Madonna is the hottest female figure in show business at the moment.
She's been on the cover of Rolling Stone twice in 26 weeks and also on the cover of People. Her songs are all over the radio and her videos are all over MTV. In the past 16 months, she has placed seven songs in the Top 20 on Billboard's pop chart. Her first major motion picture, "Desperately Seeking Susan," ranks among the five best-grossing films of the spring. And her maiden concert tour -- dubbed the Virgin Tour -- has meant instant sellouts in every city.
However, many people wonder if Madonna is a genuine talent or simply a well-put-together package that will become passe as quickly as she has ascended.
After seeing her concert Tuesday night at the St. Paul Civic Center, it's hard to tell. It was no better or worse than my expectations. The program didn't challenge her artistically or suggest that she might be in the same league as Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen, rock's premier stage performers; she knows her limitations and her strengths and she tailored her performance accordingly.
Madonna's 70-minute show was tightly choreographed, well-paced and generally entertaining. She mixed singing with dancing (with two male dancers), threw in some costume changes, projected slides of her photogenic face on huge screens behind her and talked like the heartless tart that so many people think she is. Ultimately, she came across like a punk Ann-Margret giving a flashy, sexually teasing, contemporary burlesque-like performance that would have been right at home in a Las Vegas showroom.
More than anything else, Madonna is a personality, an icon who blends glamour sleaze, mock innocence and raw sexuality in a way that appeals mostly to teen-age girls and boys.
Not only does she have flair, presence and an unforgettable face, but she has terrific business instincts and surrounds herself with all the right people. Her first album was produced by Reggie Lucas and Jellybean Benitez, two of the hippest producers at the time, and then late last year she hooked up with Nile Rodgers, who had been on a roll with Chic, Diana Ross and David Bowie. She also turned her career over to the firm that used to manage Michael Jackson, and a couple of the members of her crack touring band played behind Jackson and his brothers on last year's Victory Tour. In short, Madonna is no lucky star, she's a very smart one.
Madonna Ciccone, 25, always thought she was going to lead a special life. As a teen-ager in the Detroit area, she fell under the spell of an older dance instructor who introduced her to the world of the arts. She shucked a college scholarship to move to New York with $35 in her pocket. There she studied with famed choreographer Alvin Ailey, then moved to Paris to become a singer during the disco era. She returned to New York, joined a band, met a disc jockey at a disco who helped her get a record deal.
Her 1983 debut album, "Madonna," yielded three hits and has sold more than 2 million copies. Her second album, "Like a Virgin," has produced two hits thus far and sold twice as many copies as her initial LP. With her songwriting and her producers' fashionable framing of her material, Madonna has fit right in the dance clubs and on pop and soul radio stations.
There are as many Madonna naysayers as there are worshipers. To many she is a give-the-boys-what-they-want bimbo, an early Marilyn Monroe transformed to the concert stage. Others say the sizzling siren doesn't have much of a voice. Both criticisms seemed valid Tuesday.
Madonna just didn't play it camp enough, except on "Material Girl," and some of the impressionable, unsophisticated young people in the audience may get the wrong idea about the role of women. Moreover, her voice seemed thin, shrill and generally emotionless and soulless. The only time she sang as if she meant it was on the current hit ballad, "Crazy for You."
The rest of the program was upbeat dance numbers. Madonna bumped and ground, did the swim and chorus-line kicks to the music, though her miniskirt limited her movements. But, to her credit, she was able to dance energetically and sing at the same time, no small feat for 70 minutes.
The predominantly female crowd of 16,799 was equally energetic. The young girls came dressed up like Madonna with teased hair covered with gel, lots of lace, bracelets and necklaces and bare midriffs. And when dealing with a red-hot idol like Madonna, dressing up and being there is sometimes the most important thing.