Catered to, deferred to, and worshiped as she is at this vital music-industry gathering, Madonna, it is nevertheless clear, is no longer part of MTV’s youthquake of stars. Not that she is passe, but although arguably the most Famous Female entertainment figure on the planet, neither is she au courrant. Yet her stardom is daunting, impressive, crushing – it is adult stardom on a grand and alienating scale. Having come a long way from the slightly plump girl who rolled around onstage singing “Like a Virgin” at the very first Music Video Awards, she is today, in the words of Norman Mailer, “the greatest perlorming artist of her time” And if her albums no longer sell as they once did — the inevitable aging of any career – she is still an impressive hit maker: Take a Bow was number one for a sensational seven weeks!
And her record label, Maverick, now develops hot young performers like Alanis Morissette and Candlebox.
Madonna herself has remarked that she is her own experiment, her own work of art – a woman who has grown, improved, transformed. And although she has survived a tumultuous, sometimes violent marriage to actor Sean Penn as well as an incongruous, much-gossiped—about affair with her Dick Tracy director, Warren Beatty and while she denounces hypocrisy, defends the universal right to love, reviles the abuse of women, celebrates her own sexuality, and invites us to fantasize with her – it is her work that creates news and controversy, not her private life.
In truth, Madonna is too big for MTV now. Yet wisely, she doesn’t let it show as she is being led through the labyrinth of underground passages below Radio City Music Hall, soon to be offered up to MTV’s Kurt Loder – who, laconic though he may be, will nonetheless seem momentarily startled when Madonna says she’ll probably put her new MTV award “in the closet” (catching his frown, however, she’ll slyly amend herself: “In my closet of cherished things, Kurt”).
I tell her how great she looks, whereupon she responds, “Thanks, I did this hair for you. Is it big enough?” We laugh and do ten minutes on hairpieces, and then Madonna says, “I’m starting to get nervous. I leave for London very soon to record the Evita soundtrack, I’m waiting for something awful to happen to f—- it all up. And I also have to record three songs for the new album [a ballad retrospective titled Something to Remember]. I’m suffering severe sleep deprivation. I feel like Judy Garland in her later phase?
“Actually. I’m enjoying the work, as usual, I’m enjoying the journey Evita is taking me on. My vocal coach. for example, is very tough and makes me cry, but she’s helped me a lot. So it’s all a learning experience. Of course, I hope the film is brilliant and a hit and I live up to my own expectations, but whatever the outcome. I know I won’t regret it.”
I ask if she’s going to have more control on Evita than she’s had on films in the past. Madonna looks at me as if I’m hanging upside-down from the ceiling. “You must be kidding,” she says. “Until I’ve had more success in films, there’s little I can control. I can suggest a certain cinematographer. I can try to choose wisely as far as hair and makeup are concerned. But film is a dircctor’s medium. In other words: Try not to work with a director who hates women. In my case, that usually means I’ll he photographed badly and end up dead in the end.”
Is she referring to her work in Body of Evidence and Dangerous Game? Madonna smiles thinly and toys with her hair: “Well, I ended up dead as dead can he in both films… Look, it will be a cold day in hell before any director gives me any consideration on something as important as, let’s say, the final cut. I’ll only experience that sort of control when I direct and produce my own movies.”
Madonna says there were two different endings for Body of Evidence, one in which she lives and one in which she dies: “Of course, they went for the misogynistic ending, where I die. The same thing happened with Dangerous Game. Abel Ferrara cut it so my character is killed. But originally, it had an upbeat ending: she prevails over the abusive relationship. But, you know, it’s in the past. I learned from both experiences. And I survived. I mean, if I could survive what was said about me after Body of Evidence and my Sex book… “
Does she pay attention to the media during down times? “In what way? If you mean do I sit at home wishing I’d done it all differently so they’d love me – no. But I do pay attention to the sexism and the cruelty and negativity of it. That fascinates me. It’s astonishing. It’s so insidious, no matter how much you try to rise above it.”
Madonna is on a roll, her normally pale skin flushed. But, I ask, don’t men in the public eye get trashed just as much as women?
“Ha! Oh please!” she explodes, the hairpieces flying around her head like Medusa’s snaky locks, her Gucci heels drumming hard on the cement floor. “Hugh Grant thinks he had it tough? That was nothing. Just imagine if I’d been arrested for hiring a male hustler. I’d he serving time, no doubt in my mind.”
At this dramatic high point, as if on cue, Madonna’s press rep, Liz Rosenberg, appears at the door:
“Have you gotten enough? She’s got to go in ten minutes.”
Madonna laughs. “Ten minutes? We haven’t even talked about orgasms yet.” Rosenberg laughs too: “Okay, ten more minutes for orgasms.”
Madonna strikes a pose, sitting poised on the edge of her chair, hands clasped demurely in her lap. She looks adorable, impish, elfin – anything but the big sex bomb she’s supposed to be. “All right now,” she says in at no-nonsense schoolmistress tone. “let me have those searching questions – give them to me by subject, and I’ll try to be brief but colorful.”