“Everybody, come on, dance and sing. Everybody, get up and do your thing.” When a 24-year-old Madonna released her first single, “Everybody,” on this day in 1982, the song’s chorus just sounded like another redundantly catchy call to hit the dance floor. No one could have had a clue about the fashion trendsetting, pop-culture phenomenon that came along with it. The song’s danceable sound initially got it on the radio, but it was Madonna—the boy-meets-girl club-kid style, the eyes, the attitude, the oversized hair bow—that created the Next Big Thing.
But that was then. Before “Everybody,” Madonna Ciccone struggled in New York, couch surfing and moonlighting in various dance groups and bands. She landed her break with Sire Records through a series of lucky (or well-planned, depending on how you look at it) romances. One of these was with DJ Mark Kamins. Kamins worked at Danceteria, the four-story center of the NYC music scene in 1982. The club’s roster of former employees reads like a who’s who of popular music: Sade tended bar, the Beastie Boys bussed tables (along with artist Keith Haring) and LL Cool J might be your elevator operator for the evening. One night, Madonna convinced Kamins to play “Everybody” and in his own words, “It worked.” Kamins knew people at Sire, and soon Madonna signed a $15,000 two-single deal. In a coy marketing move, Sire kept Madonna’s image off the record jacket and shopped the R&B-influenced song at black radio stations to get airplay. (It may be hard to believe now, but when Madonna’s first video hit MTV, the world gaped: Everyone had thought she was black.)
“Everybody” really took off, though, once Sire executives caught Madonna performing the song at Danceteria and decided to send a video of her show to other clubs that were playing music videos. Just a year after the birth of MTV, the music video was becoming the true test of a musician’s star potential. In the biography,”Madonna: Like an Icon,” Madonna’s first (but quickly ousted) manager Camille Barbone, recalls, “She sparkled in a very street way…It was hard and guttural and in your face. She very much typified the New York music scene.” In that first-ever performance at Danceteria, Madonna sways through pose-like moves (not quite Vogueing) in a men’s jacket, men’s dress pants cut into shorts and a fedora perched on the back of her brassy, spiked curls. She carried her androgynous, low-key style into the song’s official music video, where she dances the same, only-Madonna-could-pull-them-off patented moves in a drab checked flannel, belted sack-waist pants and oversize leather vest.
Well, we all know what happened next. Imitators flooded America’s junior-high schools and shopping malls clad in the very same non-fashions she made into fads. The ripped fishnets with lace-up boots, mismatched plastic jewelry, cheap sunglasses, paint-splattered pants and fingerless gloves all grew from Madonna’s dirt-poor days in New York, but her bravado convinced the copycats that her mishmash of scavenged clothing was all intentionally chic. It was yet another classic case of street style trumping high fashion. “Everybody” was followed by a barrage of Madonna singles, an American tour and nonstop promotions, and by 1984 her look had morphed into one that was less boyish and more brastrap and belly-baring. The Boy Toy made way for the Material Girl, and another chapter of Madonna style begins. —Rachel Chambers
Photos: Top: by Joe Bangay; middle and bottom: unknown. (Help?)