The great and the good came by the truckload to put a question to her – Michael Stipe, Russell Brand, Kaiser Chiefs, Girls Aloud and many more. She, in turn, gave one and all a good seeing to.
On Madonna’s new album, Hard Candy, there’s a song called She’s Not Me. In it she admonishes a former partner for taking up with someone new “She might cook you breakfast and love you in the shower,” says the singer of the interloper who’s “started reading my books” and “dressing like me”. But, as Madonna reminds us over six-plus minutes of ‘8os-style dance-funk, “She’s not me and she never will be!” What’s more, “She doesn’t have my name!”
“That was actually Pharrell’s [Williams, one of Hard Candy’s producers] line,” says Madonna, arranging herself on a banquette in her Hollywood home, bare feet tucked beneath her. “I agreed to it. That’s my follow-up to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.”
The notion there’s another human being on Planet Earth who might be mistaken for Madonna is, frankly, an unlikely one. Hard Candy, her 11th album, features a dozen dance floor anthems produced by a cannily chosen array of collaborators, among them Kanye West, Britney Spears hitmaker Danja and men-of-the-moment Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. Its closest relation is Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, but at no point could Hard Candy be the work of anyone else.
Q hears the album at Madonna’s London home then meets its author at her Los Angeles pad a few days later. We are under instructions to discuss neither, though hopefully we’re not risking death by 12-bore shotgun to report that good taste, fine art and dark wood characterize both. And in LA there’s an enormous doormat emblazoned: “RITCHIE”.
Today, the world’s most famous woman is wearing dark silk trousers and a navy knitted cardigan. Her left wrist twinkles with a Cartier watch the size of an ashtray. She offers the most robust of handshakes. She possesses impeccable diction, though when we alight at a question that doesn’t take her fancy – which is often – her left eyebrow arches upwards, as if repelled in alarm. At some point an assistant spirits a trademark Vente Soy Lane into her hand, though the nearest Starbucks is miles away. She looks nothing like someone six months shy of their 50th birthday.
It’s Oscar night in LA, though Madonna isn’t going, choosing instead to throw an after-party with her manager, something that had been reported as a stand-in for the traditional Vanity Fair magazine bash knocked offline by the writers’ strike, but is surely at least part-conceived in the knowledge her own directorial debut Filth And Wisdom, starring her friend Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello, is premiering just around the corner.
“Just wearing a fantastic dress and having lots of great jewellery – that’s my part of the planning,” she advises. “[Suddenly steely] And making sure there are no photographers.”
So it’s on with Cash For Questions. In place of the traditional readers’ enquiries, this afternoon’s are submitted by notable names from the worlds of music and the arts. As we shall see, that hardly means Madonna is more predisposed to suffering fools gladly.
“The first one’s from Michael Stipe?” she says. “Yikes. OK. Hit me.”
Michael Stipe [R.E.M.] : My question is multilayered. What is your most underrated quality? Off the new record, name your favourite two songs…
M: [Interrupting] Well, that’s two questions. Let’s start with just the one. What’s my most underrated quality? [Thinks]I don’t really know what people underrate me on. Everyone thinks that I work hard and I’m disciplined, right? [Thinks again] It’s hard for people to answer that about themselves, you know? Because your version of yourself is never everyone else’s. You could think someone doesn’t value something about themselves and they do… [Suddenly] That I’m shy! Can be shy, yeah. And nervous. About things. And people will never think that of me. Shyness should be regarded a quality? Yes. It can be read as arrogance.
(Still reading Stipe’s question)…And your two favorite songs off the new record?
My favorite two songs are… [thinks]Candy Shop and Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You. I love Candy Shop cos it’s cheeky and fun and it’s the first thing I wrote with Pharrell, and I feel it sort of represents the sassy side of me; the fun, sassy side of me. And I just love the way it sounds. And I love candy! Um… and Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You I just love lyrically. I like the subject matter. The idea that you’re so clever even the Devil wouldn’t recognize you. You know what I mean?