Roxane Gay: As an artist, whether it’s in film or music or writing, do you think your work is political?
RG: How so?
M: Because I’m political. I believe in freedom of expression, I don’t believe in censorship. I believe in equal rights for all people. And I believe women should own their sexuality and sexual expression. I don’t believe there’s a certain age where you can’t say and feel and be who you want to be. All you have to do is look at my career—from my Sex book to the songs I’ve written, kissing a black saint in my “Like a Prayer” video, the themes I explored on my Erotica album. As I get older and I get better at writing and expressing myself, then you get into my American Life era, and I start talking about politics and government and how fucked our country’s politics are, and the illusion of fame and Hollywood and the beautiful people.
RG: It’s been almost two weeks since the election. How did you feel in the wake of Donald Trump being elected president of the United States? Were you surprised?
M: On election night I was sitting at a table with my agent, who is also one of my very best friends, and we were truly praying. We were praying. She was on her computer. She’s friends with someone who was working on Hillary [Clinton]’s campaign and was getting blow-by-blow reports, and at one point she was like, “It’s not looking good.” It was just like watching a horror show. And then she was reading from the Quran, and I was reading from the Zohar. We were doing everything: lighting candles, meditating, praying, offering our lives to God forever, if only. I went to sleep, and since that night, I wake up every morning and it’s like when you break up with somebody who has really broken your heart. You wake up and for a second you’re just you, and then you go, “Oh, the person I love more than anything has just broken my heart, and I’m devastated and I’m broken and I have nothing. I’m lost.” That’s how I feel every morning. I wake up and I go, “Wait a second. Donald Trump is the president. It’s not a bad dream. It really happened.” It’s like being dumped by a lover and also being stuck in a nightmare.
RG: What do we do now?
M: I feel like I’m already doing it to a certain degree anyway and have been doing it. But I have to get way more vocal and become a little bit less mysterious. What I find really astonishing is how quiet everybody is in my industry. I mean, nobody in the entertainment business except for maybe a handful of people ever speak out about what’s going on. Nobody takes a political stance or expresses an opinion.
RG: Why do you think that is?
M: They want to maintain a neutral position so they can maintain their popularity. I mean, if you have an opinion and people disagree with you, you might not get a job. You might be blacklisted. You might have fewer followers on Instagram. There are any number of things that would be detrimental to your career. Everyone’s really afraid. Because it doesn’t affect their daily life yet, no one’s doing anything about it.
RG: How do you stay motivated after accomplishing so much?
M: Art keeps me alive. I’ve obviously been devastated or heartbroken all my life, since my mother’s death. I’ve had so many challenges throughout my career, however successful people perceive me to be. The only way I’ve been able to survive the betrayal of lovers, family members, and society is to be able to create as an artist.
RG: What beyond art gives you that kind of drive to keep doing what you do?
M: Wanting to inspire people. Wanting to touch people’s hearts to get them to look at life in a different way. To be a part of evolution, because, for me, it’s either you’re part of creation or you’re part of destruction. It’s inexplicable; it’s like breathing, and I can’t imagine not doing it. That is one of the arguments I would get into with my ex-husband, who used to say to me, “But why do you have to do this again? Why do you have to make another record? Why do you have to go on tour? Why do you have to make a movie?” And I’m like, “Why do I have to explain myself?” I feel like that’s a very sexist thing to say.