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Madonna Interview : Grammy Magazine

Madonna - Grammy Magazine / July - August 1998

Madonna Not So Material Anymore

You could say that Madonna is one star who needs no introduction – unless you ask, “Which Madonna?” Maybe the one you’re about to meet does.

This is not the Madonna of yore who delivered a snappy sound bite every time she parted her plumped-up lips. By now, you’ve seen the new Pre-Raphaelite Madonna, given the henna tattoos, non-hairdos, chipped black nail polish and minimal makeup; the Madonna that may take Electronica to a level of success that her Maverick label’s hit signing, Prodigy, can only dream of. And because of all the personas, all the cries that somehow serve only to boost her sales, you’re a bit wary of welcoming yet another variation on the Material Girl – even if she is one of the few stars of her generation still at the top of her game, both commercially and asrtistically.

She still has the power to change tastes, influence radio formats and introduce avant-garde music to a mainstream audience. Initial sales of the Ray of Light album have been stronger than any other album of her career. Yet this time out, the industry has as much at stake as Madonna over the sound she’s embraced. There are radio stations, nighclubs, record labels, producers and remixers poised to roll out Electronica and Techno Pop Dance in America as they have succesfully done in Europe. All it takes is one Breakthrough hit. One star to break the ice for a whole new Genre of Music. A clutch hitter just like Madonna.

Yes this Madonna isn’t concerned about that, despite her storied business acumen. In fact, the Madonna feels mighty real. During a conversation in a Neighbourhood coffee shop, it’s almost as though the person doing the talking is the actress who’s been playing the many roles of Madonna all these years.

She may be unrecognizible at times as the star you know and love – or love to hate; She has doubts, insecurities and weaknesses, and can admit to them. She now has the strenght to reveal a vulnerability you haven’t seen before, even if the ambition that’s defined her is still at the heart of her psyche and art.

Childbirth, maturity and making the riskiest album of her career have all left their marks. Sixteen years after her first club smash, the woman initially dismissed as a gimmicky, one-hit wonder has shaped and reshaped sound, style and fashion. Ignore the resaults at your own risk.

GRAMMY Magazine: Was it good to be back in control of your work, rather than submitting your will to a director or somebody else’s songs?

Madonna: Working on the album with William Orbit was a complete collaboration, so it wasn’t like I said, “This is what I want; I’m gonna have my way,” and pounded my fist on the table. He was willing to take lots of chances, and so this was a lot more rewarding than other situations I’ve had …This is not to say that when I did the music for Evita, I had no say in it. I influenced the director greatly, but in the end, it was his vision. It’s not so much about control, but it’s his dream that was realized.

GM: I’d heard that during the making of Ray of Light, there was a Black Friday when everything went wrong.

Madonna: It was, like, all the time! In the beginning, William was only meant to work on half the album. But then I started liking the sound of what we were doing, so I decided that I wanted him to do everything. I don’t think he was prepared. He’s not a very organized person. He was doing everything by himself with a computer that kept crashing and a system that was pretty antiquated. And it was all new for him. He’s not used to working with people.

GM: One of the compelling things about this album is the contrast between the sheen of William Orbit’s electonics and the warmth of your voice.

Madonna: It’s about chemistry, what people bring. Opposites attract and make for a very interesting groove. Whether it’s music or a lover, I think two people who are exactly alike would rather die than be with each other. Where’s the challenge in that? I don’t want to be with someone like me, I want to be with someone who is gonna teach me something. And the same thing goes with work. If I’m working with someone who has an exact same goal and sensibility, I don’t think what we’d come up with would be very interesting.

GM: Although this album may change things, you haven’t been able to make dance music in America respectable, despite your popularity.

Madonna: It’s because what goes on in a nightclub is forbidden.

GM: Do you feel as if you’ve failed?

Madonna: No, let it be a part of the underground. Who wants it to be mainstream?

GM: What were you going for with this album?

Madonna: I wanted to look at the past with the eyes of the future. I wanted to examine my own life and the things that I’ve learned — but from a mystical point of view, which is where I am right now.

GM: This album has a really melancholy side to it. Has that always been a part of you?

Madonna: Yes. It was there in my old journals. I worship Frida Kahlo’s paintings because they reek of her sadness and her pain, but they are so beautiful, and I relate to that in one’s work. It’s just that it took me awhile to figure out how to translate the sad stuff into a song.

GM: You’re obviously an introspective person, but the Madonna that we know is the extrovert who’s always around a lot of type-A personalities.

Madonna: The irony is that most of the celebrities that I know are painfully shy, and as strange as it may seem, I can be shy too. After people start writing about you and picking your life apart and examining you and judging you and misjudging you, you become more introspective. And though you may have started out being this extrovert and ready to take on the world, you start to go inside a lot more, ’cause you have to find a place that’s just for you.