When Madonna debuted her title track Like A Virgin at the first MTV Video Music Awards in 1984 she arrived on top of a giant wedding cake dressed in a wedding dress, 'Boy Toy' belt buckle and veil. A few minutes later she was humping the stage, revealing lacy stockings and a garter. In one fearless move, Madonna became an icon in musical history. The same could be said for her second studio album, Like A Virgin, which celebrates its 30th birthday today.
'I'm tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want', the singer once declared. Boy, did she mean business. With the release of Like A Virgin, Madonna silenced all those who dismissed her as a 'one hit wonder' with smash hit singles Material Girl, Like A Virgin and Into The Groove (featured on the 1985 re-issue). Punchy, gutsy and boldly ambitious, the then-26-year-old made sure she took at least partial-control of her own career by making herself co-producer alongside disco legend Nile Rodgers. If Warner Bros were reluctant, they didn't win the argument. Very few ever did...
Madonna would later comment in J. Randy Taraborrelli's biography of her career: 'It's a chauvinist environment to be working in because I'm treated like this sexy little girl. I had to prove them wrong, which meant not only proving myself to my fans but to my record company as well. That is something that happens when you're a girl. It wouldn't happen to Prince or Michael Jackson.'
Madonna's look was key to the album's identity and impact: it's subversive style is still copied and revered three decades later. The brief was simple: set tongues wagging with a provocative take on Madonna's religious name, playing havoc with the Christian concept of the virgin birth. It's an ambiguous album cover: Madonna flirts both with virginal style (the wedding dress, the bouquet, the shy glance) and full on vamp (kohl eyeliner, rouge mouth, cleavage and backcomb). The result was - and still is - electric.
Costume designer, and Madonna's longtime stylist, Arianne Philips would sum up this moment when she said: 'This was one of the most shocking, liberating and influential moments in pop culture/fashion history...Fashion has never been the same.'
For Madonna, the key to her style and look was ambiguity, teasing: 'Who was I pretending to be—the Virgin Mary or the whore? These were the two extreme images of women I had known vividly, and remembered from childhood, and I wanted to play with them.'
The games continued: an MTV stage was swapped for a gondola in Venice in the video for Like A Virgin. Madonna writhes about adorned with crucifixes, ripped black dress and blue leggings before cutting away to a virginal-white dress and pearls combo in a fairytale Venetian palazzo. Message received, loud and clear.
A generation of fans would adopt Madonna's unique ensemble: layered mesh tops, religious jewellery, cut-off gloves, bangles and ripped tights soon became the look that would define the 1980s. Fancy dress would never be the same again and we all still clamber to recreate the Queen of Pop's style arrival decades later. Though Madge's fashion has evolved over the years, it is this - her first incarnation - that we remember the most.
Her feminist message of empowerment was amplified, not only by the words she sang but crucially by the clothes she chose to wear. Uninhibited, feisty, defiant and playful: 30 years on Like A Virgin still embodies all these things. Three decades on we're still getting into the groove...
By Kat Lister