Confession: I’ve never cared much for “Like a Virgin.” Madonna’s 1984 single may be the first, if not the, signature song of her career, but it’s a trifle—a novelty, really—with its plucky, noncommittal guitar licks, sub-“Billie Jean” bassline, and the singer’s helium squeak of a voice. That last, integral element in particular has always irked me, as, from “Express Yourself” to “Don’t Tell Me,” Madonna has proven she’s capable of some deep, soulful performances. Of course, the vocals on “Like a Virgin” were allegedly employed by design, sped up to render Madonna’s voice more childlike and “virginal.” (It’s a trick she’s lamentably reprised on some of her more recent recordings.) I’m in fairly good company, however, since both producer Nile Rodgers and Madonna herself aren’t particularly fond of “Like a Virgin” either, and she’s chosen to completely reinvent the song in masterful ways nearly every time she’s performed it. Madonna infamously unveiled “Like a Virgin” to the world 30 years ago this Sunday, at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards. To commemorate this milestone, we’re taking a look back at three decades of a song Madonna has mercifully, perpetually made shiny and new by sheer force of will and ingenuity.
Mdna Tour (#1–10 of 2)
In his 2004 film The Raspberry Reich, Bruce LaBruce declares that “Madonna is counter-revolutionary.” Of course, it’s one of many parodies of political sloganeering in the film; in the real world, the impact of the pop-diva doyenne’s work, particularly in terms of post-feminist sexual agency, is unmistakable. Notably, Madonna’s American Life album—which dropped a year before The Raspberry Reich and finds the singer posing on the cover like a cross between Che Guevara and Patty Hearst, two revolutionary icons who figure prominently in the film—proved that Madonna’s politics are best delivered with tongue in cheek. When she’s ventured beyond sexual politics (or, say, the Catholic church, her qualms with which are ultimately about sex and gender anyway), she’s stumbled perilously close to the brand of radical chic LaBruce satirizes in his film.