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Madonna: Queen of the Bounceback

She gets knocked down, but she gets up again: as she’s shown so many times, you can’t keep Madge down for long

By Nick Levine

Nine months on from #capegate, Madonna returns to The O2 this week. But she won’t be feeling nervous: she’s been bouncing back throughout her whole career…


The crisis: In 1985, Playboy and Penthouse threatened to publish nude pre-fame photos of Madonna.

The bounceback: Riding high after the ‘Like a Virgin’ LP, Madge took ownership of the controversy in front of a global TV audience at Live Aid. ‘I ain’t taking shit off today,’ she told the crowd knowingly. ‘They might hold it against me ten years from now.’ Zing!


The crisis: Tabloids reported in 1989 that Madonna and Sean Penn are divorcing after he allegedly attacked her with a baseball bat and tied her to a chair for nine hours.

The bounceback: Madonna neither confirmed nor denied the rumours. Instead she recorded a deliberately shocking album track, ‘Till Death Do Us Part’, including the lyrics: ‘He starts to scream, the vases fly/He wishes that she wouldn’t cry/He’s not in love with her anymore.’ Apparently (and surprisingly) Penn appreciated the song’s honesty.


The crisis: In 1994, after Madge’s dodgy erotic thriller movie ‘Body of Evidence’ and X-rated book ‘Sex’, the public were getting tired of her sexed-up persona.

The bounceback: Madge swapped aggressive sexuality for (relatively) subtle sensuality. Her R&B-inspired ‘Bedtime Stories’ album yielded the slinky ballad ‘Take a Bow’, which spent seven weeks at Number One, and ‘Secret’, a sensitive love song about a relationship between a man and a transvestite. Meanwhile, ‘Human Nature’ made it abundantly clear that Madge’s latest makeover wasn’t motivated by shame: ‘I’m not your bitch, don’t hang your shit on me,’ she spat back at critics. 



The crisis: By 1998 Madonna had become a mother, her last LP had been a ballads compilation and she had recently starred in the movie version of ‘Evita’. Snooze!

The bounceback: Madonna repositioned herself at pop’s cutting edge with the stunning ‘Ray of Light’ album. Over swirling, techno-tinged production from William Orbit, she unveiled some of the most elegant melodies and strikingly personal lyrics of her career. Bold and forward-thinking, the ‘Ray of Light’ LP helped to carry electronica over into the pop mainstream and remains influential today – it’s been namechecked by artists as diverse as Grimes and Adele.


The crisis: The high-concept 2003 album ‘American Life’ flopped. Big time.

The bounceback: Madonna returned to her disco roots with the brilliant ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’ album. No other pop veteran would be audacious enough to sample ABBA (on ‘Hung Up’), forecast the rise of EDM (with ‘Get Together’), and sequence the whole album like a continuous DJ set.


The crisis: Performing live at this year’s Brit Awards, Madonna was tugged backwards down a flight of steps by her matador cape.

The bounceback: The 81-date ‘Rebel Heart Tour’ (complete with pole-dancing nuns) has earned Madge some of her best ever reviews – and she shrugs off the Brits incident by putting on an even bigger cape to perform ‘Living for Love’. What a star.

Grace Jones reveals all


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