The eighties were a strange time. It seemed that all of the cultural and sexual progress being made consistently since the fifties came to a grinding halt. Feminists and the religious right became unlikely bedfellows combating pornography and other forms of sexuality together while the AIDS crisis left everyone, not just the gays, feeling paranoid about sexuality. Enter Madonna, a comely young lady named after the Virgin Mary who dressed like an East Village whore. These contradictions would make her, along with Michael Jackson, the perfect pop superstar for the 1980’s, a decade with plenty of strange contradictions of its own. “Like a Virgin” was the perfect pop vehicle for such a superstar. It is her signature song and remains her biggest selling single.
“I made it through the wilderness,” sings Madonna, referring to a time when she was sexually promiscuous and less discriminating. Or is she referring to the seventies in general? “Somehow I made it through,” she adds, probably expressing her surprise that she never contracted AIDS. She then describes a man who makes her feel so loved and cherished that she now feels “like a virgin/touched for the very first time.” The production arrangement is also a tribute to more innocent times. The instrumentation, helmed by Nile Rodgers, is performed, for the most part, by real musicians. There is a tiny punctuated accent performed by a synthesizer to give it a modern touch but that’s it.
After all the excess of the sixties and seventies, it was impossible to return to a state of innocence. The seal had long been broken on our collective hymen so the eighties were about using whatever modern technology available to achieve the same benefits. The sixties and seventies were the “wilderness”. The eighties was the taming of this wilderness. Body hair disappeared from male porn stars’ bodies. Hair gel and mousse became ubiquitous grooming products. If you were no longer a virgin, you could practice monogamy or safe sex. If you weren’t born a blonde, you could die your hair and let the roots grow out and then dye it a different color the next week. If you weren’t born rich, you could get an MBA and make a fortune on Wall Street. If you didn’t have an ideal body, you could go to the gym and reshape yourself or envelope yourself in gauzy loose-fitting flea-market clothing. If you weren’t pretty you could get plastic surgery, distract attention away from your face with gaudy jewelry or hide behind your bangs and your make up. Madonna wasn’t a virgin. She was “like” a virgin.