Celebrating Madonna’s Fiercest Moments on Her 60th Birthday

Before Beyoncé was slaying, Gaga was growling, Britney was working and Christina was shrieking, Madonna laid the groundwork for so many pop singers who came after her who wished to experiment with feminism and sexuality. To commemorate the grand dame’s 60th birthday today, we’re recognizing some of her greatest artistic peaks.

The video that changed her career

The big M may have had many hits, videos and controversies that kept her fans hungry for more well before Vogue ever happened (the best of the batch being her “Express Yourself” and “Like A Prayer” era) but 1990’s David Fincher-directed video to her house music mega hit was a fashion revelation. Jean Paul Gaultier fitted Madge and her crew with the kind of clothes that modernized the old Hollywood glamour she so loved and gave it a biting edge. Most importantly, the video visually connected Madonna to five gay dancers—plucked directly from the Harlem Vogue ball scene—all of which taught her how to be graceful when the whole world went against her for merely pushing the envelope. By far, the politics and pathos surrounding this song and video makes it Madonna’s strongest and fiercest collaboration to date.

The movie that changed our minds

Filmed during her historic Blonde Ambition tour, Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary—released in 1991—was an amazing BTS extension of “Vogue” in many ways. It showcased Madonna at her ballsiest, bitchiest and bravest. Fighting for LGBTQ rights, standing up for people living with HIV/AIDS, scrapping with lovers and managers or just kiki-ing with her troupe of scene-stealing tour dancers—this film has it all. The group of guys who elevated Madonna’s artistic oeuvre with “Vogue” also gave her major cred by way of their incredibly hip vocabulary—snapped straight from NYC’s downtown underground. Also: Ms. M allowed the cameras to always be on all of the time…a move that predicted reality TV before it was invented.

The album that shook the status quo

It may have not had the blockbuster sales of previous Madonna discs but Erotica was a huge turning point, getting accolades from superstar Djs and feminist scholars alike (Camille Paglia called it “Madonna’s most personal and artistically adventurous project”). In the past, Madge flirted with sexuality and sensuality but this album—and its sister publication, a book of photos by Steven Meisel called Sex, explored the BDSM world and gender fluidity in a way which had conservatives raging. Even non-hits such as “Words” and “Bad Girl” broke the mold of what pop dance should be and the lyrics inspired a legion of singers to follow her feminist lead.

The tour that defied the ages

In 2006, a number of music industry critics cried out for Madonna to retire. Her 10th studio album—a disco-inspired pre-“Get Lucky” sound which was influenced by Sister Sledge, Goldfrapp and Niles Rogers—had her back on the charts. She laughed at her detractors and took Confessions to tour, tackling religious hypocrisy (so much so, Catholic Cardinal Ersilio Tonini called for Madonna to be ex-communicated) and political upheaval at more than 200 BPM. Although she was nearing 50, Madonna got the most serious she’s ever been about choreography for this tour, doing Cirque de Soleil-level gymnastics in heels and killing every performance with outstanding reviews. According to Billboard, the tour—which made more than over $194.7 million USD—became the highest grossing tour ever for a female artist.