"God has given you one face," Hamlet said, "and you make yourselves another." But had the great Dane met Madonna before saying the above and, in effect, prophesying much of the modern condition, he might have added, "and another and another and another ..."
The pop phenomenon born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Michigan in 1958 has, over the course of her career as a singer, songwriter, actress, filmmaker, and pure entertainer, become the living paradigm for the character-based, image-centric presentation of an artist. And her evolutionary mutability—the quicksilver ability to grow and change and live spectacular multiple lives in and beyond the public eye—has given each viewer and each listener their own favorite Madonna. From her early years in rough-and- tumble New York City of the 1980s to her Sex (book) goddess 1990s and the equestrian splendor of the early aughts in England, each chapter of her life is related as a kind of Dickensian parable of perseverance, of will, or of self-invention, as she weaves herself together out of blond ambition, yoga, or prayer.
And perhaps Madonna the Icon is herself her own greatest work of art—something so vastly influential as to be unfathomable, knitting together all of us for whom she has provided the soundtracks, all of the sensibilities she has informed, rattled, challenged, provoked, and then reimagined again, all of the notions of beauty, of an artist, of a performer that she has shaped, reshaped, and upset yet again. With a 13th studio album due out in 2015, Madonna is reaching a new level of artistry, creativity, and, perhaps, identity. Even as she reimagines herself yet again, she remains a masterpiece.