The undisputed heavyweight champ of reinvention, Madonna has consistently created new characters and concepts. She has always been quick to discover new image-making teams, and to develop new looks, never letting the public become used to just one “Madonna”. At the same time, she has consistently poked and provoked society’s moral authorities, asserting her right to promote individual freedom and collective tolerance.
This special issue of Dazed & Confused is a celebration of the spirit of reinvention, letting the images and characters Madonna has created influence our pages. The cover story with Steven Klein was created by Madonna, the rest were created with her blessing. Irony has been Madonna’s shield, her sense of ambiguity her most cunning weapon. We hope this issue adds to her legacy and gives her fans — and detractors — a fresh perspective on the enduring influence that Madonna has had and continues to have on style and British youth culture.
Inside the private office of Madonna’s London home the walls are filled with powerful, personal images she has collected over the years. Splice them all together and they might provide a quirky visual collage of her psychology. Madonna chooses to sit on the couch, wearing blue jeans, a simple shirt over a black bra and natural, understated make-up. Her hair is relaxed and she has an air of studied calm about her. There is no fuss nor pomp nor ceremony. If you were expecting a diva in erotic riding gear and crop, you’ll have to wait until the next tour. If you thought she’d be in kimono and white slippers, then you’ve got the wrong pop star. In these intimate surroundings and with her natural dancer’s grace, she comes across as more youthful and beautiful than when she appears on tour or on the world stage, misshaped and exaggerated by the media’s distorting lens. For her latest album, Madonna has collaborated with chart-busting producers and writing partners Pharrell Williams, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake.
Dazed & Confused: Are they the sexiest producers in the world?
Madonna: In terms of the way they look or the music they make?
(Laughs) Yeah… they’re hot!
Music from the new album plays through crystal-clear Bose speakers wired to Madonna’s laptop. A self-portrait by female art icon Frida Kahlo hangs directly in front — Kahlo looks back, defiant, tough, warrior-like, with a wild, playful monkey around her neck.
“Sticky and sweet,” sings Madonna, the vocals repeating over the swirling beats on the Pharrell-produced opener “Candy Shop”…
“I think Pharrell is a natural musician,” continues Madonna. “I like his inventiveness — he would grab my acoustic guitar, which he couldn’t play, but start playing percussion on it. He would find bottles and start playing them with spoons. He is very inventive in the studio, he’s not precious and I like his lo-fi approach to making music.”
“That suga is raaawww,” raps Madonna
“He is also a little kid and silly… he would come to work, take these Mickey Mouse slippers out of his giant Hermes bag and put them on… (laughing) I don’t feel like he took himself too seriously.”
In a photograph by Helmut Newton, a girl who looks like a Sex-era clone of Madonna sits at the edge of a bed with a gun in her mouth, as if she’s about to blow her head off. “Four Minutes To Save The World”, is an urgent, clarion call of a song. Timbaland’s horns and pulsating, thrumpy funk beats underscore Madonna’s sexy, breathy vocals and the Michael Jackson-like melody sung by Justin. Imagine Superwoman, Batman and Robin entwined in an apocalyptic threesome– this would be the soundtrack. “Save the world”, exclaims Justin at the end of a song loaded with irony and double meaning.
“I can totally relate to Justin as a songwriter,” says Madonna. “We would sit down together and say okay, let’s come up with a concept. What story do we want to tell? We would riff off of each other and play with words. He likes to play with words and the rhythm of words and so do I.”
“See my booty get down,” raps Madonna
And what about Timbaland?
He would seem like he was disappearing from the room, then he would take his headphones off and suddenly blast something on the speakers and give the thumbs up. So he was sort of a silent godfather to the whole project.