On the eve of her 60th birthday, Stylist explores how Madonna changed everything, from sex to music to gender politics
In December 2016, 58-year-old Madonna stood before the world accepting Billboard’s Woman of the Year Award. “Thank you,” she began. “For acknowledging my ability to continue my career, for 34 years, in the face of blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying and relentless abuse.”
“When I first moved to New York I was a teenager, it was 1979 and New York was a very scary place,” she carried on. “In the first year I was held up at gunpoint, raped on a rooftop with a knife digging into my throat […] In the years to follow I lost almost every friend I had to Aids, or drugs, or gunshot. As you can imagine, all these unexpected events helped me not only become the daring woman that stands before you, but it also reminded me that I am vulnerable. And in life there is no real safety except self-belief.
In the first 60 seconds alone of her 10-minute address, Madonna reminded us of the struggles, impact and glorious defiance of the single most pioneering sexual freedom fighter in the history of popular music. One year before the #MeToo movement erupted Madonna was still pioneering, spelling out – before Hollywood finally located its voice – the violence, fear and oppression that women endure to this day. Perhaps most astoundingly of all, this was never her primary purpose: the first was to fill our hearts with all that world class, joyous, staggeringly euphoric pop music.”