Madonna (entertainer)

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Madonna (entertainer) : biography

August 16, 1958 –

Mark Bego, author of Madonna: Blonde Ambition, called her "the perfect vocalist for lighter-than-air songs", despite not being a "heavyweight talent." Madonna has always been self-conscious about her voice, especially in comparison to her vocal idols such as Ella Fitzgerald, Prince and Chaka Khan. According to Freya Jarman-Ivens, Madonna’s talent for developing "incredible" hooks for her songs allows the lyrics to capture the attention of the audience, even without the influence of the music. As an example, Jarman-Ivens cites the 1985 single "Into the Groove" and its line "Live out your fantasy here with me, just let the music set you free; Touch my body, and move in time, now I know you’re mine." Madonna’s lyrics often suggest an identification with the gay community. Santiago Fouz-Hernández believes that when Madonna sings "Come on girls, do you believe in love?" in "Express Yourself", she is addressing both the gay audience and the heterosexual female. Even in the Erotica era, with its often adult-oriented lyrics, the songs appear free-flowing and gullible ("So won’t you go down, where it’s warm inside" — "Where Life Begins" from Erotica).

Madonna has a mezzo-soprano vocal range. She started her musical career with songs that she described as "soulful pop music". Madonna recalled in a 1983 interview with Island magazine that she had wanted to grow up as a black kid. "First of all, all the black girls in my neighborhood had these dances in their yard where they had these little turntables with 45 records and they’d play all this Motown stuff and they would dance, just dance, all of them dancing together and none of the white kids I knew would ever do that. They were really boring and stiff. And I wanted to be part of the dancing. I didn’t like my friends. I had to be beaten up so many times by these little black girls before they would accept me and finally one day they whipped me with a rubber hose till I was like, lying on the ground crying. And then they just stopped doing it all of a sudden and let me be their friend, part of their group."

On her 1983 debut album, Madonna’s vocal abilities and personal artistry were not fully formed. Her vocal style was similar to other pop stars of that period like Paula Abdul, Debbie Gibson, and Taylor Dayne. The songs on Madonna reveal several key trends that have continued to define her success, including a strong dance-based idiom, catchy hooks, highly polished arrangements and Madonna’s own vocal style. In songs such as "Lucky Star" and "Borderline", Madonna introduced a style of upbeat dance music that would prove particularly appealing to gay audiences. The bright, girlish vocal timbre of the early years became passé in Madonna’s later works, the change being deliberate, since Madonna was constantly reminded of how the critics had once labelled her as "Minnie Mouse on helium", because of her early voice. Her second album, Like a Virgin (1984), foreshadowed several trends in Madonna’s later works. It contained references to classical works (pizzicato synthesizer line that opens "Angel"); potential negative reaction from social groups ("Dress You Up" was blacklisted by the Parents Music Resource Center); and retro styles ("Shoo-Bee-Doo", Madonna’s homage to Motown). Madonna’s early style, and the change that she ushered in it, is best evident in the song "Material Girl". It opens with Madonna using a little-girl voice, but following the first verse, she switches to a richer, more mature voice in the chorus. This mature artistic statement was visible in True Blue (1986). The song "Papa Don’t Preach" was a significant milestone in her artistic career. The classical introduction, fast tempo and the gravity in her voice were unprecedented in Madonna’s œuvre at that time.

With Like a Prayer (1989), Madonna again entered a new phase, musically. The album introduced live recorded songs and incorporated different genres of music, including dance, R&B and gospel music. Madonna continued to compose ballads and uptempo dance songs for Erotica (1992) and Bedtime Stories (1994). She tried to remain contemporary by incorporating samples, drum loops and hip hop into her music. Her voice grew much deeper and fuller, evident in the tracks like "Rain" and "Take a Bow". During the filming of Evita, Madonna had to take vocal lessons, which increased her range further. Of this experience she commented, "I studied with a vocal coach for Evita and I realized there was a whole piece of my voice I wasn’t using. Before, I just believed I had a really limited range and was going to make the most of it."