On December 22, 1984, “Like a Virgin” by Madonna hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it remained for six weeks. The title song from her second album put Madonna on the map as a pop culture icon. As girls mimicked her style and her songs flooded the airwaves and dance clubs, Madonna’s music helped define a generation.
Although “Like a Virgin” is associated with Madonna, songwriter Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly penned the original song. Steinberg came up with the line “I made it through the wilderness… I was beat, incomplete, I’d been had,” while driving around in his pickup truck in Coachella Valley, CA. He had just gotten out of a devastating relationship and wanted to express the invigorating feeling of meeting someone new. He then teamed up Kelly to complete the song. They recorded a demo and sent it the A&R Department at Warner Brothers. When Madonna heard the song, she was immediately hooked.
However, when Madonna’s producer Nile Rodgers first heard “Like a Virgin,” he was skeptical about the song’s hit-making potential. However, Madonna convinced him otherwise. Aside from its popularity on the charts, “Like a Virgin” was also celebrated by music critics. Its infectious dance beat perfectly complimented the stirring opening lines “I made it through the wilderness/Somehow I made it through/Didn’t know how lost I was/Until I found you.”
The music video, filmed in Venice, was both groundbreaking and provocative. Perfectly reflecting the song’s themes, two alternating shots of Madonna were used throughout the video. Showing both her virginal and sexual sides throughout the video, she took control over the “virgin-whore” complex that is usually used to restrain women. In one vignette, Madonna performs the song in a white wedding gown. Throughout the music video, this scene alternates with one where she suggestively writhes on a Venice gondola in a black mesh top, cross necklaces and tight blue pants. Mixing elements of punk fashion and Catholic iconography into an overtly sexy look, this outfit put Madonna on the map as a fashion trendsetter, as well.
On September 14, 1984, Madonna stole the show at the MTV Video Music Awards with her performance of “Like a Virgin.” Posed as a life-sized bride figurine atop a 17-foot wedding cake, Madonna introduced the world to her soon-to-be-released single. She wore a bustier wedding dress and veil, capped off with a chunky string of pearls and her “Boy Toy” belt. The performance ended with Madonna humping the stage while singing the lyrics “Ooh, baby/Can’t you feel my heartbeat/ For the very first time?” Although there has been a fair share of shocking performances at the annual awards show, even 30 years later, few can rival Madonna’s groundbreaking display of raw, yet playful, sexuality.
For the past three decades, Madonna has continued to entertain and titillate her fans. However, even by today’s standards, “Like a Virgin” is just as catchy as it was the first time.