Superstar. Chameleon. Truth-teller. Sexually liberated provocateur. Feminist. Mother. Artist.
This list of wholly accurate words and phrases you could use to describe Madonna is long and impressive. But, it’s not complete. Yes, she’s one of the few modern-day celebrities who can truly get away with a single-word moniker that’s universally known and understood in every corner of the globe. But, much more interesting than that is the fact that Madonna has never shied away from the opportunity to evolve — even now, at the stage in her career where most artists would rest on their laurels and coast. Even more interesting still, she’s a profoundly thoughtful human being who goes much deeper than you could possibly imagine.
With the release of her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart (which drops tomorrow), she’s proving that at 56, she’s as relevant as ever — maybe even more so. Despite a leak that forced her to move up the timeline and delivery of this album by several months, she’s managed to whip up a frenzy among fans that is likely to result in the most expensive tour of 2015 (outpricing even Taylor Swift).
And, she’s been smart about the whole campaign, releasing a new video on Snapchat, giving fans a chance to chat with her on Grindr, and doing an AMA on Instagram. Those are just a few examples of her creative approaches to marketing music to a fan base that’s evolved considerably since she put out her first eponymous album in 1983, but they don’t read like gimmicks, which is easily proven by the love and attention fans — both new and old — are doling out. Madonna found herself among the most talked-about arrivals (and performers) at the Grammys this year. When she suffered an injury after a fall on stage at the Brit Awards last month, the world came to her defense, when petty gossips gloated at her misfortune.
However, none of that is what you notice when you get the opportunity to sit down with the musician for a quiet chat. Clad in corseted lace and leather, with a diamond-encrusted whistle around her neck, Madonna reads immediately as Madonna, the superstar. But, once you start to talk and your nerves fade away a bit, all that’s left is a thoughtful, fiercely confident woman who has many, many ideas about the world around us. Both what’s wrong with it and how we can inspire the change we need to make life better for people — and especially women — around the globe. In the wake of International Women’s Day, we can’t imagine anything better. Ahead, all the insights we gleaned from our conversation with one of the most powerful celebrities in the world.
There’s an incredible braggadocio to “B*tch I’m Madonna,” your song with Nicki Minaj. Somehow, it’s still rare to see female pop stars go there, though. Was that a leap for you at all?
“No. I mean, I think a song like ‘Express Yourself’ is just as sort of audacious, and it’s certainly empowering. But, this is just a little bit more cheeky. I feel like I’ve earned the right to say, ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna. Don’t fuck with me.’ I’m allowed to do this now. I’ve earned my stripes.
Do you think stars should have to earn their stripes to be able to project cockiness like that?
“Yes. I think it’s good to earn it. I think everything has to be earned, and, you know, you’re going to accept that kind of energy coming from somebody who’s had a lot of life experience and understand that it’s coming from an informed place, versus somebody who’s just starting out.”
On your path to that informed, experienced place, you fielded a lot of hate from people who didn’t understand your brand of self-expression, or agree with your ideas about social justice. What do you want your newer fans, who didn’t grow up seeing that, to know — especially about the lessons you learned during that time?
“It is important for them to realize that things that they take for granted weren’t always as they are now. When I was coming up, the gay community was exceptionally marginalized, and if you were HIV-positive, you were treated like you had leprosy. There was a lot of discrimination and a lot of prejudice and a lot of craziness, and also, there wasn’t a cure for AIDS. There was no ARVs. There was no way to keep people who were HIV-positive alive, so I was growing up in a time where people I loved and artists that I admired were dying all around me.
“I think people take it for granted now that if you have HIV, you can live a healthy life. Or, if you’re gay, you can live an openly gay life. These things were not the norm when I was starting my career. And, nor was a woman expressing her sexuality. I mean, now, we have artists like Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus, who will very clearly and openly express their sexuality. But, when I did it, I got the shit kicked out of me for it. So, I think it’s important for people to understand that it wasn’t always this way — not for women, not for the gay community. We should all examine, even in pop culture.”