Madonna in Harper’s Bazaar Magazine, February 2017 Issue
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January 2017 issue
The pop icon on election-night prayers, aging, and bad wine.
Madonna has no patience for bad wine. I learned this while sitting in a well-appointed living room at her New York City home, with Nina Simone playing softly in the background. I must tell you, Madonna’s house smells amazing—something delicious, maybe roasted chicken, was cooking in a kitchen elsewhere in the manse, and there was a gentle fragrance in the air, jasmine, perhaps. While I waited for Madonna, her day-to-day manager, her publicist, and I chatted while reclining on gorgeous cream-colored furniture set upon the largest rug I’d ever seen, on top of immaculate black wood floors. On the wall behind me was a black-and-white photograph of a woman perched on the edge of a mussed bed, scantily clad, sucking on a gun, it’s Helmut Newton’s “Girl with Gun” photograph. Of course.
Madonna was late, but that didn’t matter because she is Madonna. What is time, really? She was all apologies when she arrived, and we quickly got down to business. She was in the process of planning a fund-raiser at Art Basel in Miami Beach, and like any perfectionist she wanted to taste the wines that could be served. She knelt on the floor as she considered various reds and whites and a rosé—or “summer water,” as she called it. “Roxane,” Madonna said. “You don’t have to wear that dress tonight. …” That’s when I exhaled. This was familiar territory. My name is part of a well-known song or two. I smiled and said, “No, I do not.” At one point she asked me for my opinion on a particularly troublesome wine, handed me her glass, and swore she didn’t have anything contagious. I believed her and took a sip. To be fair, the wine was terrible—it tasted like vinegar—and the year on the bottle said 2016, so it wasn’t really wine yet. It was the suggestion of wine.
Madonna is very good at multitasking. While she was considering the wines, she held forth with me, and before long she was done with the bad wine. “Take the mediocre out of here,” she tells Dustin, the strapping young man who served all the wine and apologized for its mediocrity even though that mediocrity was not his fault. “I’ll go broke before I drink bad wine,” she declared, and I was entirely in agreement. I wanted nothing more than for Madonna to offer her opinions on wine for the rest of the evening. Dustin promptly brought us the good wine, served in a crystal decanter. I drank it, and it was, indeed, good.
In the early days of September 2001, I was driving down Santa Monica Boulevard on my way to a call-back for Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of Swept Away, starring his then-wife Madonna, when it dawned on me: Instead of turning left toward the office buildings, I would be veering into the residential area. I was going to Madonna’s house. Her music had been the soundtrack to my preteen angst, and she was my idol as a feminist and as an artist. Naturally, I pulled the car over, called my sister and had a mini-freak-out.
When Madonna walked into Guy’s home office that day, her little son, Rocco, was perched on her hip. She told me that my audition was funny and that I’d be good in the movie, and I just tried to keep breathing. I assume it was in that moment that Guy concluded I’d be the perfect, nubile idiot to cast in Swept Away. I won the part. The next few weeks were surreal for all of us. I had seen Madonna in concert as a teenager and had splurged on tickets for her Staples Center show scheduled for Sept. 11, 2001. Needless to say, that concert was postponed as the world came undone. But a couple of weeks after we met, I watched Madonna finish her Drowned World Tour. Before the music began that night, she started with a prayer for peace: “If you want to change the world, change yourself,” she told the crowd. Through tears, I sang along for the entire show.
Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to work alongside her — as I did in Malta during those next couple of months — understands why Madonna is Madonna. She works harder than anyone I’ve ever met; she exists in this world by her own rules; she has remained in control of her own voice, paving the way for the Taylor Swifts and Adeles of the world to do their thing in the process. During the course of her more than three-decades-long career, all of those instincts have helped her land the most top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and hold the record for the most No. 1s by any act on a single Billboard list (46 No. 1s on Dance Club Songs). With more than $1.3 billion earned from her groundbreaking concert tours through the years, as reported to Billboard Boxscore, she now reigns, at age 58, as the highest-grossing female touring artist of all time. Her most recent trek, the Rebel Heart Tour, grossed $170 million during the course of 82 performances, concluding in March 2016. (A concert film chronicling the tour, Madonna: Rebel Heart Tour, premieres Dec. 9 on Showtime.)
On a recent Monday afternoon in between parent/teacher conferences for my kids and meetings for Pitch Perfect 3 — a film that focuses on young women finding harmony through music — Madonna and I reconnected over the phone. Since there is no shortage of Madonna books, articles, blog posts and career analyses, I just wanted a snapshot of Madonna right now, in this moment, because she is a woman who lives in the present and never looks back.
In our exciting special edition of LOVE, LOVE 16.5 ‘LOVE BY MERT ALAS’, supported by Marc Jacobs, Madonna stars alongside her son Rocco in his first ever modelling assignment. LOVE 16.5 launches on the 19th September 2016 during London Fashion Week.
With no hair or makeup, Mert captures a 10-page reportage of Madonna at his house in Hampstead in the early hours, ‘Madonna 2:00AM by Mert Alas’.
Madonna tells Murray Healy in the accompanying interview with LOVE 16.5 how “acceptance by the establishment equals death” and says: “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.”
On the burden of fame, she says: “I was already famous before social media, so for me fame isn’t the burden. Fame is the manifestation or 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.”
Madonna also tells LOVE 16.5: “I like Instagram because it’s like keeping a diary and every day I get to share different aspects of my personality, my life, and what inspires me, what infuriates me, or what causes I want to fight for. It allows me to be mysterious, ironic, provocative or proud. I get to use it as a platform to bring attention to people or issues that I think are important. It allows me to be the curator of my life.”
In LOVE 16.5, Mert, who shortly after shooting Madonna, embarked on a project exploring the idea of the voyeuristic essence of the camera for a 70-page photographic portfolio. It resulted in him shooting beautiful men in Berlin, LA and London. Rocco was photographed in the final stage of the project in London.
Michael Musto recounted a few of his most notorious encounters with Madonna for the latest issue of Village Voice:
In the early 1980s, I found myself on a double bill with a rising singer I’d never heard of; her name was Madonna. My Motown cover band had equal billing, but that clearly eluded Madonna’s team, who saw the downtown club gig as a showcase for her and her alone. Madonna sound-checked with such elaborate precision that my band never got to do so; by the time she was obsessively through with the mic, the doors were opening to the public and we were fucked. What’s more, after our performance, Madonna’s manager didn’t want us greeting guests in the joint dressing room, because the apparently demure Madge was getting ready for her set and didn’t want to change in front of strangers. I demanded my rights, while thinking, “This creature isn’t going anywhere.” I should have realized then that it was just this kind of aggressive tunnel vision that would rocket her to the pantheon.
Madonna was suddenly everywhere on the club scene, but her first single, the 1982 ditty “Everybody,” was so insistently whiny, I still wasn’t convinced she had a snowball’s chance. But she made it, with artfully done videos, rampant sexuality, and an ability to charm people’s pants off with feisty frankness. She even tried Hollywood, bombing out with stuff like the screwball comedy Who’s That Girl? while never letting people see her sweat. By 1987, I was hooked, so I went to see Madonna promote the movie outside a theater in Times Square, where she told the assembled throngs, “Shut up, so I can talk.” The steely determination was impressive.
She struck up a sensational gal-pal relationship with lesbian comic Sandra Bernhard, indulging in all sorts of innuendo that got the media and public panting. The two stars were at the center of 1989’s “Don’t Bungle the Jungle” — a BAM benefit for the Brazilian rainforest — where their sardonic antics upstaged ecological issues. After Madonna rattled off some rainforest facts, Sandra moaned, “Who the fuck do you think you are, Tracy Chapman?” “No,” replied Madonna. “I’m not working at a convenience store. But I do like to sneak off to a 7-Eleven at night for some jawbreakers.” “The bitch is cold,” Sandra interjected. “Funky cold Medina.” They launched into a version of “I Got You Babe,” and the comic sang, “I know we don’t have a cock, but at least I’m sure of all the things we got.” “Don’t believe the stories,” urged Madonna as the show wound down. “Believe the stories,” implored Sandra.
When I interviewed Sandra for my Voice column, she claimed their lesbian shenanigans were just shtick and people should relax about it. “I mean, God, you know, Madonna is a raging lesbian!” she said, eyes rolling. “I mean why don’t they take it really literally!” But when Madonna was spotted wildly making out with Sandra’s ex-girlfriend Ingrid Casares, I took the denials with a grain of potpourri.
We have worked on an extra special issue of Love, 16.5 featuring Madonna, Rocco and a cast of boys seen within a 70 page portfolio ‘Angels of Concrete’ all photographed by Mert Alas. This very special edition, supported by Marc Jacobs will be on sale during London Fashion Week. thelovemagazine via Instagram