Madonna’s 5 Most Controversial Moments

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Madonna. Chances are you didn’t immediately think of the Mother of God when you read that, you were thinking of the Mother of Pop, who’s had a career spanning four decades, across almost every medium imaginable: acting, directing, writing, dancing, and, of course, singing.   It’s difficult to believe, but on August 16th, Madonna will be turning 56. However, like everything else in her life, she’s not prepared to fit any conventional idea of what a 56 year old looks or acts like. Always the “Queen of Controversy,” Madonna has created and courted her reputation as a rebel and rule breaker since the beginning of her career. So, in honor of her birthday, let’s look at her 5 most controversial moments.

LIVE TO TELL (The Confessions Tour)

As part of her successful Confessions Tour in 2006 Madonna, as would become her habit, drew from her Catholic upbringing to stir the pot. During a performance of her 1985 ballad “Live to Tell” she was raised from the floor while hanging on a giant mirrored cross and wearing a crown of thorns. Above her head was a growing tally of the number of children orphaned by AIDS in Africa that continually increased until reaching 12 million by the end of the song. Once word got out regarding the nature of the performance she was met with worldwide objections. Prosecutors in Germany threatened to sue Madonna for blasphemy if she performed the number in Dusseldorf – which she went ahead and did. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia then called for a boycott of her Moscow performance. The Vatican labeled her concert in Rome “an act of open hostility” and it was censored from the NBC broadcast of her concert.


1984 VMA’s

To help launch the first MTV VMA’s Madonna was asked to perform her smash hit “Like a Virgin.” As an up and coming artist and already under heavy criticism due to the song’s suggestive lyrics, Madonna was well aware of the attention that would be given to her performance. The song started innocently enough as she emerged from a wedding cake in her now famous bridal .dress and performed the song with a few additional moans than the original track. Then the Mother of Pop dropped to her knees and began to hump the floor before laying down and rolling around to reveal her underwear to the audience. Today, this kind of behavior is seemingly normal for many pop stars, but Madonna’s performance was 30 years ago, when Reagan was still in his first term, when Yugoslavia hosted the Winter Olympics, and when there actually was a Yugoslavia. It was a very different time and, for a crowd not yet used to Madonna, incredibly shocking.

2003 VMA’s

Hot of the release of her album American Life, Madonna made one of her most infamous performances of all time at the 2003 MTV VMA’s alongside pop princesses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

As the opening number of the show, watched as Spears and Aguilera, dressed as brides, began to sing the classic “Like a Virgin,” reminiscing on Madonna’s own revolutionary performance. Soon after, the song changed to a wedding march and Madonna, dressed as a groom, emerges from the top of a giant wedding cake singing her single “Hollywood.” She dances with both girls before they join her in finishing the song. As the song wrapped up she grabbed Spears for a full on opened-mouth kiss before turning to Aguilera and doing the same.

The next day was a firestorm of press as pictures of Madonna and Spears lip locking hit the front page of papers worldwide and newscasts were quick to re-air the steamy smooch.


As part of a $5 million endorsement deal Madonna signed with Pepsi, she filmed a commercial to promote her forthcoming single “Like a Prayer” and allowed Pepsi to sponsor her next tour. The commercial was innocent enough: she’s transported back into the 50’s where she sings and dances with a gospel choir and enjoys a Pepsi. The commercial aired during The Cosby Show, the #1 rated show on television in February 1989, with no complaint.

The next day Madonna released the music video ,and the firestorm that ensued was unlike anything Madonna had stirred up before. In the video she notably dances and sings in front of giant burning crosses and kisses a black saint who, at the time, was widely believed to be Jesus by some groups. Religious groups came out in droves to protest and boycott PepsiCo, who immediately pulled the plug on the commercial and canceled their contract with Madonna, allowing her to keep the $5 million rid themselves of the bad press as hastily as possible.




The beginning of the 90’s marked Madonna’s most controversial period ever. It was during this time that she became the true “Queen of Controversy” thanks to her jaw dropping antics and projects. During these 2 years Madonna exhibited the cone bra, the Sex book, “Justify My Love,” Erotica, Truth or Dare, and perhaps worst of all, she dated Vanilla Ice.

She started the 90’s with her infamous Blond Ambition tour, which featured her iconic cone bra and high ponytail combination. She also gave a performance of “Like a Virgin” during which she simulated masturbation, and caused the Pope to urge Catholics to avoid tour. That same winter she released The Immaculate Collection which featured the track “Justify My Love,” both of which surged to the top of the charts. The video for “Justify My Love” was a black and white, BDSM themed sexfest which was quickly banned from MTV, benefitting Madonna when she released it on VHS.

Still rolling high on the controversies of the previous year, in 1991 the behind the scenes documentary of her Blond Ambition Tour, Truth or Dare hit theaters and went on to gross $30 million at the box office – making it the highest grossing documentary of all time. The film showed a more vulnerable side to the star, with moments such as Madonna discussing her childhood and visiting her mother’s grave. Of course, it also features the much discussed, erotic Coke bottle scene.

All of that was still just a warmup for 1992, which could easily be considered her wildest year to date. Starting off on a more commercial path with the release of A League of Their Own and her single “This Used to Be My Playground” Madonna perfected the bad girl reputation we all know today. As a one-two punch she released Sex, a coffee table book, and her album Erotica together on October 21, 1992. Either one alone would have been enough to attract criticism and widespread attention, but together the two releases caused a veritable media storm.

Madonna worked with famed photographer Steven Meisel to create a series of sexually explicit images of herself along with models Isabella Rossellini and Naomi Campbell, socialite Princess Tatiana von Furstenberg, nightclub entrepreneur Ingrid Casares, rappers Big Daddy Kane and Vanilla Ice, gay porn star Joey Stefano, and actor Udo Kier. The Vatican called the series “morally intolerable,” the government of India had all copies people tried to bring into the country seized at customs, and religious groups across America were up in arms.

As if that wasn’t enough, Erotica was her most sexual album to date, discussing BDSM, AIDS, sex, contraception, and sexual liberation. Released just after the crest of the AIDS crisis, she pushed taboos and threw sex back at a society which had tried to demonize it. The first single “Erotica” channels her alter-ego “Dita Parlo” and in the music video, she appears as a dominatrix between footage of the shooting of Sex. MTV, unsurprisingly, banned that video too.


About the Author: Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment writer for http:/ and a lifelong Madonna fan. He considered it a highlight of his life when she pointed her gun at him during her last tour stop in Chicago.