Without Madonna, there would be no Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Billie Eilish, Spice Girls or Beyoncé. She’s never sold out, is still completely in control of everything she wants to achieve and has always been a vanguard of diversity. “People say that I’m so controversial, but I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around,” Madonna said during her acclaimed 2016 Billboard Woman Of The Year speech (more on that later), also acknowledging that – for female artists – “to age is a sin”.

To this day, The Queen Of Pop dares to continue her reign atop the contemporary-pop throne, always while wearing killer heels and defying ageist stereotypes. While we wait (impatiently) for the Madonna-created Madonna biopic – which she’s temporarily put on hold to prioritise The Celebration Tour (sadly no Australian dates have been announced yet) – here are 10 reasons why she truly rules:

Sex-positive role model goals

In 1978, a young Madonna took a cab to New York with $35 in her pocket and dreams to spare, before shaking up the music scene – with her bare midriff exposed (oo-er!) and zero-fucks-given attitude – to become the Queen Of Pop (and sex positivity). Right out of the gate, Madonna was sexually unashamed in a way that we were accustomed to celebrating in male singers (pretty much since Elvis), but females? Not so much.

However, Madonna oozed sexual desire from every pore while challenging the power dynamics of gender, sex, religion and race, all of which made her a hot topic of discussion in school yards, around the dinner table, in the media and even The Vatican.

That MTV Video Music Awards performance

Like A Virgin’s title track (and lead single) was debuted at the first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984. Holding a bouquet and wearing a wedding dress with bustier bodice, veil and trademark ‘Boy Toy’ belt buckle (from the album’s cover photograph, which was shot by Steven Meisel – a regular Madonna collaborator), Madonna commences her performance atop a giant three-tiered wedding cake prop beside a tuxedoed male mannequin – a personalised wedding cake topper, of sorts. After kicking off her heels, Madonna perches seductively on each tier of the cake as she descends to stage level. Removing her veil and rearranging her permed tresses, she then puts her white stilettos back on and piffs the bouquet before strutting, skipping, spinning and rolling around on the floor. She concludes this performance by simulating sex using the veil as makeshift sexual conquest. It’s just Madonna up there, owning the stage, and her star quality is immense; the audience hesitates, awestruck, before wild applause is punctuated by scattered whoops of appreciation. Iconic.

Desperately Seeking selfies

During her first major movie role, 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan, we first clap eyes on Madonna’s character, Susan, lying on a hotel room floor and taking Polaroids of herself. So – in a roundabout way – Madonna kinda invented selfies, right? As for Desperately Seeking Susan itself, we mainly remember the to-die-for cropped, military-style jacket – embroidered with a gold pyramid on the back – that Madonna’s character wore.

Fun fact: In 2014, said jacket sold at auction for over $250,000. 

Making a statement at Live Aid

Not long after Playboy and Penthouse published years-old nudes of her (taken by an ex-boyfriend), Madonna took the stage at Live Aid’s US edition, held at JFK Stadium in 1985. Some punters reportedly booed and yelled out “slut” when Madonna appeared on stage, shouting for her to remove her coat. But Her Majesty made a joke of their shaming: “Nah, I ain’t taking shit off today. They might hold it against me ten years from now.”

Keeping Pepsi’s millions

Three months before 1989’s Like A Prayer record was scheduled to drop, Pepsi announced they would pay $5 million to feature Madonna – and the album’s title track – in one of their ads, and would sponsor her Blond Ambition tour as well. 
The two-minute Pepsi commercial, which was shown in 40 countries and clocked up over 250 million views, aired before Like A Prayer’s official release. Then when Like A Prayer’s official music video – which implicitly drew a link between racial injustice and organised religion – premiered, it sparked controversy with Vogue (the magazine) reporting that the Pope called for it to be banned in Italy. As a result, Pepsi swiftly pulled Madonna’s $5 million sponsorship deal. But the soft drink company was so eager to distance themselves from The Vatican’s extreme disapproval that they agreed Madge could keep the money – what a result!  
In 2014, Madonna actually took to Instagram to mark the 30th anniversary of the film clip’s release, posting: “30 years ago today I released Like A Prayer and made a video that caused so much controversy because I kissed a black saint and danced in front of burning crosses! I also made a commercial with PEPSI that was banned because my video was seen as inappropriate. Happy Birthday to Me and Controversy!”

Catapulting vogueing into the mainstream

Madonna’s Vogue – unquestionably – catapulted Black and Latinx ballroom culture into the mainstream, reviving an entire movement. The story goes that it was actually Madonna’s backup dancers who introduced her to voguing: two of them in particular, Luis Xtravaganza Camacho and Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza, appear in the Vogue music video and also toured with her as a crucial part of 1990’s Blond Ambition tour. 

During one scene of the fab TV series Pose (Season 2), we’re schooled in voguing’s origins: Paris Dupree, the House of Dupree’s ‘Mother’ (and star of the doco Paris Is Burning), drew inspo from the titular glossy magazine while developing a series of poses to strike on the beat and, voila! The Vogue house-dance style was born.

A global empowerment anthem, Madonna’s Vogue was the world’s best-selling single in 1990.

The controversial Blond Ambition tour

Pope John Paul II pronounced Madonna’s Blond Ambition concert “one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity” back in 1990 and, more than three decades later, it remains among the most controversial tours of all time. While performing Like A Virgin during the show, Madonna simulated masturbation on a bed. Toronto police threatened to arrest her for lewd and obscene behaviour if she performed this section of the show, but Madonna refused to alter it – now that’s badass.   
Madonna also recruited Jean Paul Gaultier to design all the Blond Ambition costumes and premiered her bullet-bra corset during this tour. Cone bras had been in Gaultier’s collection since the early ‘80s, but Madonna gave this pointy item worldwide infamy. The pair continue to collaborate to this day and Gaultier has said of Madonna, “When you meet your idol, you can be disappointed. When I met her, I was not disappointed.”

Having Sex on coffee tables

Madonna’s sex-positive coffee table book, simply titled Sex – which features softcore porn content and simulations of sex acts, including sadomasochism – was released in tandem with her Erotica album and packaged with a CD-single copy of the title track. 

Despite haters believing Madonna had gone too far by publishing Sex, the coffee table book went on to sell in excess of 1.5 million copies worldwide, topped the New York Times Best Seller list for three weeks and remains one of the most in-demand out-of-print publications of all time. Sex also included cameos by the likes of Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rossellini, Vanilla Ice and Big Daddy Kane.

It’s Britney, bitch! 

You’ve gotta admit that the Madonna/Britney VMAs smooch in 2003 is right up there as a contender for The Fiercest Award Ceremony Moment Ever. While performing Like A Virgin with Spears and Christina Aguilera, Madonna kissed both starlets, but we only caught the tail end of Christina’s lip-lock because a Justin Timberlake (Britney’s recent ex) reaction shot was edited in! 

Fun fact: Madonna originally wanted to include J. Lo alongside Britney, but Jenny from the Block had to pull out at the 11th hour due to scheduling conflicts and so Christina was brought in as her replacement.

“I stand before you as a doormat…”

ICYMI, we totally recommend you watch Madonna’s Billboard Woman Of The Year speech in full (above).

Excerpt: “I stand before you as a doormat. Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer. Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse… If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart… You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness.”