Anyone who grew up in the eighties and nineties knows the entire lyrics to at least one of Madonna’s songs. Nevertheless, despite Madonna’s popularity at the time, vocally, she was only an OK singer.
In 1983, Madonna took the musical world by storm with her first studio album. In 1984, she emerged as the “Material Girl” with her second album, “Like a Virgin. With songs like “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” in heavy rotation on almost every radio station in America and Europe, the album was certified diamond.
Whatever stage Madge stepped on, she owned it; her music videos were works of art.
When it came to fashion, Madonna’s style was iconic; every teenage girl and some adults replicated her style. Back then, you couldn’t walk down the street without coming face-to-face with a Madonna copy. With several successful albums, a unique fashion sense, and starring roles in several movies, it’s not crazy to say that the decade belonged to the Material Girl.
When the nineties rolled around, however, Madonna had transformed herself into an erotic vogue icon, with black leathers, whips, and chains. Her next studio album, Erotica (1992), a controversial and sexually charged album, reflected her metamorphosis. Whatever stage Madge stepped on, she owned it; her music videos were works of art. Yet, despite all of her success, she still got her fair share of criticism, and chief among them was her lack of vocal prowess. But that soon changed when, after preparing for one of her most memorable roles, Madonna’s vocal chops turned her into a musical legend.
Madonna’s Evolution from Pop Princess to Musical Master.
Fast-forward to 1996, and the landscape of Madonna’s career took a transformative turn that would silence her critics. With the release of Evita, based on the real-life story of Eva Peron, the First Lady of Argentina, Madonna, the pop darling of the eighties, was transformed into a musical icon of the nineties.
When the role of Evita came up, Madonna, being an ever-evolving artist, saw playing the historical figure as an opportunity. The role called, and the Material Girl answered. In her quest to get the role of Evita, Madonna wrote a passionate four-page letter to director Alan Parker. Her plea wasn’t merely to snag the role; it was a show of her commitment and her vision for Evita. Sending her “Take a Bow” music video as a unique audition was just the cherry on top.
Even though she had a certified diamond album, Parker and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the legendary musician behind the original musical, were skeptical of her singing abilities. They knew that the role required someone with very mature musical vocals. It required emotion, depth, and, above all, a vocal mastery that would capture the hearts and souls of moviegoers and, most importantly, a nation’s beloved figure.
This was not just a movie; it was a blend of operatic and stage play singing, and the stakes were high. Although they were skeptical that Madonna could handle that type of singing, they gave her the role nonetheless, mainly due to her acting credits. They made it clear to Madonna that the role was not going to be an extension of her music videos; it was going to be a different kind of artistic experience.
On hearing that Madonna had gotten the part of Evita, a lot of movie production insiders were also shocked at the thought of Madonna taking on such a vocally challenging role.
Madonna was already a seasoned actor who had a few movie lead credits to her name. From dramas such as “Dangerous Games” to thrillers like “Body of Evidence” and her first major leading role in the comedy “Who’s That Girl,” Madonna would have no problem channeling Evita. Still, to prove that she was committed to the role, with her trademark tenacity, she embarked on a journey to refine her voice, seeking the expertise of vocal coach Joan Lader.
The results? A revelation.
Madonna, through Lader’s rigorous training, discovered ranges in her voice previously unknown. She developed an operatic range, achieving a depth and quality that many, including perhaps Madonna herself, hadn’t realized she possessed.
The songs of Evita were not just sung; they were lived, felt, and breathed, carrying with them the weight and spirit of Eva Peron. Watching Evita, one witnesses not just the story of Eva but also Madonna’s metamorphosis as an artist. Songs like “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” weren’t mere performances; they were vocal masterpieces, chiseled by an artist rediscovering her instrument.
Evita, sandwiched between two of Madonna’s most popular albums, act like a contrasting line between her light pop vocals of the eighties and early nineties and her layered mastery of the late nineties. So, it’s no exaggeration to say that Evita was an exclamation point in Madonna’s career. Not only did she receive critical acclaim for her portrayal, but it also silenced the critics who doubted her singing ability.
Before her role in Evita, Madonna’s last studio album, “Bedtime Stories,” released in 1994, was a hit. It marked a departure from her more provocative records and was softer in tone, featuring R&B influences and collaborations with prominent R&B producers and songwriters. The album included hits like “Secret” and “Take a Bow.” Still, even with powerhouse producers like Babyface and Dallas Austin, her vocal abilities limited what she could do; as such, many of the Bed Time Stories songs were produced to fit her vocal abilities.
Playing Evita cemented Madonna as one of music’s premier vocalists
Following her role in Evita, Madonna ventured into a more introspective direction with her 1998 “Ray of Light” album. Ray of Light is one of, if not Madonna’s, most critically acclaimed albums. It’s widely praised for its mature sound and thoughtful lyrics, blending electronic music with pop and even Eastern influences. But most importantly, you can tell from songs like “Frozen,” “The Power of Goodbye,” and the title song, “Ray of Light,” that she had leveled up and mastered her voice.
The transformation of an artist from a mere chart-topper to a musical legend is rare, yet the “Material Girl’s” journey exemplifies this transition.
Preparing for Evita had brought a natural confidence to Madonna’s singing. The control in her voice and the way she vocally handled all of the songs on Ray of Light were almost effortless. She followed it up with her next mature album, Music (2000). This album continued her experimentation with electronica and dance music while also incorporating elements of country and folk.
In the history of music and film, Madonna’s transformation from a pop star of the eighties and early nineties to a musical legend post-Evita stands as a force of will and love of one’s craft.
The role of Evita cemented her as one of music’s best vocalists. In the end, Evita gave us two legends: Eva Peron and a vocally refined and redefined Madonna. And for that, music and film are forever grateful.