She made it through the wilderness, all right. And she’s remained at the center of global pop culture ever since. The mother of reinvention talks about her art, her husbands and her early years as “an ego-driven nutcase.”
It doesn’t really matter whether you buy the transformation of the world’s onetime reigning sex kitten — okay, lioness — into a New Age Mother Theresa determined to bring a ray of light into your spiritually parched life. It doesn’t matter at all.
Because she believes it ardently for all of us.
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone Ritchie simply has more conviction than you do. Much more. She practically reeks of it. It’s in the way she enters a room, in the way she exits, in the rather regal pronouncements that pepper her conversation, and most of all, it’s in her seeming immunity to criticism — something she’s had a surfeit of since she and her husband of two years, director Guy Ritchie, released their movie Swept Away last fall.
Madonna, clad in black pants, a leopard-print and flower-strewn black top, a greenish fuzzy fur jacket, stilettos and a crocheted black beret, may have left the house today sans makeup, but she is more than adequately shielded by her own psychic armor, as thick and dense as concrete. Call it what you will — centeredness, smugness or egomania — but don’t think for a second you’ll pierce it. It’s the quality that let’s Madonna be Madonna, that defines her as a star, perhaps the biggest star who ever lived, and that compels us — more than 20 years after her first single, “Everybody,” became an underground dance club hit — to still be sitting around talking about her.
No doubt her forthcoming album, American Life, to be released this month, will lead to another round of Madonna-musing. An introspective tour de force, less melodic or pop than Music or Ray of Light, the record is both darkly self-reflective and socially engaged. Indeed, rumors about the album’s political stance began to circulate before anyone had heard a note: Matt Drudge reported that the “American Life” video, directed by Jonas Akerlund, “may be the most shocking antiwar, anti-Bush statement yet to come from the show business industry.” (In the video, she plays a fatigue-clad glam superhero who tosses a grenade on a fashion runway, among other things.)
Madonna’s response: “Who’s Matt Drudge? He’s on the Internet? Never believe anything you read on the Internet. I don’t want to comment on idiotic people making assumptions.”
She had to postpone our interview one day owing to a cold, and now, after a visit to Beverly Hills fave Joseph Sugarman, M.D., the 44-year-old pop diva (a proud devotee of Ashtanga yoga, numerous trainers and a macrobiotic diet) is, uncharacteristically enough, fending off a wicked cough and a case of the sniffles. Still, like the indomitable force she is, she’s shown up to do her job.
As for the other big item of recent speculation — that the return to her natural dark brown hair color just might signal that another baby is on the way — she rolls her eyes. “Do I look pregnant to you?” she asks, sitting on a couch at the Beverly Hills office of Maverick Records, the label she started with Warner Bros. 11 years ago. “I am a brunette after all, and I just like to match my pubic hair sometimes,” she adds with a laugh. “People who have nothing better to do than talk about my hair color have no lives.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Madonna seemed thrilled to have people talking about the color of her hair. And the color of her pubic hair, for that matter. Not anymore. “Let’s talk about serious issues,” she begs.
“I just saw Michael Moore’s one-man show in Camden Town [in London],” she continues, ” and I loved him for it. It was so amazing and revolutionary. He basically was saying we’re all in the ‘comfortable class’ — and we can’t be f*cked to do anything about ‘what’s happening over there [in Iraq],’ because we don’t believe it will make a difference. And of course that isn’t true. Michael Moore is one person, and he’s making a difference. Afterward, I felt like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to go! I’m starting a revolution by myself!’ I felt so inspired.”