Noisey: Your list of collaborators on this record is really a who’s who of the current music landscape. Of course you’ve been collaborating for years, but songwriting is so personal—particularly on this record—and it always strikes me as such an intimate space to invite what is often times ostensibly a stranger into the room to work with. Is it ever hard to bare your soul to these producers—who are often men? Does that ever get easier? How do you break down those barriers?
Madonna: It is all about chemistry. Some people are easier to open up to, and feel comfortable around than others. I did work with some women, MoZella was around a lot for many of the songwriting workshops that I did. She was great and we hit it off immediately. Also Natalia Kills I got along really well with. Diplo is really easygoing and fun, so is Toby Gad, and all of Avicii’s songwriting team, I call them my Viking Harem—wonderful, funny, smart, easygoing, warm, intelligent people, so I was lucky. I would say 75 percent of the people I wrote with immediately made me feel comfortable and at ease so I could not be afraid to make a fool of myself, which is inevitably how you feel when you’re first writing.
Sure. I’m sure that’s part of the process, though. You call Diplo kindred spirits. How so?
I think we have a lot of the same references. He’s interested in a lot of the same things, like he’s a big fan of Keith Haring, for instance, so am I. He has a child that goes to the Lycée Français, so do I. We like a lot of the same music. He loves fashion. He has a quirky sense of humor. I feel like he’s my long-lost naughty brother. I love him.
He is a bit naughty.
Oh my God. He’s so naughty!
Did he act up in the studio with you?
No, no—he was always respectful to me, but I mean, he did tend to run around a bit more than I wish he would have.
I was curious about what your children last introduced you to. I heard that they occasionally popped into the studio and offered their thoughts and you’ve said they keep you abreast of what’s going on. What was the last thing they shoved in your direction that you were excited about?
Let me think, let me think, let me think. My son is really in a retro mode, so he’s playing a lot of 90s hip-hop, which I already know and have heard and listened to, but he’s also into reggae, and he’s into punk. We listen to the Dead Kennedys a lot, so I wouldn’t say he’s turning me onto new stuff. However, Lola is more, she’s always playing stuff and I’m like, “Who’s that? Who’s that?” I don’t remember a lot of the times. “Oh, did you hear the new Jack Ü record? Check this out!” She’s really into Azealia Banks. She has very eclectic taste.
For instance, did MNEK come to your through your kids?
No, MNEK came to me through Diplo.
It was exciting to see him in the credits because he’s such a small, but awesome up-and-coming London artist. To see that he was working with you, I thought that was a really cool move.
I love him. He’s very talented.
In your most self-referential track “Veni Vidi Vici” you say, “I came / I saw / I conquered,” which reminded me of that line that you said to Dick Clark and also to A&R Michael Rosenblatt back in the early 80s—and to anyone around for that matter—“I wanna conquer the world.” You were so tenacious and ambitious even then. What was the fire under your ass?
The fire under my ass was probably growing up in the Midwest and feeling like I was living in a very provincial world where I never felt like I belonged where I was. I grew up without a mother. I was always interested in painters like Frida Khalo, writers like Anna Sexton and Sylvia Plath, so I was very drawn to women who were very independent. Who led very unconventional lives. So it was like, “OK, I’ve gotta get out of here, and I want to be an artist, too.” I very clearly could see that I was not in a world that was going to encourage that behavior. Then, like I said, also growing up without a mother—there was a lot of death around me when I was growing up, so I really felt the fragility of life, and I had this sense that time is precious, so I need to move fast. It was a combination of all of those things.
Now that you’re a mother yourself, and having lost your mother so early on, does it make you think about death? Are you scared of it?
Well who isn’t? Nobody wants to die. I want to live forever and I’m going to.
See my mom’s like, “No way. When it’s time to go, I’m going.”
No, I’m having too much fun. Nuh-uh.
When you were five years old, you said you already knew you wanted to move to New York. Was it everything you dreamed of when you arrived?
Oh, it was way more than that. It was insane! It was like sticking my finger into an electric outlet.
With all of the incredible artists that you were meeting and becoming friends with at the time, did you have a sense even then that it was a special time and these people were going to leave their mark historically?
No. I mean, personally, I didn’t meet all of those people right away. When I first came to New York, I was just a naïve Midwesterner saying hi to everybody—being way too friendly. And being horrified. I had never seen homeless people before. It was crazy and New York was crazy then. It was so different than it is now. I was a dancer for a while. I was broke. It wasn’t until I really decided to switch into being a musician and a songwriter, and I moved to the Lower East Side, that I started meeting artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. While I felt we all fed off each other’s energy and we were all inspired by each other and jealous of each other, collaborating with each other, I had no idea then what their place in the world would be now. But not my own, either. So we were just artists having fun, happy that anyone was interested in our work.