.

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To create “Rebel Heart,” the 56-year-old collaborated with the likes of Diplo, Avicii, Kanye West, Nas, Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper, Mike Tyson, Toby Gad, DJ Dahi, Ariel Rechtshaid and Ryan Tedder over 18 months. Two days after Thanksgiving, a pair of demos leaked online. Then, a week after other journalists and I previewed 13 tracks one evening in early December, the full album leaked as well. What can the most exacting and famous pop icon on the planet do when hackers threaten her power? What she’s always done: reclaim control.

It’s not dissimilar from what I glean during our 30 minutes of face time, which Madonna begins by offering me a Red Vine. She may not know what questions she’ll be asked, but Madonna asserts herself simply by making it clear which ones she likes and which ones she does not. She’s cognizant that even professionals flinch in her presence. Coy smiles give way to skeptical frowns as the conversation unfolds, underscoring the art of Madonna’s protracted self-awareness.

madonna collage 2
madonna collage 2

Stars in Madonna's orbit (L to R): Michael Jackson (1991), David Letterman (1994), Rosie O'Donnell (1998), Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera (2003), then-husband Guy Ritchie with son Rocco and daughter Lordes (2007)

In an age when pop stars feel like ephemera -- Britney Spears turns into Katy Perry, John Mayer gives way to Ed Sheeran, Janet Jackson yields to Rihanna -- Madonna is the only one to promote a persona that demands every move become another indelible page in the story she’s writing about herself. That’s tougher nowadays, when trends don't last as long. So, as usual, Madonna concocts her own tale: She releases mastered versions of six leaked songs with no announcement, becomes the first major artist to premiere a video on Snapchat and runs a contest that allows fans to chat with her on Grindr. Just don’t think the leaks somehow benefited Madonna -- she scowls when I imply there's solace in their prompting her to stretch “Rebel Heart” from 13 tracks to 19, meaning she eliminated less from what at one point might have become a double album.

“It was really hard on everybody,” she says of the leaks. “Everybody became very paranoid. It was like, ‘Oh, it could be anybody. It’s got to be somebody close.’ I was worried it was an engineering assistant or somebody that had access to everything.” (It was a 39-year-old man from Israel. He has been arrested and indicted.)

Celebrity image control has evolved wildly since Sire Records president Seymour Stein signed Madonna after listening to her debut single, “Everybody,” from his hospital bed in 1982. That Madonna has molded herself for the Instagram era despite having cut her teeth before social media was conceivable is a chief source of the "she's irrelevant" potshots her critics sling. Before she leapt onto the social-media bandwagon, which has served devotees-turned-counterparts like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift well, Madonna’s control was born in the music-video era, when performers molded their personas primarily through MTV rotations. In Kanye West’s eyes, for example, she is “the greatest visual musical artist that we've ever had.” Instagram, then, is another visual platform where Madonna can craft her career narratives.

I tell Madonna that West has paid her such a compliment and ask whether she agrees. She looks at the floor, chuckles knowingly and looks back at me. “That is a trick question,” she smirks. “Um. I think Kanye is a ...” -- and here she morphs into an exaggerated English accent -- “... brilliant man. Brilliant, brilliant. He says some very pithy things sometimes.” (In an interview with the New York Daily News, Madonna tried her hand at pithiness, too: "Kanye is the black Madonna," she said.)

Others say things Madonna doesn’t find quite so amusing. Case in point: Giorgio Armani. The designer fashioned the cape that led to her nasty tumble at last month’s Brit Awards. A week after Madonna took to Instagram to thank Armani for the costume, he told the Associated Press she is “very difficult to work with.”

“That was kind of disappointing because I don’t think I was difficult to work with,” she tells me. “I never blamed my cape for not being able to untie it. In fact, the day after it happened, I posted a drawing, a beautiful drawing, of the cape and thanked them for my costume. I didn’t blame what happened on anyone, so I don’t really know why they did that. I think that was a knee-jerk reaction on their part thinking they were going to get criticism, so they just had to make me the bad guy. Not very elegant, I don’t think.”

This pendulum -- a tick-tock between fierce loyalists and unforgiving detractors -- swings with every major moment in Madonna’s career. Out of the reactions, the narratives are born. With the post-breakup anthem “Living for Love,” the lead single from “Rebel Heart,” Madonna fell down (literally and figuratively) and carried on, just as the lyrics promise. A “tumultuous” few months led to many sleepless nights as Madonna tied bows on the album, now according to her hacker’s schedule. As a result, “Living for Love” emerges with the type of potent backstory the singer hasn’t seen since 2005’s “Hung Up,” the heralded dance canticle whose John Travolta-influenced video marked a return to form after the departure of “American Life."

Throughout these recent obstacles, Madonna used Instagram to reach the fans who rallied behind her. That instant-access culture has taken interesting turns for the singer, though. In January 2014, she posted a photo of son Rocco, then 13, with a caption that included the hashtag "#disnigga." The backlash was swift and ended in a rare apology from the very woman who has a new song called “Unapologetic Bitch.” After refusing to douse infernos involving alleged religious blasphemy (“Like a Prayer”), nude streetwalking (the Sex book) and smooches planted on Britney Spears’ and Christina Aguilera’s lips at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, why cave now?

Madonna explains that she only apologizes “when I see that there’s a huge fire that’s about to blaze through the center of the universe and I have to put the fire out -- especially if it comes to my children.”

As with everything in the second half of her career, Madonna has straddled motherly enlightenment and relentless envelope-pushing, ensuring that we see her as an evolved artist who remains true to her initial priorities, even in the face of ageism and sexism. In the case of the N-word gaffe, Madonna says it was Rocco who told her how to caption the photo. “It was the one time that I listened to my son," she says. "It was his idea. I was like, ‘What caption do you want me to put on it?’ And I did. I wasn’t thinking.”

This controversial Madonna is a theme on “Rebel Heart,” with songs that probe some of the more audacious moments of her 33-year career. On the title track, she sings about “all the things I did just to be seen,” echoing criticism predating the time she rolled around on the VMA stage in 1984, when hardly anyone had even heard “Like a Virgin.” It also reminds us that almost all of those contentious moments, whether she regrets them or not, contain layers that most pop stars are lucky to achieve once or twice in their career. Still, it pays to be meditative, and that’s the chief tune Madonna has sung since the mid-’90s, when she made “Evita,” began studying Kabbalah and had her first child, Lourdes. "Sometimes I just did shit, you know? Just to, like, throw a firebomb in the room."

“There’s a part of my character that’s on automatic, that just likes to be a provocateur. And to a certain extent, maybe some of the things that I did didn’t really have any thought process behind them necessarily, but they got attention,” Madonna says. “I wasn’t really thinking of anything specific. I mean, I could even think of shows that I did on the Lower East Side, when I was first starting in punk-rock bands. I can’t say that every creative decision I made was altruistic or came from the deepest part of my soul or with the best intentions or was really well thought-out or anything like that. Sometimes I just did shit, you know? Just to, like, throw a firebomb in the room.”

Times have changed: We don’t see those firebombs from today’s biggest pop star, Beyoncé, whose carefully curated image does not allow for the same spontaneity. Instead of subscribing to a traditional, interview-based press strategy, the “Flawless” singer perpetuates her offstage persona primarily through Instagram and Tumblr. Madonna says she’s unaware of Beyoncé’s PR tactics, in part because Bey is not among the 57 people she currently follows on Instagram. A more obvious pop comparison may be Miley Cyrus, whose Robin Thicke-accompanied twerking at the 2013 VMAs faced minstrel-show accusations and electrified the cultural conversation for weeks. Cyrus seemed like she could become the decade’s biggest star by courting controversy in a very Madonna-esque manner. Two years later, we're not paying much attention to Cyrus -- something you can never say for Madonna, whose doggedness stokes incomparable intrigue and avoids pop-culture limbo.

We don’t like our pop stars to thrive for too long, anyway. Instant castigation awaits those who try too hard, seem insensitive or appear to appropriate other cultures for their own gain. Out of that came another Madonna apology, in January, after she reposted fan-made Instagram photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Bob Marley with the same thin black cords that envelop her head on the cover of “Rebel Heart.” Detractors accused the images of conjuring the chains of slavery. She acknowledges the political-correctness policing that has materialized over the past few years but was unaware that Cyrus, too, attracted such backlash after the VMAs. Way back in 1998, when Madonna opened her own VMA appearance with the Hindu ode “Shanti/Ashtangi,” she surrounded herself with East Asian dancers and donned the religion’s traditional facial markings. A quiet protest from the World Vaishnava Association ensued, but the Internet was nascent and the controversy -- tame compared to the Blonde Ambition Tour's simulated masturbation or a coffee-table book containing near-pornography -- barely registered. Today she wouldn’t be so lucky, as we saw with the troublesome Instagram posts.

“Oh, they can kiss my ass,” she says of critics who might accuse her of borrowing other cultures’ fixtures. It's a topic she seems interested to discuss. “I’m not appropriating anything. I’m inspired and I’m referencing other cultures. That is my right as an artist. They said Elvis Presley stole African-American culture. That’s our job as artists, to turn the world upside down and make everyone feel bewildered and have to rethink everything.” "That’s our job as artists, to turn the world upside down and make everyone feel bewildered and have to rethink everything."

But the fact is that Madonna can get away with more than anyone else, not only because of longevity, but because her entire image has been manicured to remind us that her outlandishness always contains a story. Well before the hackers interceded, she made a calculated decision to expand her ubiquity to the Instagram audience. (And she does maintain her own account. When I mention that some celebrities hand off their phones for others to post on their behalf, she knowingly says, “Yes, they do.") Now, in between that mass networking and the exhausting press tour she's conducted since the start of the year, Madonna will "fine-tune," over just one week, four different performances for next week's “Ellen DeGeneres Show" residency. Then she'll continue to craft the various themes she’ll incorporate on the “Rebel Heart” tour, which launches in August. In a few years, no doubt, she'll do it all over again, and a new narrative will rise.

At this point in the interview, Liz Rosenberg tells me I have two minutes remaining. Over a lightning round of quick hits, I ask Madonna to pick her favorite Instagram filter (X-Pro) and five most iconic songs ("Like a Prayer," "Like a Virgin," "Ray of Light," "Express Yourself" and "Vogue"). She thinks Katy Perry's Super Bowl halftime show looked "exhausting" ("That drunk shark!" she says) and would "rather not" list which musical acts she's listening to at the moment. Her bathroom is the only place she finds time alone. I tell her it’s David Letterman's final year on the air (she wasn't aware), and Rosenberg interrupts to say Madonna will be making an appearance because “she loves him.” With one question left, I inquire about the best party she's ever attended -- excluding her famed Oscar soirée. Her answer: "None."

Thirty-three years ago, she extended to the world an invitation. Times have changed, but we haven't left the dance floor.

"Only I throw good parties," Madonna says.

"Like a Prayer" (1989)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br> <br> Wherever you are, the opening pings of the organ in "Like a Prayer" are like a call to action. If you're in public when it begins on your iPod, shove your hands in your pockets immediately to keep from undulating like a member of the song's gospel choir. If you're in a karaoke bar, someone better grab that microphone pronto, before another cross erupts into flames as penance for your pop-music sins.  <br> <br> That's because "Like a Prayer" is among the best pop songs of all time. The hum of the choir at the start crescendos in a way that still demands everyone leap from their seats. It's just '80s enough to have catapulted to ubiquity within weeks of its release, but it's timeless enough to remain a staple of contemporary-flashback radio.  <br> <br> It helps, too, that the song sparked a flame of controversy. Its video, directed by frequent early-Madonna collaborator Mary Lambert, depicts white supremacy, an interracial romance and Madonna crooning in front of Ku Klux Klan-style burning crosses. It seems tame compared to Madge's later videos, but the religious controversy resulted in protests. The American Family Association condemned it, and Pepsi, which used "Like a Prayer" in a $5 million advertising deal with Madonna, dropped the singer's campaign.  <br> <br> Madonna shrugged off the contention, and rightfully so. Critics praised the song, which spent three weeks at No. 1 and has since been listed on Rolling Stone's and Blender's lists of the greatest songs of all time. Today, pop stars are lucky to land a song that leads to even half the longevity that "Like a Prayer" has seen. It's what, more or less, spawned critics' declaration that Madonna was the high priestess of reinvention. It's amazing that a number about so many heavy things -- religious guilt compounded by one's devotion to God, mixed with the ideal of doing the right thing and, of course, the thrust of sexual pleasure -- doesn't (and really never did) carry the burden of being an Important Song. Instead, we love it for its dance mandate, its gospel strain and the passion that Madonna's vocals embody. "Like a Prayer" is indeed a pop-music prayer, answered for the ages.
Billboard peak: No. 1

Wherever you are, the opening pings of the organ in "Like a Prayer" are like a call to action. If you're in public when it begins on your iPod, shove your hands in your pockets immediately to keep from undulating like a member of the song's gospel choir. If you're in a karaoke bar, someone better grab that microphone pronto, before another cross erupts into flames as penance for your pop-music sins.

That's because "Like a Prayer" is among the best pop songs of all time. The hum of the choir at the start crescendos in a way that still demands everyone leap from their seats. It's just '80s enough to have catapulted to ubiquity within weeks of its release, but it's timeless enough to remain a staple of contemporary-flashback radio.

It helps, too, that the song sparked a flame of controversy. Its video, directed by frequent early-Madonna collaborator Mary Lambert, depicts white supremacy, an interracial romance and Madonna crooning in front of Ku Klux Klan-style burning crosses. It seems tame compared to Madge's later videos, but the religious controversy resulted in protests. The American Family Association condemned it, and Pepsi, which used "Like a Prayer" in a $5 million advertising deal with Madonna, dropped the singer's campaign.

Madonna shrugged off the contention, and rightfully so. Critics praised the song, which spent three weeks at No. 1 and has since been listed on Rolling Stone's and Blender's lists of the greatest songs of all time. Today, pop stars are lucky to land a song that leads to even half the longevity that "Like a Prayer" has seen. It's what, more or less, spawned critics' declaration that Madonna was the high priestess of reinvention. It's amazing that a number about so many heavy things -- religious guilt compounded by one's devotion to God, mixed with the ideal of doing the right thing and, of course, the thrust of sexual pleasure -- doesn't (and really never did) carry the burden of being an Important Song. Instead, we love it for its dance mandate, its gospel strain and the passion that Madonna's vocals embody. "Like a Prayer" is indeed a pop-music prayer, answered for the ages.

"Vogue" (1990)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br> <br> Second perhaps only to "Like a Virgin" in defining Madonna's career, "Vogue" has etched a place in the dance-floor lexicon, where it remains more than two decades later. It was the ultimate song of the times. Inspired by <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball_culture" target="_blank">ball culture</a>, 1970s disco and downtown New York's 1980s music scene, "Vogue" became an escapism anthem. The lyrics are apt for the post-Reagan age: "When all else fails and you long to be / Something better than you are today / I know a place where you can get away / It's called a dance floor, and here's what it's for." The jolted hand choreography is still fashionable today, as evidenced by its use during the sleek opener of Madonna's 2012 Super Bowl halftime show -- 24 years after her MTV Video Music Awards performance transformed the song into an <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTaXtWWR16A" target="_blank">astounding ode</a> to Marie Antoinette-era France, 18 years after Robin Williams gave it a sendup in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXkApy0gkjM" target="_blank">memorable scene</a> from "The Birdcage," and eight years after it opened the "Devil Wears Prada" soundtrack. <br> <br> Today, "Vogue" remains a staple of Madonna's setlists, and the video, directed by a young David Fincher, is a black-and-white portrait of 1920s Hollywood with a postmodern slant. The song is often credited with having helped to bring house music to the fore, so thank or curse Madonna for that as you will. Either way, "Vogue" is a song that's worth striking a pose for.
Billboard peak: No. 1

Second perhaps only to "Like a Virgin" in defining Madonna's career, "Vogue" has etched a place in the dance-floor lexicon, where it remains more than two decades later. It was the ultimate song of the times. Inspired by ball culture, 1970s disco and downtown New York's 1980s music scene, "Vogue" became an escapism anthem. The lyrics are apt for the post-Reagan age: "When all else fails and you long to be / Something better than you are today / I know a place where you can get away / It's called a dance floor, and here's what it's for." The jolted hand choreography is still fashionable today, as evidenced by its use during the sleek opener of Madonna's 2012 Super Bowl halftime show -- 24 years after her MTV Video Music Awards performance transformed the song into an astounding ode to Marie Antoinette-era France, 18 years after Robin Williams gave it a sendup in a memorable scene from "The Birdcage," and eight years after it opened the "Devil Wears Prada" soundtrack.

Today, "Vogue" remains a staple of Madonna's setlists, and the video, directed by a young David Fincher, is a black-and-white portrait of 1920s Hollywood with a postmodern slant. The song is often credited with having helped to bring house music to the fore, so thank or curse Madonna for that as you will. Either way, "Vogue" is a song that's worth striking a pose for.

"Express Yourself" (1989)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 2 <br /> <br /> Another fixture of radio airwaves, supermarket speakers and dance floors, "Express Yourself" has never not been relevant. Still, a little song called "Born This Way" came along in 2011, and again the words "Express Yourself" were on everyone's lips. What resulted was a fierce debate about whether Lady Gaga had appropriated the chord structure of Madonna's 1989 hit. Once again, another female pop artist seemed to, at least, pay homage to Madge or, at most, have totally ripped her off. "As far as Western music theory is concerned, that song was written by Madonna," <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/03/lady_gaga_s_bad_romance_owen_pallett_explains_the_pop_diva_s_genius_using.2.html" target="_blank">Owen Pallett said of "Born This Way" in a Slate essay</a>. <br /> <br /> Whichever position you take in the great Madonna-Lady Gaga debate of the 2010s, there's no doubt that "Express Yourself" is an iconic song. It serves as many things: a female-empowerment anthem, the antithesis of the literalism interpreted in 1984's "Material Girl" (pure satire, but irony doesn't always mesh with pop music), and the singer's most concerted effort to drift from the bubblegum stylings of her previous work. The music video -- Madonna's first collaboration with David Fincher and, with a $5 million budget, one of the most expensive ever made -- was in 2011 ranked among <a href="http://entertainment.time.com/2011/07/28/the-30-all-time-best-music-videos/slide/madonna-express-yourself-1989/" target="_blank">TIME's 30 greatest of all time</a>.
Billboard peak: No. 2

Another fixture of radio airwaves, supermarket speakers and dance floors, "Express Yourself" has never not been relevant. Still, a little song called "Born This Way" came along in 2011, and again the words "Express Yourself" were on everyone's lips. What resulted was a fierce debate about whether Lady Gaga had appropriated the chord structure of Madonna's 1989 hit. Once again, another female pop artist seemed to, at least, pay homage to Madge or, at most, have totally ripped her off. "As far as Western music theory is concerned, that song was written by Madonna," Owen Pallett said of "Born This Way" in a Slate essay.

Whichever position you take in the great Madonna-Lady Gaga debate of the 2010s, there's no doubt that "Express Yourself" is an iconic song. It serves as many things: a female-empowerment anthem, the antithesis of the literalism interpreted in 1984's "Material Girl" (pure satire, but irony doesn't always mesh with pop music), and the singer's most concerted effort to drift from the bubblegum stylings of her previous work. The music video -- Madonna's first collaboration with David Fincher and, with a $5 million budget, one of the most expensive ever made -- was in 2011 ranked among TIME's 30 greatest of all time.

"Like a Virgin" (1984)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br /><br /><strong>UPDATE: </strong>No. 5 to No. 4, because seeing Madonna do a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vafGb9cgPEc" target="_blank">pure, eletro-pop rendition</a> of "Like a Virgin" -- a song she religiously remixes for concerts -- while frolicking around the stage sans dancers or visual effects proved she needs no accoutrements to dazzle.<br /> <br /><strong>PREVIOUSLY: </strong>"Like a Virgin" is synonymous with Madonna. "Like a Virgin" is synonymous with weddings. "Like a Virgin" is synonymous with teeny-bopper lookalikes dressed in dangling beads and evening gloves. And, most importantly, "Like a Virgin" is synonymous with the MTV Video Music Awards, where, during its inaugural 1984 ceremony, Madonna famously rolled around on the stage and instantly became a global superstar. (Another twist of charisma, as no one even knew "Like a Virgin" when she performed it that night. It wouldn't be released as a single for another two months.) Nineteen years later, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/28/madonna-britney-spears-christina-aguilera-vmas_n_3824662.html" target="_blank">"Like a Virgin" appeared on the VMA stage again</a>, this time sung by 2003's reigning pop princesses, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, who donned wedding gowns and locked lips with their musical matron. The classic still felt as fresh as ever. <br /> <br /> Much of pop music is owed to both the song and the 1984 VMA performance it inspired. Nile Rodgers, who produced the "Like a Virgin" album, famously told Madonna at first that the track's hook and lyrics weren't catchy -- a critique for which he soon apologized. "Like a Virgin" introduced the first major controversy of Madonna's career, and once she'd had a taste, she never let that reputation drift far from her namesake. No one lambastes its sexual undertones anymore, but Madonna has maintained the song's association with controversy. On her acclaimed 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour, she simulated masturbation on a red silk bed during a Middle Eastern-themed arrangement. During 2008's Sticky & Sweet Tour, she dedicated it to the pope. And on 2012's MDNA Tour, she performed it as a piano ballad. So while you were making sure the DJ at your wedding included it on the playlist (because what are a few naughty lyrics when a song is this catchy?), Madonna was ensuring it remained true to her original intentions: to grab your attention and stir up some agitation, the way only a timeless pop standard can.
Billboard peak: No. 1

UPDATE: No. 5 to No. 4, because seeing Madonna do a pure, eletro-pop rendition of "Like a Virgin" -- a song she religiously remixes for concerts -- while frolicking around the stage sans dancers or visual effects proved she needs no accoutrements to dazzle.

PREVIOUSLY: "Like a Virgin" is synonymous with Madonna. "Like a Virgin" is synonymous with weddings. "Like a Virgin" is synonymous with teeny-bopper lookalikes dressed in dangling beads and evening gloves. And, most importantly, "Like a Virgin" is synonymous with the MTV Video Music Awards, where, during its inaugural 1984 ceremony, Madonna famously rolled around on the stage and instantly became a global superstar. (Another twist of charisma, as no one even knew "Like a Virgin" when she performed it that night. It wouldn't be released as a single for another two months.) Nineteen years later, "Like a Virgin" appeared on the VMA stage again, this time sung by 2003's reigning pop princesses, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, who donned wedding gowns and locked lips with their musical matron. The classic still felt as fresh as ever.

Much of pop music is owed to both the song and the 1984 VMA performance it inspired. Nile Rodgers, who produced the "Like a Virgin" album, famously told Madonna at first that the track's hook and lyrics weren't catchy -- a critique for which he soon apologized. "Like a Virgin" introduced the first major controversy of Madonna's career, and once she'd had a taste, she never let that reputation drift far from her namesake. No one lambastes its sexual undertones anymore, but Madonna has maintained the song's association with controversy. On her acclaimed 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour, she simulated masturbation on a red silk bed during a Middle Eastern-themed arrangement. During 2008's Sticky & Sweet Tour, she dedicated it to the pope. And on 2012's MDNA Tour, she performed it as a piano ballad. So while you were making sure the DJ at your wedding included it on the playlist (because what are a few naughty lyrics when a song is this catchy?), Madonna was ensuring it remained true to her original intentions: to grab your attention and stir up some agitation, the way only a timeless pop standard can.

"Justify My Love" (1990)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br> <br> Ah, "Justify My Love." Where does one begin when describing a song that is iconic for entirely different reasons than every other high-ranking track on this list? It's unlikely you'll hear "Justify My Love" on the radio today, and the same goes for the dance floor, the supermarket, on television and, in all likelihood, on your iPod. Yet somehow it remains one of the singer's most epochal, and for that we must celebrate it.  <br> <br> The song instantly conjures images of its grainy black-and-white video, which featured Madonna slinking through the halls of a hotel while engaging in cloistered acts of sexual passion, at times wearing nothing but skimpy undergarments and donning a dominatrix mien. With androgyny and fetishism as primary themes, the video earned the rare distinction of being banned from MTV's airwaves. To top it off, "Justify My Love," co-written by Lenny Kravitz and Ingrid Chavez, sounded like no song Madonna had ever made. Most of its lyrics are spoken with breathy cadence, enhancing the trip-hop ode's carnal energy. "Justify My Love" has striking psychedelic influences, and it ushered in the "Erotica" period that would define the singer's image throughout the first half of the '90s. All that for a song that was banned from seeing the light of day.
Billboard peak: No. 1

Ah, "Justify My Love." Where does one begin when describing a song that is iconic for entirely different reasons than every other high-ranking track on this list? It's unlikely you'll hear "Justify My Love" on the radio today, and the same goes for the dance floor, the supermarket, on television and, in all likelihood, on your iPod. Yet somehow it remains one of the singer's most epochal, and for that we must celebrate it.

The song instantly conjures images of its grainy black-and-white video, which featured Madonna slinking through the halls of a hotel while engaging in cloistered acts of sexual passion, at times wearing nothing but skimpy undergarments and donning a dominatrix mien. With androgyny and fetishism as primary themes, the video earned the rare distinction of being banned from MTV's airwaves. To top it off, "Justify My Love," co-written by Lenny Kravitz and Ingrid Chavez, sounded like no song Madonna had ever made. Most of its lyrics are spoken with breathy cadence, enhancing the trip-hop ode's carnal energy. "Justify My Love" has striking psychedelic influences, and it ushered in the "Erotica" period that would define the singer's image throughout the first half of the '90s. All that for a song that was banned from seeing the light of day.

"Ray of Light" (1998)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 5 <br /> <br /> By the time the "Ray of Light" album arrived in February 1998, the world was well-adjusted to Madonna's self-reinventions. This one offered the steepest departure from her previous work. By the time she became a mother in late 1996 and then won the Golden Globe for her celebrated role as Eva Perón in "Evita," Madonna converted to Kabbalah and found spiritual enlightenment. The result was a stunning tour de force of songwriting and William Orbit-produced electronic rock. The album's titular second single didn't peak as high as some of her previous Billboard hits, but no matter: It defined a more adult Madonna while managing to be just as enduring as what had come before. <br /> <br /> "Ray of Light" is a rock anthem. It's often noted for its dance vibe, but what resounds is its use of electric guitar. It co-existed with the apex of the 1990s' female singer-songwriter evolution but joins the proliferation of electronic music that emerged around the same period -- all while maintaining the psychedelic undertones offered on the "Erotica" and "Bedtime Stories" albums. "Ray of Light" became the comeback story Madonna didn't even know she needed: a post-40 pop-rock goddess returning to her throne, emboldened by a spiritual renaissance. The album and its title track led to a huge night at the Grammys for Madonna. She lost Album of the Year in a heated battle with Lauryn Hill but nabbed Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Dance Recording. "Ray of Light" is wonderful because it's a brilliant song, but it's important because, 15 years after her first single, it cemented Madonna's longevity and ushered in another several years of pop sovereignty.
Billboard peak: No. 5

By the time the "Ray of Light" album arrived in February 1998, the world was well-adjusted to Madonna's self-reinventions. This one offered the steepest departure from her previous work. By the time she became a mother in late 1996 and then won the Golden Globe for her celebrated role as Eva Perón in "Evita," Madonna converted to Kabbalah and found spiritual enlightenment. The result was a stunning tour de force of songwriting and William Orbit-produced electronic rock. The album's titular second single didn't peak as high as some of her previous Billboard hits, but no matter: It defined a more adult Madonna while managing to be just as enduring as what had come before.

"Ray of Light" is a rock anthem. It's often noted for its dance vibe, but what resounds is its use of electric guitar. It co-existed with the apex of the 1990s' female singer-songwriter evolution but joins the proliferation of electronic music that emerged around the same period -- all while maintaining the psychedelic undertones offered on the "Erotica" and "Bedtime Stories" albums. "Ray of Light" became the comeback story Madonna didn't even know she needed: a post-40 pop-rock goddess returning to her throne, emboldened by a spiritual renaissance. The album and its title track led to a huge night at the Grammys for Madonna. She lost Album of the Year in a heated battle with Lauryn Hill but nabbed Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Dance Recording. "Ray of Light" is wonderful because it's a brilliant song, but it's important because, 15 years after her first single, it cemented Madonna's longevity and ushered in another several years of pop sovereignty.

"Holiday" (1983)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 16 <br> <br> "Holiday" is further evidence of Madonna's longevity. It was her first  hit, and it prevails as one of her defining fixtures, even though it never cracked the Top 10. It's certainly her most infectious song. Who doesn't want to imagine "Holiday" scoring their arrival at a Hawaiian resort? Much in the way that "Like a Virgin" is defined by its wedding association, the upbeat "Holiday" lyrics make it the world's vacation paean.  <br> <br> The song premiered to acclaim, but no one foresaw Madonna's impending rise to supremacy. "Holiday" came and went like any old one-off pop hit, and yet it endures, having become a staple of the singer's tours and an epitomization of '80s bubblegum cheer. Plus, Madonna is credited for the song's cowbell.
Billboard peak: No. 16

"Holiday" is further evidence of Madonna's longevity. It was her first hit, and it prevails as one of her defining fixtures, even though it never cracked the Top 10. It's certainly her most infectious song. Who doesn't want to imagine "Holiday" scoring their arrival at a Hawaiian resort? Much in the way that "Like a Virgin" is defined by its wedding association, the upbeat "Holiday" lyrics make it the world's vacation paean.

The song premiered to acclaim, but no one foresaw Madonna's impending rise to supremacy. "Holiday" came and went like any old one-off pop hit, and yet it endures, having become a staple of the singer's tours and an epitomization of '80s bubblegum cheer. Plus, Madonna is credited for the song's cowbell.

"Material Girl" (1984)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 2 <br /> <br /> "Material Girl" holds an interesting place in Madonna's oeuvre. Released after "Like a Virgin," it was a substantial hit that today is most readily associated with the nickname it lent to the singer. Yet "Material Girl" is the song Madonna has worked hardest to shed from her image. <br /> <br /> It was meant as satire, a parody of society's one-note approach to glamour and wealth. The music video's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" portrait of Marilyn Monroe is still iconic, even though most of her most recent tours haven't included the song on their setlists. But first impressions are everything, and there's no diminishing the power any follow-up to "Like a Virgin" could have wielded. If anything, the "Ray of Light," "Music" and "American Life" albums were rebuttals to everything fans failed to appreciate in "Material Girl." The song's intent may register more clearly today, but no one's tending to that while they slap the Material Girl moniker on Madonna's shoulders at every turn. (If you don't want to dote to that addendum, that's okay, too -- the song is still pure fun.)
Billboard peak: No. 2

"Material Girl" holds an interesting place in Madonna's oeuvre. Released after "Like a Virgin," it was a substantial hit that today is most readily associated with the nickname it lent to the singer. Yet "Material Girl" is the song Madonna has worked hardest to shed from her image.

It was meant as satire, a parody of society's one-note approach to glamour and wealth. The music video's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" portrait of Marilyn Monroe is still iconic, even though most of her most recent tours haven't included the song on their setlists. But first impressions are everything, and there's no diminishing the power any follow-up to "Like a Virgin" could have wielded. If anything, the "Ray of Light," "Music" and "American Life" albums were rebuttals to everything fans failed to appreciate in "Material Girl." The song's intent may register more clearly today, but no one's tending to that while they slap the Material Girl moniker on Madonna's shoulders at every turn. (If you don't want to dote to that addendum, that's okay, too -- the song is still pure fun.)

"Into the Groove" (1985)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> N/A <br /><br />"Into the Groove" was a crossover hit from the "Desperately Seeking Susan" soundtrack, yet it was never officially released as a single for fear it would go head to head with "Angel," her third outing from the "Like a Virgin" album. It was a silly decision on Warner Bros.' part, because no one (including this ranking) cites "Angel" as one of Madonna's more memorable singles. But "Into the Groove" is. It follows the same tempo as "Holiday" and in turn serves as Madonna's finest pre-"Vogue" dance-floor anthem. "Into the Groove" is the ultimate mid-'80s call to action.
Billboard peak: N/A

"Into the Groove" was a crossover hit from the "Desperately Seeking Susan" soundtrack, yet it was never officially released as a single for fear it would go head to head with "Angel," her third outing from the "Like a Virgin" album. It was a silly decision on Warner Bros.' part, because no one (including this ranking) cites "Angel" as one of Madonna's more memorable singles. But "Into the Groove" is. It follows the same tempo as "Holiday" and in turn serves as Madonna's finest pre-"Vogue" dance-floor anthem. "Into the Groove" is the ultimate mid-'80s call to action.

"Music" (2000)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br> <br> Madonna's most recent No. 1 single, "Music" marked another resurgence for the singer. Here came full-on Electronic Madonna, who imbued her club-friendly grooves with mature sensibilities. The song's opening words -- "Hey, Mr. DJ, put a record on / I wanna dance with my baby" -- also helped to introduce the DJ renaissance in which artists name-checked record spinners in their music. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFuw-YZaTNo" target="_blank">Jennifer Lopez</a>, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_cby8ep-l8" target="_blank">Mariah Carey</a>, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH8FctYMM80" target="_blank">Black Eyed Peas</a>, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noEBJjGcTJ0" target="_blank">Jet</a>, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNS-Ho5tWo0" target="_blank">Lil Wayne</a> and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzU9OrZlKb8" target="_blank">Britney Spears</a> are among the artists who followed suit.
Billboard peak: No. 1

Madonna's most recent No. 1 single, "Music" marked another resurgence for the singer. Here came full-on Electronic Madonna, who imbued her club-friendly grooves with mature sensibilities. The song's opening words -- "Hey, Mr. DJ, put a record on / I wanna dance with my baby" -- also helped to introduce the DJ renaissance in which artists name-checked record spinners in their music. Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Black Eyed Peas, Jet, Lil Wayne and Britney Spears are among the artists who followed suit.

"Lucky Star" (1983)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 4 <br> <br> Madonna's most '80s-sounding hit, "Lucky Star" spawned the bulk of the copycat costumes still seen at Halloween parties far and wide. "Lucky Star" made Madonna a fashion icon. It was her first Top 5 Billboard hit, propelled by the seminal look first seen in the music video. Teen girls everywhere emulated her black mesh top and bangles, the rosary worn as jewelry and the unruly hair tied up in a ribbon.
Billboard peak: No. 4

Madonna's most '80s-sounding hit, "Lucky Star" spawned the bulk of the copycat costumes still seen at Halloween parties far and wide. "Lucky Star" made Madonna a fashion icon. It was her first Top 5 Billboard hit, propelled by the seminal look first seen in the music video. Teen girls everywhere emulated her black mesh top and bangles, the rosary worn as jewelry and the unruly hair tied up in a ribbon.

"Human Nature" (1995)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 46 <br /><br /><strong>UPDATE: </strong>No. 7 to No. 12, because Madonna left this under-heralded sex hymn off the Rebel Heart Tour lineup, instead performing a cabaret-themed "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O728XIctoWY" target="_blank">Music</a>," an electro-jazz update of "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlEaWlpBwBo" target="_blank">Material Girl</a>" (a song she's notoriously said she loathes), flamenco-infused excerpts of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O-S_DTwxSQ" target="_blank">"Into the Groove" and "Lucky Star,"</a> and a party-crashing "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Xc1BwvDk6k" target="_blank">Holiday</a>" encore.<br /> <br /> <strong>PREVIOUSLY: </strong>Listening to "Human Nature" might leave you scouring the liner notes for a Dr. Dre credit. You won't find it, but the song's hip-hop influences are undeniable. It wasn't a huge Billboard hit, yet the bondage-inspired video -- in which Madonna trots around in cornrows and a skintight leather suit while carrying a chihuahua in one hand and a whip in the other -- became iconic in its own right, and she's since performed the track on numerous world tours. Released months before "Evita" would usher in a more harnessed iteration of her career, "Human Nature" marked the cessation of Madonna's hypersexual phase. The aggressive lyrics ("I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me") acted as a response to the backlash "Erotica" and the "Sex" book received, because Madonna is nothing if not self-aware. "Human Nature" is an R&B blitz that remains one of Madonna's most original songs, particularly as her early-'90s era has gained esteem in the years since it lit the country's moral compass on fire.
Billboard peak: No. 46

UPDATE: No. 7 to No. 12, because Madonna left this under-heralded sex hymn off the Rebel Heart Tour lineup, instead performing a cabaret-themed "Music," an electro-jazz update of "Material Girl" (a song she's notoriously said she loathes), flamenco-infused excerpts of "Into the Groove" and "Lucky Star," and a party-crashing "Holiday" encore.

PREVIOUSLY: Listening to "Human Nature" might leave you scouring the liner notes for a Dr. Dre credit. You won't find it, but the song's hip-hop influences are undeniable. It wasn't a huge Billboard hit, yet the bondage-inspired video -- in which Madonna trots around in cornrows and a skintight leather suit while carrying a chihuahua in one hand and a whip in the other -- became iconic in its own right, and she's since performed the track on numerous world tours. Released months before "Evita" would usher in a more harnessed iteration of her career, "Human Nature" marked the cessation of Madonna's hypersexual phase. The aggressive lyrics ("I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me") acted as a response to the backlash "Erotica" and the "Sex" book received, because Madonna is nothing if not self-aware. "Human Nature" is an R&B blitz that remains one of Madonna's most original songs, particularly as her early-'90s era has gained esteem in the years since it lit the country's moral compass on fire.

"Borderline" (1984)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 10 <br /><br /><strong>UPDATE: </strong>No. 17 to 13, because frankly we must have been drunk two years ago. We underestimated this song. It's one of M's all-time greats, as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSXiZvBgJcU" target="_blank">again proven</a> during her one-night-only Tears of a Clown show in Australia.<br /> <br /> <strong>PREVIOUSLY: </strong>"Borderline" is credited with helping to cement Madonna's signature '80s sound. It's all about those wailing vocals and the barrier-breaking video, which depicted a rare interracial romance.
Billboard peak: No. 10

UPDATE: No. 17 to 13, because frankly we must have been drunk two years ago. We underestimated this song. It's one of M's all-time greats, as again proven during her one-night-only Tears of a Clown show in Australia.

PREVIOUSLY: "Borderline" is credited with helping to cement Madonna's signature '80s sound. It's all about those wailing vocals and the barrier-breaking video, which depicted a rare interracial romance.

"Frozen" (1998)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 2 <br> <br> "Frozen" preceded "Ray of Light," and landed in a higher position on the Billboard chart than that track, but it hasn't secured the same longevity. Still, critics extolled the song, hailing the haunting ballad as a "<a href="http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,282100,00.html" target="_blank">breathtaking</a>" "<a href="http://www.slantmagazine.com/music/review/madonna-ray-of-light" target="_blank">masterpiece</a>" of '90s pop-rock. The drum beat is dazzling.
Billboard peak: No. 2

"Frozen" preceded "Ray of Light," and landed in a higher position on the Billboard chart than that track, but it hasn't secured the same longevity. Still, critics extolled the song, hailing the haunting ballad as a "breathtaking" "masterpiece" of '90s pop-rock. The drum beat is dazzling.

"Papa Don't Preach" (1986)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br /> <br /> The sweeping string arrangement that mounts "Papa Don't Preach" is still among pop music's most engaging openings. It's a song that made everyone mad: Anti-abortion groups saw it as pro-choice; pro-choice organizations thought it undermined birth control by promoting teen pregnancy. As usual, none of that mattered in the end, as the song's popularity has only escalated over the years. In 2002, Kelly Osbourne put it back on the Billboard chart with <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUb5JihqZZQ" target="_blank">her cover</a>.
Billboard peak: No. 1

The sweeping string arrangement that mounts "Papa Don't Preach" is still among pop music's most engaging openings. It's a song that made everyone mad: Anti-abortion groups saw it as pro-choice; pro-choice organizations thought it undermined birth control by promoting teen pregnancy. As usual, none of that mattered in the end, as the song's popularity has only escalated over the years. In 2002, Kelly Osbourne put it back on the Billboard chart with her cover.

"Hung Up" (2005)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 7 <br> <br> "Hung Up" sounds like a sendup to the club-friendly dance music Madonna made in the '80s, its chugging beat serving as her catchiest since "Vogue." Come for the tune's ticking-clock groove, stay for the video's acrobatic dance. You try doing either at 47.
Billboard peak: No. 7

"Hung Up" sounds like a sendup to the club-friendly dance music Madonna made in the '80s, its chugging beat serving as her catchiest since "Vogue." Come for the tune's ticking-clock groove, stay for the video's acrobatic dance. You try doing either at 47.

"Hollywood" (2003)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> Didn't chart <br> <br> Pay no attention to the fact that this searing "American Life" track failed to chart. "Hollywood" is one of Madonna's most layered lyrical achievements, and it will never be far from her canon thanks to that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/28/madonna-britney-spears-christina-aguilera-vmas_n_3824662.html" target="_blank">infamous MTV Video Music Awards performance</a> where she smooched Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera while singing this song.
Billboard peak: Didn't chart

Pay no attention to the fact that this searing "American Life" track failed to chart. "Hollywood" is one of Madonna's most layered lyrical achievements, and it will never be far from her canon thanks to that infamous MTV Video Music Awards performance where she smooched Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera while singing this song.

"Secret" (1994)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 3 <br> <br> The seductive "Secret" hails from the same hip-hop influences that made "Justify My Love" and "Human Nature" instant classics. In the weeks leading up to its release, Madonna made what was then considered an <a href="http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/doc/307806347.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Sep%2029,%201994&author=Richard%20Leiby&pub=The%20Washington%20Post%20(pre-1997%20Fulltext)&edition=&startpage=&desc=World%20Wide%20Web%20Is%20Where%20It%27s%20@" target="_blank">unprecedented move</a>: She unveiled a snippet of the song on the Internet along with the cover art for the then-unreleased "Bedtime Stories."
Billboard peak: No. 3

The seductive "Secret" hails from the same hip-hop influences that made "Justify My Love" and "Human Nature" instant classics. In the weeks leading up to its release, Madonna made what was then considered an unprecedented move: She unveiled a snippet of the song on the Internet along with the cover art for the then-unreleased "Bedtime Stories."

"Take a Bow" (1994)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br> <br> Co-written by Babyface, "Take a Bow" is Madonna's most poetic ballad. Much in the way that such hits as "Borderline" and "Into the Grove" act as the fuselage of '80s pop, "Take a Bow" is a lost-love elegy that squares nicely with the burgeoning female singer-songwriter movement of the '90s. Don't mistake its sleepy quality for stuffiness -- this song is Madonna at her loveliest.
Billboard peak: No. 1

Co-written by Babyface, "Take a Bow" is Madonna's most poetic ballad. Much in the way that such hits as "Borderline" and "Into the Grove" act as the fuselage of '80s pop, "Take a Bow" is a lost-love elegy that squares nicely with the burgeoning female singer-songwriter movement of the '90s. Don't mistake its sleepy quality for stuffiness -- this song is Madonna at her loveliest.

"Don't Tell Me" (2000)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 4 <br> <br> One of the standouts from the "Music" album, the country-inspired "Don't Tell Me" thrived because it was such an unlikely follow-up to the electronic-infused title single. It saw a recent revival when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/30/miley-cyrus-madonna-mtv-unplugged_n_4694376.html" target="_blank">Madonna joined Miley Cyrus</a> to perform the song on "MTV Unplugged."
Billboard peak: No. 4

One of the standouts from the "Music" album, the country-inspired "Don't Tell Me" thrived because it was such an unlikely follow-up to the electronic-infused title single. It saw a recent revival when Madonna joined Miley Cyrus to perform the song on "MTV Unplugged."

"Open Your Heart" (1986)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br /><br />"Open Your Heart" is among the songs that introduced the famous cone bra worn on 1990's Blonde Ambition Tour -- the same one that in 2012 <a href="http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-hook/473934/madonnas-iconic-cone-bra-sells-for-52000" target="_blank">sold for $52,000</a>.
Billboard peak: No. 1

"Open Your Heart" is among the songs that introduced the famous cone bra worn on 1990's Blonde Ambition Tour -- the same one that in 2012 sold for $52,000.

"Bitch I'm Madonna" (2015)

<strong>Billboard peak: </strong>No. 84<br /><br />Arguably the defining song of the "Rebel Heart" era, this Diplo-produced banger became Madonna's 57th Hot 100 entry, bolstered by a flashy performance that snaked through the halls of "Jimmy Fallon." Upstaging her EDM attempts from "MDNA," the frivolous, infectious dance anthem called on Nicki Minaj for a sizzling rap verse and recruited the likes of Beyoncé, Miley Cryus and Katy Perry for its rowdy video. Even if Diplo <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/16/diplo-madonna_n_7070078.html" target="_blank">once told HuffPost</a> that the song's title is an empowerment message for all to enjoy, we should appreciate "Bitch I'm Madonna" for what it is: a brazenly self-aggrandizing showstopper that dares Madonna's critics to say her party days should be behind her.
Billboard peak: No. 84

Arguably the defining song of the "Rebel Heart" era, this Diplo-produced banger became Madonna's 57th Hot 100 entry, bolstered by a flashy performance that snaked through the halls of "Jimmy Fallon." Upstaging her EDM attempts from "MDNA," the frivolous, infectious dance anthem called on Nicki Minaj for a sizzling rap verse and recruited the likes of Beyoncé, Miley Cryus and Katy Perry for its rowdy video. Even if Diplo once told HuffPost that the song's title is an empowerment message for all to enjoy, we should appreciate "Bitch I'm Madonna" for what it is: a brazenly self-aggrandizing showstopper that dares Madonna's critics to say her party days should be behind her.

"Beautiful Stranger" (1999)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 19 <br /> <br /> If the psychedelia embedded on "Erotica" was a piece of that album's hodgepodge pie, "Beautiful Stranger" is a pure sendup to the genre. The silly "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" anthem isn't likely to appear on many future tour setlists, but it's her most unabashedly fun release to date.
Billboard peak: No. 19

If the psychedelia embedded on "Erotica" was a piece of that album's hodgepodge pie, "Beautiful Stranger" is a pure sendup to the genre. The silly "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" anthem isn't likely to appear on many future tour setlists, but it's her most unabashedly fun release to date.

"Erotica" (1992)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 3 <br> <br> Released at the apex of Madonna's sex appeal, "Erotica" and its accompanying title album are remarkable as a period of innovation for the singer. The song saw mixed reviews, but it's still amazing to realize that something with coital moans underscoring the lyrics charted as high as it did in 1992. The stylized video -- shot with Super 8 film and featuring Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rossellini and Big Daddy Kane -- used scenes from the making of Madonna's "Sex" book. MTV aired it only a few times due to the graphic content.
Billboard peak: No. 3

Released at the apex of Madonna's sex appeal, "Erotica" and its accompanying title album are remarkable as a period of innovation for the singer. The song saw mixed reviews, but it's still amazing to realize that something with coital moans underscoring the lyrics charted as high as it did in 1992. The stylized video -- shot with Super 8 film and featuring Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rossellini and Big Daddy Kane -- used scenes from the making of Madonna's "Sex" book. MTV aired it only a few times due to the graphic content.

"Everybody" (1982)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> Didn't chart <br> <br> "Everybody" carries a clear directive: "C'mon, dance and sing." Madonna's debut single, it ushered in what she would inspire us to do for the next 32 years (and counting).
Billboard peak: Didn't chart

"Everybody" carries a clear directive: "C'mon, dance and sing." Madonna's debut single, it ushered in what she would inspire us to do for the next 32 years (and counting).

"Don't Cry for Me Argentina" (1996)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 8 <br> <br> "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" is one of the most important songs to Madonna's career. The image of her serenading Buenos Aires with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Evita" aria serves as a stand-in for the transition from Sexy Madonna to Adult Madonna. Plus, she won a Golden Globe for her performance in the movie.
Billboard peak: No. 8

"Don't Cry for Me Argentina" is one of the most important songs to Madonna's career. The image of her serenading Buenos Aires with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Evita" aria serves as a stand-in for the transition from Sexy Madonna to Adult Madonna. Plus, she won a Golden Globe for her performance in the movie.

"True Blue" (1986)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 3 <br /><br /><strong>UPDATE: </strong>No. 29 to No. 27, because you should watch Madonna turn this into a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiN0NuLEHSk" target="_blank">plucky ukulele ballad</a> while cracking jokes about ex-hubby Sean Penn. It's beautiful.<br /> <br /> <strong>PREVIOUSLY: </strong>"True Blue" is just as retro-catchy today as it was when it genuflected to '50s-style girl groups in 1986. Taken as anything other than homage, it's a silly, meandering tune. But heard as a could-be outtake from the "Grease" soundtrack, "True Blue" is a song that's still worthy of singing into your hairbrush in the bathroom mirror.
Billboard peak: No. 3

UPDATE: No. 29 to No. 27, because you should watch Madonna turn this into a plucky ukulele ballad while cracking jokes about ex-hubby Sean Penn. It's beautiful.

PREVIOUSLY: "True Blue" is just as retro-catchy today as it was when it genuflected to '50s-style girl groups in 1986. Taken as anything other than homage, it's a silly, meandering tune. But heard as a could-be outtake from the "Grease" soundtrack, "True Blue" is a song that's still worthy of singing into your hairbrush in the bathroom mirror.

"Nothing Really Matters" (1999)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 93 <br> <br> "Nothing Really Matters," or: The song where Madonna went all "Memoirs of a Geisha" on us. It's one of her weirdest videos and one of her most underrated gems. The downtempo track rounded out the cadre of brilliant singles released from "Ray of Light."
Billboard peak: No. 93

"Nothing Really Matters," or: The song where Madonna went all "Memoirs of a Geisha" on us. It's one of her weirdest videos and one of her most underrated gems. The downtempo track rounded out the cadre of brilliant singles released from "Ray of Light."

"4 Minutes" (2008)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 3 <br /> <br /> It sounds like a marching band is barreling through "4 Minutes," as if Madonna, alongside collaborators Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, is embarking on one final hip-hop romp before the apocalypse. Their effort to "save the world" results in an infectious dance anthem that should have been a No. 1 hit.
Billboard peak: No. 3

It sounds like a marching band is barreling through "4 Minutes," as if Madonna, alongside collaborators Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, is embarking on one final hip-hop romp before the apocalypse. Their effort to "save the world" results in an infectious dance anthem that should have been a No. 1 hit.

"Fever" (1993)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> N/A* <br /> <br /> Madonna's satiny "Fever" remake injects a techno groove into the song, making an already seductive ditty even more sultry. Plus, there's that famous <a href="https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=127153477299469" target="_blank">"Saturday Night Live" performance</a>. <br /> <br /> *<i>"Fever" was never officially released as a single, thereby making it ineligible for the Hot 100. It was a dance smash, however, reaching No. 1 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart, and its video received a sizeable TV rotation, which is why this ranking makes an exception for the song.</i>
Billboard peak: N/A*

Madonna's satiny "Fever" remake injects a techno groove into the song, making an already seductive ditty even more sultry. Plus, there's that famous "Saturday Night Live" performance.

*"Fever" was never officially released as a single, thereby making it ineligible for the Hot 100. It was a dance smash, however, reaching No. 1 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart, and its video received a sizeable TV rotation, which is why this ranking makes an exception for the song.

"Live to Tell" (1986)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 1 <br> <br> "Live to Tell" introduced Madonna's first polished image, her inaugural post-"Like a Virgin" makeover. It was praised for its lyrics and moody atmosphere.
Billboard peak: No. 1

"Live to Tell" introduced Madonna's first polished image, her inaugural post-"Like a Virgin" makeover. It was praised for its lyrics and moody atmosphere.

"Dress You Up" (1985)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 5 <br> <br> Years before Madonna burned crosses and posed nude in a coffee table book, "Dress You Up" faced the wrath of Tipper Gore's Parents Music Resource Center, which listed it among the 15 songs with the most objectionable lyrics. In truth, this one's quite mild and quite fun, as evidenced in the popular <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThzN8Wzm98k" target="_blank">1999 Gap commercial</a> that sampled it.
Billboard peak: No. 5

Years before Madonna burned crosses and posed nude in a coffee table book, "Dress You Up" faced the wrath of Tipper Gore's Parents Music Resource Center, which listed it among the 15 songs with the most objectionable lyrics. In truth, this one's quite mild and quite fun, as evidenced in the popular 1999 Gap commercial that sampled it.

"Deeper and Deeper" (1992)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 7 <br> <br> "Deeper and Deeper" is about a boy coming to terms with his homosexuality. It's Madonna's finest disco flourish.
Billboard peak: No. 7

"Deeper and Deeper" is about a boy coming to terms with his homosexuality. It's Madonna's finest disco flourish.

"La Isla Bonita" (1987)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> No. 4 <br /> <br /><strong>UPDATE: </strong>No. 42 to No. 34, because Madison Square Garden's energy during the Rebel Heart Tour <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdnxGDrCwYY" target="_blank">swelled the most</a> at the opening notes of "La Isla Bonita."<br /><br /> <strong>PREVIOUSLY: </strong>Madonna used "La Isla Bonita" as an ode to Latin music's infusion in pop standards. It's long been one of the singer's more well-received songs. But you have to be in the right mood for this one -- its middling tempo can feel like a slog.
Billboard peak: No. 4

UPDATE: No. 42 to No. 34, because Madison Square Garden's energy during the Rebel Heart Tour swelled the most at the opening notes of "La Isla Bonita."

PREVIOUSLY: Madonna used "La Isla Bonita" as an ode to Latin music's infusion in pop standards. It's long been one of the singer's more well-received songs. But you have to be in the right mood for this one -- its middling tempo can feel like a slog.

"Living for Love" (2014)

<strong>Billboard peak:</strong> Didn't chart<br /><br />Widely hailed as Madonna's best single since "Hung Up," this post-breakup empowerment anthem channels the matador theme of "Take a Bow" and the pumped-up bravado of "Express Yourself." Thanks to a triumphant <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnqlmg2rz0U" target="_blank">Grammy performance</a> less than two months after "Rebel Heart" leaks <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/20/madonna-releases-six-new-songs-in-response-to-rebel-heart-leak_n_6359656.html" target="_blank">forced Madonna to release some of the album early</a>, "Living for Love" ushered in the singer's biggest renaissance in a decade. Brit Awards <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/25/madonna-fell-off-stage_n_6755162.html" target="_blank">tumble</a> be damned -- the clever lyrics and piano-backed house rhythms make it a Madonna essential, even if "Love" doesn't find much staying power.
Billboard peak: Didn't chart

Widely hailed as Madonna's best single since "Hung Up," this post-breakup empowerment anthem channels the matador theme of "Take a Bow" and the pumped-up bravado of "Express Yourself." Thanks to a triumphant Grammy performance less than two months after "Rebel Heart" leaks forced Madonna to release some of the album early, "Living for Love" ushered in the singer's biggest renaissance in a decade. Brit Awards tumble be damned -- the clever lyrics and piano-backed house rhythms make it a Madonna essential, even if "Love" doesn't find much staying power.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.