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True Blue was released in 1986 and to this day remains the best-selling Madonna album. I remember my older sister buying it and listening to it constantly. Shortly afterwards she got into The Smiths and informed me that Madonna “was shit”. True Blue spawned a bundle of top-ten hits and boasted the pop star’s first famous reinvention, from lace-covered “boy-toy” to a platinum blonde, toned man-eater. Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine called it “the supreme archetype for late ’80s and early ’90s pop music” and said that with this album “Madonna made the transition from pop tart to consummate artist, joining the ranks of ’80s icons like Michael Jackson and Prince.”

Of course, Madonna never had the musical talent to rival her 80’s contemporaries Michael Jackson and Prince. Her gift is in picking the right producer and tune for the moment and repackaging herself to suit the times. As Joni Mitchell would snarkily have it, she’s “hit talent out of the ballpark. She’s become the most famous person in the world by hiring the right people.”

One of those people was the late Herb Ritts, the photographer behind this cover. He began his career in the late 70’s and would eventually become the leading celebrity and fashion photographer of his time.

stephaniecindychristytat.jpg

300_19794.jpg

mad3.jpg

Ritts’ work became short code for high gloss, commercial photography. In the advertising industry there was a joke that lazy or desperate art directors would say: “I’ve got an idea, Herb Ritts!”, when they couldn’t come up with anything original. He was also an accomplished fine arts photographer and when his work was displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1997, more than 250,000 attended the show.

As is so often the case with Madonna, she managed to spot him on the way up.

“I met Madonna in ’83 or ’84, when I was commissioned to do an ad for a movie called Desperately Seeking Susan” he recalled. “I remember that day. I was in New York City in an old factory loft with lots of windows. She arrived early and marched into the studio with all her “boy-toy” belts and black lace, very definite. She opened a cigar box with all of her jewelry, mainly little silver crosses. She said, “I’ve seen all your work in Lei magazine. You’re good.” She knew who I was, though I’d only been shooting for a couple of years.”

The True Blue cover is the most recognizable and sensual picture he took of her. The cassette tape and poster version is even sexier.

true-blue-pro-photo_002.jpg

It’s a perfect example of what a post-modern operator she is – the hair Monroe’s, the jacket James Dean’s, the eyebrows Frida Kahlo’s. The images from the shoot are also a reminder that at her career zenith she was just, well, incredibly rootable.

true-blue-pro-photo_004.jpg

Yet as Nathan Rabin – for my money the best writer on the web – points out in the AV Club, “there’s nothing particularly natural about Madonna’s sex appeal. It’s largely a matter of attitude and lighting, iconography and shrewd calculation, exhibitionism, and a finely honed gift for provocation. It’s telling that many of Madonna’s most fruitful artistic collaborations are with photographers and music video directors. Depending on the angle and the outfit, Madonna can look like Marilyn Monroe reborn or the boogeyman’s grandma.”

On this cover she gets the angle and the outfit just right.

Postscript:  One of our readers crack_ho pointed us in the direction of a fascinating interview with Jeri Heiden, the Art Director who worked on a number of Madonna covers including Like a Virgin, True Blue and Like a Prayer. Well worth checking out.

Madonna: True Blue

v2.jpg

True Blue was released in 1986 and to this day remains the best-selling Madonna album. I remember my older sister buying it and listening to it constantly. Shortly afterwards she got into The Smiths and informed me that Madonna “was shit”. True Blue spawned a bundle of top-ten hits and boasted the pop star’s first famous reinvention, from lace-covered “boy-toy” to a platinum blonde, toned man-eater. Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine called it “the supreme archetype for late ’80s and early ’90s pop music” and said that with this album “Madonna made the transition from pop tart to consummate artist, joining the ranks of ’80s icons like Michael Jackson and Prince.”

Of course, Madonna never had the musical talent to rival her 80’s contemporaries Michael Jackson and Prince. Her gift is in picking the right producer and tune for the moment and repackaging herself to suit the times. As Joni Mitchell would snarkily have it, she’s “hit talent out of the ballpark. She’s become the most famous person in the world by hiring the right people.”

One of those people was the late Herb Ritts, the photographer behind this cover. He began his career in the late 70’s and would eventually become the leading celebrity and fashion photographer of his time.

stephaniecindychristytat.jpg

300_19794.jpg

mad3.jpg

Ritts’ work became short code for high gloss, commercial photography. In the advertising industry there was a joke that lazy or desperate art directors would say: “I’ve got an idea, Herb Ritts!”, when they couldn’t come up with anything original. He was also an accomplished fine arts photographer and when his work was displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1997, more than 250,000 attended the show.

As is so often the case with Madonna, she managed to spot him on the way up.

“I met Madonna in ’83 or ’84, when I was commissioned to do an ad for a movie called Desperately Seeking Susan” he recalled. “I remember that day. I was in New York City in an old factory loft with lots of windows. She arrived early and marched into the studio with all her “boy-toy” belts and black lace, very definite. She opened a cigar box with all of her jewelry, mainly little silver crosses. She said, “I’ve seen all your work in Lei magazine. You’re good.” She knew who I was, though I’d only been shooting for a couple of years.”

The True Blue cover is the most recognizable and sensual picture he took of her. The cassette tape and poster version is even sexier.

true-blue-pro-photo_002.jpg

It’s a perfect example of what a post-modern operator she is – the hair Monroe’s, the jacket James Dean’s, the eyebrows Frida Kahlo’s. The images from the shoot are also a reminder that at her career zenith she was just, well, incredibly rootable.

true-blue-pro-photo_004.jpg

Yet as Nathan Rabin – for my money the best writer on the web – points out in the AV Club, “there’s nothing particularly natural about Madonna’s sex appeal. It’s largely a matter of attitude and lighting, iconography and shrewd calculation, exhibitionism, and a finely honed gift for provocation. It’s telling that many of Madonna’s most fruitful artistic collaborations are with photographers and music video directors. Depending on the angle and the outfit, Madonna can look like Marilyn Monroe reborn or the boogeyman’s grandma.”

On this cover she gets the angle and the outfit just right.

Postscript:  One of our readers crack_ho pointed us in the direction of a fascinating interview with Jeri Heiden, the Art Director who worked on a number of Madonna covers including Like a Virgin, True Blue and Like a Prayer. Well worth checking out.





20 Comments

  1. it was 1986 actually

  2. Right you are, joe to hell – noted and corrected. Thanks for the pick up!

  3. Maybe it wasn't just the art director that was short on ideas
    http://eaesthete.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/ma

  4. The photographer's name is actually “Herb Ritts“, not “Ritz”.

  5. How embarrasing – this one is much worse than getting the year wrong! Thanks Jens, I did lots of research for this one and then made such a stupid mistake. Once again, noted and corrected.

  6. And I just spelled embarrassing wrong….oh man

  7. I'm so sick and tired of hearing that Madonna has no talent and that the only thing she's good at is picking the right creative people. What a bunch of sh*t. I'm sorry, but no one has that good of a track record to always pick the right producer time after time. The fact is, Madonna writes her own lyrics and co-writes her music, as well as co-produces (please do your research next time). So yes, she does have the music talent to rival MJ and Prince. And quite frankly, in many ways, she has surpassed both of them as far as the consistent quality of her music over the years. And I challenge any naysayers to actually listen to her albums from beginning to end. I recently did just that to a good friend who was one of those naysayers… the verdict: he said he was surprised at how much good stuff she has produced throughout the years and he's now a fan.

  8. Hi Christopher, I'm sorry if the post seems dismissive, it's more that I don't think that many people have the talent to rival Jackson or Prince. And I think that you're right – the great irony is that brilliant talents like them can so easily ossify over the years, while Madonna's considerable gift (incredibly good taste and instincts) have in fact allowed her to stay relevant and compete with artists young enough to be her kids. Of course she co-produces, what I mean is that she has an uncanny knack for choosing who to work with. I do think she's one of the most important musical artists ever, for many reasons, so sorry if the post offended fans as it was actually supposed to celebrate her at her peak.

  9. http://www.madonnatribe.com/idol/jeri.html has a cool indepth interview with the art director who did the cover, and there's some alternative covers on there too

  10. Link is http://www.madonnatribe.com/idol/jeri.htm good find!

  11. There's another interview with Jeri & John Heiden at http://www.madonname.com/newshtml/2006/johnandj… where they talk about all the work they've done with Madonna

  12. The post did come across a little dismissive in regards to Madonna's talent to me but it may be because I'm such a fan of hers. But thanks for the reply. I'll back down a little bit, although I stand by my assertion that Madonna can stand head-to-head with any of the male giants in music. :)

  13. finally Madonna!

  14. I am soooooo confused why you had to post the hideous text version of the cover. You should have posted the original, with no text. It's everything.

  15. I am soooooo confused why you had to post the hideous text version of the cover. You should have posted the original, with no text. It's everything.

  16. The best selling album of Madonna is not true blue, it is Immaculate Collection which has sold more than 32 millions so far.

    But if u only want to count studio albums, then it would be True Blue

  17. Opinions are just opinions, in other words, subjective, so here’s mine, which doesn’t mean I’m right, but I will stand by it: Madonna might be a lot of things – excellent taste and great instincts for what works in production, style, and image; choosing the right people to work with (a cliché, I know, but still true); spectacular magnetic presence and charisma; smart, etc. -, but, even objectively speaking, she is nowhere near as talented musically as, to use Alex’s example, Prince, who can write songs in his sleep – from the very simple to much more complex pieces. Madonna cannot do this if she tried. Her melodies, while simple, are catchy as hell, though, which is another one of her talents. 

    So, I’m not saying that she is totally talentless music-wise, because she does have some musical talent relatively speaking, but never to the extent of Prince – or Joni Mitchell, to mention another prodigy. And I think that this is, ironically, what’s made Madonna last in the commercial arena: the fact that she doesn’t really play instruments well enough to compose on her own forces her to look for outside sources, and this limitation she’s been super smart to turn into an advantage: it’s allowed her to jump from one trend to another (once again, a cliché, but true). Admittedly, not everybody can do this, and that is another one of her talents, that she can adapt excellently to those changes. 

    So, if we limit ourselves to music-making, I don’t think she’s respected as a musician. I do think she’s respected, though, for everything else she’s about that surrounds the music.

    Back to the original topic, I think True Blue is her best album cover.

  18. She is the best singer in the world. And she always will be!

  19. Im on track but i think wut people r sayn is tht Madonna Persona looks like shes just  Dick-Riding Mike And Prince 

  20. Other than that shes Talented and can hold up her   weight with m.j, but 60% of the people ive asked say shes FAKE (i dont completely agree)

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