‘Rebel Heart’: Madonna Reveals the Story Behind Six Surprise Songs
In her first Q&A about the surprise launch of her 13th album, the Queen of Pop opens up about working with Nicki and Kanye and who’s really in the Illuminati
For the past year, Madonna has been updating fans on the progress of her 13th studio album through Instagram posts picturing collaborators (Nicki Minaj, Avicii, Diplo) and inspirations (children in Malawi, Miley Cyrus, placards reading “I need more money and power and less shit from you people”). But last week her creative process was interrupted by the leak of 13 songs she characterized as “unfinished demos.” Faced with a potential calamity, her team made a quick decision: finish and release six of the tracks immediately on iTunes and set a firm early-March 2015 release date for the full LP, titled Rebel Heart.
The day after the tracks hit iTunes, Madonna was Number One on the digital music service’s charts in 41 countries — everywhere from the U.S. and Israel to Russia and the Philippines. And she gave her first interview about the surprise launch to Rolling Stone:
It’s safe to presume you’ve had a busy couple of days?
Oh my goodness. So busy. Let’s talk about something good.
The album focuses on two themes: listening to your heart and being a rebel. When you sat down to write, were you guided by these ideas above any musical plans?
I never sit down and consciously think I want to write a song about a subject. Music leads me to ideas and to where I want to go emotionally. When I first started, I was writing with Avicii’s team of writers and they were separated into two different groups. One of them had a much more upbeat approach to songwriting, sonically speaking, and the other team chose darker chords. The music leads me – so I get lost in the sound of the music, and that creates a kind of emotional palate. I found as I would look back at my songs and witness what I had written, I was coming from two very distinct places. That happened organically, not planned out, and I was observing, “Oh, these are two very strong sides of me that I need to express.”
So decisions about who you trust to guide you, musically, are clearly quite crucial.
Yeah. And sometimes in the writing phase of the music, there are some people who I really felt a connection to, just as human beings, and felt they understood me as a songwriter and a person, so those people were easier for me to write with. Writing songs, you have to be vulnerable, you have to not be afraid to express yourself and to say things or share. It’s almost like writing your diary in front of somebody and reading it out loud. Some people made me feel comfortable and I felt connected to them and other people seemed very strange to me. It was almost like an acting exercise, you know, just putting myself in a room and letting ideas flow even if I didn’t feel so connected to the people.
“Living for Love” is a pretty triumphant breakup song.
It’s a breakup song. [Laughs]
But it’s not a mopey breakup song.
The thing is, lots of people write about being in love and being happy or they write about having a broken heart and being inconsolable. But nobody writes about having a broken heart and being hopeful and triumphant afterwards. So I thought, how can I do this? I didn’t want to share the sentiment of being a victim. This scenario devastated me, but it just made me stronger.