From Brando to Axl, the boys have always had somebody to act out their fantasies of rebellion and stand in for their forbidden selves. Then, in 1984, the girls got Madonna. So what if she had a Betty Boop voice and a smidgen of fat around her navel? She also had lyrics that would have made a black-and-white cartoon blush scarlet. “Unlike the others, I’ll do anything,” she sang in the video Burning Up: “I’m not the same/ I have no shame.” No wonder the nuns at her Michigan grade school used to tape her smart mouth shut. Top it off with clothes that seemed hijacked entirely from Frederick’s of Hollywood. Madonna was the material girl all right, and the material she paraded was spandex, Lycra and nylon net.
For millions of teenagers, Madonna was the girl of their disobedient dreams. She had power; they had none. She was free, while they still needed Mom’s permission to stay out past 10. Madonna could afford to call herself a boy toy. This was one puppet who pulled her own strings. Her ambition had muscles; her will had the glint of chrome. Susan Seidelman, who directed Madonna in her first hit film, Desperately Seeking Susan, understood her appeal: “Funkiness mixed with amazing confidence—that’s a real powerful combination, especially for teenage girls.”
For some big boys too. Did Sean Penn give her trouble? She dumped him like a smart cookie shaking off a crumb. Warren Realty was the permanent playboy? A few months with Madonna and he went running for the quieter life of wedded bliss—with another woman. “I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want,” Madonna once said. “If that makes me a bitch, OK.”
It certainly made her a gold mine. Though films have been the traditional launching pad for showbiz goddesses, she launched from a smaller pad: MTV. As the Venus of video, she became a quick-change artist, a sex bomb who went off in a different direction with each new song. The gold digger, the blond bombshell, the shameless hussy—she named one of her companies Slutco—Madonna drew them all from the fund of images that have kept women in their place, then recast them in her own triumphant mold. Her second album, Like a Virgin, sold 11 million copies; the next one, True Blue, went to 17 million. Last year she became the highest paid woman in the music business through a $60 million contract with Time Warner (the parent company of PEOPLE), creating a music-movie-TV-video-book conglomerate that should fund her misbehavior for years.
At 33, Madonna is pushing the envelope again, moving into sexual and psychological territory you can’t enter without proof-of-age ID. In her self-portrait movie, Truth or Dare, there was that funny business with a Vichy bottle. And her upcoming book of erotic fantasies promises to dare—and bare—more. Yet the more she changes, the more she stays the same. “I have the same goal I’ve had since I was a girl,” she’s pleased to say. “I want to rule the world.”