It was a song that would define Madonna for most of the decade - whether she liked it or not.
"Material Girl" was Madonna's follow-up to the title track from the singer's second album Like a Virgin (1984). The "Virgin" single would spend six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984 and 1985, followed by a three-week spell for the album at No. 1 in February 1985. (Her wish "to rule the world" on American Bandstand at the top of the year was indeed a prophesy!) Propelled by the killer production of Nile Rodgers (who recruited CHIC co-founder Bernard Edwards and bandmate Tony Thompson to play bass and drums on the track along his own guitar work), "Material Girl" lit up radio stations and clubs across America and the world, reaching No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts (kept from the top by REO Speedwagon and Phil Collins) and No. 3 in England.
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And the video! Already a proven star on MTV with a provocative appearance on the network's first Video Music Awards, Madonna went full glam in the "Material Girl" short, with a pink gown and vintage jewelry that paid obvious homage to Marilyn Monroe in her film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Rather than run away from the comparisons to Hollywood's most famous sex symbol of the past few decades, she embraced it fully.
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But it was never her intention to let the song represent who she was as an artist. "I liked them ['Material Girl' and 'Like a Virgin'] both because they were ironic and provocative at the same time but also unlike me," she told Rolling Stone in 2009. "I am not a materialistic person, and I certainly wasn't a virgin...I liked the play on words, I thought they were clever. They're so geeky, they're cool." In 1991, she got philosophical about the track and its resultant, resilient nickname with a biographer:
I can't completely disdain the song and the video, because they certainly were important to my career. But talk about the media hanging on a phrase and misinterpreting the damn thing as well. I didn't write that song, you know, and the video was about how the girl rejected diamonds and money. But God forbid irony should be understood. So when I'm ninety, I'll still be the Material Girl. I guess it's not so bad. Lana Turner was the Sweater Girl until the day she died.
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