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Madonna at 60: The ten best music videos from the Queen of Pop

A career filled with iconic imagery to match some of pop music’s greatest songs

Ben Kelly
Sunday 12 August 2018 08:45 BST
Madonna at 60: Key moments of the singer's career

A key part of Madonna’s wide-ranging career has been her eye-catching, conversation-sparking music videos, which have been as impactful and memorable as the hit songs themselves. A master of reinvention, these videos serve as a reminder of her famous array of looks, always referencing the latest trends while staying true to central themes of sex, religion and female empowerment.

‘Like A Virgin’ (1984)

The first example of the kind of strong imagery Madonna could present in her videos came with ‘Like A Virgin’. The clip cuts between her dancing on a Venetian gondola in her original punk-style look – already being copied at that point by young girls across America – and a more demure scene where she dons a full wedding dress (albeit a more demure choice than the one she would sport on the album cover). Her ambition is on full display. As the camera cuts between her eyes and those of a lion, it’s hard to tell who looks hungrier.

Best bit: 2.26 – A handful of tourists watching her pass under the bridge unwittingly earn a cameo in one of pop’s most famous music videos.

‘Material Girl’ (1985)

Madonna began a recurring theme of Marilyn Monroe tributes with this full-blown homage to her performance of ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. At the dawn of the 1980s, Madonna’s career was born alongside the arrival of MTV, and this marked the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship which set the bar for her contemporaries. She delivered the goods, and MTV broadcast it on heavy rotation around the world. It was on the set of this video that Madonna met Sean Penn, whom she married later that year.

Best bit: 3.55 – When she throws herself backwards onto the army of adoring, suited backing dancers.

‘Papa Don’t Preach’ (1986)

Tackling the subject of an unplanned pregnancy, this video was heavy on storyline, and set Madonna out as an artist who could do serious as well as sexy and fun. It is a testament to her stardom at this point that the video brought much excitement simply because she had dyed her hair blonde. The look she cultivated here paid equal tribute to her Italian roots, and the girl groups of the 1950s. She showed her marketing savvy by threading it through the entire True Blue album campaign.

Best bit: 1.07 – When she catches sight of her love interest while wearing the ‘Italians Do It Better’ t-shirt.

‘Like A Prayer’ (1989)

Most people remember this controversial video for Madonna’s steamy kiss with a black Jesus – but he was in fact supposed to be Martin de Porres, the patron saint of mixed-race people. This was fitting as race was a major theme explored in the video alongside sex and religion, all climaxing in a blistering scene where she dances in a field of burning crosses. The video angered the Vatican, and more importantly Pepsi, who immediately pulled a major $5 million ad campaign with Madonna which was to feature the song. Her response? “I do what I want.”

Best Bit: 2.15 – Surely the first and last appearance of stigmata in a pop video?

‘Express Yourself’ (1989)

At the time of release, this was the most expensive music video ever made, with its $5 million budget being spent on an extensive homage to the influential 1927 silent film Metropolis. In another theme she has explored widely through her career, Madonna presents herself simultaneously as feminine and masculine, appearing as a sex symbol to factory workers before donning a man’s suit and appearing to exert power over them. Her then-boyfriend Warren Beatty turned down the offer to play her love interest in the video.

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Best bit: 1.58 – A brilliant solo dance routine with just a hint of Michael Jackson.

‘Vogue’ (1990)

Arguably her most iconic moment, Madonna took the Vogue dance that emerged in the African-American LGBT community in 1980s New York, packaged it up, and made it a worldwide phenomenon in the summer of 1990. From the famous dance routine to the appearance of that cone bra, it is laden with memorable moments. Shot in black and white by acclaimed Fight Club director David Fincher, it pays homage to the classic era of Hollywood but in turn its own imagery is now firmly embedded in pop culture history.

Best Bit: 0.34 – That very first ‘Strike a pose’ will never get old.

‘Justify My Love’ (1990)

If Marilyn Monroe had ever starred in some French noir porn, it might have looked something like this. Madonna sparked perhaps her biggest controversy with this steamy video in which she visits a hotel corridor filled with half-naked women, cross-dressers, BDSM participants and a gimp, before quite naturally getting stuck in for a bit of fun herself. Outright banned by her friends at MTV, Madonna responded by releasing it on VHS as the first ever ‘video single’, turning it into a major commercial success. Still NSFW to this day.

Best bit: 4.43 – She runs off down the hallway, giggling at what she’s just been up to – but it’s almost anticipating the scandal of the video itself too.

‘Take A Bow’ (1994)

One of her most beautifully shot videos, Madonna appears as the neglected lover of a matador, with traditional themes of religion and female sexuality being explored. Cinematic bullfighting scenes and stunning close-ups complement the orchestrated track by Babyface. At this time, Madonna was lobbying for the title role in Evita and wanted a Spanish themed, period style video that would portray her in the correct fashion. She sent a copy of the video to director Alan Parker as part of her campaign to win the role – and it worked.

Best bit: 1.55 – When the door to the arena opens up revealing Madonna on one side and the gathered crowd on the other.

‘Ray Of Light’ (1998)

A major comeback moment for Madonna, ‘Ray of Light’ presented the new mum with a Mother Earth look, as she approached her 40th birthday. The album presented a mature style, with a contemporary 90s sound that reaffirmed her relevance, and the video once again got her on heavy TV rotation. Shot in Los Angeles, New York, London, Las Vegas and Stockholm by Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund, it was a major technical feat. The time lapse effect was the result of weeks of meticulous filming, taking half an hour to get just five seconds of footage.

Best bit: 3.16 – When the breakdown ends and she throws her head at the camera: “And I feel!”

‘Hung Up’ (2005)

Arguably the last Madonna video that had everyone talking, this enjoyed its own prime-time premiere slot on Channel 4. Serving up a glorious mixture of Saturday Night Fever imagery with contemporary street dancing and freerunning, the video was as instantly attention-grabbing as the ABBA sample that pulsed through the song. Filmed just two months after she broke three ribs and a collarbone in a horse riding accident, there’s no sign of the pain as she demonstrates her famous flexibility. And who could forget that pink leotard?

Best Bit: 1.50 – Her entire solo routine in the ballet studio is brilliant but this impressive high kick is a highlight.

To enjoy more Madonna tracks, listen to our Spotify playlist of her 60 greatest songs.

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