How Did Madonna Become Famous?

Madonna has always pushed the boundaries of both her career and her personal life, but her daring has paid off. Madonna is the most successful female musician in modern history. How did she achieve this outstanding success? Her story is one of endurance and pain, but it will inspire you.

Madonna’s childhood

Madonna
Madonna | Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Billboard Magazine

Many assume that Madonna is a stage name, but the pop star we know today was born with the same name — Madonna Louise Ciccone — in 1958. Her mother passed away from breast cancer when she was only 5 years old. Although it was devastating to the young girl, it may have fueled her desire for success. She told CNN: “You walk around with a big hole inside of you, a feeling of emptiness and longing. And I think a lot of times that’s why you become an overachiever.”

Madonna was a straight-A student, a cheerleader, and a dancer. “She worked really hard to be a dancer,” said Karen Craven, who coached Madonna’s cheerleading squad. “She was willing to practice a lot.”

Dance was a kind of escape for Madonna, who, after her father remarried, became the eldest of eight children. She was required to help with her siblings and do lots of chores. “I resented it,” Madonna said about this time period. “Because when all my friends were out playing, I felt like I had all these adult responsibilities… I saw myself as the quintessential Cinderella.”

Christopher Flynn, an instructor at Madonna’s ballet academy, took an interest in the teen. He helped expand her dance education by taking her to concerts, art galleries, and gay clubs. In the early ’70s, gay culture was still very taboo. But for Madonna, the gay clubs represented freedom and an escape from cultural expectations.

“In school I felt like such a misfit,” Madonna told The Advocate, as reported by Independent. “I kept seeing myself through macho heterosexual eyes. Because I was a really aggressive woman, guys thought of me as a strange girl. I didn’t add up for them. I felt inadequate. And suddenly when I went to the gay club, I didn’t feel that way anymore. I had a whole new sense of myself.”

Madonna’s struggle in New York City

After attending the University of Michigan for a short time on a dance scholarship, Madonna dropped out of college and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a professional dancer.

“New York wasn’t everything I thought it would be,” Madonna told Harper’s Bazaar. “It did not welcome me with open arms. The first year, I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back, and had my apartment broken into three times. I don’t know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time.”

Madonna survived by waitressing and posing as a nude for art classes, while she worked on her dancing career. “I was defiant,” she said. “Hell-bent on surviving. On making it. But it was hard and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going.”

She kept trying to make it in the dance world, but it was her voice that caught people’s attention. Madonna told CNN: “People would hear me sing and they’d say, ‘Hey, your voice isn’t bad,’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, really?’ I mean I never had any training. I never wanted to be a singer.”

Madonna finally finds success

Eventually, Madonna and an old boyfriend, Steve Bray, wrote some songs together. This is when she came up with the song Everybody, which became her first demo. After shopping the song around for a while, Sire Records agreed to give Madonna her first records deal in 1982.

The next year, she released a self-titled album. The third single on the album, Holiday, landed on the Billboard Top 20. From that point on, her career took off.

Madonna gathered a lot of attention by refusing to conform to cultural norms. She took the opportunity that her musical platform provided to push the artistic boundaries and challenge audience perceptions. According to Mic: “She said “fuck” on national television, experimented with erotic and religious choreography- often at the same time- and pushed almost every sexual taboo she could think of.”

Fans loved Madonna and her ever-changing image. She became the best-selling female recording artist of all time, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone has listed her among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and the 100 Greatest Songwriter of All Time. And she’s still at it today– making music and pushing boundaries in a way that no one before her has been able to do.