In April 2016, a month after Madonna had kicked off her final leg of her Rebel heart world tour with a circus-themed and highly personal Tears of a Clown show, and a matter of days after the sudden death of her friend and pop peer Prince, we sent Madonna some questions with a view to arranging an interview. Here’s what came back…
As someone who has written so many songs, have you reached any conclusions as to why love is the dominant theme in pop music?
“Yes. Because love is the dominant theme in life. The thing that drives us, shapes us, excites us and destroys us. Why wouldn’t we write about it?”
How did you come to write “Love Song” with Prince on the Like A Virgin album?
“‘Love Song’ was not on Like A Virgin, it was on Like A Prayer. Writing songs is a mysterious affair. One can never predict what one is going to write. It’s always about what’s in the air that day, and the person you are working with. ‘Love Song’ is supposed to be ironic. It is a love song in denial. We were being provocative when we wrote it.”
In your work, both you and Prince have explicitly addressed the idea of revolution. Do you think it’s possible for a pop act to be revolutionary or to inspire a revolutionary act?
“I don’t consider myself a pop act. I consider myself an artist. And it’s an artist’s responsibility to be revolutionary in our work. It’s our responsibility, our duty and our privilege.”
Looking back, are there any moments in the history of your own work that strike you as having had a particularly revolutionary impact on contemporary culture?
“I think the movie Truth or Dare had a very big impact on pop culture, particularly in the gay community. It’s the first time people saw men in a film being openly gay and not apologizing for or being ashamed of it, but celebrating it. It was the first time many people saw two men openly and passionately kissing one another in a commercial film. In addition, it was the beginning of the reality film and TV phenomenon. Before that people didn’t live their lives in front of a camera. I didn’t know this was going to be revolutionary at the time. I only realized it after having people’s feedback when it came out.”
Has fame become more of a burden with the expansion of digital and social media, now that everywhere you go people carry cameras and are online?
“I was already famous before social media, so for me fame isn’t the burden. Fame is the manifestation of the by-product of my work, and that was two decades before social media. Now to me the burden is people are more focused on fame than actually doing the work or being an artist. Now it’s easy to become famous. What isn’t easy is to develop and grow as an artist without being distracted or consumed with fame.”
If you could be anonymous for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
“I would be an anonymous fly on the wall of a non-working day in the life of Barack Obama.”
Do you think you are now accepted by the establishment? Do you consider yourself to be a part of the establishment?
“Absolutely not, and I hope I never am. Acceptance by the establishment equals death.”
Does being such a public figure make it easier or harder for you to rebel than at the start of your career?
“I think, I’m just as rebellious now as I used to be at the beginning of my career. I’m still considered to be provocative. I’m still doing things people don’t think are appropriate or acceptable for a woman, for someone my age. Even the fact that I have had a career that has lasted over three decades and I continue to be creative and productive is viewed as provocative.”