The history of pop music can pretty much be summarized in one word: Madonna. The single-monikered maven single-handedly blew the top off the world of pop, reinvented stardom and redefined sexual mores–all while bulldozing the way for everyone from Britney Spears to Lady Gaga.
Madonna Louise Ciccone launched her empire in the early ‘80s, and her star is still rising. Thanks to an ever-evolving persona (Madge's accent swings from Brooklyn to British depending on the decade) the Material Girl is a magnet for controversy.
Back in 1989, Madonna's religiously charged "Like a Prayer" video caused soft-drink giant Pepsi to can her commercials, and the years have not soften her touch: During a 2012 concert, the Kabbalah follower threw a swastika at an image of French leader Marine Le Pen.
Before the mainstream had heard of S&M, Madge's videos depicted bondage, orgies, nudity and simulated lesbian sex.
MTV ultimately banned her "Justify My Love" video in 1990. But the ball-gagged cat was out of the plastic bag, and the Sex book author succeeded in arousing the world's prurient curiosity. By the time Madonna locked lips with pop princess Britney Spears on stage at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, sexual norms worldwide were no longer "Like a Virgin."
While Madonna is certainly a megastar mentor for Britney, she doesn't see all successors in the same "Ray of Light." When Lady Gaga released "Born This Way" in 2011, the Evita star's fans noticed that the song bore a striking similarity to Madonna's 1989 hit "Express Yourself."
Madge kept her slightly gap-toothed mouth shut about it at first, but during a January 2012 concert, the League of their Own star finally expressed herself. Madonna played clips of both songs and then sang the title lyrics from her 2008 track "She's Not Me." As of August 2012, the feud was still ongoing.
In addition to trying her hand at different careers (dancer, pop star, producer, director, fashion designer, actress, author), Madonna famously likes to change things up in her bedroom, too.
After her first marriage to Sean Penn fizzled in 1989, Madonna was linked to John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Dennis Rodman before giving birth to daughter Lourdes with her personal trainer (Carlos Leon) in 1996.
She married Guy Ritchie in 2000, with whom she has a son, Rocco. (Mother Madonna has also adopted children David and Mercy from Malawi.)
Madonna and Guy Ritchie split in 2008, after which the "Papa Don't Preach" singer set her sights on younger models. Literally. Madonna dated sexy model Jesus Luz, 30 years her junior, before moving on to French dancer Brahim Zaibat, who is 19 years younger–proving that this music star of yesteryear can certainly still attract younger devotees.