Today, Sex is still the most radical career move a pop star has ever made.
During Madonna’s imperial phase - the ephemeral period in an artist’s career when everything turns to commercial gold - she sang about teenage pregnancy, introduced the famous cone bra, burned Christian crosses, simulated masturbation on an arena tour and made a video so prurient that even the youth-centric MTV refused to air it. That was child’s play.
The publication of Sex - on Oct. 21, 1992, one day after its companion album 'Erotica' arrived to mixed reviews - marked the moment Madonna’s priorities graduated from making you dance to making you horny. Michael Jackson had been grabbing his crotch for years, and Prince wore an assless pantsuit to the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, but women were only allowed to push so many buttons. The competing female pop stars of the 1980s couched their sexuality in other aesthetics: punk camp (Cyndi Lauper), androgyny (Annie Lennox), anthems about respect (Janet Jackson), love-hungry wholesomeness (Whitney Houston). For Madonna, however, there was a continuum between 'Like a Virgin,' the 1984 single that sparked her first brush with controversy, and 'Erotica,' a concept album about fornication, conceived in the shadow of the conservative Reagan era and the ongoing AIDS crisis.
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