The bottom line is that controversy and shock value alone don’t sustain a 25-year career (although it’s gotten Britney Spears ten, which is stunning to me), so even Madonna’s detractors have to admit that she has talent. 26 years after the transplanted New Yorker (who claims the Detroit suburb of Bay City as her actual birthplace) sashayed onto dance floors nationwide with hits like “Everybody” and “Burning Up”, she’s still a major figure on the pop music scene. It’s very easy to see why: she’s got impeccable taste in producers, she writes a mean hook, she’s a musical chameleon, she understands the power of video in a way unlike very few other female artists, and while it’s fair to say she also understands her way around a publicity stunt, the amount of those has dropped considerably over the past decade-with only the Britney Kiss and the A-Rod Affair registering on the public radar since Madge dropped the cone bras and became Mama Madonna.

Madonna circa 1985. Photo by Ninokol.

Madonna circa 1985. Photo by Ninokol.

I admire the woman as much for her savvy and pluck as I do for her ability to make a great pop single. Hey, she’s continued to make films for over two decades although she’s yet to release one that didn’t suck (to be fair, I’ve never seen “Evita”, but I did sit through “Body of Evidence”. She turned out to be quite the businesswoman, with her boutique label Maverick spinning off hits by the grunge band Candlebox and singer/songwriters Michelle Branch and Alanis Morissette, while also managing to retain Me’shell Ndegeocello for five albums that didn’t sell worth a damn, but established the bassist as perhaps the most talented soul musician in her age range-she certainly makes more intriguing albums that any other “R&B” performer.

But then there are those irrestible singles. While her albums have been maddeningly inconsistent-especially since “Ray of Light”, the woman has a knack for indelible melodies and hooks-from “Holiday” to “Papa Don’t Preach” (still the strongest vocal moment of her career) to “Vogue” to “I’ll Remember” to “Music” to “4 Minutes”. Not many 50 year olds (except the triumverate of Prince, MJ and Madge…how strange that the three biggest pop icons of the past thirty years were born in a three-month span? Something was in the water in spring/summer 1958) can hang on a record with Justin Timberlake without sounding like they’re forcing the issue.

The last thing you’ve gotta give Madonna props for is the fact that she’s broken down some pretty major walls. Spending her late teens and early twenties as a New York club kid was in all likelihood, the biggest factor when it came to the assimilation and appreciation of other cultures that makes Madonna who she is. Her unapologetic embrace of black, Latin and gay cultures (and we’re not just talking about the dudes she allegedly boned) is worth a round of applause, even though at times she seems like a culture vulture.

I’ll post the ultimate Madonna mix at some point in the next week or so. As for right now, we here at MHW offer our 50th birthday congratulations to the most iconic female pop star of our-of ALL-time.