“Mommy has to work now, Lola (her nickname for Lourdes),” Madonna says. “Mommy will see you later, but she has to work now. Say goodbye to everybody.”
Taking her cue, Lourdes doubles back, looks for her nanny and wobbles out the door. Her exit is just as bouncy as her entrance. “Goodbye,” she says, her tiny arm flailing. Mommy looks at her and breaks into a huge smile.
“She has a will of iron. She knows what she wants and she’s been that way since the day she was born.”
“But she’s really focused. She really takes people in and she’s very verbal and communicative. I know I was that way, too, as a very small child, but, you know,” Madonna shrugs, “who knows? She’s only 16 months old. There is so much potential. I think she’s special, but doesn’t every mother think her child is special?
“Uh, there I go again,” she says, rolling her eyes and reaching for her current buzzword. “Sometimes I feel so dorky.”
To meet Madonna, an artist and provocateur whose actions so often become embedded in pop culture, is an event. It isn’t, as I initially imagined, a particularly nerveracking event, and the only enemy, it seems, is time.
Time flies when you talk to Madonna. It just does. It flies because you want to know everything. Then you want to know more.
And though she is a generous interview subject, her true mastery might well be her ability to underwhelm the moment, preferring to pack her knockout punches — as she has on Ray of Light — in her lyrics.
For instance, ask Madonna to expand on her latest lyrical admissions that, for a large part of her career, she was self-centred and selfish. Suddenly, the icon looks cornered.
“To me, that’s what art is: revealing and saying all that needs to be said,” she says, oddly missing the irony of her remarks. “Even though I reveal things about myself, I believe there’s so much of me that people don’t know and I have no interest in giving them that.”
Then, impatiently: “Listen, we are all complex human beings. If you can’t share something you know, how can you touch people?
That said, Madonna has never really been a rambunctious dial-a-quote throughout her career. Her actions always spoke louder than her words.
There are no preset conditions for this interview, but it is generally agreed that the subject of former husband Sean Penn is off limits. Questions about Carlos Leon, a former boyfriend and Lourdes’ father, or her search for a stable relationship, also may re-route our little chat on to shaky ground.
Madonna’s demeanor — pleasant, chatty, smiling — says she’s up for almost anything. She is an accommodating and genial host. Her handshake is firm and selfassured — as you would expect — but, in the main, her body language says otherwise. For a large part of the interview, she crosses her arms defensively, sinks into the couch during an occasional moment of relaxation, and isn’t particularly good at holding eye contact.
Up close, she is a slight, pretty woman with a wiry, muscular frame. She looks zesty and youthful.
Her latest, ever-influential haircut — as Vanity Fair writer Ingrid Sischy recently and rightly pointed out — is non-platinum and shifts towards the pre-Raphaelite. Sischy writes: “It says, `don’t notice me’ .”
Even today, when she is wearing an agreeable combination of Dolce & Gabbana (skirt), Gucci (top) and Donna Karan (shoes), Madonna is immaculately understated.
Amazingly, for the position she commands on our planet, she is not intimidating, but there is a pervasive sense of power in the way she conducts business. But she doesn’t flout it. Not today, anyway.
Madonna says she has had revelations before. Moments of light, of stillness. Defining moments. This time, however, was different.
“It feels like I’ve been on this incredible journey and now I’m a totally different person from who I was two or three years ago. From the time my daughter was born, my life changed immensely. I’m moving in a direction I longed for, but never fully grasped my ability.”
The problem, she says, was bitterness and the misguided notion that the respect due her, particularly from her critics, was long overdue.
The unapologetic nature of her 1995 album Bedtime Stories, the record on which she declared: “I’m not your bitch, don’t hang your s##t on me”, served to deflect the global slagging she got for a string of bad movies and the controversial book Sex.
“I couldn’t let go of a lot of the bitterness. I was still trapped in this whole idea of being a victim, that people were treating me unfairly, and feeling sorry for myself. I was very caught up in being angry.”
Soon after, in the avalanche of publicity that came with Evita, Madonna was finally forced to confront who she was, in a back-to-basics way. “Day after day, through interviews, I had to deal with similarities in our lives, and in some ways I found that we weren’t very similar at all.”