The moment Madonna became a music and style mega-star of the highest order? Her live performance debut of "Like a Virgin" at the first-ever MTV VMAs in 1984, when she upgraded her downtown dance-punk aesthetic with white wedding lace and an even bigger crucifix.
"Ours was a strict, old-fashioned family," she told People in 1985. "When I was tiny, my grandmother used to beg me not to go with men, to love Jesus, and be a good girl. I grew up with two images of a woman: the virgin and the whore. It was a little scary."
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The first of Madonna's dramatic reinventions came with her third LP "True Blue" and its controversial lead single, "Papa Don't Preach."
Both Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Church objected to the song, about a girl discussing her pregnancy with her father; the former argued that it glamourized teen pregnancy, the latter that it celebrated teen, premarital sex and babies born out of wedlock.
"Immediately they're going to say I am advising every young girl to go out and get pregnant," she told The New York Times in 1986. "This song is really about a girl who is making a decision in her life. She has a very close relationship with her father and wants to maintain that closeness. To me it's a celebration of life.
Featuring stigmata, burning crosses, and a love scene with a Black, Jesus-like saint, 1989's "Like a Prayer" remains Madonna's most overtly Catholic and controversial video. It led to a canceled endorsement deal with Pepsi and condemnation from the Vatican itself.
"My own Catholicism is in constant upheaval. When I left home at 17 and went to New York, which is the city with the most sinners, I renounced the traditional meaning of Catholicism in terms of how I would live my life," she told the Times that year.
"But I never stopped feeling the guilt and shame that are ingrained in you if you are brought up Catholic."
"I am an ltalian-American, and I am proud of it," she said at a press conference. "I do not endorse a way of life but describe one, and the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments."
Radical reinvention number we-lost-count: 1998 "Ray of Light" Madonna. The single, 40-year-old new mum (to Lourdes) dropped her most personal and sonically innovative album, in which she muses about motherhood, fame, and the devastating, early death of her own namesake mother -- all grounded in a new spiritual outlook inspired by her immersion in Kabbalah, an ancient, mystical form of Judaism. (Side note: her Botticelli beach hair! Her dewy skin!)
"It's a belief system that gives you tools to deal with life. Many of its principles resemble concepts in Christianity or in Buddhism," Madonna explained to Oprah Winfrey in 2005. "I've never felt more creative. One thing I've learned is that I'm not the owner of my talent, I'm the manager of it. And if I learn how to manage my talent correctly -- and if I accept that I'm just channeling things that come from God -- the talent will keep flowing through me."
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She's still into the Catholic stuff, though! In her most literal tribute to Jesus Christ yet, she belted the 1986 ballad "Live to Tell" while mock-crucified to a disco-fied cross for her 2006 Confessions Tour -- once again angering the Catholic Church, as well as the Church of England.
"I don't think Jesus would be mad at me and the message I'm trying to send," Madonna told the Daily News of the incident.
Mused the Material Girl to The New York Times of her earliest fashion moments: ''When you go to Catholic school, you have to wear uniforms, and everything is decided for you. Since you have no choice but to wear your uniform, you go out of your way to do things that are different in order to stand out."
Her 2015-2016 Rebel Heart Tour featured this red kimono designed by Arianne Phillips for the downright medieval opening portion of the show, where Madge and dancers brandished (surprise!) enormous crucifixes like weapons.
"I like crosses," she told Rolling Stone in 2015. "I'm sentimental about Jesus on the cross. Jesus was a Jew, and also I believe he was a catalyst, and I think he offended people because his message was to love your neighbor as yourself; in other words, no one is better than somebody else. He embraced all people, whether it was a beggar on the street or a prostitute, and he admonished a group of Jews who were not observing the prophets of the Torah. So he rattled a lot of people's cages."