ELLE: Are any of the songs on Hard Candy autobiographical?
M: Not consciously or explicitly. When I write, I’m often channeling and collaging from my life without being conscious of it. Then it hits me later. Art imitates life.
ELLE: As a pop star, you have more freedom to create and evolve, I think. Serious art can get heavy and constipated. Paul Valery apparently said, “Everything changes, except the avant-garde.” Discuss.
M: I disagree. Whatever is avant-garde eventually becomes mainstream and changes the norm. Maybe avant-garde music stays the same, but avant-garde visual art and style, that’s what has real influence and inevitably becomes mainstream.
ELLE: Let’s talk about Malawi. I Am Because We Are is truly one of the most harrowing things I’ve seen. Was that intentional?
M: I wanted to tell the truth. Believe me, I took out some of the incredibly harrowing stuff. My goal was to make a film that would serve the interests of the people of Malawi. I think it ends on a hopeful note.
ELLE: There are so many memorable people in the movie. I’m mad for that lady in the floral muumuu who gives the slum tour.
M: Her name is Theresa. She runs a community-based program to get drugs for people with AIDS and to get the orphans – there are one million out of a population of 12 million — into school.
ELLE: Are the Malawians surprised that you are so dressed down and supercasual? Why not give them the whole Madonna treatment? Sequined corsets! Bonjour!
M: They are not thinking about such fripperies. And when I first went there, the Malawians had no idea who I was. It was only when the press showed up that they found out.
ELLE: How much money did you raise at the UN blowout?
Madge and Gucci cohosted a flossy fundraiser at the UN on February 6. It was major. There were so many celebs that I thought I had wandered into Madame Tussaud’s. When Rihanna did “Umbrella.” TomKat got jiggy. The goody bag contained a Guccy Love NY purse.
M: About $5.5 million
ELLE: Mazel tov! I was very impressed that you kissed the auction’s winning bidders, especially during cold and flu season.
M: I’m a bit of a germphobe, but when people are being generous they deserve a hug and a kiss.
ELLE: What’s the next step on your African journey?
M: I’ve planted many seeds. I’m buying land and getting permission to build a girls’ school. The women will play a big role in the future and the rebirth of Malawi.
ELLE: How can ELLE readers get involved?
M: Go to the website, iambecauseweare.com. We have a scholarship fund, a special-needs kids fund. There’s so much to do.
This iteration of Madonna — Mother Theresa Madge — sparks another memory: I saw her at a party in the mid-’80s with her AIDS-stricken artist pal Martin Burgoyne. Martin was blighted with Kaposi’s sarcoma. Back when people were reluctant to be in the same room as someone with this stigmatized disease, Madge stayed with him and held his hand all night; she was wearing a denim jacket that he had painted.
The plight of the people of Malawi and its resonance with the dark days of the AIDS epidemic have made us both a little sad. The mood shifts when we embark on a jolly discussion of the comparative merits of the C-word – yes, the one that Jane Fonda recently used on the Today show. Madonna the deity has not lost her bawdy sense of fun. Much of what was said is unprintable, but here are the general conclusions: Madge and I are big fans of the word. We are, however, both sensitive to the fact that, while the Brits love to sling it around like an okl feather boa, it must be used with infinite caution on this side of the Atlantic.
Having clarified our position on this important issue, we shake hands and bid each other farewell. As I said, it was a surreal kind of day.
© ELLE Magazine