Madonna was perfectly turned out and running nearly an hour late for an interview at her Upper East Side home on Wednesday evening. She looked tense as she apologized. “I’m late for everything now,” she said.
She added that she has been in a rush since December, when a hacker put unfinished songs online from her new album, “Rebel Heart”; a suspect has been indicted in Israel. Madonna’s immediate response was to release the finished, and much improved, versions of six songs for sale; they zoomed into the top 10 worldwide. She also worked frantically to finish the rest of the album, which arrives on Tuesday. It’s at once familiar — full of love, dancing, empowerment, blasphemy and raunch — and up-to-the-minute, made with a huge number of collaborators and tweaked by multiple hands under Madonna’s constant supervision.
“I intended to think about things, choose things more slowly — the whole process,” she said. “Then I got forced into putting everything out, and now I’m trying to catch up with myself.”
She continued: “What started out as an invigorating, life-enhancing, joyous experience evolved into something quite crazy. A strange artistic process, but a sign of the time. We’re all digital, we’re all vulnerable and everything’s instant — so instant. Instant success and instant failure. Instant discovery, instant destruction, instant construction. It’s as splendid and wonderful as it is devastating. Honestly, to me it’s the death of being an artist in many ways.”
We spoke in her sitting room, where a Fernand Léger painting presides from above the fireplace. A large coffee table was neatly stacked with books and folders of photographs that Madonna has been using for research as she works on the screenplay for her next film project, based on the novel “The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.”
Imposing cream-colored couches flanked the coffee table, but Madonna preferred sitting on the floor.
For the interview, she had raced home from a wardrobe fitting for coming performances. “I’m wearing half a costume,” she said. She was dressed in black, with stylishly chunky shoes, diamond-patterned tights, black shorts, a button-fronted T-shirt and a half-length jacket with black feathers sprouting from the shoulders. Her fingernails were black and glittery, and she had little silvery crucifix earrings; a skull-shaped ring was on one finger.
Madonna has been performing the single “Living for Love” on awards shows, wearing a matador outfit and surrounded by bare-chested men outfitted with bulls’ horns. On Feb. 25, she took a dangerous tumble in London at the Brit awards, the British equivalent of the Grammys. A dancer was supposed to pull off her cape, but it was tied too tightly and she was yanked backward onto stairs, suffering whiplash. Seconds later, she got up and kept dancing. “I didn’t feel anything when it happened,” she said. “I just remember falling backward, and I hit the back of my head. But I had so much adrenaline pumping, and I was so taken by surprise that I just was, O.K., I have to keep going. So I just got back onstage, and I just kept going.”
She continued: “If I wasn’t in good shape, I wouldn’t have survived that fall. But I’m strong. I know how to fall — I ride horses. And I have core strength, and I know that saved me. That and my guardian angels. I believe that there’s the physical world and the metaphysical world, and I do believe that they are intertwined — as above, so below. So I think both were at work in the protection of me.”
“Rebel Heart,” like most of Madonna’s albums, spells out its concept directly. Originally she had planned to make an album with two distinct halves, a duality of rebel and heart. “One aspect was going to be a representation of the more rebellious, provocateur side of me,” she said. “And the other side was going to be the more romantic, vulnerable side.” The finished album isn’t divided that way; it hops among moods. In a rarity for Madonna, it also takes a few glances backward. “Veni, Vidi, Vici” builds a triumphant autobiography out of her song titles.