Interview Magazine (March 2001)
Soon to tour for the first time in eight years, she’s ready to take on the world.
[The telephone rings.]
Madonna: Hi, Ingrid. How are you?
Ingrid: Good. How are you?
Madonna: Fine, thank you. Long time no talk.
Ingrid: I know. But before we say anything, I have to ask you something. Are you connected to the phone, or is it loose?
Madonna: Am I connected to the phone?
Ingrid: In other words does it have a wire that goes into the wall?
Madonna: Oh yeah, yeah. I can’t stand cordless phones. Too much static.
Ingrid: Thank the Lord. Because they don’t always work with recording devices, which is what we’re using here. Anyway, Madonna, I’ve been loving Music. Congratulations on its success these last few months. And congratulations on everything else.
Madonna: Oh, thank you.
Ingrid: So let’s get right to it. There are a number of songs on Music that I want to talk to you about. There’s "What It Feels Like for a Girl." Can we start there?
Madonna: Sure. I’m actually trying to sort out what I’m going to do for the video for that song, because it’s going to be my next single. My husband’s directing the video, which I’m very excited about.
Ingrid: This will be the first time Guy [Ritchie] is directing you, right?
Madonna: Yes, it’s the first time we’ve worked together. The true test. [laughs] I think it’s so ironic that it’s for "What It Feels Like for a Girl," because he’s such a guy.
Ingrid: I know. I’m thinking that, too.
Madonna: He’s such a macho man, and his movies are so testosterone-driven, but I asked him a long time ago which song on the album he responded to the most, and that’s the one.
Ingrid: Isn’t that interesting? It’s a song that is like a big hand that comes out and grabs you. What was going on in your life when you wrote it?
Madonna: I wrote it kind of halfway through the album, when I was pregnant and hiding it from the world. It was a really tumultuous period in my life. I was not in a terribly stable relationship at that point, and part of the reason was because we both lived in different countries.
Ingrid: You in American, Guy in Britain.
Madonna: It was an "OK, I don’t want to move to England," "Well, I don’t want to move to America" type of thing. Of course, being the girl, [laughs] I made the first compromise. It’s that extra thing that women have. I don’t think that we’re better than men, but I believe there’s an extra accommodating chromosome that we have. I picked up my life and my daughter and everything and I rented a house in London, and moved there and decided, OK, well, I’ll just make my record here. And that’s really when our relationship started to work. But it was a huge sacrifice for me, and I know he was nervous and scared about the fact that he was going to be a father. So, my life was just a roller-coaster at that point. I remember going to work every day with a big coat on because I was hiding the fact that I was pregnant. I would think, God [sighs], if people only knew. So that’s what that song came out of: You’re pregnant, your hormones are raging, and you can’t tell anyone.
Ingrid: that’s the second time you weren’t able to tell anyone, isn’t it? When you were pregnant with Lourdes [now age four], it was during the filming of Evita , and that had to be kept under cover like a state secret, too.
Madonna: I know. It was like, "Why does this keep happening to me? Why do I have to keep hiding my pregnancies from everyone?" But, in fact, with my son [Rocco], it was for a number of reasons. Anyway, I just lived in limbo from every angle you could imagine, and I think that is also part of where that song came from, a big part of it. Then the other thing was – it’s probably the more obvious thing – that you go through life, I mean our generation certainly has been encouraged to grab life by the balls, be super-independent, get a great education, follow our dreams, kick ass, all that stuff, and I feel like I work up one day holding the golden ring and realized that smart, sassy girls who accomplish a lot and have their own cash and are independent are really frightening to men. I felt like, "Why didn’t somebody tell me? Why didn’t somebody warn me?" And that’s also what that song is about – swallowing that bitter pill.
Ingrid: It’s all right there in the lyrics – "Do you know what it feels like / for a girl? / Do you know what it feels like in / this world / for a girl? / Strong inside but you don’t know it / Good little girls they never show it / When you open up your mouth to speak / Could you be a little weak?"
Madonna: Exactly. So, it was a combination of that, and also just feeling incredibly vulnerable that inspired the song.
Ingrid: Did you know you had something when you wrote it?
Madonna: I just knew that I had something true.
Ingrid: So, the search is to find the true stuff?
Madonna: Yes, the search is to find the true stuff, but also to find how to put it, because a lot of times when you find the true stuff it’s not very attractive. It doesn’t come out in a very digestible way. And if you’re trying to illuminate people, or inspire people, or wake people up to something, you know – and, believe me, I’ve learned this from other things I’ve done – you’re not going to get very far if you attack people or rub their noses in it. Anyway -
Ingrid: You know, the last time that we really had a chance to talk to each other [for a story in Vanity Fair] we were talking about having kids, and you said when you met the right person you wanted to have another kid. And get married again. And now it’s all happened. Between all the pieces that we’ve done on you in Interview over the years, and that feature, I feel like I sort of meet up with you at every chapter in your life.
Madonna: Oh yes. Well, a lot has happened since the last time I spoke to you, for both of us.
Ingrid: That’s right.
Madonna: But it only took me 40 years to find my soul mate. [laughs]
Ingrid: Did you know that this was happening when the relationship was beginning?
Madonna: No. Not in the beginning. I knew he was a formidable human being, and a great talent with a brilliant mind and all that stuff. But I just felt like there were too many problems. So I thought, Well, great – I’ve just found a great friend.
Ingrid: Then what?
Madonna: It took a long time for me to see beyond that – and I think probably that’s why it’s worked. Because I didn’t have the usual distractions of idealistic romance and lustful longings. I’m not saying I wasn’t attracted to him, but you know, you go through all these things in your head. You go, OK, first of all, let’s just talk about how geographically incompatible we are.
Ingrid: It sounds like, in this case, it was a good thing.
Madonna: It takes so long to really get to know somebody, and we had a very protracted courtship. For one year our relationship was mostly writing to each other.
Ingrid: How great.
Madonna: Yes, it was great. It was frustrating at the time, though. I wanted to rip his head off sometimes. [Both laugh] But in retrospect, it’s a great way to get to know someone, without being distracted by how gorgeous they are or something else, because you forgive people a lot when you’re distracted by those things that aren’t as important as the other things.
Ingrid: I’m thinking that writing has had such a huge role in your life, hasn’t it? From when you were a teenager in Michigan reading Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton in your room, right up until now.
Madonna: Oh yes. You have to be able to write before you can come into my room. [laughs] I mean write me a good letter or fuck off.
Ingrid: Well, you know it’s interesting, because when I started to see the visuals that were produced for the packaging of Music [with photos by Jean-Baptiste Mondino], and then the videos, it got me thinking about you and writing, and also about you in the larger context. You once told me that when you were younger you had a romance about cowboy poet types. But, in fact, all that has evolved – you’ve married a Scotsman, and become your own cowboy poet. [Madonna bursts out laughing]
Madonna: Yes. Totally.
Ingrid: Instead of this myth of the American West being embodied in a guy, you did it.
Madonna: Right. I produced it myself. I just love the whole iconography of the West – the kind of sturdy earthiness of it, the earthy, rural poet. But it’s got to have an edge to it, too. I think there’s something really folky about a lot of the stuff that I wrote. It’s really simple and lyrical, but then you combine it with modern technology and -
Ingrid: – you’ve got new frontiers. That’s what I’m talking about. When I see the West in an image, I always think of those photographers who went west to capture-
Madonna: Who, people like Richard Avedon?
Ingrid: Well, I mean much earlier. Photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, and all those guys who wanted to capture what it stood for symbolically. You know, the sense of frontiers and wide-open space, and where America was emotionally at that point in the 19th century.
Madonna: Yes, to me, that is the cornerstone of America.
Ingrid: Completely. And that is the history that I tuned into when I first saw the videos and images for Music, and above all when I heard the music itself. It seems to me that the whole thing is a purely American object. It’s interesting that that’s what you did as you were falling for someone who isn’t American, and beginning to spend a lot of time outside of this country.
Madonna: Yes, it’s strange.
Ingrid: Is it?
Madonna: I know. Everyone thinks and writes that I’ve become a complete Anglophile. They say I’ve got no interest in America. But that’s so not true. In fact, sometimes you have to go away from something to really appreciate and see it. But no one’s ever mentioned what you’re talking about, funnily enough. It’s true, though. and how about the fact that almost everyone I worked with on the album was European. I mean there’s Mondino who created the artwork, and there’s Mirwais [Ahmadzai] and William Orbit [both of who co-produced most of the songs with Madonna], who are also Europeans.
Ingrid: But even that makes it very American.
Madonna: It’s funny. I certainly have gone through periods of thinking, Oh God, you know, I can’t deal with America.
Ingrid: Well, on that subject, it’s like I don’t even need to ask the question, but I want to hear your answer.
Madonna: To what?
Ingrid: Well, it’s obvious to me why Scotland -
Madonna: – why did I get married there?
Ingrid: Remember, I grew up there and went to school there. I love to give Scotland a plug any time I can. [both laugh]
Madonna: Well, first of all Scotland is dripping in atmosphere. It is so beautiful. And we wanted to find a place that was really hard to get to, because when people have to work to get somewhere, you know they really want to be there. It helped to sort of create an environment that was cut off from the world. You know ultimately, I’m a romantic. And my husband and I are both obsessed with history, and we wanted to go to a place that had history. He has really helped me to appreciate the rawness and the roughness of nature. You can’t really get away from it when you go up that far north in Scotland. Really, our choice was a result of a combination of things. His family is Scottish, on his father’s side of the family, so he got to wear his family kilt, which was nice.
Ingrid: Isn’t it the most beautiful thing up there?
Madonna: [Sighs] Please. I can’t tell you how glad I was that we made that choice. It was truly a magical religious experience – the whole week. It was very personal and very intimate.
Ingrid: It sounds like the people who you really love were there.
Madonna: Oh yeah. We could both really look around the room and feel that everybody was rooting for us and supporting us.
Madonna: It was. We get letters, Guy and I both get e-mails from our friends saying, "Thanks, now you’ve ruined everything for me." [both laugh] But you know it was like people got to the end of the week and it was like summer camp, no one wanted to leave, no one wanted to leave each other. There was so much love, that was the thing, and we couldn’t have found a better place to do it, in this old castle in the middle of the countryside in Scotland. The Scots are great. And, by the way, nobody grassed on us, nobody; everyone looked after us. Everybody was just so trustworthy. It was like family, instantly.
Ingrid: Now listen, one time when you have time, which doesn’t sound like the immediate future, you will be crazy about Sir Walter Scott.
Madonna: Sir Walter Scott?
Ingrid: Have you read him?
Madonna: I’ve certainly heard of him, but I haven’t ready him.
Ingrid: Ivanhoe – it’s the most romantic book.
Madonna: What period of time did he write?
Ingrid: Early 19th century. [He lived from 1771 to 1832]
Madonna: OK, I’m writing this down. Is it kind of historical?
Ingrid: It’s totally historical.
Madonna: Oh good, we like that.
Ingrid: Now, onward. A little birdie told me that you’re going out on tour? [Madonna's last official tour was The Girlie Show in 1993]
Madonna: Well, yeah, that’s the plan.
Madonna: This summer. I’m finally gonna fucking drag my ass into a rehearsal studio, yeah.
Ingrid: [laughs] I couldn’t be there on the night of the New York City listening party for Music that you did [with a Cyber Roundup Installation by Dolce & Gabbana] at Roseland last November, but a bunch of people from the magazine were there, and so were various friends, and everyone raved about it. It feels like when you hit the stage you were back home.
Madonna: Yes. It felt fantastic. And so did the show in London, which was even better in my opinion. You know when you have those moments.
Madonna: Oh, that’s why I do what I do, oh right. the writing is a big part of it, but the performing is equally as big, and I haven’t done that for a really long time. Obviously it’s the thing that made me go, "OK, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do this in a bigger way and for a longer period of time, with more music and stuff." We’ll see what happens. I’m incredibly nervous about it, because -
Ingrid: – I don’t blame you.
Madonna: You know, I never want to repeat myself. I don’t see the point of doing a show unless you offer something that is going to mind-boggle the senses. It’s not enough to get on stage and sing a song. It’s all about theater and drama and surprise and suspense. So I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also nervous about it. I’m always saying, "Can I do it? Can I do it?" It’s a massive undertaking, and now I have two kids.
Madonna: No rest for the weary. [laughs]
Ingrid: And a marriage.
Madonna: Oh my God, please, yeah.
Ingrid: So can you be specific about the plan?
Madonna: Well, it’s on for the summer. Basically I’m supposed to start rehearsing in April and I’m going to go out on tour from June through September.
Ingrid: America or the world?
Madonna: America and Europe. Maybe Asia, we’ll see.
Ingrid: I’m not saying this to in any way sound fawning -
Madonna: [laughs] – not being a smoke blower.
Ingrid: It feels as though this is a great moment for you to do this.
Madonna: It does feel right. It’s like when I got married. Certain things happen, and there isn’t a doubt in your mind. You know there’s going to be challenges, you know that it’s going to be a rocky road and all those things, but you also know in every cell of your body that it’s the right thing to do, so you just do it.
Ingrid: Here’s the opposite of being allowed to trust yourself with the right thing to do – the second single from Music, the song "Don’t Tell Me."
Madonna: Well, the inspiration for that song came from my brother-in-law, Joe Henry, who’s married to my sister. He’s one of my all-time favorite people in the whole world, and a true poet, a singer/songwriter himself. Joe Henry wrote a version of it and sent it to me. The production of it was kind of almost like a torch song in a way, like a bluesy torch song. And I just took it and ran with it and finished writing it and then Mirwais and I changed the music. But what I loved about it – I just love the defiance of it.
Ingrid: Me too. "Don’t tell me to stop / Tell the rain not to drop / Tell the wind now to blow / Cause you said so."
Madonna: To me it is a romantic song. Just, you know, rip my skin off, do not tell me who I should love, or how I should love. Don’t tell me to give up. To me, in a way it’s like that Frank Sinatra song, "If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere."
Ingrid: Was "Music" the first song that you wrote for the record?
Madonna: Actually, the first thing I worked with Mirwais on was "Paradise (Not for Me)," the second-to-last song, the least accessible and commercial song on the record. And then we sort of worked backwards, but "Music" was probably the second song. And then that set the tone for the rest of the record, really.
Ingrid: It’s that song that you’ve got two Grammy nominations for, right? ["Music," the single, is nominated for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance; in addition Music, the album, is up for Best Pop Vocal Album.]
Madonna: Yeah, that’s right.
Ingrid: Now I want to ask you about Britney Spears.
Ingrid: The reason I’m interested in that it feels like there’s more than meets the eye here.
Ingrid: I’m constantly hearing people who are saying, "Well, she’s being funny."
Madonna: You mean being ironic?
Madonna: Well, obviously I’m embracing it because I know it’s going to confuse people, but the true essence of my feelings for her is that I feel really protective of her. Don’t even ask me why.
Ingrid: That was my instinct.
Madonna: I’m not going to sit here and dissect her music.
Ingrid: Right, nor do I want you to.
Madonna: In a way it’s not even worth it because it’s like dissecting my daughter’s music.
Madonna: You know it’s just not dissectible yet. But there’s something about her. Even though she’s terribly successful, for some reason I think of her as an underdog.
Ingrid: She is. Why? I was thinking about that the other day.
Madonna: I know it’s that weird thing.
Ingrid: I thought, Why am I thinking that this person – who has billions of dollars and is so successful – is an underdog? She’s a victim of a type of snobbery is what it really is. Didn’t you start to bring her up after people made fun of her on things like awards shows?
Madonna: Totally. It’s like when you go to a party and there’s a girl, and everyone’s avoiding her because she’s really pretty, or whatever. I always want to go over and talk to that person. She is a victim of snobbery. People are going, oh she’s this, and oh she’s got fake tits and blah blah blah, and you know as soon as I see somebody getting picked on, I just want to go and, you know, talk to them at the party. Do you know what I mean?
Ingrid: Why do you think that is?
Madonna: I don’t know. Maybe to a certain extent I can relate to it, because I feel that I was certainly a victim of snobbery when I first started. I can’t even count the number of things that I read about myself that kept dismissing me.
Ingrid: Go on.
Madonna: And dismissing the fact that I had talent or what I could sing or any of those things. And now I just see everybody doing it to her, so I feel defensive of her and protective of her. It’s so easy to get up and criticize people, isn’t it?
Ingrid: It sure is.
Madonna: It’s like blah blah blah. I say you get up and do it then. You hang your balls out there. You get up and dive off the diving board, and then let me hear what you have to say. [Wearing the Britney Spears T-shirt was] a funny thing because it’s just like everything else. When you know something’s right, you just go with it. I swear to God, from the time I put it on, till the day I finished my promotional tour, it was my talisman. It may sound totally perverse, but it just brought me luck.
Ingrid: Speaking of young artists, are there any newcomers to Maverick [the record label that Madonna runs with her partner and friend Guy Oseary] that you want to tell people about?
Madonna: Hmmmm, I’m thinking of all the people who are in the studio doing stuff that you already know about. Alanis [Morissette] has got a new record coming out, and Prodigy’s got a new record coming out. And there’s a Swedish singer called Amanda. She’s very young, with an incredible voice. And we’ve just started a Latin label.
Ingrid: Oh, really? I didn’t know that. That’s great.
Madonna: Yes, we did. And we’re trying to sign a band right now called Cafe Tacuba. Have you heard of them?
Madonna: They’re unbelievable. They’re Mexican, and in fact there’s loads of artists that we’re trying to sign right now. There’s really so much talent, you have no idea. And it’s not like your typical kind of Latin pop thing, but much edgier, interesting stuff, things that you wouldn’t expect, kind of like the Latin version of Air, you know that French group, Air. Stuff like that. We’ve got this great guy running the Latin label down in Miami. So we’re getting that off the ground, and I’m really excited about it.
Ingrid: It sounds it. And when are you and the other Guy going to make the video for "What it Feels Like for a Girl"?
Madonna: We’re shooting it in three weeks.
Ingrid: And you’re going to shoot that in L.A."
Ingrid: If this mini-thing works out, maybe you’ll let him direct you again.
Madonna: Oh, hey, I think he’s a genius. I’d love to work with him. I’ll be his production assistant.
© Interview Magazine