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Madonna Reclaims Center Stage

Here are the 5 phases of her career — and the songs grownups most want to hear in her 2023 greatest-hits tour

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 01:  Madonna performs onstage during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Madonna performs onstage during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It’s been 40 years since Madonna — a technicolor wonder in lace top, skirt, fishnet stockings and a bevy of bracelets — burst through America’s TV screens and into pop superstardom. For anyone who grew up in the ’80s, her impact was immense. This was not just a singer; this was a force of nature, someone who could rewrite the terms of what it meant to be an entertainer and a woman in a new era. The spotlight didn’t just find her; she demanded it, unapologetically.

It all led to a long career of chart-busting songs, and now the 64-year-old Madonna launches the “Celebration” tour, a series of greatest-hits concerts that will take her to three dozen cities in North America and Europe from July through December. (Tickets go on sale Friday.) As we contemplate the depth of her catalogue and her artistic reinventions along the way, here are some songs that the lucky stars who get tickets may want to hear.

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American singer Madonna in New York, 1984.
Madonna in 1984.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

The Material Girl Era

Madonna’s self-titled debut album, released in 1983, went to No. 8 on the pop chart and spawned three hit singles that were catchy and cute more than provocative. The accompanying music videos established the “Madonna look.” Her follow-up album, Like a Virgin, hit the next year and established her as a bold and dynamic artist, willing to take on more mature topics (the title track) and also express a wry sense of humor about the world that women are expected to inhabit (“Material Girl”).

Songs we want to hear:

“Lucky Star”

“Borderline”

“Like a Virgin”

Madonna performing during her Blond Ambition World Tour at Wembley Stadium in London, England on July 21, 1990. This was Madonna's third concert tour and promoted her fourth studio album, Like a Prayer (1989). It was attended by an estimated 800,000 people throughout Japan, North America and Europe. The costumes were designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, and included the iconic cone brassiere corset.
Madonna performing during her Blond Ambition World Tour at Wembley Stadium in London, England on July 21, 1990.
Duncan Raban/Popperfoto via Getty Images

The Queen of Pop Era

Through the mid- to late ’80s, Madonna produced hit after hit after hit, and used her cachet to comment on unwed pregnancy in “Papa Don’t Preach” and religion in “Like a Prayer.” The sexual boundary-pushing continued with a somewhat controversial peep show-themed video for “Open Your Heart,” but a mellower artistic side emerged too in “La Isla Bonita.” By the end of the decade, Madonna cemented her status as the Queen of Pop with the tour-de-force dance number “Express Yourself.”

Songs we want to hear:

“La Isla Bonita”

“Like a Prayer”

“Express Yourself”

American musician Madonna performs in concert, New York, New York, circa 1993.
Madonna singing in concert in New York in 1993.
Larry Busacca/WireImage/Getty Images

The Starlet Era

Pushing boundaries wasn’t enough for Madonna in the ’90s; she wanted to obliterate them with her Sex book and Erotica album. But above it all, she became a true music icon with “Vogue,” a trend-setting song that is impossible to disconnect from the singer. It’s no coincidence that this was the era in which Madonna did some of her most impressive big-screen acting work.

Songs we want to hear:

“Vogue”

“Justify My Love”

“Take a Bow”

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Madonna performs at the 41st Annual GRAMMY Awards.
Madonna onstage at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 25, 1999.
Ke.Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

The New Dance Era

Madonna got her start with singles that made people dance in sweaty clubs. She returned to her roots with renewed enthusiasm in the late ’90s and 2000s. But her new hits didn’t sound dated; she worked with hot producers to create a new sound that felt like the promise of a new millennium.

Songs we want to hear:

“Ray of Light”

“Music”

“Hung Up”

Madonna performs during the Bridgestone Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Madonna performing during the Bridgestone Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show at Lucas Oil Stadium on Feb. 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

The Legend Era

Madonna hasn’t been a regular on the pop chart in the past decade and a half, but she has remained a sought-after collaborator, working with stars she influences, such as Justin Timberlake and Missy Elliott. One song, “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” a collaboration with M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, even features a cheerleader-type chant celebrating the now-legendary Madonna. She also commanded the Super Bowl halftime stage in 2012, with a couple of those friends and other artists joining in.

Songs we want to hear:

“4 Minutes”

“Give Me All Your Luvin’ ”

“Bitch I’m Madonna”

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