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Why we're still crazy for the Material Girl

Global pop-goddess, actress, author, movie producer and now stage mom -- Madonna Louise Ciccone's relentless push for world domination is about to enter its fourth decade.

The Material Girl has just been named the most played artist of the past decade, relegating The Beatles into second place.

In a survey carried out for BBC radio, Madonna headed the list of artists who have received the most airplay and public performances of their recordings in the UK from 2000 to 2009.

The lady from Bay City, Michigan, ruled the Noughties, even as her music career was repeatedly written off by those who reckoned no female performer, no matter how determined, could maintain a pop career while knocking on the door of 50.

Madonna's career longevity is a lesson to the third-placed Robbie Williams, who has allowed his once massive career to stall through bad choices, bad attitude and wilful lack of focus.

While Robbie was growing his beard, recording hip-hop albums and taking a year off to chase UFOs, Madonna refused to be distracted by her own marital problems, her controversial association with the Kabbalah cult and the media storm surrounding her adoption adventures in Malawi.

Whatever the media and the public say, Madonna never compromises, steps out of the limelight or loses focus.

The albums and tours keep coming, the body is kept in almost scary condition and every new trend is carefully monitored so that she is always ahead of the curve.

So how does she do it?

Pop psychologists would point to a difficult childhood to explain Madonna's drive and fiercely independent spirit.

Her mother Madonna Louise died tragically young from breast cancer at 30, when Madonna was just five, and she had a stormy relationship with her father Silvio and his new wife, their former housekeeper.

A gifted but rebellious student, she won a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan but dropped out of college in 1977 to move to New York and become a dancer.

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Even as a penniless teenager in New York, Madonna was showing her enduring talent for hooking up with talented people who could advance her career: musicians, entertainment industry figures and taste-makers.

After signing a deal with Sire Records in 1982, she became involved with musician and producer John "Jellybean" Benitez -- the hottest figure on the New York music scene at the time -- who provided guidance on her first, club-music orientated album.

Benitez was already off the scene by the time of the second album, replaced by legendary producer Nile Rodgers as Madonna went for a more mainstream rock and Motown-influenced style.

The Like a Virgin album, released in November 1984, sold 21 million copies worldwide and launched Madonna to global stardom (she married actor Sean Penn the following year and for a brief period they were America's new royalty).

The Material Girl has repeated the formula for staying on the cutting edge of taste ever since, carefully watching the latest trends and then finding the very best collaborators to take the underground into the mainstream.

She has a genius for spotting talent and for constantly reinventing herself, borrowing from underground innovators and hitching her star to pop culture phenomenons (such as Sacha Baron Cohen, who appeared as Ali G in the video for 'Music') just before they go nuclear.

After some disappointing sales (by her admittedly super-high standards) in the mid-90s, she teamed up with hot dance music producer William Orbit in 1998 to produce the decade-defining collection of songs known as Ray of Light that sold 20 million copies worldwide.

Her detractors (they include Elton John, who has repeatedly accused her of being unable to sing) claim she is cold and calculating, always on the lookout for the next trend or talent to hijack for her career.

But Madonna refuses to be distracted by criticism and is now preparing for the coming decade with her daughter Lourdes.

At 13 years of age, Lourdes is the face of a new clothing line (developed with mommy, the label will be called Material Girl) and has enrolled in a prestigious performing arts school.

Cynics will point out that with mommy approaching her 52nd birthday, Lourdes has been chosen to carry on in the family business.

"Madonna has a PhD in using fame. She is a total genius," said Hollywood correspondent Gayl Murphy after the new label was announced last week.

Madonna is certainly exercising careful control over Lourdes's burgeoning career -- she has reportedly turned down a number of movie offers for her daughter, including a chance to star in a Harry Potter film.

Rumours are now circulating that Lourdes, who has been making red carpet appearances with her mother recently, has landed a role in a forthcoming film about Edward VIII.

The reason for mommy's green-light? It's Madonna's own project.

"Lourdes is still pretty young for this sort of thing. But Madonna at the moment appears to be doing everything that a real stage mom should be doing. . . she is showing a lot of control," said Murphy.

It's always been about control for Madonna. And as she prepares to carry the family name forward, Lourdes could hardly be in better hands.

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