Groi!” The word comes out of Madonna’s cherry lips like an expletive. Rock’s latest “It” girl is seated on a couch with her frosty tresses pinned up, and she is peering intently through staid herringbone glasses. She could pass for a typing-pool pro except for her decidedly unsecretarial attire: black mesh stockings, peekaboo skirt and skimpy top festooned with enough crucifixes to supply a convent. “Yecch! Groi!” she exclaims as if she’d discovered something fetid in her refrigerator. In fact she is screening the glamorous results of a photo session in Hawaii for a forthcoming pinup calendar. “Groi!” she barks as another shot flashes on the screen.
Madonna has coined the term for “Get rid of it.” The photographer showing the slides relaxes when at last she coos’ “Great! I love that!” in reaction to a picture of her splayed across a black sand beach wearing little more than an alluring expression. Life is pretty telegraphic for Madonna: Things are either great or groi. And nowadays, with a growing legion of wide-eyed fans turning on to her pouty sex-kitten put-on, life is mostly great. Whatever her musical talents, Madonna is a runaway fashion rack, has exhibited the most agile midriff since Salome and could become the Monroe of the ’80s. Her triple platinum Like a Virgin was the top LP in the U.S.A. for three weeks, having toppled Boss Springsteen, and the title song spent seven weeks as No. 1 before yielding the spot. Now Madonna’s Material Girl single is No. 18 and climbing, along with a cut called Crazy for You from the sound track of Vision Quest, a movie in which she makes a cameo appearance. MTV? It almost looks like the Madonna Show, with all the airtime her flashy, trashy videos are getting. All told, Madonna music is selling at an astonishing rate of 75,000 vinyl discs a day.
And there’s more. She’s got a feature film opening in March, a seven-week tour scheduled, a fashion line in the works and she has inspired two new popographies. But reaction to the 26-year-old flaxen flamethrower is varied, intense and personal.
Madonna’s critics have dismissed her as a bagatelle, like Blondie’s Debbie Harry. Her voice has been likened to “Minnie Mouse on helium.” Record label executives pray she is this year’s Thriller. Fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo has called her “baby Dietrich.” Hollywood would settle for a Mansfield, if not a Monroe. Madonna’s closest professional counterpart is chameleon David Bowie, who has shrewdly used pop stardom rather than being used by it. “I’m here. I’m there. I love to work. My brain is always in overdrive,” Madonna says. “I guess you’d say I’m a hyperactive adult.”
The legend she bears on her custom-crafted belt buckle is “Boy Toy.” That calling card, added to what sounds like the ultimate stage name, conjures up the image of another disco dolly sashaying her way to short-lived fame. The Virgin album jacket, showing her in lace, looking like a prom queen in heat, adds to that impression. “I’ve been called a tramp, a harlot, a slut and the kind of girl that always ends up in the backseat of a car,” she says. “If people can’t get past that superficial level of what I’m about, fine.”
There is a mastermind behind the image making, and it turns out to be none other than Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone of Pontiac, Mich. Though not a trained musician, she composes much of her own material, conceives her own videos and is very much involved in the business of being Madonna. That she inspires ire in many is a token of success that almost delights her. “I’m tough, ambitious and I know exactly what I want,” she says. “If that makes me a bitch, okay.” One associate described her as “a great white shark in goldfish clothing,” and another observes, “If you cross Madonna once, you might as well have never existed as far as she is concerned.” And woe to the showbiz spider who mistakes her for Little Miss Muffet. “She will suffer fools when it is in her interest,” says a friend, “but never gladly.”
Madonna has also incurred the wrath of feminists because of her vampish displays and unenlightened flesh mongering. “I wanna say to Gloria and the gang, ‘Hey, lighten up. Get a sense of humor.’ ” One sullen critic took her to task on behalf of the economically downtrodden because of the crass sentiments of Material Girl (“The boy with the cold hard cash/Is always Mr. Right”). “Look at my video that goes with the song,” she says. “The guy who gets me in the end is the sensitive guy with no money.”
What Madonna gets is pretty much whatever she wants. “I have always been able to get my way with charm,” she admits. “I have always been resourceful, whether it was convincing my father to let me stay out late or getting out of paying a cab fare in New York when I didn’t have any money.” She is the third child (of eight) and oldest daughter of an Italian Catholic family that lived in racially mixed, working-class Pontiac. Her crucifix collection is a reaction to her strict Catholic upbringing. Her father worked as a design engineer for Chrysler, and she was named Madonna after her mother. “Ours was a strict, old-fashioned family. When I was tiny, my grandmother used to beg me not to go with men, to love Jesus and be a good girl. I grew up with two images of a woman: the virgin and the whore. It was a little scary.”