“Is she nice?” you ask. Yes, she is. Thank Christ. (“She smells fear, like a dog,” warns an acquaintance of hers, “so don’t show it, even if you’re feeling it.”) She’s funny as well, and refreshingly honest. She’s just like you and me, only she’s the most famous person in the world and she’s worth $613 million. Without further ado: Madonna, who is gingerly easing her pregnant self into a blue-and-white-striped chair.
How’s your health? Is everything going well?
Yeah. I just — I’m in the final stretch, where I can’t get out of chairs and beds without lots of effort. And I feel like … I’m a whale.
I know. Everyone says, “But you’re pregnant.” But the thing is, it still feels strange. And the more incapacitated you get, the more ridiculous you feel. You hold onto things to get yourself in and out of cars — you know, things that you perceive as weak and vulnerable. I’m not good at being those things [laughs].
I’m seeing more pregnancy photos of you than there were the first go-round.
To tell you the truth, it’s because I’ve spent so much of my pregnancy in London, where every time I walked out my door I got photographed. So I would prefer to not be photographed so much, if you must know. I mean … ugh. I don’t want to see pictures of me in my underwear, eight months pregnant, on the front page of the newspapers — but there’s nothing I can do about it.
You have to admit, those photos of you on vacation in Italy wearing a black bikini and cavorting around in the mud were sexy.
No — they’re gross. They’re completely gross! Just wait till you get pregnant. You don’t even want to undress in front of your boyfriend, so you certainly don’t want to take your clothes off for the whole world. And it took a lot of courage for me to go, “Oh, screw it. I’ll wear a bathing suit in front of everybody and look obese, and who cares?” Because I don’t really go on vacations that much, and I’m not one of those people that lays around in a bikini. It was me trying to be accommodating to my boyfriend: “OK, I’ll go on a vacation to Greece. And let’s go really far away, so the photographers won’t find us.” And, of course, we might as well have just stayed in London, because that’s how easy it was to find us.
All right — let’s talk about your new album. “Ray of Light” was introspective and mystical. This one seems like a burst of pent-up emotion and energy.
Absolutely. The last album was much more introspective. For the most part, I finished Ray of Light, came out here to L.A. and prepared for a film, made the film, and then I pretty much went to England and spent most of my time there just writing for the record. So I haven’t really been out there, and I haven’t really done much. I do my work privately, and take care of my daughter, and try to be a decent girlfriend. These are all kinds of quiet, introverted things. So I think that the whole waiting-to-be-sprung feeling is sort of bubbling under the surface and reflects in a lot of the music.
How did you find Mirwais?
Guy Oseary, my partner here. But a lot of times I’ll get stuff, and I’ll go, “Oh, my God — this is amazing. I want to work with this person.” That’s what happened when I heard Mirwais’ demo for his own album. I heard it and was just like, “This is the sound of the future. I must meet this person.” So I did, and we hit it off. And that’s exactly how it happened with William Orbit, too.
There are so many effects on your album. How do you know when to call it quits? Because you could layer things on there until —
Because I just put my foot down and go, “It’s good enough now. We’re done. We’re done working on it.” He could just sit there in front of his computer screen, changing, honing, editing, cutting, pasting — whatever. And it would never end. But life is too short for that sort of nonsense. My persona in the studio is, “I’m in a hurry.” So I have a tendency to annoy everybody with that. I think at first he was a bit put off by it. I think he was more put off by the fact that I knew what I wanted so clearly, and I wasn’t interested in lots of embellishments when it came to the production. Because Ray of Light was so multilayered in that way — sort of dense with sound. And I wanted to do the opposite.
In songs like “I Deserve It,” in fact, your voice is completely unadorned.
It was Mirwais’ idea to take off all the effects on my vocals, so that my vocals would be dry and really present and really in-your-face. But at first I was disturbed by it, because I hadn’t done that in a long time. But then I started to see the purity of it, the juxtaposition of the rawness of my voice with the really overprocessed synthesizer sounds. And I started seeing that it was a nice marriage.
Did William feel like his toes were stepped on a bit because he wasn’t completely in charge this time around?
I told him I was probably going to work with other people. The last thing I wanted to do was a repeat. And the funny thing is, I remember when I was mastering the album in London with Mirwais, I was afraid to play him the stuff I had done with William and Guy Sigsworth. I thought, “Oh, he’s not going to think it’s cool,” and I was cringing and waiting until the last moment. And I played it for him. He looked at me and said, “I’m so jealous.” And I was like, “Oh, good!” Because I want the producers to be mutually jealous of each other. That’s a good sign, don’t you think?
Absolutely. So you’ve said that sometimes you got your writing inspiration from poems or a newspaper article or dreams. Can you take me through the specifics of writing one of the songs? “Nobody’s Perfect,” for example. [She rolls her eyes.] What’s with the eye-rolling?
I’m sorry. Oh, God. Because I hate explaining stuff like that — really.