Madonna has a swift, firm handshake and a straight, green gaze and a face that you know as well as your own. The sharp little chin, the heavy lidded eyes, the gap in the teeth: all familiar, but, also, all strange. She looks like Madonna but 300 times better-looking. She looks like Madonna, but smaller.
She walks lightly into the heavily draped Duke of Newcastle suite at Home House, the club-cum-hotel on London’s Portman Square, and gasps. She explains she once stayed in this very suite for quite some time. “My baby was in that room” – Lourdes had to snuggle down in the bed the size of a school playground – “and I was in the one behind, and, uh, it was OK, except I don’t really like hotel bathrooms. Those toweling dressing gowns”
Madonna has been looking for a house in London the past six months. It seems longer: since she decided to move in on us, our press have moved in on her. Not a HEAT or an OK! Or a Sunday Times goes past without some mention of Madge. Where she got her highlights done (Daniel Galvin); where she goes to eat (San Lorenzo); to drink (The Sanderson); to wash the car (everyday garage in north London). How her boyfriend’s really pish (the son of a Lady); really rough (he has a scar on his face); really committed (he put his hand on her knee!); really not (Madonna rushes back from America for relationship summit meeting).
Madonna, by moving in on Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels director Guy Ritchie, has changed from being a remote, fantastic, superstar hologram to a real-life local girl. And because she’s so close, we want her even closer.
So, then: up close, 41-year-old Madonna is beautiful, blonde, and pregnant, wearing dark blue Maharishi trews, a red vest with a Chinese letter on it and pointy red slippers. She doesn’t waste time; not hers, not yours: she arrives without fuss or entourage, gives some easy chit-chat – about the room; about being pregnant (“I’ll eat all these olives, I warn you”); about my accent, surprisingly (“Manchest-oh! Curry!”) – and then sits on the floor between the sofa and coffee table and agrees that we should start.
I’d been warned by several friends who have interviewed Madonna that she’s a tricky, unlikable interviewee: “A cold fish,” said one. “Really, really difficult,” said another. But her press officer insists that Madonna has relaxed, and offers the fact that she goes to a public gym as an example of her new nonchalance: “The old Madonna would have insisted that it was all set up for her at home.”
So: I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect Madonna to be funny. But she is. Her answers are delivered wryly, with a camp sideways look, or a half-laugh. And I didn’t expect her to be easy company. But she’s that too.
Madonna’s accent has Los Angeles touches (some statements? Are questions?) and an occasional British twang (her vocals are rounder than most Americans). She speaks rapidly, but pauses a lot. She thinks before, during and after she answers: I’d say she’s naturally honest, and precise, but she’s well aware that when she speaks, the world listens in. “If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t do any interviews,” she says at one point. “Because (a) I think it’s boring to explain my work to the nth degree and not let anybody figure it out for themselves; and (b) I’m not that interested in blabbing my personal life either.”
Her posture has the neutral poise of a dancer; she carries herself with status but not starriness. I’ve met third-division indie boys whose high-rank body language would eclipse Madonna’s economic gestures. Still, she knows how to move. When she leaves, she does so abruptly. She turns her back and she’s gone.
But before she does that, we’re here to talk about her new album, Music. Madonna’s been having trouble with MP3 internet database Napster – THE FACE downloaded her new single before it even arrived at her record company – so I’m not allowed an album because I might run off a few CDs of my own. “And then people won’t buy my record. And how will I pay for my daughter’s schooling?” says Madge, with one of her sideway looks. “Anyhow, I didn’t want you to get bored.”
Before the interview, I go to her press office and hear seven tracks twice over. Two are get-thee-to-the-dancefloor numbers: ‘Music,’ the cheeky, Daft Punk first single, and the ‘Impressive Instant’, a complicated, Chemicals-related, headlong head-rush of a track with a disco baseline to challenge Donna Summer. Then there’s ‘I Deserve It’, ‘Amazing’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me’ – all spacey, twisted pop songs, and all about lerve.
‘Amazing”s lyrics include: “It’s amazing what a boy can say/I cannot stop myself/Seems I love you more than yesterday/I love you and no one else.’ If Mr. Ritchie isn’t blushing – yes, I know he doesn’t look the type – then, ladies, he should be. Finally I hear the catchy silvery ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl” – likely to be the second single – and ‘Paradise (Not For Me)’, which is also on the Mirwais album, Production. Five of the tracks are produced by Mirwais, the 39-year-old French maverick introduced to Madonna by photographer Stephane Sedanoui. ‘Amazing’ is produced by William Orbit; ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’ by Guy Sigsworth (Bjork, Seal). And they’re all ace: poppy, electronic progressions from the musical arena she moved into with Ray of Light.
As we talk, Madonna sips from a bucket-glass of Cabernet and munches her way through an impressive amount of olives and crisps.
Interviewer: Music seems a very positive LP. Kind of There are some songs that are tinged with sadness (sideways look).
Madonna: This record, more than any other records, covers all the areas of my life. I left off partying on Ray of Light. But I’d just had a baby, so my mood was complete, like wonderment of life, and I was incredibly thoughtful and retrospective and intrigued by the mystical aspects of life.
Interviewer: You could connect Ray of Light with Like a Prayer. With you looking for spirituality, looking for a meaning, looking for God. It’s not that I don’t have to look anymore.
Madonna: Spirituality is still really important to me, but I don’t feel so inspired to write songs about it. I mean, I got to church: I go to Church of England, I go to Catholic churches, I got to synagogues, I partake in all religions. In my bones, I’m Catholic, because that’s how I was raised, but I am just as intrigued by Judaism as I am by Catholicism.