Summer of 1984.
Fourteen years old.
It was the summer of stonewashed Guess jeans.1
Frankie Says Relax t-shirts.
I had no idea who Madonna was when I first got to camp that summer.
But there were two girls in my bunk who did.
The first one was from Brooklyn and her name was Nicole.
And she was cool but indifferent in an almost-but-not-quite-goth kinda way.
She rocked pale skin in the middle of July and a jet black asymmetrical bob. She rimmed her eyes in pounds of dark kohl liner. She wore cropped black leggings during the day. She told crazy stories about sneaking out to midnight showings of Rocky Horror that intrigued me even as they scared the shit out of me. And she spent a shitload of time listening to some platinum-haired chick on a cracked cassette tape sing about love and lucky stars.
The other girl who was in the know that summer was Tammy.
And Tammy was a flirt.
She was from an exotic sounding place I had never heard of called the Main Line.
And even though she was the polar opposite of Nicole in about a billion ways, Tammy rocked a black bob that summer too. Only she paired hers with long, dangly earrings and black Chuck Taylor high tops with fat red laces -- which sounds like a ridiculous combination but somehow just absolutely wasn't.
Maybe it was because Tammy was cute and tiny and popular in all the right ways. The kind of girl who'd run up behind a boy she liked in the middle of the day, fling her arms around his neck and jump on his back with a high-pitched giggle.
Who'd drag you into a sticky, humid bathroom stall and force you into using a tampon for the very first time when you were too much of a wuss to do it yourself. Who was confident in the way only a 14-year-old girl who is just beginning to discover the power of her sexuality can be.
And who knew every word to every song on both Side A and Side B of Madonna.
There were only eight songs on Madonna's first album.
And to this day I can recite them in my sleep: "Lucky Star." "Borderline." "Burning Up." "I Know It." "Holiday." "Think of Me." "Physical Attraction." "Everybody."
But eight songs was all it took. Because by the time the camp nights turned damp and cool enough for sweatshirts signaling the end of yet another summer, I knew the words to every single one of them, and my life would never again be the same.
Did you just roll your eyes?
It's OK. I don't blame you.
But here's the thing.
Before Madonna, there were no female pop stars for teenage girls to identify with.
We didn't have a Britney, or a Christina, or a Katy, or a Ke$ha. We didn't have a P!nk or a Fergie or a Rihanna. We didn't even have a Selena freaking Gomez.
I mean... we had Tina Turner. But she was kinda scary. Cyndi Lauper had just come onto the scene. But she was just a little too weird to be relatable.
So who else was there?
I mean, the person I probably identified with the most back then was David Lee Roth, mostly because he somehow managed to possess both the coolest wardrobe and the most totally awesome permed mane of the decade.
I so wish I was joking.
Who were we supposed to look up to?
Christie Brinkley? Cheryl Tiegs?
C'mon! They were supermodels! And their sexy-but-wholesome images mocked us from the bedroom walls of the neighborhood boys we had once collected lightening bugs with.
Even Charlene Tilton and Catherine Bach had the whole big boobed, sexy-stemmed bombshell thing going on with their perfect Breck Girl hair and Daisy Dukes cut up to vaginaville.
But then came Madonna.
With her messy bleached-out hair, ripped black leggings and cropped mesh tops punctuated with yards of tangled rosaries.
She was a rebel. A misfit. A troublemaker.
And yes. She was a little chubby.
She was also dark, but somehow girly. Pop, but also urban.
She wasn't perfect. She was a perfect mess.
And she didn't give a shit what anybody had to say about it.
Unlike the others I'll do anything. I'm not the same. I have no shame.
I know her lyrics may not have been as straight-up angry and revolutionary as, say, Alanis Morisette's would be a decade later. But while Madonna may have sung with a certain airy naivete about longing for love and freedom and the one boy who didn't want her, in real life she was a jagged little pill.
Which made her the ultimate symbol of female empowerment to a generation of girls who were clearly starving for one.
And so it didn't matter if you were a Nicole from Brooklyn... or a Tammy from suburban Philadelphia... or if you were just another random teenager biding her time with a part-time job at Cignal and a 10th-grade boyfriend who met you in the Friendly's parking lot after school to smoke clove cigarettes. It didn't matter if you were a slut. Or a bitch. Or a prude. Or a loner.
Madonna was a vulnerable badass who just wanted to be loved. And so every single one of us embraced her as our generation's first collective girl crush and loved her.
We proved our commitment by tying those big mesh bows in our hair and piling black rubber bracelets up our arms, and by recording the Lucky Star video on VHS, then racing home after school to rewind about 50 billion times until we knew every single dance move cold.
We scoured second-hand stores for black leather jackets that even slightly resembled the one she wore in Desperately Seeking Susan. We went to see Vision Quest just to hear her sing Crazy For You. And we begged our older sisters, brothers, cool neighbors to drive us to see her live -- live! -- when she rolled into town for The Virgin Tour.
That was over 25 years ago.
And not once, in all that time, have I ever stopped loving Madonna.
Not during the Sean Penn phase, or the Kabbalah phase, or the Hey-look-at-me-I'm-sleeping-with-Vanilla Ice phase. Not during the Sex book phase. Or Shanghai Surprise. Or even during the time she went to that really dark place and started rocking a big black top hat and scary blacked-out tooth.
OK -- possibly then. But only for, like, just a second.
And not even last month when she drew mad criticism for brandishing a fake AK-47 during a show on the European leg of her current tour.
I know. You're rolling your eyes again.
But here's the thing:
Madonna moved to New York City in 1977 to be a dancer with $35 in her pocket.
Today her total net worth is an estimated $500 million.
Do you need a minute to let that sink in?
She appeared as if out of nowhere at a time when I was an impressionable young girl who thought following the rules was the only option. Then she put on a wedding dress, called herself a Boy Toy and rolled around on the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards and showed me that it wasn't.
She had the balls not just to break the rules, but to whip out a Sharpie and freaking rewrite them. And OK -- while I agree that Madge has been acting kinda desperate lately in an effort to remain relevant, she has also sold more than 300 million records, has had 37 Top 10 singles and 17 Top 10 albums -- seven of which made it to number one. She won two Golden Globes, published a bunch of children's books, launched a clothing line. She is the female artist with the most certified singles (gold and platinum), more than the Beatles.
And tonight, she will kick off the North America leg of her MDNA tour right here at the Wells Fargo Center.
Do you even have to ask if I am going?
Dance and sing, get up and do your thing.
Proud Madonna Wannabe for over 25 years.
And still freaking counting.
For more on parenting and pop culture, check out Hollee Actman Becker's blog suburbabble.
There are two corrections to this post: Madonna moved to New York in 1977, not 1997. And she has won two Golden Globes, not one.
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