The Madonna Timeline: Song #53 ~ Material Girl ~ 1985


{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

Some boys kiss me,
Some boys hug me,
I think they’re okay.
If they don’t give me proper credit,
I just walk away.

You always remember your first time, and your first Madonna song. ‘Material Girl’ was mine. We didn’t even have a stereo, or MTV, so how I got to hear the song is a miracle that seemed destined to be. We were at a neighbor’s house for a summer night gathering in their basement. Curtains draped beneath the staircase, hiding a makeshift DJ booth. A washer and dryer stood on the far-off corner, gently droning in the background. The kids were putting on their Friday night song and dance contest, whereby we would all dance and lip sync to a record of our choosing.

Most of the boys sang guy songs, and most of the girls sang girl songs, but we were just young enough that it didn’t matter. I chose ‘Material Girl’ – the 7 inch single that my friend so casually had at her disposal. When you think of what Madonna has done in the three decades that followed, that record sleeve is a piece of history, and our failure to realize the import of that single is one of those comical hindsight moments of nonchalance. How could anyone know what was in store for her?

They can beg and they can plead
But they can’t see the light
That’s right!
Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right.

It was my turn to go. The record started spinning. I didn’t even know all the words – how could I? – but I knew the chorus, even if I had no idea what it all meant. It was catchy as all get out – had a hook that was instantly embedded in the brain, and a chorus that sounded part human, part robot, and paved the way for the 80’s – and while I didn’t make sense of the words at the time, I had fun singing them. The greatest of pop songs often have the silliest of lyrics, though in this case there was irony and tongue-in-cheek humor to go along with the greedy money-grubbing of the decade.

Cause we are living in a material world,
And I am a material girl.
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl.

I’m not going to even bother acting all humble – I was a good dancer. I even threw in some acrobatic moves gleaned from an all-too-short week of gymnastics at the local college. Yeah, I could have been a contender… but I digress.

Back to the contest… if you could call it that. I had been losing them for weeks. Like my Student Council run in 9th grade, and my Best Dressed in High School nomination in 12th grade, and countless other times I was nominated or in the running, I failed to secure the top spot. I was never the chosen one.

I was the noticed one, the one everybody watched and knew about, but who never won out in the end. On this night, I danced my heart out, and I had Madonna on my side, but I had reached the point where it did not even matter. I gave up trying to win and gave in to the sheer joy of abandon, of doing something I loved simply for the sake of doing it. Don’t get me wrong, when it was done, when everyone had performed and we waited for the votes to be tallied up, my heart was beating quickly, and I really wanted it. But I couldn’t count on it.

Some boys romance
Some boys slow dance,
That’s all right with me
If they can’t raise my interest
Then I have to let them be.
Some boys try and some boys lie,
But I don’t let them play.
Only boys who save their pennies
Make my rainy day.
Cause we are living in a material world,
And I am a material girl.
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl.

The announcement was made. I won. I had never won before, but no one believed it. That’s the problem when you’re always so good – everyone assumes you’ve already won everything so you don’t get the time of day. Self-aggrandizing jokes aside, they really didn’t believe that I had never won and were about to give the prize (which I no longer recollect) to someone else. I had them check the record book, where all the winners each week had been written down in kids’ block print, and lo and behold my name was nowhere to be found. They still didn’t believe it, claiming they were certain I had already won. Umm, no, not the case, and after all the effort convincing them I had never won, it seemed a hollow victory. Even back then, the masses didn’t want to give it up.

Dancing excellence and showmanship aside, I left my performance career in that basement, beside the dusty record player and washer and dryer. It was enough just having that song in my head.

Boys may come and boys may go
And that’s all right you see
Experience has made me rich
And now they’re after me…

Right then, Madonna became my muse, guide, and inspiration. Like countless gay boys before and after me, I found in her a kindred rebellious spirit, with the sass and style to turn heads, and the strength and determination to not care if we never won.

As for Ms. Ciccone, this was her breakthrough video, and the one that proved her talents were in reinventing herself. Morphing wildly into Marilyn Monroe for the very first time, and showing off a knack of inhabiting video characters, Madonna was flexing her chameleonic muscles. As one of her first incarnations, it would be the one that stuck. A self-professed bothersome moniker she holds to this day, “Material Girl” remains the one nickname she has never been able to shake, try as she might.

Cause everybody’s living in a material world,
And I am a material girl.
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl.

She was the ultimate pin-up girl of the 1980’s. She personified that decade, ruling the charts alongside Michael Jackson and Prince. It was a decade of greed, and people wanted to see the money keep rolling in as much as they wanted to keep Madonna in her Material Girl box. But she, and the world, would not have it.

A material, a material, a material, a material world

As the echoes faded, and the music grew dated, she was already gone, already on to something else. I grew up in her wake, following and watching, inspired and in awe.

Song #53– ‘Material Girl’ – Summer 1985
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