Has anyone ever turned down an offer to work with you?
Sure. Or it’s “I don’t have time.” I wanted to work with Eminem. I don’t think he wanted to work with me. [Smiles] Maybe he’s shy.
In 1996, you had your first child, Lourdes. Since then, your family has grown with Rocco, whom you had with Guy Ritchie, and David and Mercy, whom you adopted from orphanages in Malawi. Do your kids have favorite Madonna songs?
Definitely. Lourdes likes all my old songs. She’s really into the Eighties, from the way she dresses to the music she listens to. Rocco likes anything that I did with Timbaland. Basically, he’s a hip-hop and electronic boy. David’s favorite song is “Ha Isla,” that’s what he calls it. He’s my biggest fan. Everybody says that when he watches the show, he stays frozen from beginning to end, and he studies everything, and he knows every dance step. [Smiles] He’s not jaded like my older children.
You and Lourdes, who is now 12, went to a Lady Gaga show together in New York. Do the two of you go to a lot of shows?
We’ve just started. We like the same music. I think Lady Gaga is great. When we saw her, I actually felt a kind of recognition. I thought, “She’s got something.” There’s something quirky about her. She’s fearless and funny, and when she spoke to the audience, she sounded intelligent and clever. She’s unique.
Can you sense an artist’s ambition?
Yes. There’s people like Justin Timberlake, who’s really good-looking and laid-back. He’s sort of a Cary Grant. I love him, I love working with him, but I don’t recognize myself in him. But I can see myself in Lady Gaga. In the early part of my career, for sure. When I saw her, she didn’t have a lot of money for her production, she’s got holes in her fishnets, and there’s mistakes everywhere. It was kind of a mess, but I can see that she’s got that It factor. It’s nice to see that at a raw stage.
Another artist you admire is Sting. What do you talk about with him?
I would consider Sting my friend, but I’m more friends with his wife, Trudie. He’s an incredible musician who plays 50 different instruments, and I’m always a little intimidated by him. I always think he looks down on me. Not down on me, but I’m just a pop star. He’s a real musician. We don’t talk about music that much when we get together. He’s usually sitting in the corner, playing chess or playing some 16-stringed instrument that I don’t even know the name of.
Last year, you and Guy Ritchie got divorced…
You don’t have to lower your voice when you say that. It’s not a bad word. I thought we were talking about music, though. If you can connect the idea of divorce to music, I’ll talk to you about it.
Then let’s talk about the lyrics to “Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You,” from “Hard Candy”: “I should just walk away/Over and over, I keep on coming back for more.”
What can you say? It was a challenging year. I think work saved me, and I’m very grateful that I had work to do. I may have thrown myself off a building. Life is an adjustment. It’s different. My sons aren’t with me right now, they’re with their father, and I’m not very comfortable with the idea of my children not living together. There are pros and cons, but I feel good now.
What do you love about having kids from three different countries?
The more diverse the world you live in, the more open you are. My two youngest children are from Africa, which has opened my eyes and given me a new perspective on the world. My house is like a Benetton ad. I have French nannies, my security guards are Israeli, I have assistants from Argentina and Puerto Rico as well as a Japanese assistant and chef, and B another chef from Italy. It’s wonderful, I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My life is a cacophony of different languages and music.
I was at the show last night in Budapest. I was struck by how none of the songs you performed were in their original arrangements.
Even my new songs, I have to reinvent them, or after a couple of months, I’ll just get sick of them. When you reinvent them, you have to sit for days with the musical director and your band. Inevitably, you end up sampling someone, and you have to get permission, and pay more money. People have told me, “You could just go out there and play guitar and sing your songs like Paul McCartney,” but I’d be too bored. Most of the joy of the shows is the magic of creating them – the theater. I’m a perfectionist. I like hard work. I like to sweat.