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Madonna dishes out gin and kabbalah cocktails!


Guests at Madonna’s Re-Invention tour launch party literally got a taste of the pop diva’s newly adopted religion, kabbalah, as she served them cocktail’s mixed with kabbalah water.
According to, at the “American Life” singer’s party, guests were served with a cocktail called “Damn,” which was a mix of gin and soda lime. However, Madonna made sure that all the ice cubes in the drinks were made out of special kabbalah water.
source :

Madonna adopts Kabbalah and new wave of controversy


The Jewish Madonna?
As the Material Girl well knows from her many incarnations, the path to spiritual provocation is marked with sacred signs.
On the road with her Re-invention World Tour, Madonna seemingly has moved from the New Testament to the Hebrew Bible, incorporating signs and symbols from Judaism and kabbalah, a mystical and esoteric study of the faith.
On a recent news-magazine show, she discussed her interest in kabbalah and how she has adopted a Hebrew name, Esther. She has worn a red string on her wrist to ward off the “evil eye,” and used sacred prayer accessories and symbolic Hebrew letters in music videos and concerts.
“What Madonna is doing ” whether or not she wants to do it ” is making certain aspects of Judaism more well known in the public,” said Rabbi Barry Gelman of United Orthodox Synagogues. “She is probably the anti-Joe Lieberman.”
As Gelman sees it, Lieberman is an example of Jewish values, and his 2000 vice presidential nomination raised public awareness about Judaism, including rituals of the Sabbath and the high holy days.
For some Houston-area rabbis, Madonna’s contribution as a Jewish representative is cause for concern. There’s the history of men; there’s Britney; there’s the nudity.
“If she were a woman of valor, that might be one issue,” said Rabbi Yakov Polatsek, executive director of TORCH, Torah Outreach Resource Center of Houston. “But she is Madonna.”
Madonna is a student of the Kabbalah Centre, a worldwide education organization with a center in Houston. The center does not require students to be Jewish, and the study can be incorporated into any faith, said Robin Davis, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based organization.
“The aims of the center are to help people navigate through the wisdom of kabbalah and to help them understand it and embrace it and help them incorporate it into their lives so their lives can be more meaningful,” she said.
Madonna has been a serious student for more than eight years, Davis said.
“This is not a trendy thing she has picked up as a whim for the moment,” she said.
But Gelman and other local rabbis are concerned that such study is rooted less in traditional Judaism than in New Age spirituality.
Rabbi Daniel Plotkin of Congregation Beth Tikvah in the Clear Lake area is a self-described child of the 1980s and owns Madonna’s album The Immaculate Collection ” a remnant from a different time and faith. Of course, he has not personally peered into the pop star’s thoughts and deeds, he said, but he doubts she is working on repentance, t’shubah in Hebrew.
Her interest, however, may have a silver lining, said Plotkin, who is leaving the synagogue for St. Louis next week.
“Certainly, anything that causes a young Jewish teenager or an adult to say to his parents or rabbi or her cantor, ‘I saw this. What is it?’ that can’t hurt,” he said. “But at the same time, it is important not to cheapen the value of it.”

Here’s a guide to the Jewish Madonna.
– Esther: A very important woman in Judaism. Esther has her own book of the Bible, and her story is the basis for the holiday Purim. She was a queen of Persia who revealed her Jewish identity to save the Jews within the kingdom from a plot to exterminate them.
– Tefillin: Worn for morning prayers, usually by Orthodox and Conservative Jewish men, as a reminder of the presence of God. Tefillin consists of two black leather boxes containing four portions of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The boxes are attached to the head and to the arm with black leather straps.
Plotkin said he is familiar with Jewish feminist artists who have used symbols such as Tefillin in their work. But to use them in a video or concert is “an odd decision, at the least,” he said. Gelman doesn’t see it only as odd. “To use that in a pop concert or any way is highly offensive,” Gelman said.
– Kabbalah: The study and practice of a form of Jewish mysticism. The origins of kabbalah are disputed, Gelman said. Many date the development of kabbalah to the 11th or 12th century, Plotkin said. It became more widespread in the 13th century, especially in Spain, he said. According to Gelman, kabbalah isa secret branch of Judaism, and those who study it are supposed to be older than 40 ” some say male ” and must have extensively studied the Torah, the Talmud and many other Jewish texts before delving into the mystical practice.
“Kabbalah outside the rooted traditions of Judaism, kabbalah in a vacuum, is not real Jewish spirituality,” Gelman said. “When you have people who are studying kabbalah who don’t know the ABCs of Judaism, you have to really wonder what they are doing.”
– 72 names of God: A concept from kabbalah, Plotkin said. There are also 70 unpronounceable names of God. Those who seriously practice kabbalah meditate on the Hebrew letters that make up the names, reciting mantras, he said. “It is something you would do in a room alone or in the woods or a desert,” Plotkin said, “not on a stage at a rock concert.”
– Red string: Protection against the evil eye. It serves as a reminder to others not to think negative thoughts about the person wearing it, lest those thoughts reverberate and become bad luck, Polatsek said. Some say it protects the negative force of ill will from others.
source : Houston Chronicle

Vatican raps Madonna over Kabbalah


The Vatican has been holding a special conference of international Catholic leaders to deal with the challenges that New Age spirituality poses to traditional Christian beliefs. Special attention was reportedly given to “kabbala as espoused by Madonna.”
The Catholic-born singer’s public involvement with the Los Angeles-based Kabbala Center, accused by some of being a cult-like distortion of Jewish mystical beliefs, has intensified in recent months. It has been reported that Madonna had decided to observe kashrut dietary restrictions, and not to perform on Friday nights (Shabbat eve). Last week, the entertainer announced that she was adopting “Esther” as an additional name in honor of the heroine of the Purim saga.
“I don’t go by the name of Esther, but yes, that is my Hebrew name. I chose it,” she told the ABC-TV news show 20/20. “I was named after my mother. My mother died when she was very young. I wanted to attach myself to another name. So I read about all the women in the Old Testament, and I love the story of Queen Esther.”
This week the singer released her third children’s book, Yakov and the Seven Thieves, about the travails of a Jewish family in 18th century Russia.
In the on again, off again saga of Madonna’s planned visit to Israel, the latest news according to a well-informed member of the local entertainment industry is that she will be coming – but in a private capacity.
“She’ll fly in when she’s somewhere in the region,” he said, “but she won’t be performing here.”
Madonna will be performing in Europe from mid-August as part of her new “Reinvention” tour.
source :

Madonna steals the show at Kabbalah guru’s birthday bash!


Instead of the birthday boy, it was Madonna who hogged the limelight at Rabbi Michael Berg’s 31st birthday bash.
According to New York Daily News,a host of celebrities came to wish The co-director of the Kabbalah center in a private room gathering at the kosher midtown restaurant Solo.
However it was Maddona, one of the most ardent followers of the cult who got the most attention, so much so that it even sidelined the host.
source :

Madonna and Gwyneth’s Kabbalah Fight


Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna have allegedly had an argument after the actress refused to join the trendy Kabbalah religion.
Sources claim mother-of-two Madonna called Gwyneth as soon as she gave birth to baby Apple, insisting she join the Jewish faith, popular with the Hollywood jet-set.
But, according to Britain’s News of the World newspaper, the blonde beauty and her Coldplay husband, Chris Martin, refused Madonna’s plea.
A friend revealed to the paper: “Madonna barely congratulated Gwyneth on Apple before she was going on and on about Kabbalah. She said that now Gwyneth was a mom, the time was right for her to join. But Gwyneth just doesn’t want to get involved and told her that in no uncertain terms.”
Madonna has successfully converted a host of celebrities, including Britney Spears and Demi Moore, to the mystic Jewish faith.
source : BANG Showbiz

Madonna Interview : MOJO (March 2015)


Madonna - Mojo / March 2015

Dancing on the Edge

With a will of iron and a heart of glass, she rose from New York’s post-punk art/club scene with lucid visions of the music she had to make. Thirteen albums in, Madonna and her key collaborators open up about the musical decisions and lyrical confessions that have taken her from Pontiac, Michigan to The World, always on the cutting edge of pop. “It’s been really intense… complicated,” she tells Tom Doyle.

It’s 1982, and under the lights at Danceteria, 30 West 21st Street, New York City, Madonna Louise Ciccone is lost in music. Inside this four-storey nightlife haven, the soundtrack is as eclectic as the club-goers who surround her: misfits and outsiders drawn together to dance to everything from James Brown to PiL, Grace jones to The pop group, Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock to Arthur Russell/Dinosaur L’s Go Bang.

Bargirls serving up drinks include Nigerian-Brit Helen Folusade Adu – soon to find fame as Sade – and outre performance artist Karen Finley. Teenage members of the Beastie Boys, working as bus boys, charge around emptying ashtrays and wiping down tables. Ciccone’s newfound friend Keith Haring, who by day paints murals featuring kinetic, colourful figures, works in the cloakroom at night. Her soon-to-be paramour Jean-Michel Basquiat furtively inks his “SAMO” tag on the club walls. Madonna’s own, characteristically provocative tag is “Boy Toy”.

“New York was a;ove with everything amazing,” she marvels today. “That’s what the time had to offer. I was surrounded by great artists.”

It is here, in this hive of creative thought and activity, that Madonna’s musical vision first sparks in her mind. Up to the point, there have been dabblings in bands (The Breakfast Club, Emmy) and five-month sojourn in Paris in 1979 at the invitation of two Belgian record producers working with French disco singer Patrick Hernandez, But these experiences, though educational, have amounted to little more than frustration. Now, on the dancefloor, studying club music almost as a science, finally she can see a clear way forward.

“All my friends were DJs,” she says, “so I wanted my records to sound like what I wanted to dance to, I would go to clubs and I would listen to what would make me dance, y’know? And then I would go back and I would work on my music. I mean, I was influenced by Debbie Harry, Talking Heads, The B-52’s. Whatever was getting played at the time. So to me the line was very blurred between what I was working on and what I was dancing to.”

One night, Madonna approached Danceteria DJ Mark Kamins with a cassette of a demo track of hers called Everybody, a synthy connection with a Tom Tom Club bounce, tapped with her lyrics call-to-dance. Kamins listens to the tape at home and, impressed, the next night at the club gives it a spin.

“I was in the DJ booth,” Madonna recalls, as that famous grin lights up her face at the memory. “I thought it was marvellous (laughs).”


Madonna - Mojo / March 2015

“It was the first time this dancer-turned-singer-turned-producer had witnessed her music having a physical effect upon a crowd. “Just to be able to make people dance with your music,” she thrills. “That was a very magical moment.”

Six streets north, five blocks west, 32 years later. Everything and, in some ways, nothing has changed for Madonna. Her business remains taking the sounds of the dancefloor onto the radio and into the charts. In the control room at Jungle City Studios, a surprisingly bijou facility whose previous occupants include Beyonce, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, she sits between the enormo speakers, wearing a ’40-ish rose-patterned tea dress, sipping a glass of champagne and listening to playbacks of tracks from her 13th album, Rebel Heart. The volume is slammingly loud.

“Yeah,” she smiles, mock-coyly. “It’s phat volume. Must be played loud. Not parental advisory. I like to feel like I’m getting kicked in the stomack when I play music or when I make music.”

If so, MOJO wonders, how’s her hearing these days? “My hearing’s actually very good. Hm-mm. Strangely enough.”

A rough version of Rebel Heart’s confessional acoustic-guitars-over-beats title track has leaked in the past few days, though Madonna appears to be taking it in relatively good spirits. “D’you wanna hear the real version?” she asks. Less than a week later, however, when another 10 work-in-progress songs are bafflingly distributed, she’ll fumingly decry it as “artistic rape”, leading to an official iTunes pre-order release of six tracks. Then, on Christmas Day, another 14 unfinished selections will appear online.

It’s easy to see why Madonna is enraged by this creepy violation. As much as she always openly craved stardom, she’s retained the typical over-sensibility of the songwriter, artist and producer, and tonight, airing her new songs to outsider ear for the first time, she’s almost tentative. MOJO hears two versions of her return single, Living For Love – the first stripped down and harking back to deep house 1989-style, the second more layered with EDM synth figures. Asked by the singer which we prefer we choose the first and receive a hug as reward. “That’s my favourite too,” she beams. “It’s cool as f*ck.”

Credit lists for recent Madonna albums typically feature a cast of the hottest producers du jour – Rebel Heart boasts contributions from Diplo, Kanye West and Avicii – leading perhaps to the impression that they’re merely a fashionable pick’n’mix of names to prop up her “brand”. But talk to anyone involved with Madonna’s music, past to present, and they will tell you a different story. The singer is very much sleeves-rolled-up, working long hours in the studio, with a clear musical direction in her head. Rebel Heart, recorded in New York, London and Los Angeles, has been nine months in the making, the longest and most intensive of any Madonna album sessions.

“I can’t remember every record-making experience,” she says. “It feels like there’s been too many of them. But this has been really, really intense… complicated. Just because there are so many people involved. It’s like a train that keeps picking up people. And every time someone gets on the train, they add another flavour. Then I have to step back and see, OK, how does this all fit into the big picture? Do it does seem endless.”

There are currently 36 tracks in various stages of completion. She winces when considering how she’s going to edit them down: “I’m dreading that moment.” The 14 songs played to MOJO fall into two thematic camps: heartache and vulnerability (Joan Of Arc, Ghosttown) and f*ck you defiance (B*tch, I’m Madonna, Unapologetic B*tch), while others combine these conflicting emotions (Heartbreak City, Wash All Over Me).

Madonna herself falters slightly when trying to describe the new songs. “I feel like… they seem to be a manifestation of two sides of me that are quite… I don’t know… that show themselves very clearly in my songwriting.”

Which are… provocateur? “Mm yeah.”

And wearing your heart on your sleeve?

“Yeah. Romantic. And renegade.”


Madonna - Mojo / March 2015

In the electro/country hybrid of Devil Pray, meanwhile, the singer turns out a lyric which seems distinctly anti-drugs, declaring them to be a dangerous illusion. “I mean, I’m not saying to people, “Don’t do drugs,”” Madonna insists. “I’m saying that they’re a trick and that you need to be careful.” In the song, she lists various substances including ecstasy, weed and even solvents. It’s quite a thing to bear Madonna singing about sniffing glue.

“(Hoots and claps hands) Yeah. Actually, it’s a come back…”

You’ve admitted you were never a natural drug taker?

“No. My nature is to want to be in control of the situation. Not out of control.”

But did you ever experience a musical epiphany while chemically altered?

“I wouldn’t say I had musical epiphanies. I would say probably I just had… life epiphanies where everything seems better than it is (laughs). But my problem is I don’t have the stamina to take drugs. I feel terrible afterwards. I’m destroyed for days and days. I can’t do anything and I don’t want that inconvenience in my life. So I don’t feel it’s worth the price you have to pay. That’s me.”

After the smooth, comes the rough…

“Yeah. Even when I was younger and in my twenties, trying this and that… I mean, I never really did that many drugs. I’m too big of a pussy. Also, I’m a dancer and I don’t want to destroy my body. I want to feel physically good. So it never came natural to me to get out of my brains or get to high that I couldn’t get out of bed for three days. And that’s what happened to me if I did anything.”

Best drug experience though? “I have to say the best experience I’ve ever had was when I had to take morphine in a hospital (laughs), when I had two caesareans. Oh and also I fell off a horse [in 20050 and broke 10 bones and I got morphine then too, and well, that’s just a wonderful feeling. But then after 24 hours, the nurses stop giving it to you and the pain comes crashing back in. So that’s probably the nicest thing I’ve ever experienced drug-wise. That was doctor’s orders… but I could see how people would get addicted to heroin. Deadly.”

In many ways, Rebel Heart, is the definitive title for a Madonna album, since mutiny seems to be woven in her DNA. In conversation with MOJO, she will be generally sharp, funny and friendly. Then, for no obvious reason, out of the clear blue sky looms a black cloud of challenging attitude. This first appears when we ask her why she thinks she has always felt a strong urge to rebel…

“(Long tetchy pause) Why do I have such strong urge? Because that’s part of being an artist and being a human being. But I’ve always been that way, even before I started writing songs. I’ve always been the person that said to my father, But why do I have to do that? But why is that a rule? But why do the girls need to do this and the boys have to do that? Why do the women have to cover their head in church and the men not? Why do I have to wear a dress and they get to wear pants? Why why why why why? And my father used to always say, “Why do you always have to ask questions?” And I said… But why not? So… I don’t know. As a human being, we’re here to ask questions.”

Just as suddenly as it blew in, the storm breaks and Madonna smiles again. “Rebelliousness, I think, is mandatory for all creative people,” she reasons, “And if you’re not rebellious in some way, shape or form in your work, then I don’t really know why you’re doing it.”

Casting her mind back down the years, Madonna says she can’t pinpoint the one specific moment when she realized she wanted to be a musician. It’s 24 hours after the playback, and she sits in a lounge at Jungle City Studios, dressed in a black jumper and matching short flared skirt, wearing black leather Chanel fingerless gloves personalized with an M, chewing on a vine of red liquorice and thinking about the past.

Madonna - Mojo / March 2015

It was 1978 when she first arrived in New York from her native Michigan, filled with hurt and defiance and determination, baggage from her namesake mother’s death from breast cancer when Madonna was only five and a turbulent subsequent relationship with her father Tony. Living in a dumpy apartment on the sketchy Lower East Side, with designs on becoming a professional dancer, a new friend, Angie Smith, asked her to form a band.

“She was a ballerina and she played bass and was obsessed with The Rolling Stones,” Madonna remember, “I said, I don’t play any instruments. And she was like, “Well you could be the singer” and I was like, But I don’t really sing. We kind of got together and threw some ideas around. It was really the whole idea of punk and you don’t really have to play an instrument. It was just the idea and the attitude.”

In ’79 came the Paris trip. In New York, Madonna had auditioned for the producers of Patrick “Born To Be Alive” Hernandez’s disco revue based in the French capital. Jean Vanloo and Jean-Claude Pellerin saw in her something of the nascent star and invited her to Europe hoping to put her in a studio with Giorgio Moroder. But the 20-year-old Ciccone still felt uncomfortable with the idea of making her own music.

“They were, like, throwing everything at me,” she says. “But I didn’t feel like I had a point of view yet. So I innately rejected it. That gave me the idea that I could make music and yet I didn’t feel like I’d earned the position to make music. Because I didn’t play an instrument and I didn’t write any songs.”

Returning to New York, Madonna hooked up with Smit and bothers Dan and Ed Gilroy in The Breakfast Club, where she initially took the role of drummer before, perhaps inevitably, working her way to the front of the stage. Soon, she jumped ship and formed Emmy with a friend from Michigan, Steve Bray. Demos of both bands now floating around online reveal a young Madonna in thrall to the vogue sounds of the time – ska, Blondie, The Pretenders – but still to find her own voice.

What did she learn from being in a band? That she really wanted to be a solo artist?

“No,” she stresses. ” Being part of a band teaches you about musicality. There’s no better way to understand about arrangements. How to create a song, how to perform. I mean I’m so lucky that I had all of these years playing in bands as an unknown musician, as an unknown singer, to figure out what I wanted to do and and how I wanted to do it. To me, those early days were so essential to building me as an artist.”

Growing more creatively sure-footed, together with Bray, Madonna created her first solo tracks. Danceteria’s Mark Kamins took the tapes to Seymour Stein of Sire Records, who signed Madonna to a two-single deal. Then, when Everybody and its successor Burning Up became dancefloor hits, Stein bought further into Madonna, resulting in the making of her eponymous debut album, released in 1983. But it was a far from painless process.

Sire matched her with producer Reggie Lucas (Roberta Flack, Phyllis Hyman), but she felt the results of their work were too cluttered sonically. In a move spotlighting her chutzpah, Madonna insisted on finishing the album with her then-boyfriend, John “Jellybean” Benitez, paring back the production to make it more modern and sharply-defined. MOJO points out that it took Kate Bush three albums before she seized control of her music from her producers and record company, but here was Madonna doing it with her debut. For an unknown, that must have been hard?

“Well, I didn’t think about whether it was hard or not,” she says, a touch prickly again. “I just knew what I wanted to sound like.”

Similarly, even when put together with Nile Rodgers for follow-up album Like A Virgin (1984), and effectively backed by Chic, Madonna was never intimidated by them. I’m a very cheeky girl, I guess.”

Irrepressibly spirited, but perhaps yet to secure a firm stylistic foothold, Madonna met her first (and arguably greatest) creative soulmate in 1985 when Patrick Leonard, fresh from helming the band on The Jacksons’ Victory tour, was hired as MD for her inaugural live jaunt, the Virgin tour. Mutually sensing a connection, the pair began writing and producing songs.

“We’re both a Michigan kids,” notes Leonard today, “and part of it was just a work ethic. Sort of blue-collarish in a way. Any good collaborative team is usually a yin and yang and I think we were that.”

Working knee-to-knee in Leonard’s tiny studio in Los Angeles, the two began crafting the songs for what would become 1986’s True Blue. “I always try to find recording studios that are cut off from everything,” says Madonna. “Tucked away, not too fancy. I like working like that with people, one-on-one, without interruptions.”

Madonna - Mojo / March 2015

“In the grandiose rooms you don’t focus on music,” notes Leonard. “It’s possible that we were more recused because there was literally only room for she and I and [engineer/mixer] Michael Verdick when we made True Blue.”

Looking back, Madonna recognizes there was a real spark between her and Leonard. “He encouraged me as a songwriter,” she says. “He encouraged me to dig deep and explore areas of my emotional life that I probably hadn’t really gotten into yet.”

A creative breakthrough came with Live To Tell, written for the soundtrack of Madonna’s then-husband Sean Penn’s crime family drama At Close Range. A mysterious and highly emotional ballad which spoke of murky childhood secrets, it revealed a new gravitas to Madonna’s writing. “Pat had a dark side to him,” she says, “and so that kind of brought out my dark side.”

“Yeah, that’s very fair,” Leonard laughs. “Especially right around that time. I was pretty dark.”

“It was kind of inspired by the movie,” Madonna explains, “and family secrets and the things that make you who you are, but you don’t necessarily want to share. Mix that in with my own childhood and my own growing up and all of that. My real experiences get mixed in with things that I imagine.”

The song added weight to Madonna’s imperial phase, when she was primarily gaining notoriety as a troublemaker, with a sense of hits mainly written by outside songwriters. various hoo-hahs surrounded her key singles from the period – Like A Virgin (brazen sexual provocation), Material Girl (wanton greed), Papa Don’t Preach (take your pick from pro-teenage pregnancy or, at the other extreme, anti-abortion lobbying). Surprisingly, Madonna insists she didn’t see the controversies coming.

“No, she says, shaking her head. “Because I grew up immersed in literature and poetry and humour and irony and I just assumed everyone had the same sense of irony I did. Of course, I was wrong. I didn’t get that people wouldn’t understand the duality of things. That you could say you were something you clearly weren’t and people would get the joke. But no. They didn’t Literalists. Literalists have plagued me all my life (smiles). Death to the literalists…”

You seriously never thought, This might be misinterpreted!

“No. (Firmly) I’m telling you, no. I had no idea.”

Great pop music should stir sh*t up though, shouldn’t it?

“Yeah. Maybe I just unconsciously choose things that are gonna stir sh*t up without really knowing that it’s gonna stir sh*t up. Honestly, I don’t know, I wasn’t sitting there in my laboratory of sh*tstirring, going, “Ooh this is gonna fuck with people.” No… that’s just my nature. So it just seemed normal.”

“I don’t think there was any sort of intentional thing going on there to upset people,” says Patrick Leonard. “I never felt that from her. None of this was like, ‘Let’s manipulate people’s feelings and emotions.”

Next she’ll be telling us that her Like A Prayer single (1989) didn’t firmly and knowingly poke a stick at the Catholic church…

“Oh, but the Catholic church needs to have a stick poked at it, for God sakes,” she exclaims. “Doesn’t it? On the other hand, I love going to a beautiful Catholic church and hearing the mass in Latin and smelling the incense and the whole pomp and circumstance and drama of it all. It’s beautiful, it’s hypocrisy. But we have to poke at our institutions. If you can’t poke at institutions, then you might as well just live in a fascist state. (Brightly) Which is what we’re living in now. Yay! Woo!”

Madonna - Mojo / March 2015

MOJO tells Madonna that the week before we’d pulled out our old vinyl copy of the Like A Prayer album and that, 25 years on, it still bears the scent of patchouli it was originally imprinted with. The fact visibly tickles her.

“That’s funny. Wow. Terrible, terrible perfume. Urgh… I can’t stand it.”

Wait a minute… you don’t even like patchouli? “I don’t any more. It’s a tree hugger’s smell.”

Fittingly, from its hippyfied, bare-bellied, pearls-and-jeans cover imagery to its confessional lyrics, Like A Prayer was a shift into more adult territory – from Promise To Try, the unbearably sad missive to the grieving little girl that she was in the wake of her mother’s death, to Oh Father, the accusatory, if forgiving, open letter to her dad. It seemed Madonna had a point to prove: specifically that she could make a grown-up record. Not so, apparently.

“No… again,” she maintains. “You really have me pegged as a person who consciously tries to do things that I don’t consciously try to do. It just happened. You just have to leave yourself open to things and then you reflect where you are in your life. And that’s what art is. That’s what creation is. So I guess that’s the mood that I was in at the time.”

Come the early ’90s, Madonna’s image became even more brazenly sexualized, cementing her tabloid notoriety and overshadowing her records, the languid breakbeats of 1992’s Erotica and the nu-R&B swing of 1994’s Bedtime Stories. There would be a four-year gap between the latter and 1998’s more complex and soul-bearing Ray Of Light, featuring the psychedelic electronic treatments of producer William Orbit. Much had changed in Madonna’s life in the intervening years, with the birth of her daughter Lourdes in 1996, and her embracing of Kabbalah.

“I started studying Kabbalah when I was pregnant with my daughter, so I guess they’re connected,” she muses.

Did these two new aspects of her life change her as an artist?

“Well, it made me become more conscious of my choices, my decisions, what I wanted to say how it affected people, stuff like that. I feel like it made me become a more responsible person. I mean there are aspects of Kabbalah that I still don’t understand. But I would have to devote my life to studying it all the time and then I wouldn’t be the person that I am. But I certainly have relied on it and it has informed me as a mother, as an artist, in many ways/ Pushed me into the direction of asking more questions. (Smiles) Thou doth not protest too much.”

Ray Of Light returned Madonna to the confessional booth, with Drowned World / Substitute For Love revealing her regrets about now-suffocating celebrity and the lyric of the astonishing Mer Girl depicting a nightmarish flight from her home down into the earth of her mother’s grave. Does she ever write these things then have second thoughts about unveiling them in public? “Uhm-uhm,” she shrugs. “I like to say things that other people don’t wanna say. Trying to give voice to feelings I have that possibly other people can relate to.”

Ray Of Light and Like A Prayer are acclaimed as the high watermarks of her album catalogue. Does she pay attention to what the critics say, whether good or bad? “I don’t pay attention,” she offers, breezily. “I try not to pay too much attention to what people say about anything I do because in 10 minutes everything can change. One person thinks this is your best work, and at the end of the day, it’s just your work. And some of it really is transcendent and some of it isn’t.”

When not personally revealing, Madonna’s best records often sound like the very definition of modernity. This was the path she was to follow, as she returned to club sounds with Music in 2000 and American Life in 2003. But it was during her time living in England that she found her Pat Leonard in Stuart Price, aka Jacques Lu Cont, who embedded in madonna World as her live musical director, on 2003’s Re-Invention tour. Recalling her early days working with DJs in small New York studios and her years bunkered with Leonard in LA, Madonna chose to make 2005’s Confessions On A Dance Floor in the studio loft room of price’s tiny flat in Maida Vale, London. It was, she remembers, a touch wistfully, a liberating experience.

“I loved that place,” she says. “It was small and intimate, far away from everything. There was one tiny little window where you could see the sky. It was just me and Stuart and his mixing board and instruments and no one could get to us. We were in our own little world.”

But still, it’s surprising to find someone in your position making a record in some English dude’s loft. “Why? What does somebody in my position do?”

Well, it’s not something you’d imagine a big star doing. “Oh, that’s all rubbish. Rubbish rubbish rubbish.”

Madonna - Mojo / March 2015

From then to now, Madonna has cleaved very much to dance music, in different shades, from the Timbaland and Neptunes-assisted R&B of Hard Candy (2008) to the heavy EDM flavours of MDNA (2012). What is the ongoing allure of the club culture?

“Just the feeling of the tribal, the community,” she enthuses. “Y’know, people coming together in a room. That bass booming, people dancing, moving in unison. There’s something really primal about it and inexplicable. I think it’s in our nature to want to do that. To want to join together and move to a beat. Drumming is ancient. And people dancing together as a community to drums. We’ve been doing that since the evolution of man.”

In looking for collaborators, these days Madonna seeks out the mavericks, which explains Kanye West’s presence on Illuminati and Wash All Over Me on Rebel Heart. “I like that he likes to push the envelope,” she says. “He hears music in a different and unique way. I think Diplo’s the same. I like people who think outside the box, ‘cos they take a song I’ve written that’s quite straightforward and pop and deconstruct it. Rip it apart and turn it into something else.”

At the tail end of 2014, musically schizophrenic funster Ariel Pink prompted something of a social media fuss when he claimed he’d been asked to work with Madonna to bring something “edgy” to her sessions, saying he thought her career was on a “downward slide”.

“He’s a crazy person,” she retorts. “I never met him. I never considered working with him. I don’t know where he got that idea. It’s possible that somebody brought his name along with a million other names to me as people to write with. But I never stopped at his name, considered him and then said no.”

You’re not even aware of his music then? “No. Sorry (laughs).”

Two of the more unusual co-conspirators on Rebel heart are Dahi and Blood Diamonds, two LA-based producers who paired up for tracks on the album. Madonna discovered the former through his work with rapper Kendrick Lamur; the latter is a 23-year-old-purveyor of dreamlike electronica. “I find them to be complex and interesting and unusual,” says Madonna. “They’re really good, really clever.”

For their part, both were impressed by how involved Madonna is as a producer. “She said, like, ‘I want this to sound like it was made in New York in 1988,'” notes Dahi. “Everything we did represented a different time or experience.”

“She’s definitely the captain of her own ship,” says Blood Diamonds, “She would sit on a drum stool, a foot or two from me, and we’d go through claps or bass sounds. She has such a clear vision and that’s the reason she is who she is.”

Madonna in 2015 is striving to be a cutting-edge and, yes, provocative as ever. It’s now 10pm on this Thursday night and there’s every chance this evening’s recording session will stretch until 4am. At 56, and with arguably little left to prove to herself or anyone else, she remains a workaholic, grafting through to the wee small hours, even if in some ways she’d rather stick to a more sociable schedule.

“I don’t prefer working at night,” she admits, as she prepares to return to the control room. “I have kids, so I have to get up in the morning whether I work late or not. But then I go back to sleep and that’s the problem. ‘Cos I wake up late and then it’s a horrible cycle.”

More than a lingering desire for high-level fame – which she could maintain with less swear – or an urge to compete, it seems to be an enduring passion for music that drives Madonna on. She’s a fan of Adele, Sam Smith and especially Beyonce (“I think she’s an artist”), and sometimes hears a song that she dearly wishes she’s written herself. The last one was James Blake’s sparse and emotive rendition of Feist’s Limit To Your Love. “So amazing,” she swoons.

As a music enthusiast, she has no wish to discuss the shrinking fortunes of the record industry. “It’ll just turn into a funeral dirge,” she groans, before getting punchy again. “However marginalized and pushed down we might be, we will rise up! And music is something that we need as human beings, so how can we stop making it?”

Madonna now shares a manager, Guy Oseary, with U2. Would she ever follow her stablemates’ lead and give an album away?

“Um, it’s not that I wouldn’t give an album away. But I would give people the choice to ask me if they could have it (laughs). I respect their decision, but that’s not what I’d choose to do.”

So if Guy had come to you with that idea, you would’ve said no?

“(Nods) I said, Guy, what should I do? Stand in front of Walmart’s and strum my guitar with a hat on? Please! Buy my record!”

That’s your story’s next chapter? Madonna: The Busking Years?

“Yeah,” she grins, “Look for me in a subway.”

Madonna fronts Chic, makes a splash, as recalled by Nile Rodgers

“I’d grown up around big stars and had just come off working with Diana Ross and David Bowie on Let’s Dance. So I was used to charismatic people. When Madonna came to my apartment to talk about working on Like A Virgin she was this new girl singer whose debut has sold in the thousands and I was the big-time record producer. But after we talked I thought: This could be the most special person I’ve ever met in my life. She was brilliant and focused. After she played me demos she flat out told me: “If you don’t love these songs, we can’t work together.”

Madonna had conceived the whole of Like A Virgin in her head. I didn’t need to ask her questions about the impact of songs like Material Girl and Dress You Up because she was already there in her mind. I wasn’t sure about Like A Virgin as the lead single. She sat me down and said: ‘Nile, to a young girl losing your virginity is a big deal.’ She tapped into the hearts and minds of female youth culture. Madonna was their spokesperson.

Like A Virgin ended up being the last great Chic record; it’s Chic but with Madonna as our lead singer. If you look at the credits it’s clear she was working in my camp: it was my studio, my singer, my musicians, my engineer. I told her, if my band, with its pretty great rhythm section, plays these, no one will sound like you. She was convinced.

I thought I’d be her producer for life, the George Martin to her Beatles. But a contract dispute and the fact my girlfriend didn’t get on with Sean Penn conspired against us.”

Patrick Leonard on the emergence of Madonna: The Serious Artist

“When we started, it was her first tour [The Virgin Tour, 1985] and essentially she was open about not having done it before. I found her dead serious, but quite easy to work with. We started doing some writing during that tour, working on Love Makes The World Go Round [from True Blue, 1986], but I don’t know that there’s ever a plan. Y’know, there were questions about lyrics along the way and I always just said, Go for it and make it as real as possible. There’s no such thing as too real here.

My feelings when we were making Like A Prayer is we pretty much knew that the whole world was gonna hear this record and we should make a great record. But we still did the same thing of writing the songs relatively quickly. Oftentimes those songs weren’t resung. My agenda at the time was to try to make it as live as possible. We bumped the heads on that issue a lot. No one else was making records like that at that time with that much live performance. On Oh Father, I’m pretty sure that the record button got hit, like, four times. That’s all. But it was always a bit of celebration because it was so easy to find something cool.”

Stuart Price helmed Confessions On A Dance Floor, Madonna’s ’05 return to core values

“I did a remix for [Music and American Life producer] Mirwais in 2001 and when Madonna was looking for a live keyboard player he recommended me. I ended up playing on her Drowned World tour and working on some material for American Life, but it didn’t get used. I wanted her to sound like ‘Autechre with Madonna vocals’ and she wanted to be ‘Che Guevara with a busted-up acoustic guitar’.

Still, by the end of her next tour, Re-Invention, we started working on the music for a movie she was making with Luc Besson [Hello Suckers]. There was a ‘disco’ section in the film and the song we wrote came together really quickly. The writing was on the wall and it morphed into Confessions On A Dance Floor.

Confessions… made subliminal reference to her earliest records. While we were recording in my small studio loft, she’d talk about Mark Kamins spinning a reel-to-reel of what they’d just worked on when he’d DJ and having the windows open in Jellybean’s apartment and taxi sounds ending up in the background of Into The Groove. The album connected the girl who made these records to the spiritual mother that she’d become.

I think she enjoys working with DJs because she recognizes the framework: a little songwriting naivety mixed with focus on the simple hook, Madonna is all about making large, very digestible records. I think we were a good match musically. As a DJ I saw what would work at the clubs while as a performer Madonna was connected to dance music on a physical level, understanding what it takes to make people want to move.”

After the generic Hard Candy, Martin Solveig helped Madonna recharge on MDNA.

“She’d heard my songs Hello and Boys & Girls and saw qualities she wanted on MDNA: positive, happy songs that you could dance to. Madonna is extremely good at finding the middle point between herself and her producer and turning that into her own thing.

The overall vision around the album was creating tracks that would fit into the subsequent live show. I think from day one she had the movie of the show in her mind and if the songs we worked on fit that concept so much the better.

We did six or seven tracks and, by today’s standards, our studio collaboration was old school. Now it’s about people who have never met e-mailing different tracks to each other. MDNA was organic in comparison. It felt like we were two halves of the same band. The first track we worked on was Give Me All your Luvin’. I’d demoed it for her in a complete form but the first day I met her she told me: ‘I like this song but if we’re going to do it together we’re going to re-do it together too.’ We took everything out of the demo she didn’t like: the snare drum, the vocal and from that skeleton track we built a new song. Another track, Beautiful Killer, came out of our shared love of the French new wave film Le Samourai starring Alain Delon. When it came to the vocals I made her re-record the same part 20 or 25 times because the songs were a little out of her range. She didn’t enjoy it and nicknamed me ‘The Tyrant’! Which was funny – she has an english sense of humour – because I’m the exact opposite of a tyrant. She said I was the sweetest producer she’d ever worked with. Probably too sweet.”

Thomas Wesley Pentz – aka Diplo – on pushing the envelope, Madonna style

“I hadn’t really listened to her recent album but I knew her classic material. We wrote a lot of things – like, seven, eight songs together. She said, ‘Give me something crazy,’ and that’s when we made B*tch I’m Madonna. It’s just so weird and different. It’s hard to write a record like that from scratch. For me, when I produce records, I write demos and I remake them with different sounds and make them more crazy. But that started out a crazy record. She was just into it.

Her work ethic is crazy and also she’s a mother. I have a child too and we connected on that level. It was cool to see someone have that level of being a serious woman. Like, she’s a mother, and the same time she’s writing an album. I don’t think she sleeps.

Living For Love ended up being the fifteenth version of the song until it got perfect. There’s that level of pride in the music. She doesn’t have to do anything else really. But she does. It’s like, she’s already sold billions of records and she’s still treating this one as if it’s her first record. But she is Madonna and she is really there to make music and that’s the only thing she’s there to do.

Tracks of her years:

1. Into The Groove (Sire single, 1985) : Madonna’s visceral attachement to the dancefloor made exhortational art

Long singled out as the main justification for Madonna’s acting career, screwball thriller Desperately Seeking Susan is closely bonded with its soundtrack hit. If Susan Seidelman’s film catapitalised on its star’s natural charms (“an indolent, trampy goddess,” said Pauline Kael), Into The Groove also encapsulated Madonna’s big-city, club-kid sexuality. Less coyly titillating than Like A Virgin yet still a world away from the explicit show-and-tell of the Sex book and Erotica album, the single’s disco insistence hints at sultry yet ungroomed New York bohemia. Scenes from the film were shot in Danceteria, and Into The Groove’s synth lines seem to reach for the atmosphere of the club where Madonna played her first show, promising music as revelation, dancing as freedom.

Written on an Avenue B fire escape while watching “a gorgeous Puerto Rican boy” opposite – the perfect Madonna back story – it combines that Rear Window-style voyeurism (“at night I lock the doors where no one else can see”) with a hungry desire for contact: “Tonight, I wanna dance with someone else.” She would strip away that mystique in the ’90s, but on Into The Groove she’s the kind of free-spirit who might well use a public toilet’s hand-dryer to dry her armpits; and a potent advocate for the dancefloor that made her.

2. Live To Tell (from true Blue, 1986) : Epic, bruised, mysterious – Madonna parlays childhood pain into her first tour de force

Before Live To Tell, Madonna had ambition, style and brace of hits but not the mystique or emotional weight necessary for the staying power she craved. Enter new musical director Patrick Leonard with a dramatic instrumental he had composed, unsuccessfully, for teen drama, Fire With Fire. Leonard’s shadowy grandeur elicited from Madonna the first glimpse of the complicated woman she was rather than the bulletproof icon she aspired to be.

Live To Tell allows Madonna to slow down and be vulnerable, especially when it almost stops halfway through dwindling to a hold-your-breath synth drone before her unexpected confession, “If I ran away. I’d never have the strength to go very far.” But her lyric isn’t exactly confessional, it’s a promise of candour postponed, revealing only that she has something to reveal, veiling the figures of her dead mother and disapproving father in the teasing language of secrets and lies. Towering over both the album (True Blue) and movie (At Close Range) that featured it, and startling in concert (in 2006 she controversially sang it from a mirrored crucifix). Live To Tell exposed a side of Madonna that she’s perhaps not explored enough: strong enough to admit weakness, confortable with mystery and uncertainty, magnificently alone.

3. Mer Girl (from Ray Of Light, 1998) : A ghostly psychodrama in which the bereaved daughter becomes the Immaterial Girl

From the eerie, glitchy opening to its devastating closing lines – “I smelled her burning flesh / Her rotting bones / Her decay…” Mer Girl is a stunning collision of Madonna’s personal history and musical inspiration. Digging deep into childhood grief and the memory of her mother, she harnesses producer William Orbit to build a trancelike elegy out of electronic chill and silence. In an scenario in which she is buried alive, the singer realises that by choosing fame she has in fact been running away from the terror of her mother’s death.

When Madonna first met Orbit in the ’90s she had just given birth to her daughter and was transformed by motherhood, exploring spiritual themes and taking creative risks. Orbit helped push her another step further, culminating in this unprecedentedly raw, emotional performance – a fitting end to the epic Ray Of Light album, already home to Frozen’s witchy soundscape of hardcore breaks and Egyptian melody and the apocalyptic Drowned World / Substitute For Love. The album won four Grammys, and re-established Madonna’s musical credibility – the perfect storm.

4. What It Feels Like For A Girl (from Music, 2000) : Pointy-bra feminism wrapped in “sexual gothic strangeness”

Like a one-woman enigma particle or a particularly fascinating species of moth, Madonna fulled a thousand academic thesis in the ’90s, though few could agree as to whether her fondness for talking about sex and gender constituted bold, third wave feminism or just a winning combination of brassneck and great abs. By the turn of the millennium she had entered her more genteel ‘English’ phase, married director Guy Ritchie and was pregnant with their son Rocco while recording Music, from where the song comes.

British producer Guy Sigsworth sent her a rough sketch of the gently trancey track complete with a sample of Charlotte Gainsbourg from the film of The Cement Garden, dressing her younger brother as a girl, to the distaste of their older brother. It’s sexual gothic strangeness (“Secretly you’d love to know what it’s like, wouldn’t you?” asks Gainsbourg) and evisceration of double standards (“For a boy to look like a girl is degrading / ‘Cos you think that being a girl is degrading”) was right up Madonna’s street, but rather than ironic re-reappropriation or hence rejection there’s a heartfelt sadness to this mother of a then four year old daughter’s account of the way young girls grow up sublimated by gender expectation. “When you open up your mouth to speak / Could you be a little weak?”

5. Hung Up (from Confessions On A Dance Floor, 2005) : Madonna reboots disco, shows the way for Daft Punk et al

Following underwhelming response to 2003’s American Life, madonna sought a rebrenchment of values. In her case back to basics meant New York at the height of Danceteria, when a new $10 pill called ecstasy mutated the beat into a soft, synthetic pulse. But for Madonna’s flashback to restore her to supremacy, it would also need to work as state-of-the-art pop in 2005. Once those conditions had been laid down, only one collaborator was up to the job, Stuart Price (aka Jacques Lu Cont from Les Rhythmes Digitales) knew where Madonna had come from and where she needed to go.

Early in the sessions for Confessions On A Dance Floor, Price “borrowed” the “tick tock” vocal/clock combo that ushered in his remix of Gwen Stefani’s What You’re Waiting For and grafted in into a lyrics that Madonna had written. But Hung Up’s stumbling block was the sample of Abba’s Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) that sat at the very centre of the song.With just one exception (The Fugees’ Rumble In The Jungle), Abba had never consented to the use of a sample.

In the event, a handwritten letter from Madonna and an agreement cede 50 per cent of the royalties of Hung Up sealed the deal.

Presumably, the Abba guys were impressed. Relocated to the chorus of Madonna’s song, the semple is better integrated than its original home. Together with a sublime vocal of unsated longing, Hung Up proved that there was a way to celebrate disco’s past while sounding utterly contemporary. Daft Punk were listening.


Madonna Interview : Arena (Jan/Feb 1999)


Madonna - Arena / January-February 1999

And Still I Rise – A meeting with Madonna : The Last Pop Giant On Earth

On a Sunday afternoon in October Madonna leaves her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and stands in the street. It is unseasonably warm – T-shirt weather in fall – and she has, she thinks, never been happier than the day before when she celebrated her daughter’s second birthday by holding a party at which a group of teenage Insian girls performed traditional dance. She approves of dance as an element in her daughter’s development; it encourages her to be creative, expressive, free. Anyway, to cut a long story short, she has lent her car to the indian girls to get them to the airport. She wants them to be taken care of.

Which is why she is standing in the street trying to hail a cab. The minutes tick by and she looks at her watch. She doesn’t like being late for appointments, she’s insistent on that: act professionally, do your job, even the bits you don’t especially like. Cabs come by, but only with passengers in the back. Even if you’re Madonna, and everyone knows your face as well as you do yourself, sometimes a beacon of yellow light just doesn’t come over the horizon. Imagine! The Most Famous Woman In The World, The Last Pop Giant On Earth, forlornly standing at the kerb waiting for her luck to change. The minutes tick by and, goddamit, there’s no cab in sight. The warm weather means there are a lot of people on the street and – Ohmygod! Isn’t that Madonna?! – her famous person’s disguise of black sunglasses wears thin. She’s rumbled. In the quarter-hour she’s on the street she is accosted by maybe 20 people. She loses count. Still no cab. She’d like to run. She’s been running all her life, these days mostly from what she calls her ‘demons’.

For years she ran from a middle-class, Middle-American upbringing in search of fame, chased it relentlessly and now, aged 40, she can’t get away, it defines her, possesses her. But she hatches plots and schemes to escape its clutches, to operate in a private space, finds way to work some much needed freedom. She is, if nothing else, her own woman.

The cavalry arrives. She jumps in and the car takes her off downtown. Maybe the driver recognizes her, maybe he doesn’t, this woman who has engineered herself so intensely through constant purposeful intervention. But it hardly matters, she is a person that we all think we know so intimately, so excessively – nakedly even – that we think that maybe there;s nothing else to know, no need for further familiarity. Madonna knows better than this, she knows that we hardly know her at all.

‘I ran to the lakes / And up to the hill / I ran and I ran / I’m looking there still / And I smelt her burning flesh… / Her decay / I ran and I ran / I’m still running today’ from ‘Mer Girl’ by Madonna


Madonna - Arena / January-February 1999

Madonna: For me [the] running is running from the idea of death, facing my own demons, facing my mother’s death and dealing with… whatever. People get obsessed by the idea of fame and being acknowledged by people and having approval and all these things for any number of mostly unhealthy reasons. So if you do start to better yourself you have to figure that one out – why? What is it that I’m looking for ultimately? What is it that I want? Why am I here? And so the running is a symbolic running really, from the truth of not wanting to face myself. Running from fear, running from being alone, running from being abandoned. All of these things.

Isn’t the only reason you’re now confronting these kind of existential questions because you’re succesful and materially fulfilled?

Madonna: But the things I’m thinking about are deep and profound. [They’re] not easy things to think about. In fact it’s quite the reverse. What I was thinking about and doing was much simpler, you know? To really, really try to figure things out, to go deep and examine myself and really say ‘OK, why am I here? Why is anyone here? What is my purpose?’ There’s nothing easy about it.

Why are we here?

Madonna: [laughs] I don’t think that’s something anyone can tell another person. Do you know what I mean? Because everyone is here for a different reason, but I don’t think we’re put on this earth just to work hard, earn a lot of money and die.

What is the purpose of Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone and her costumed, carnival pop life? This is a question she is currently in the process (as she is most likely to describe it) of trying to fathom, 16 years on from her first success in the New York clubs and a belt that read ‘Boy Toy’. To be sure Madonna is alone. There’s no one else left. The pantheon of Eighties pop stars who could rock a stadium from Rome to Rio has been sacked, its false idols collapsed or worn down by time. Madonna, the first woman to fill a stadium, knows this, although she tries not to think about it too much, tries to keep moving, and has been vindicated – 1998 has been a good year for her. She has released an album, Ray Of Light, which was enthusiastically received by press and public alike, the single ‘Ray Of Light’ swept the board at the MTV Video Music Awards, and she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from music channel VH1, although she picks awards up for just getting out of bed these days. Ray Of Light, which has now sold over eight million copies worldwide, saw her team up with English producer William Orbit to create fluid soundscapes that provide a lush backdrop and rhythmic mantra to what is lyrically a rawer, more vulnerable Madonna. ‘I hadn’t worked with her before,’ says Orbit. ‘But Ray Of Light was clearly very personal. She was really laying it bare.’

The opening line of the album ‘I traded fame for love’ suggests that she now has a more intricate relationship with her fame than ever before, although to speak of fame to Madonna is like asking someone who has lived with a condition for so long to see themselves anew. When asked about it she slips into the impersonal, as if fame were a universal experience, something we have all undergone.


Madonna - Arena / January-February 1999

‘Fame does a funny thing to you,’ she says. ‘Everyone thinks that they know you. Perfect strangers coming up to you and asking very personal things and touching you and taking liberties and asking you for thing. And if you weren’t famous then people would have too good manners to actually do those kind of things. Even though everyone’s paying attention to you, actually they don’t know you at all, which you feel just kind of exaggerates everything.’

Maybe this is modesty, shying away from the funereal toll of the subjective pronoun through defence. maybe it’s more than that – a separation of the person who brushes her teeth and has a daily disco with her daughter from the pop Frankenstein that she has created. Maybe it’s the way a middle-class girl from Michigan who took New York before conquering the world copes by putting some distance between the person she still is (or at least the person she feels she is) and the person she always wanted to be. Like many, she thought that fame would make her complete, furnish her as whole. What she discovered was that performing on a stage in front of 100,000 hysterical people can be as lonely as anything you can imagine.

She has been driven at speed through the Place de l’Alma underpass in Paris where Diana’s car crashed, has been pursued by paparazzi through the gloomy expense. There were mutterings when she was staying in London last March that photographers tried to flush her out of her hotel by setting off a fire alarm, nevertheless she concedes that the press, particularly in London, has given her a bit more room since Diana’s death and dismisses any suggestion that the video to her single ‘Substitute For Love’ , in which she is hounded by photographers in London, is in any way a reference to Diana’s death. ‘I was kind of confused and bewildered that people were drawing those kind of comparisons because that’s my life. I get chased by paparazzi to, and why people said I was trying to imitate her I don’t know. It really was like a night in the life of me.’

I ask her how it feels, now that Diana is dead, to be the most recognizable female face on the planet.

‘Really?’ she says. It’s odd that she appears not to have thought about this before, to have prepared a stock answer for a not unsurprising question. She stares into space for a few seconds as if trying yo think of someone else more famous. Really famous. Madonna famous. ‘It just seems so absurd,’ she says, eventually and not unkindly. ‘Anyway, it’s pretty strange thing to sit and think about: “I’m the most famous woman in the world.”‘

Maybe not; not if you’re Madonna. Fame is the defining aspect of her life – more than her music, or style, or movies she will be remembered for being one of the most relentlessly self-realized people of the century. Along with Monroe and Ali, Madonna will be remembered for defining the times by inventing and changing and promoting herself and ambition and, in so doing providing us with a way of understanding ourselves and remembering what we used to dance to, who we used to be.

Madonna - Arena / January-February 1999

Do you think about your own death?

Madonna: All the time.


Madonna: Why not?

Because it’s morbid and might depress you.

Madonna: It depends on how you look at it. If you start practising yoga the whole idea is that you learn detachment and ultimately this is preparation for your death, and so you can’t help but thinking about death. There are actual positions in yoga that activate a feeling in you that supposedly – and this is based in ancient Vedic text – is very similar to the fear that you experience when you’re facing your death. And the idea is to bring yourself closer and closer to that feeling and actually make yourself really comfortable with it.

So the idea is not to fear death…

Madonna: Yeah, exactly. Which I still do. But I’m more comfortable with the idea of thinking about it. I mean, I grew up… [this seems a little difficult for her, she halts slightly]… I grew up incredibly fearful of death and obsessed with it because my mother died when I was so young, so I was very fixated on the idea.

How would you like to die?

Madonna: Really. I’d like to die ready.

Famously, Madonna smells nice. She first appears from the gloom of the concrete-and-steel hotel lobby, her face glowing pale. She wears a black ribbed jumper, loose trousers, black-wedged Spice Girls shoes. She is petite – even the Most Famous Woman In The World is smaller than you thought! – frailer even, although the body is athletic, all business. The shoulders are square, the walk, rangy and loose-hipped. The walk of an athlete. We sit down and mmmmm! – doesn’t she smell good? We sit in a circular room lined with padded faux leather. Perched on a stool Madonna leans against the wall. The lights are dimmed and the air conditioning is on too high. The room is separated from the rest of the lobby by a velvet rope. (Madonna spends more time than she would perhaps like in private nooks and dens and fuselages that you and I will never see.)

The face is fragile. It’s not conventionally beautiful, but unexpectedly beautiful, like a painting that starts to reveal itself the more you look at it. She looks at you sometimes, and although you’ve seen the face a thousand – no, many more – times before there is much about it that you haven’t taken in. The greenness of her eyes, for instance, which contrast dramatically with her pale face. She looks better with dark- or honey-coloured hair than she did in her peroxide days when it seemed she would do anything to shoehorn herself into the vestiges of fuck-me pop stardom.

She knows that all the things that you have read about her are mostly false. What is true is that Ray Of Light affirms the belief that she’s at her best when she’s riding the prevailing cultural mood, when she is in harmony rather than discordant, truculent troubled, as she seemed to be at the start of this decade when she reached a personal law after releasing Erotica, publishing Sex, and suffering poor reviews for the Movie Body Of Evidence during 1992. She is not the kind of person to let things creep up slowly upon her, so we must deduce that Sex was an attempt of a kind to engage us in some kind of discourse.

‘I see a lot of things I did in my Sex book now in advertising and I think, well, I was happy to get the shit kicked out of me so that you guys could have this freedom.’ she says, laughing long and hard.

There was a part of you that wanted to provoke?

‘Yeah, absolutely/’

Madonna - Arena / January-February 1999

Why? Because you wanted to change things? Because you felt that America needed it?

‘Because I was dealing with my own demons.’ she says. ‘Because I couldn’t deal with the fact that people were constantly saying, “Oh, she’s sext and she’s this and that, but she doesn’t have any talent.” And it really irked me that you couldn’t be a, you know, sexually provocative creature and intelligent at the same time. So I went to the extreme and pushed the envelope to kind of prove to myself more than anything that that was bullshit.’

And you think that you achieved that?

‘Yeah. Uh huh.’

Do you feel like you’ve changed things for women?

‘Yeah. I sort of lived out a lot of things that they wanted to do,’ she says. ‘ You have to go through a process. I sort of grew up in public. I went through a whole period of saying, “Fuck you, I will wear what I want to wear and act in a way I want to act and I will grab my crotch if I want to and I will say fuck on TV and I will do all the things that men are allowed to do and you’re just going to have to deal with it.” And that was me trying to figure things out, because ultimately a lot of women are very different, and you don’t have to act like a slovenly pig [laughs] to get respect. But you do have to go through things. I grew up in a very repressed home, in a very strict kind of Puritan family environment and, in a way, America is that way too. So, you know, you have to get to the other side and everyone has to go through their form of rebellion to figure out that they didn’t actually have to do so much kicking and flailing.’

Do you think that you provoke such a string reaction because America doesn’t like the idea of a woman being sexually liberated?

‘Or anyone being liberated. I mean look at what they’ve done to President Clinton. [She takes on a stern English voice] We do not have sex in America.’

Not with interns.

‘Not with cigars.’

She is famous for having sex. With men, with women, with herself. She has sex with the famous, and people become famous for having sex with her, but the fact remains that she cannot have sex with anyone more famous than her. Not anymore. Mostly she cannot meet anyone who has not seen her naked. She practices yoga for two hours a day and doesn’t eat lunch but returns phone calls instead. She has revealed herself to us intimately in a book and in the movies, but rarely in interviews. To read interviews with Madonna is to encounter a set of different women, all of them smart and talented, but some waspish, other compliant; some warm, other distant. She is bored easily and likes to be active. Madonna likes to do things and some of these things get her into trouble of a kind. At times she has offered us hope and a belief in the power of self-creation and at others she reminds us that getting what you want, arriving at a place of your own conception, can offer as bleak a vista as any.

She is wary of being misunderstood, even though she talks eloquently and at length and favours explanation over occlusion. She changes her opinions just like normal folk, and maybe just because she might have heard a question before. She uses a lot of British vernacular, including the word ‘bollocks’, and is the only American who can say the word ‘wanker’ without making a fool of herself. She looks like a woman of 40, which is just fine, because this is her age and she is The Last Pop Giant On Earth. She has never known the zero-degree freeze of failure.

But she does know what it is to feel alone, to feel pain. And having a child has both alleviated and exacerbated this. We talk about mortality and she says: ‘I was thinking about that the other day. I was carrying my daughter to bed, and I just thought some day she’s going to be a very old woman and someone’s going to be carrying her. And the thought just devastated me.’

Listening to taped of our conversation over the following weeks I am struck by the number of time she yolks intimacy and death.

She has a reputation for control, or wanting to control, although I suspect that much of this is down to the fact that she is powerful woman and women are not allowed to be powerful unless they are also perceived to be manipulative. Men often fear her. She had not be sanctified like a Diana, Jackie or a Marilyn., but then she is no victim and is big enough to make her own errors, of which there has been more than one. Clearly there are parts of her life, namely her work, over which she still insists on exerting almost total mastery, but there are other areas where she feels freer. We talk about the song ‘The Power Of Good Bye’.

‘It’s about not wasting so much energy,’ she says. ‘It’s really about accepting [things] and the freedom that it gives you. I did waste a lot of time trying to hold on things and control things. The song is also about facing death because ending a relationship is a kind of death – that’s why it’s so hard to break up with people. If you become emotionally intertwined with someone else it is a kind of small death in a way.

‘So, you know, it all leads to the same place – fear of the unknown, fear of letting go, facing your own death. All of that is connected to the idea that life does go on and the reason that people don’t want to let go of people or things is because they see everything as finite. But, in fact, I don’t believe that is true. And if you can embrace that then saying goodbye to things can be very empowering.’

In her answers he uses the language of self-help a great deal, talking of ‘empowerment’, ‘the growing process’, and ‘the next place’. She is clear that music is central to her own ‘development’ and throws her guard up sharply when it’s suggested that the fickle nature of pop music might not be a place for a grown woman.

‘Am I a grown woman?’ she asks.

You’ve turned 40, so society would say you’ve grown up.

‘So? That’s bourgeois society. I’m not interested in that.’

So you’re going to continue to do everything on your own terms.

‘Why not? I mean the thing is I do think that what I do is art. And does an artist, does the creative, you know, mind turn off at 40? Did Picasso stop painting at 40, youknowadimean?’

Are you still going to be having number one records when you’re 50? 60?

‘I don’t know. But, you see, that’s not how I define myself.’

Have you lived the best life you could have had?

‘Yes,’ she says without equivocation, without a doubt.

Her life, its actions and meaning has been the subject of much conjecture that she will never know or care about. From trashy cobbled-together supermarket biographies to a volume dedicated solely to dreams about her, there is much to read if you wish to experience the full gamut of opinion. The internet makes scary reading. (‘Hey Madonna whats up [sic]… I’m not some freako that wants to stick a dildo up your ass or something. I’m a little Asian girl that would love to chill with you some time,’ is just one gem.) Of little greater worth is the furious debate conducted by feminist academics as to the effect she had had upon womankind…

Once, her life was private.

Madonna was born in Bay City, Michigan, the eldest of eight children. Her father, Tony, was an engineer at Chrysler, her mother, whose name she was given, a housewife. Later the family was to move south to Pontiac where she shared a room with two sisters. As a girl Madonna spent her summers working in her father’s vegetable garden weeding and spraying insecticide, or she was sent to her grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania where she would be expected to work on the house and garden. The regime was rooted in instilling a work ethic: church before school, housework that was assigned by her dad’s chore chart, and no TV. (This, incidentally, is her top tip for successful parenthood: no TV.) Madonna was expected to defrost the freezer, wash the dishes, baby sit, vacuum. She was a voracious reader and loved the stories her mother told her about a garden involving vegetables and a rabbit.

The family was devoutly Catholic. On Good Friday her mother would place a purple cloth over all the religious pictures and statues in the house. This was before she fell ill with breast cancer, which would take her life when Madonna was six. Like many children who lose parent, Madonna expected her mother to return. But nobody talked about it. For years it seemed that way. Three years later her father married again, this time to the family housekeeper whom Madonna never acknowledged as a mother.

She learned to dance to get out of the piano lessons that her father insisted the children took. ‘I loathed sitting still,’ she says. ‘[Dancing] gave me a sense of belonging. I was very derailed by my mother’s death and I never really felt I fitted in very much at school and things like that. When I started to dance it meant that I was good at something. It made me feel special, so it helped my confidence.’

Like many provincial teenagers she knew that she would leave for the big city as quickly as she could. She says that she knew she wanted to leave Michigan from the age of five. She lasted one term at her home-state university on a dance scholarship. Her heart wasn’t in it. Even though she’d never visited, there was really only one place for her: New York, the true home of the ambitious.

She arrived, in her late teens, at La Guardia airport and took a taxi to Times Square. She had no money or connections and lived hand to mouth, eventually settling in a tenement on the Lower East Side at 4th and Avenue B. Every weekend she went clubbing in search of A&R personnel and DJs who might be able to assist her career. She recalls dancing to ‘Don’t You Want Me’ by the Human League at New York’s famous Danceteria club.

‘I didn’t know what I was going to become,’ she says when asked if it ever crossed her mind that she might fail, ‘but I knew that I was good at what I did. When I came to New York I wanted to be a dancer and I had an enormous amount of confidence in that area.’ Her voice hardens a little. ‘I didn’t have any choice because I wasn’t going back to Michigan. So, for me, there was just no way that I was leaving. I was just going to stay in New York and learn how to survive. How that manifested itself I didn’t know.’

Enamoured by New York nightlife, she met people who could help her career and befriended influential DJ Mark Kamins who, after being impressed by a cassette of her music, produced the singles ‘Everybody’ and ‘Burning Up’ which brought Madonna her first success in the dance charts. On the strength of this she was signed to Sire records and released ‘Holiday’ which was produced by Jellybean Benitez and hit the top spot in the US dance charts before crossing over to become a worldwide hit in 1983. When she first arrived in the public realm, she seemed like nothing more than a cute little pop missile of the month. This was not the case. At 25, she was an adult, which perhaps partly explains the longevity of her career: she had fought, struggled and experienced much before tasting success. This was no overnight thing, no teen sensation.

With her first royalty cheque she bought a synthesizer and a bike which she had to carry up all six flights to her new apartment, a loft on Broome and West Broadway. Deep down she also carried much resentment about her family, was often unhappy and relied greatly on music, which she had written was ‘a vehicle for transcending misery (the story of my life)’ to get her through thin times. Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ meant a great deal to her. Yet, within five years, she had made two of the definitive pop albums of the decade – True Blue in 1986, and Like A Prayer in 1989 – creating a world of opposites and attraction, the plus and minis, the virgin and whore, which sparked a change of electricity that ran up and down the spine of pop culture. She understood the power of image on a way that only Michael jackson had done before, starring in elaborate theatrical videos that introduced her to a global market via TV. In 1989 her video for ‘Like a Prayer’ was censured by the Vatican, but no matter, she was off and running, working like a bastard, touring, recording, acting. This is the story of her life: she believes that the important things must be earned, must be learned.

She has never stopped and talks about needing to make another album, going back on the road again. Her work has been her passion even though she has realized she might never get the recognition from her father that she once craved.

His favorite female artist is Celine Dion.

Still, she has dreams. She says she dreams about all kinds of things, works out her demons (that phrase again) dreaming about her past, dreaming about her daughter. She dreams of those who make a strong impression on her and dreamed of Sharon Stone, of Courtney Love. recently she went to see some musicians playing ancient instruments. One of them played a device that was shaped like a gourd, with three strings on it. beneath there were 32 minute strings which resonated when a bow was drawn across it. ‘He was sitting in the lotus position and I was completely fascinated by him,’ she says. ‘There was something that looked really fragile about him, like he was going to kick the bucket any moment, but also something really magical and powerful. He seemed otherworldly to me. He was completely detached from everyone in the room and all the other musicians.’

That night Madonna had a dream. She dreamt that the man could fly. ‘I want you to fly,’ she said to him. ‘I know you can fly, and I want you to show me.’

The man was irritated by the request. He didn’t want to have to prove his powers. he wanted Madonna to have faith. But Madonna wanted to see him do it and she got her way. The man lifted off the ground hovering above her, flying around.

She believes that dreams are a way of communicating, that when we sleep we ‘plug into some kind of universal memory bank’, that the physical world is only ‘one per cent of what’s actually going on out there’. She tells a story in which she was staying at a friend’s house and had a dream about having to beat rats off. In the morning she discovered that someone else sleeping in the same house had to leave a retreat because of a rat infestation.

‘I am 100 per cent sure that I was visited by someone in my dreams last night,’ she says.


‘I don’t want to talk about it. You know when you do an interview, I don’t want to bring up names. But I think that happens all the time.’ She pauses. ‘And now you’re sure I’m completely bonkers.’

Bonkers, no, although her search for spiritual enlightenment had led her, once again, to be put in the pillory, this time for flirting with panacea merchants and gurus who claim to administer parts of the future as well as a number of different organized religions. She has used Catholic iconography, explored Buddhism and is now studying Kabbala, an ancient Jewish mystical tradition.

‘I subscribe to the school of being incredibly well informed before buying into things,’ she says. ‘I’m not just jumping on a bandwagon going, “Vote for that person”. It’s about experience.’

What do you get from Kabbalah?

‘Looking at my life from a different perspective,’ she says. ‘Studying comparative religions in general, the mystical interpretation of any text is going to be interesting and fascinating and going to have some truth that you can relate to. The whole thing about spirituality is that at the end of the day everyone thinks you’re a wanker and you’ve lost your marbles and trivialises it. The fact is that it’s hard to explain. It is very personal. And, you know, you change your mind all the time to. So, that’s the other thing – I don’t want to commit to anything.’

Which has been the case, in greater or smaller measure in other aspects of her life. She has yet to find an enduring love, although has a daughter and the memory of her mother looms large. In 1985 she married actor Sean Penn while 13 news helicopters hovered above them. By 1989 the marriage was over, and although she has referred to Penn as her ‘one true love’ you suspect that still the most overpowering relationship she has had has been with her own fame.

Maybe she will never see her for what she is, never be able to properly make out what is in her heart, so we choose to interpret her as a woman in cast-iron balls, the girl who asked for everything and got it, and by the same token forever prejudiced her relationship with humankind. Or most of it, for occasionally, she meets people who have no idea who she is. A few weeks before she had gone to watch a performance by a group of Indian musicians and singers. She slipped into the room with no fuss and sat and watched the performance. Afterwards they approached her and asked her who she was, what did she do? The man who had invited Madonna told them she liked to sing. ‘Oh, you’re a singer!’ the musician said. ‘That’s wonderful.’

Her voice quietens a little, when she tells the story, although it is laden with pleasure. “They were just relating to me as a human being,’ she says. ‘And I liked it. It was nice.’

Someone else who relates to Madonna as a human being, specifically a mother, is her daughter Lourdes, who was born by Caesarean section weighing 6lb 9oz in October 1969. Named after the most celebrated Christian healing shrine, Lourdes has offered her mother catharsis of a kind. “The great thing about having children,’ she says, ‘is that for the most part it turns us back into human beings.’ Having a daughter has caused her to think about her own mother’s death, to confront pain she has carried around for a lifetime and write about it explicitly in songs like ‘Mer Girl’.

There’s nothing like having a baby to make your face your own… mortality or immortality or however you want to look at it,’ she says.

When the birth was imminent, photographers stalked out every maternity ward in beverly Hills in pursuit of the $350,000 reward offered for the first shot of the baby. With that in mind, can Madonna offer her daughter a life with a semblance of normality?

‘I think it’s going to be gradual,’ she says. ‘She comes and she watches me rehearse for things, and she watches me on stage, and she watches me shooting things, and she watches me on stage, and she watches me shooting things, and I think she’s very clear that what I do for living very expressive, music has a lot to do with it. She sees what’s going on. So when she sees me on stage she just thinks I’m being silly, which I occasionally am being. So it’s not going to come as big shock when she grows up one day and realises thatI’m an icon, as you say.’

What’s been the most surprising thing about motherhood?

‘How much I could love something,’ she says. ‘That’s been the most incredible… You say that you feel it with other people, with lovers and such, but you just can’t imagine it.’

Lovers and such. If Madonna had as many lovers as catalogued in the press then she would be hard pressed to achieve mush else. What we know is that Lourdes’ father is Carlos Leon, as personal trainer who was 29 when the pair met in Central park. There have, reportedly, been other men since the birth of Lourdes, although Leon, who has seven per cent body fat, remains close to both of them.

Then there is the personal fortune of around $200 million and her successful record label Maverick, set up in April 1992 by Madonna’s ex-manager Freddy DeMann and of which she is enormously proud. According to the contract, Madonna must come up with seven albums, each of which receives an advance of $5 million as well as offering a platform for books, movies and other recording artists. Warner Bros has a 50 per cent stake in the company. There were teething problems. Maverick’s first project was Sex, its first music signing, Proper Grounds, disappeared without a trance, and its attempt to sign Hole got a famous finger from Courtney Love. But in 1994 everything changed when Maverick signed Alanis Morissette whose Jagged Little Pill sold in excess of 25 million copies. And when America woke up to the enormous success of The prodigy it was Maverick who secured the rights to distribute them there. With a long, sharp laugh she says that the main thing she has learned from Maverick is ‘what a pain in the ass artists are’.

Surely not.

‘Oh God. All I think about is: “God, if I was as rude to my record company as these people are to us…” It’s unbelievable.’

I ask how Maverick changed her relationship with Warner Bros. ‘They’re still buggers to me,’ she says. ‘They still treat me like… Ugh! Fahgeddit! I don’t want to even go there! Warner Bros still act like I still have to prove myself. After all the records I’ve sold for them, the success of the label, you have no idea. I mean Guy, my partner and I, we scratch our heads every day, we think they should be kissing our asses.’

She says that at the moment she’s happiest when she’s in London, where she is currently looking for a home. She has sold up in LA after a stalker, Robert Dewey Hoskins threatened to slash her throat and twice broke into her estate. The second time he was shot and wounded by one of Madonna’s bodyguards, and was sent down for ten years last March. Currently she is in New York where she lives near Central Park in the duplex where Warren Beatty famously accused her of not wanting to live off-camera. She has no photos of herself but an art collection, including a Picasso, a Leger and a Basquiat, which she has described as her most prized possession (she dated Basquiat and when they split he demanded she return the paintings he’d given her). It’s at this apartment that William Orbit one day appeared fresh off a plane with a bag of cassettes which he tipped out on the floor and rummaged among to find what might become the sound for her new album. There is also a picture of Muhammad Ali inscribed: ‘To Madonna. We Are The Greatest’.

Strange rumours occasionally surface. My favorite featured a visit last year to a pet psychiatrist when Madonna’s Chihuahua, Chiquita, was acting up. The amazing diagnosis was that the animal had become jealous of her daughter. Madonna does not have a favourite piece of newspaper tittle-tattle, finds most of it ‘tiresome’ and is quietly resentful of the suggestions made in some areas of the media that she was an unsuitable parent when it was announced that she was pregnant. ‘That was annoying,’ she says dryly and in a way that makes you understand the extent to which it pained her.

She does not like to be called a pop star, preferring instead the phrase ‘performing artist’. I suggest that despite the acres of newsprint devoted to her and the best efforts of our telephoto democracy she has survived relatively unscathed. She lets loose a big, breathy laugh and hunches a little. ‘Relatively,’ she says, by way of qualification. ‘Well, I am resilient, I’ll give myself that.’

Why are you [still] doing it?

‘Because I have something to say,’ she replies firmly. ‘It’s a growing process for me. An adventure.’

Ray Of Light suggests that Madonna has regained her understanding of the moment. When her last album, Something To Remember, was released in November 1995, she complained that ‘very little attention gets paid to my music’. And while the collection had its attractions it was clear that this kind of brawny balladeering should be left to the caged imaginations of the Celines, Mariahs and Whitneys. In one album we saw what Madonna, God forbid, might become: a twenty-first-century Barbra Streisand.

It’s not a pretty thought, admittedly, but at least it offers some perspective on Madonna’s core talent: Persistently staying in touch, mirroring and exploiting the fault lines of contemporary culture, in essence staying interested, giving us what we want.

You ask the woman whose life is a work in progress, if she has a motto. ‘Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends,’ she laughs. It’s a line from John Maybury’s biopic of Francis Bacon, Love Is The Devil. It makes her laugh. She says it’s ‘the mutt’s nuts’ which is as good a piece of vernacular as you’re likely to pick up all week. She won’t tell me a joke though, she says she never remembers them. And I don’t tell her a joke. She just won’t get it.

The afternoon has passed and Madonna’s answers are shorter. She is tired of accounting for herself and maybe even a little bored. The voice that we have lived with almost as long as she has, fades with the daylight. She smiles and it occurs to me that while she may sometimes feel lonely, she is never really alone for we measure ourselves against her journey, her extraordinary vault from the humdrum to the universal. And what a life, what a face. She has lived with it and she will surely die with it. But she’s alright with that. She’ll be ready.

© Arena

Madonna Interview : The Advocate (March 2012)


Madonna - The Advocate / March 2012

Nearly 30 years into her reign as the greatest gay icon, Madonna is back in a big way with her new film, W.E., and her first studio album in four years, reminding us why so many adore her.

The temptation to apply layers of meaning to the story Madonna tells in her new film, the cryptically titled W.E., is irresistible.

The pop superstar’s second feature film as a director, W.E. is a tale of two women, two cultures, and two eras. Wallis Simpson was a real-life American socialite of the 1930s who was vilified for falling in love with England’s King Edward VIII; he abdicated the throne to marry the divorcée. Madonna’s movie attempts to reclaim Wallis’s image by turning a polarizing woman often perceived as a villain into a sympathetic figure.

And then there’s Wally Winthrop, the other woman — this one fictional — in New York City in the late 1990s, at a time when Simpson’s jewels and other possessions were being auctioned off for charity. Trapped in an abusive marriage that appeared to be fairy-tale perfect, Wally obsesses over Wallis, her bygone namesake, and turns to her for support.

Like Madonna’s best videos and music, W.E. is a pastiche of eras past and present, with a heavy emphasis on style, fashion, and design. Her presence is clearly felt. More oblique is the connection to Madonna’s own life. The movie depicts Wallis as a dramatically different person than she was in her private, tortured reality. Wally’s fantasy facade, concealing a darker truth, invites comparison to Madonna’s now-dissolved marriage to filmmaker Guy Ritchie and raises the question of whether Madonna feels as vilified as Wallis.

“I was intrigued,” Madonna says of the royals. She had a vague awareness of Wallis but only really got to know her story when she moved to England. “Like Wallis Simpson, I felt like an outsider. I thought, Life is so different here, and I’m used to being a New Yorker, and I have to learn how to drive on the other side of the road. Suddenly, I found myself living out in an English country house and trying to find my way in this world, so I decided to really take it on and do research and find out about English history and learn about the royal family.”

Madonna read every book she could find about Simpson and her time. She became obsessed with the tragic notion that a woman then was only as good as the man she would marry. “The idea of making a choice for love wasn’t really part of their world,” says Madonna. “The fact that they eventually found each other and were willing to jump into this fishbowl of scandal and rile people up, even though Wallis knew, as she says in the film, that she would become the most hated woman in the world” — that’s what captivated Madonna.


Madonna - The Advocate / March 2012

While she doesn’t claim the title “most hated” for herself, she feels a connection to Simpson. “I mean, I certainly don’t engage [with the media] as much as I did,” she says. “When people are writing about you in the beginning and they’re saying nice things, you’re like, ‘Oh!’ You feel this lift of energy. Then they say bad things, and of course, you’re affected by that too.”

Madonna spent a lot of time caring about the bad, but she claims to have moved on. “I don’t really dwell on it anymore. I used to be kind of fixated on it and think, It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair, but it is what it is, and I just have to get on with my life.”

But Madonna’s passion for this topic belies that resolute attitude: “If you are threatened by me as a female or you think I’m doing too much or saying too much or being too much of a provocateur, then no matter how great of a song I write or how amazing of a film I make, you’re not going to allow yourself to enjoy it, because you’re going to be too entrenched in being angry with me or putting me in my place or punishing me.”

Meeting Madonna in person can be a little jarring. For someone so larger-than-life, she’s surprisingly petite. Sitting down and launching into conversation, she is disarmingly engaged, and she slouches a bit, like any mere mortal. But she’s not, of course. A burly man is guarding the door of the suite at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where she has settled in for the afternoon. And she’s dressed eccentrically — black leather fingerless Chanel gloves cover her hands, silver bracelets of varying shapes run up both forearms (and, predictably, a red kabbalah string), and a royal blue asymmetrical shift hugs her taut figure.

Her experience of feeling burned by the press has made her particularly deft at dodging questions, discussing what she wants to discuss. But after a few tangential monologues about duchesses and dowagers, the most famous woman in the world offers a bit of insight into the connection she feels to Wallis Simpson. “It’s intriguing because we are raised to believe in the fairy-tale kind of love, that we are going to be swept off our feet by … you know, in both of our cases, Mr. Right, and our knight in shining armor is going to come along and save us, pick us up, and put us on the back of his beautiful steed, and we’re going to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.” She pauses. “God knows, that doesn’t happen.”

Now she’s on a roll. “There are so many things about her. The fact that she said he left his prison” — Madonna’s talking about King Edward feeling imprisoned by the monarchy — “only to incarcerate me in a prison of my own.” And with that, Madonna answers the question. And doesn’t. “In spite of it all, I think she lived her life in a very dignified manner. And she wasn’t a victim.”


Madonna - The Advocate / March 2012

When Madonna first became famous, almost 30 years ago, she was defined by that very quality: She was no victim.
For the gay men who were there in the beginning, when she was shaking it on the dance floors of New York City, the men who reveled in her early hits, Madonna was the ultimate expression of in-your-face sexuality. She was self-possessed and uninhibited. She dressed up for the party, and she took it all off for the after-party.

Her impact wasn’t limited to gay men. Madonna boldly toyed with transgender imagery on a grand stage: She co-opted the Harlem drag balls for the “Vogue” video, she featured trans people and cross-dressers of all stripes in her banned “Justify My Love” video, and her coffee-table tome, Sex, posited couples in all sorts of configurations. Her high profile are-they-or-aren’t-they friendships with such queer women as Sandra Bernhard, Rosie O’Donnell, and Ingrid Casares as well as her promotion of bisexual artists like Meshell Ndegeocello helped to take queer sensibility into the mainstream.

In the midst of the AIDS crisis, when fear was rampant and gay men were dying at a horrifying rate, Madonna was among the first to take a stand, to say, as she did in the tour documentary Truth or Dare, that it’s OK to be a gay man who is openly sexual.

“That it’s OK to be gay, period,” Madonna says emphatically before launching into an impassioned recounting of her experience of the AIDS onslaught. “I was extremely affected by it. I remember lying on a bed with a friend of mine who was a musician, and he had been diagnosed with this kind of cancer, but nobody knew what it was. He was this beautiful man, and I watched him kind of waste away, and then another gay friend, and then another gay friend, and then another gay friend. They were all artists and all truly special and dear to me.”

In retrospect, Madonna sees that as the moment when her sense of self became entangled with that of gay men. “I saw how people treated them differently,” she says. “I saw the prejudices, and I think probably I got that confused with, intertwined with, you know, maybe things that…ways that people treated me differently.”
As Madonna reinvented herself, gay fans hung on through thick and thin, through Who’s That Girl and Body of Evidence, weathering reported flings with Dennis Rodman and Vanilla Ice. Fans bowed down at the sight of her as Evita and shored up support upon hearing Ray of Light, only to have to endure Swept Away and American Life and that British accent. It’s been a bumpy ride for Madonna fans.

Perhaps Madonna wasn’t the only one to “confuse” her personal treatment with that of gay men. The feeling was mutual. As she exploded in popularity Madonna became identified with the collective gay male sense of self. So when she moved on, devoting less and less time to her gay compatriots, many felt a twinge of abandonment. That’s when bitching about Madonna became the great gay pastime.

“I never left them,” insists Madonna, echoing a lyric from Evita. “When you’re single, you certainly have more time to socialize and hang out with your gay friends, but then you get married and you have a husband and you have children, and your husband wants you to spend time with him. I’m not married anymore, but I have four kids, and I don’t have a lot of time for socializing.” She’s been back in New York for two years, after splitting with Ritchie.
“I hope nobody’s taking that personally. It certainly was not a conscious decision. As it stands, most of my friends in England are gay. But I’m back,” she says, adding reassuringly, “Never fear.”

© The Advocate