“Uuuuuuh, Britney Spears,” says the second businessman. Both men are big and handsome and in their early thirties. “You were wearing that T-shirt”–a picture of Madonna wearing a T-shirt with Britney SPears written on it has run in papers all over the world. “It didn’t explain it in the newspaper.”
Madonna looks at him kindly with her luminous blue eyes. He bobs in front of her in awe, even terror. “Why was I wearing it?” she says. “Why not?”
“It looked very good, actually,” says the businessman. “I think you looked good in it.”
“I love Britney,” says Madonna earnestly, handing over the autograph. “Britney Spears became my talisman for the week”–the week she did Letterman and the show in New York. “I became obsessed with wearing [Britney] T-shirts. I slept in them, as well. It was like I felt it would bring me luck. And it did.”
I sock myself on the head so hard when Madonna says this, I almost knock myself off my chair. Here is a woman who has controlled every aspect of her own career, who has had more hit singles than any singer or band in the history of the world except for Elvis and the Beatles, who has changed her image faster than a harem of New York fashion editors, and she sleeps in Britney Spears T-shirts for good luck! It just bowls me over.
“Who do you think is better-looking,” I say to the two businessmen, “Madonna or Britney?”
“Oh!” shrieks Madonna softly. “Stop!” She turns a lovely pink.
“Shhh!” I say to her. “We got two guys here, and I want to know: Who’s better-looking?”
“We’re different!” says Madonna coyly. “Apples and oranges.”
“No, no,” I say, looking up at the two businessmen, who are practically clinging to one another in nervous excitement. “Who is better-looking? Britney or Madonna?”
“You’re more gorgeous in person,” says the first businessman.
“Oh!” says Madonna, tilting her rather feline eyes up at him and smiling sweetly. “Thank you very much.”
“And you know,” he adds, “we’ve grown up with you.”
Madonna’s smile fades.
“Let me put it this way,” I say quickly, trying to smooth things over, or rather, smooth them under, “If you were on an island and you got to choose between Madonna and Britney Spears, who would you choose?”
For a moment, the second businessman appears to believe I am actually offering him his choice. Then he catches himself and smiles. “Gotta be Madonna,” he says, “absolutely.”
“Can I just say,” Madonna says after the two businessmen, almost mad with glee, leave the room, “that I find it really irritating that everyone beats up on Britney Spears. I want to do nothing but support her and praise her and wish her the best. I mean, she’s eighteen years old! It’s just shocking. I wish I’d had my sh-t together when I was eighteen. I was so gawky and geeky and awkward and unsure of myself. I didn’t have a tan! I didn’t know how to dress! (Now you tell us, after we ran around covered in convent-loads of rosaries.)
“It’s just so different, ” says Madonna, whose Il-Makiage makeup probably costs more than her whole 1983 wardrobe. She sweeps her hand out in a gesture to indicate the world. “It’s a real reflection of society right now.”
“What would happen if you came to New York a little nobody today? Could you make it?”
Madonna gives me a frown like she could eat me without sauce. “Yes,” she says. “I could. Because I’m a survivor.” She grins at herself. “I’m like a cockroach. You just can’t get rid of me.”
After we order two more cosmopolitans, we talk about the azurine lighting in the Blue Bar. Madonna says she loves it and that she hates “supermarket lighting.”