Have you ever witnessed a Madonna moment?
Allow me to share one with you.
It begins with the words “nice boots.” Those are the first words Madonna says to me when we meet. The next words are “I approve,” letting me know that we are now in her world, where a strict code of standards and practices applies.
But this is not the Madonna moment. She is just, in her own way, being fun and friendly.
The Madonna moment comes two hours later, when she changes into knee-high silver boots for a television performance.
As she walks past, she looks down her nose at me and says, “Who’s got the better boots now?”
This is a Madonna moment.
One can’t help but wonder sometimes how this boy-crazy outcast from Michigan ended up selling some 250 million records worldwide. But watch her closely for a while, and that answer will come in a Madonna moment, when, despite the ego-shedding lessons of Kabbalah, her competitive nature emerges.
She is probably a good person at heart. And if not, she’s at least struggling to be good. But there’s a tripwire in her head, and when it’s crossed, you understand that it’s no accident she became one of the most famous women in the world and has retained that title for more than twenty years.
There are Madonna moments in her tour documentaries, when she refers to herself as “the boss” and “the queen” when talking with her crew and dancers. And there was a golden Madonna moment on Late Night With David Letterman in October, when Letterman offered her the smaller of two horses to ride. Mistake.
“I don’t want a tiny one,” she snapped. “I want a big one. I want the prettiest one. Well.! want the best horse.”
Madonna moments arc not bad things. They are the telltale signs of a woman who believes she deserves the best the world has to offer – the best boots, the best horse, the best career, the best stage show, the best seat on the plane. For the most part, thanks to her confidence, intelligence and single-minded work ethic, she’s gotten it.
That is, until she had her first experience with mortality a few months ago. In a well-reported incident, Madonna attempted to ride an unfamiliar horse at Ashcombe, the eighteenth-century estate in western England that she shares with her husband, director Guy Ritchie. She fell from the horse, breaking eight of her bones. It was the first time she’d ever broken a bone and a wake-up call to her own vulnerability.
“It was the most painful thing that ever happened to me in my life, but it was a great learning experience,” she says. She is sitting on a private plane that is taking off from a Royal Air Force base south of London. Its destination is Germany, where the members of Green Day will soon experience a Madonna moment of their own.
Madonna version 2005 is a woman in flux. She is part spiritualist, part narcissist; part provocative sex symbol, part children’s-book author; part artist, part mother; and, thanks to her new aerobi-disco look, she is part retro, part futuristic. She doesn’t even live in one place; she spends most of her time in London and has homes in New York and Los Angeles. She is a contradiction. And she will always be one. This is because her true genius is a facility for learning. She is a quick study. One of the only things consistent about her career is her ability to absorb and incorporate knowledge at an alarming rate, allowing her to stay one step ahead of critics, competitors, fans and trends. Some accuse her of being pretentious since she started speaking in a Britishtinged accent, but rather than being an affectation, it is simply further evidence of her adaptability and spongelike nature. Before I leave her presence, she will actually count on her fingers the things she’s learned from me. I’ve served my purpose.
Her new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, integrates the lessons she learned from her previous album, American Life. Perhaps her most poorly received album (unjustly so), this was Madonna restyled as a pop-culture Che Guevara and anti-materialist girl, brooding about her life and the culture she’s part of. It is her folk album. Confessions on a Dance Floor is the antithesis.