What’s it like to be the most famous woman in the history of pop? Shortly before the news broke about her marriage to Sean, Madonna sat down and poured out her heart. Smash Hits listened.
“Do I ever wonder ‘God, what have I created?'”
Madonna nods. “Oh yes.”
It’s hardly surprising. Five years ago Madonna Ciccone was just another ambitious American girl in her early 20s. She’d tried to be a dancer but had given up. She’d tried to be an actor – even appearing in a low budget porn film called A Certain Sacrifice to get “experience” – but had got nowhere (A Certain Sacrifice was only released earlier this year to cash in on her success). She’d tried to be a singer but her groups – The Breakfast Club, Emmy, Modern Dance – had flopped and her six months spent in Paris as some pop entrepreneurs tried to turn her into a disco sensation were a catastrophe. She never gave up but at times she was reduced to living off rubbish bin leftovers, popcorn, the proceeds from waitressing and a little nude modelling for photographic students.
But once she had had even the merest glimpse of fame she was determined to become as famous as possible – constantly making bigger selling records, playing larger concerts and making films. Bar the odd hiccup it’s worked beautifully. Now she’s one of the most famous people on the planet. And slowly she’s realised that it isn’t always that nice …
“Like when Desperately Seeking Susan came out,” she reminisces, “and I was going with a well known actor (i.e. Sean Penn), then I announced my marriage, then the Playboy and Penthouse pictures came out. (In other words the “nude” pictures she’d done in her days of poverty appeared in pervy “men’s” magazines.) Everything sort of happened at once – one big explosion of publicity. No matter how successful you are you could never ever anticipate that kind of attention.”
And it wasn’t the kind of attention she liked.
“At first the Playboy photos were very hurtful to me,” she remembers, “and I wasn’t sure how I felt about them. Now I look back at them and I feel silly that I ever got upset but I did want to keep some things private. It was like when you’re a little girl at school and some nun comes and lifts your dress up in front of everybody and you get really embarrassed. It’s not really a terrible thing in the end but you’re not ready for it and it seems so awful and you feel so exposed. Also, Penthouse did something really nasty. They sent copies of the magazine to Sean.” She stops and shakes her head, still choked by the memory.
“That whole time was nearly too much. I mean, I didn’t think I was going to be getting married with 13 helicopters flying over my head. It turned into a circus. In the end I was laughing. At first I was outraged, but then I was laughing. You couldn’t have written it in a movie. No one would have believed it. It was just so incredible, like a Busby Berkely musical or something that someone would stage to generate a lot of publicity for one of their stars.”
It wasn’t meant as a publicity stunt though, and she makes it clear she’d be upset if people misinterpreted it. But she might not be surprised. She’s rather used to being misinterpreted, these days. When she played an AIDS benefit in New York last summer (an artist friend and ex-flat mate Martin Burgoyne had died from the disease) she was saddened that all newspapers like the New York Times could do was talk about “shallow, kitschy pop entertainment”.
“There are still those people,” she comments bitterly, “who, no matter what I do, will always think of me as a little disco tart.”
Likewise, she’s still shocked by the reaction – especially in America – to her “Like A Virgin” single.
“To me I was singing about how something made me feel a certain way, brand new and fresh,” she says with exasperation, “and everybody else interpreted it as ‘I don’t want to be a virgin any more’. That’s not what I sang at all.” She reckons that’s only a symptom of the general problem of how women pop stars are treated.