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THE '80s A Special Report : THE TASTE MAKERS : Presenting the big players and major ideas that--for better or worse--shaped the 1980s. This is Calendar's fifth annual Taste Makers report, expanded this time to cover the last 10 years in the following categories: Show Business Execs, Film Producers, Film Directors and Writers, Stage, TV, Music, Dance, Pop Music, Jazz, Comedy, Radio, Art and Restaurants. : POP MUSIC : MADONNA

December 24, 1989|KRISTINE McKENNA

Every decade needs an extravagantly glamorous femme fatale, and Madonna filled the bill in the '80s. And as the '80s became more conservative with each passing year, the public attended Madonna's audacious celebration of flesh and desire with increasing fascination. The essence of her talent, in fact, is her instinctual understanding of how to make us pay attention.

Brazenly framing herself as an icon to be adored, Madonna has an infallible affinity with media, and she's used it to sell herself shamelessly. Selling, of course, is what culture and the arts were all about in the '80s, and though she was berated early in her career as a crass tart, she just got a jump on everybody else. One of the first to fully grasp and exploit the potential of rock video, Madonna erased the line that separates the commercial from the product being sold, and her records--every move she makes, in fact--all seem to whisper love me , want me , buy me .

Once established in the pop market, Madonna diversified and lent her cachet of hipness to several '80s trends. She got political (AIDS and saving the rain forests), she hired a personal trainer, she became an art collector. She married, divorced, dated high-profile bachelors and launched fashion trends. She bombed as a film actress, got mixed notices on Broadway and toured the world.

Her personal and professional life inextricably intertwined and laid out for public scrutiny, Madonna's taken on a mythical dimension, and she's America's best loved vehicle for dreams of sexual longing. One has only to look at her and the id is unleashed.

The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.

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