Her ambition on full display, Madonna would change hearts and minds on her third studio album which broke convention and established her as the world’s biggest female artist of the 80s. TRUE BLUE was the turning point and had us all asking…
Who’s that girl? In 1986 many would concede that Madonna was poised to emerge as the world’s biggest pop star. On the heels of the critical and box office success of her theatrical screen debut in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) co-starring Rosanna Arquette, Madonna was about to headline in her own comedy Who’s That Girl opposite Griffin Dunne. The film held a splashy premiere in New York City, Times Square placing the Material Girl in the heart of where it all began. She had always said that when she arrived in The Big Apple she told the cab driver to drop her off “in the middle of everything.” And here she was, at the center of the global universe — with all eyes on her!
Madonna was also in the crosshairs of the tabloids, a popular target of the emerging paparazzi culture. She had drawn their attention with nude pictures from her early days as an art student model the might have tarnished a less-savvy and able personality, but as she proclaimed: “I’m not ashamed!” she would wrestle their attention with her heated love affair with actor Sean Penn, the man she would marry and dedicate her album True Blue to. After the success of her sophomore effort Like A Virgin, her next effort would in effect begin to evolve her as a musical artist, mistress of reinvention, and expert provocateur. She would court controversy with manipulative ease that only served her in the end.
Collaborating with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard on True Blue the album’s unlikely lead single would be one of Madonna’s most profound. “Live to Tell” was released on March 26, 1986, and was featured on the soundtrack to her husband Sean Penn’s film At Close Range. The video would introduce a more matronly-looking Madonna, bathed in darkness and shadows in an assumingly conservative floral-print dress. A relatively toned-down look that was inspired by her muse of the time, Marilyn Monroe — Madonna was shaking off the trappings of her rebellious East Village look, and adapting to the more glamorous film icons of Hollywood’s golden age.
The transformation drew immediate attention!
Madonna Opens Her Heart
By the time True Blue was widely released, Madonna had shaken up significant fervor with the album’s second single “Papa Don’t Preach” which drew criticism from many Christian and conservative groups who objected to the track and accompanying video’s depiction of Madonna choosing to keep her baby out of wedlock. The video also featured another fashion metamorphosis for Madonna who donned a pixie haircut and famously donned a t-shirt proclaiming “Italians Do It Better”. Regardless of the controversies, True Blue flew off the shelves of local record stores especially with its captivating cover photo shot by photographer Herb Ritts, it would go on to become one of her most iconic images.
The next single would cause of even bigger stir! The video for “Open Your Heart” featured Madonna as a peep show performer and was directed by longtime collaborator Jean-Baptiste Mondino. The object of affection of several voyeurs, Madonna performs for her audience in isolation, while a young boy waits outside (unable to procure himself a ticket) for her to finish her setlist. The video was inspired by Liza Minnelli (from her character Sally Bowles from Cabaret) and Marlene Dietrich, who would inspire her repeatedly and it also debuted one of Madonna’s most infamous fashion statements — the conical bra! The track would become one of her biggest hits, and get nominated for an MTV Music Video Award.
Her hot streak would continue, especially as Madonna prepared to take the album on the road. The Who’s That Girl World Tour all but ensured her position as the biggest female artist of the 80s, putting her on a par with Michael Jackson and Prince, and second only to Tina Turner who was the hottest ticket of the concert season, but it was undeniable and cemented — with True Blue Madonna had established her foothold, not only in popular music, but also as a pop-culture icon, and her audience would only follow in the rapture of her next steps. Whatever form that reinvention took, her faithful fanbase was transfixed and would remain devoted well into the next millennium.
True Blue | Madonna | 1986 is available now on iTunes.