Twenty eight years later, it remains one of the most famous things she’s ever said. Asked on “American Bandstand” by TV icon Dick Clark, who died on Wednesday at the age of 82, “What do you hope will happen, not only in 1984 but for the rest of your professional life? What are your dreams? What’s left?” Madonna answered simply, famously and with characteristic directness.
“To rule the world,” she said without hesitation. And that’s what she went on to do … well, the pop world anyway.
She was on “Bandstand,” ostensibly, to perform “Holiday” and promote her self-titled debut, which was released a few months earlier in the summer of 1983, but in retrospect it feels like she was really there to prepare the world for what was coming. Like a Virgin dropped later that same year, and with its release Madonna went from being a well-liked and charismatic pop tart with a few radio hits to the most famous female singer on the planet.
The “Bandstand” crowd went wild for then-25-year-old Madonna’s performance, and Clark had a hard time getting a word in. When everyone finally settled down, he asked Madonna about her burgeoning career, including her early years in New York and touring Paris with “Born to Be Alive” singer Patrick Hernandez. “He offered me a tour with him as a background singer and a dancer,” Madonna told Clark. “So I jumped on that boat and got into the music industry that way and started writing songs, and here I am.”
As news of Clark’s passing began to surface, fans started posting the clip all over Twitter and soon enough, Madonna’s herself chimed in, posting the video to her Facebook page with the message, “Even though I told him in 1984 that I wanted to rule the world, it’s Dick Clark who has ruled the world.”
While “Bandstand” wasn’t her first TV appearance and Clark certainly didn’t discover Madonna — she was already climbing the charts with “Holiday,” which peaked at #16 the week after she appeared — her visit to the show feels like the first seminal event in what went on to be one of the most legendary careers in pop-culture history. It’s where things really began, months before she took the stage in a wedding dress at the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards.
It’s also a real showcase for the Madonna many fans love most. Playful, natural, beautiful and — most importantly — brimming with confidence, it’s no surprise the emerging pop star on display on “Bandstand” that night went on to score 38 top tens, more than any performer in music history, 12 #1 singles and eight #1 albums, the latest of which, MDNA, debuted in the top spot 28 years, two months and 20 days after her visit to “American Bandstand.”
Today, many will be looking back on Dick Clark’s many achievements and dissecting the almost immeasurable impact he had on music and television, and we’ll remember for how genuinely excited he seemed to be talking to a little-known disco singer on January 14, 1984. His decision to invite her on that night quite literally changed the face of pop music forever, and for that we will always be thankful.