America will be the first audience for the Queen of Pop in over two years when Madonna takes the stage at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as the halftime act for Super Bowl XLVI . If her history with MTV is any indicator, she’s likely to blow the roof off the joint.
Madonna is known for her over-the-top live performances and will most assuredly have her game face on with the world watching this Sunday. Not that she ever slacks in the live performance department: Her most recent tour, Sticky & Sweet, was the highest-grossing tour ever by a solo artist and the fourth-biggest tour of all time. From Live Aid in 1985 to Live 8, 20 years later, she’s headlined some of the biggest musical events of the past quarter century.
Some of her best and most-iconic performances, though, have taken place on MTV. Her relationship with the channel has been a symbiotic one: We gave her a nice big platform early in her career and she ran with it, writhing onstage to “Like a Virgin” at the 1984 Video Music Awards, earning heaps of press for herself and our first big show while helping to establish the VMAs as the performance event they are today. She’s since thanked us by returning again and again to tear up the stage with some of her biggest hits.
As we gear up for Madonna’s big gig at the Super Bowl, we take a look back with a countdown of her biggest and best MTV performances.
5. “Hung Up,” 2005 MTV EMAs
Less than three months after a fall from a horse broke her collarbone, hand and three ribs, Madonna opened the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards with a performance of the lead single from her Grammy-winning Confessions on a Dance Floor. Wearing a purple leotard and matching leather boots, Madonna emerged from a massive disco ball looking and sounding as strong as ever to perform the Stuart Price co-produced track, which went on to become her 36th top 10 hit in America and topped the charts in 41 countries. Madonna’s dancing and energy here proved what we’ve long suspected — that she is a real-life “X-Men” character with superhuman regeneration powers. How else do you explain the then-47-year-old’s ability to put on a show-stopping performance after a fall that would have sidelined far-younger performers for much longer?
4. “Like a Virgin/Hollywood,” 2003 VMAs
Yeah, you knew it was coming. It was the kiss heard ’round the world. The performance opened as a tribute to Madonna’s iconic 1984 VMA take on “Like a Virgin” (more on that below) with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera trading vocals before segueing into a performance of “Hollywood” from American Life. The audience rose to its feet as Her Madgesty descended from atop a wedding cake, dressed in a feminized tuxedo, to dance, sing and, yes, smooch, Spears and Aguilera. The kiss caused a firestorm of controversy and remains one of the biggest pop-culture moments of the past decade.
3. “Like a Virgin,” 1984 VMAs
There she was: Then an up-and-coming singer with a few hits (“Holiday,” “Lucky Star”) under her trademark “Boy Toy” belt, wearing a wedding gown and shimmying her way down a wedding cake at the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards. It remains arguably one of the most landmark live musical performances in history and was a fitting national introduction to Madonna. Oh, and her famous roll-on-the-floor dance move, you know the one — M rolling around onstage with her dress up over her head — well, Madonna didn’t mean for that to happen. As she told Jay Leno earlier this week, she lost her shoe as she was descending the wedding cake set piece and, in an effort to dive for it without being obvious, she rolled across the stage. After she came offstage, her then-manager Freddy DeMann told her that she’d gone too far and her career was over. What do you think about that now, Freddy?
2. “Express Yourself,” 1989 VMAs
It might not be as iconic as her VMA debut or as controversial as “The Kiss,” but Madonna’s simple, full-voiced performance of “Express Yourself” at the 1989 VMAs is one of her best and serves as a roundup of everything we loved about ’80s Madonna (that hair, those baggy pants!) and a preview of what was to come in the ’90s. Unlike many of her performances, this take on “Express Yourself” feels very stripped down — just Madonna, two backup singers (longtime touring collaborators Niki Haris and Donna DeLory) and a light-up staircase. The choreography and staging largely foreshadowed how Madge tackled her tune as the opening number for her legendary 1990 Blonde Ambition World Tour, but late in the performance, she gives the audience their first taste of voguing months before “Vogue” actually hit radio in 1990. We also get a pre-cone-bra look at Madonna in a Jean Paul Gaultier bustier, a look she would rock well into the new decade. Perhaps best of all, as she walks offstage knowing she just nailed it, we get a glimpse of that signature Madonna confidence when the pop superstar high-fives Haris and DeLory and simply proclaims “Yeah!” as she disappears offstage.
1. “Vogue,” 1990 VMAs
A year later, Madonna returned to the Video Music Awards to present what could be the most-influential pop performance in the awards’ history. With the stage ornately decorated to resemble an 18th century French parlor and her dancers in period grab, Madonna took the stage dressed, massive powdered wig and all, like Marie Antoinette to launch a full-on performance-art spectacle set to her #1 hit “Vogue.” Backed by her Blonde Ambition dancers as well as Haris and DeLory, Madonna lip-synched and fan-danced her way through the elaborate, sexy and innovative act with so much superstar swagger that it practically radiated from the TV. And 21 years later, you can see the impact of this performance — and more broadly, this period of Madonna’s career — everywhere, from Lady Gaga’s VMA performance of “Paparazzi” in 2009 to just about every tour any female pop star has launched since. Madonna didn’t just give her peers license to put on theatrical concerts and over-the-top TV performances, she made it a pop necessity.
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