Sex distracted attention from Madonna’s good Erotica album — which came out as the book was released. Not long after, her disastrous movie Body of Evidence was a third strike against her. Together, these events led to what Madonna describes as “the rock bottome” and nicked her confidence, one of the primary sources of her magnetism. “What was happening on the outside was happening on the inside,” she says. It had to do with the things you go through. When you get famous, and everyone says nice things, you buy into it. Everything you are becomes founded on what people say. And when people say horrible things, you start sucking. Then you wake up and realize it’s all bullshit and you’ve taken away your own power.” But it was the beginning of an awakening of sorts, and the sexual experimentation — including her flirtations with bisexuality and S&M — which Sex appears to have grown from, may have been a necessary chapter.
She set out to get the power back. For instance, she set out to improve her voice. “The hardest thing,” she says, “has been letting go of the idea that I didn’t have a good singing voice. Even if you don’t want to believe the things that they write, they sink into your subconscious. You think maybe it’s true.
“I ate the microphone,” she says of the Ray of Light sessions. Listen to her first albums and the contrast with her old infectious Minnie Mouse inflections is actually amazing. Not a lot of people begin singing lessons at 35, certainly not many pop stars with a wall of gold records. But Madonna headed off for vocal coaching before Evita. And the rewards of the work are more apparent now that she’s returned ot her own style of music.
Besides her voice, she pumped up her business life. Upon completing a project, most musical artists have to worry about what support their record companies will provide. Madonna’s records, however, are distributed by her own label, Maverick, a company formed in 1992 with Freddy DeMann, then her manager. After a sluggish debut, Maverick has established itself as one of the few artist-invovled entities in the business to have moved into big-league status. Madonna, with her usual candor, isn’t shy about what she and DeMann faced. “Quite frankly,” she says, “I didn’t know how to do it. It was a lot of trial and error. We wasted time and energy. We wasted money. We made mistakes.”
Yet in 1995, the company scored huge with 21-year-old Alanis Morissette, whose blockbuster first album, Jagged Little Pill, has sold more than 25 million copies. Last July Maverick made big noise again when the new CD from Prodigy — an English group it faced tough competition to sign — debuted at No. 1 on the charts.
Although all new artists signed at Maverick must be approved by Madonna and DeMann, both Morissette and Prodigy were brought aboard by Guy Oseary, a 25-year-old Israeli who, at the age of 14, had the chutzpah to use a fake address to gain admission to Beverly Hills High School (he knew he’d make contacts) and who, last year, became the third member of Maverick’s ruling troika.
Oseary, who now also has the power to approve artists signed, gives Madonna a great deal of credit. He emphasizes, as many do, her “inspiring work ethic,” explaining her involvement in every aspect of her music. “Madonna’s in the studio for every part of the process — when they master the record, mix it, everything. She’s involved in a way that I’ve never seen, and she will give anyone a chance if she believes in them. She doesn’t need the whole industry to tell her that this guy or that girl can do it.” (Madonna’s current co-manager, Caresse Norman — who had previously been her personal assistant — is another example of this.)
Madonna doesn’t mince words about the difficulties of combining all the aspects of her career. “I’m always running,” she says. “I’m like a chicken with my head cut off. I’m making my record, planning videos, doing photo shoots. I’m doing interviews. I’m trying to take care of my daughter. I’m reading scripts for movies, and Guy’s calling me up, going, ‘You’ve got to listen to this and make a decision by tomorrow morning.’ And I’m like ‘O.K. I have no free time.”
She may soon have even less. Maverick is forming two new divisions — Mad Guy Television and Mad Guy Films — to be headed by Madonna and Oseary.
“With the movie business,” Madonna concedes, “you can’t get attached to any thing. You have to say, ‘If it happens, it happens.'” Evita wasn’t the all-around critical and Oscar smash she might have hoped for, but it was a step up for her as a screen performer, and she proved that she could go out and sell a big movie pretty much all by herself. She stormed talk shows, even popping up on the couch of Oprah Winfrey, a woman whom Madonna described in Truth or Dare as “one reason for not wanting to live in Chicago.”
That city will probably ber her next onscreen home. She’s enthusiastic about her upcoming outing as Velma Kelly to Goldie Hawn’s Roxie Hart in the film version of the late Bob Fosse’s musical Chicago, now in revival on Broadway. “I can do ’em in my sleep,” she says of the Fosse-style dances. The project looks like a go. “I think it’s happening,” she says. “It’s just been a really long process of finding the right director, and I think pretty much we’ve found somebody, but it’s not a hundred percent sure.” (Director Nicholas Hynter, whose credits include The Madness of King George and The Crucible, is reportedly the candidate.)
The Madonna Corporation does not go on vacation,” says Alek Keshishian. That’s an understatement. For ages, Madonna has been her own best nun, and sternest, most unforgiving taskmaster. “Madonna has been on an artist treadmill, do you know what I mean?” asks Keshishian. “She is a stickler for organization, almost to the point where sometimes, as a friend, I want to shake her and go, ‘Stop making the lists, and who cares that between two and three o’clock you’ve got to make the following 12 phone calls?’ You understand why — she’s a huge corporation.