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Madonna: Queen of the bounceback

She gets knocked down, but she gets up again. Madonna's knack for controversy has kept her away from our shores for decades – but she's been bouncing back throughout her entire career, says Nick Levine

Photo: Kevin Winter


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 sh*t 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 were divorcing after he allegedly attacked her with a baseball bat and tied her to a chair for 9 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 sh*t 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 The Material Girl repositioned herself at pop's cutting edge with the stunning Ray of Light. Over swirling, techno-tinged production by William Orbit, she unveiled some of the most elegant melodies and strikingly personal lyrics of her career. Bold and forward-thinking, the album 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.

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 rise of EDM (with 'Get Together'), and sequence the whole album like a continuous DJ set.


The crisis Performing live at last 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 reviews – and she shrugs off the Brits incident by putting on an even bigger cape to perform 'Living for Love'. What a star.