Madonna is no stranger to expressing exactly how she’s feeling. In front of a crowd of protestors at the Women’s March on Washington (and, in turn, in front of a worldwide audience, as her words unsurprisingly made headlines, stat), the pop icon flat-out admitted to being outraged over the political state of the U.S: “Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House,” she said at the Jan. 21 event, where it’s estimated that more than 400,000 people gathered to march for women’s rights.
That heated line was only a small part of her fiery speech, and it was one that she later said was taken out of context by the media. Her full speech was one of preaching love, hope and action, but it still takes a rebel to say those controversial words in public.
Simply put, Madonna is a badass. In light of her being the talk of pop culture and politics this weekend, let’s look at five times the Queen of Pop pushed the boundaries — and did it well.
That Fiery Rally Speech, Featuring a Few F-Bombs on Live TV
In Madonna’s speech at the Women’s March on Washington, she urged people to “say yes, we are ready” to start a revolution in the name of freedom and equality. She also dropped a handful of expletives during its live broadcast, leading at least two networks to cut away from it. (Three expletives, for those keeping score: “It took us this darkness to wake us the f— up,” “And to our detractors that insist that this march will never add up to anything, f— you,” and, for good measure, another “F— you.”)
What raised even more eyebrows, of course, was her comment about “blowing up the White House.” Of course, anyone who listened to her speech in full — rather than just skimming over a sensational headline — knows she went on to say that violence is not the path one should take: “But I know that this won’t change anything. We cannot fall into despair,” she said.
A day after the speech, rumors swirled that the Secret Service may be investigating her comments. Still, Madonna did not take a step back or apologize for her remarks; instead, she took to Instagram to defend her discussion: “I came and performed ‘Express Yourself’ and that’s exactly what i did. However I want to clarify some very important things. I am not a violent person, I do not promote violence and it’s important people hear and understand my speech in its entirety rather than one phrase taken wildly out of context.”
Her Brutally Honest Acceptance Speech at Billboard’s Women in Music Event
Whether or not you’re a fan of her music, you have to admit Madonna has a way with words. At the Billboard Women in Music 2016 event, where she was honored as Woman of the Year, she opened her thank-you remarks with this zinger: “I stand before you as a doormat, Oh, I mean, as a female entertainer,” She went on: “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.”
In a powerful, revealing speech that touched on feminism, sexuality, her haters and more, Madonna didn’t shy away from any topic. Her conclusion? “I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around. Michael is gone. Tupac is gone. Prince is gone. Whitney is gone. Amy Winehouse is gone. David Bowie is gone. But I’m still standing. I’m one of the lucky ones and every day I count my blessings.”
Declaring Her Plans to ‘Rule the World’ … Very Early in Her Career
The year was 1984. Madonna was invited to appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, on which she performed early single “Holiday,” off her debut, self-titled album released only six months prior. Looking at the big picture — she’d go on to release a dozen more albums over the next several decades — the future pop queen was still up-and-coming at that moment. It was this television appearance that showed the world just how unabashed this newcomer was.
“What do you hope will happen, not only in 1984 but for the rest of your professional life? What are your dreams? What’s left?” Dick Clark asked.
“To rule the world,” she quipped, without hesitation. Fearless.
That Time She Said ‘F—‘ 14 Times on the Late Show
In March 1994, Madonna joined David Letterman on the Late Show as his special guest. (Counting Crows were there to play “Round Here,” but let’s face it: Adam Duritz’s crooning will forever be overshadowed by Madonna on this particular night.) The conversation was controversial all over, but perhaps most memorable: how many times she said “f—” on live TV. It was fourteen, apparently, which gives this spot a special place in talk-show censorship history. Also of note: Madonna gave Letterman her underwear and lamented that he would not smell them.
“You realize this is being broadcast, don’t you?” Letterman asked. “Yeah,” Madonna said with a grin.
In a later interview, this time with Spin magazine, the singer addressed the episode and justified her behavior: “You can show a person getting blown up, and you can’t say ‘f—‘? It’s such hypocrisy. The fact that everyone counted how many f—s I said — how small-minded is that?”
Arriving Via Crucifix on Her Confessions Tour
Though Madonna’s said plenty of badass things, she’s also used performance art to get her message across. On her 2006 Confessions Tour, in support of her Confessions on a Dance Floor album, she emerged on the stage on a mirrored crucifix, adorned by a crown of thorns, for the song “Live to Tell” — a scene that ruffled some feathers among the religious crowd, who called the show “blasphemous.”
Madonna spoke out about the performance, explaining its meaning and insisting that Jesus would most certainly approve.
“I am very grateful that my show was so well received all over the world. But there seems to be many misinterpretations about my appearance on the cross and I wanted to explain it myself once and for all,” she said in a statement. “There is a segment in my show where three of my dancers ‘confess’ or share harrowing experiences from their childhood that they ultimately overcame. My ‘confession’ follows and takes place on a crucifix that I ultimately come down from. This is not a mocking of the church. It is no different than a person wearing a cross or ‘taking up the cross’ as it says in the Bible.”
“My performance is neither anti-Christian, sacrilegious or blasphemous,” she continued. “Rather, it is my plea to the audience to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole. I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing.”