American singer & Movie Star
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Do you get wounded by the press or people’s perception which you know isn’t true?
What do you like about living in London?
What got you into singing?
How did you deal with fame initially?
What do you like about theatre?
Is there a story behind the name ‘Madonna’ ?
What was your journey like as a singer since childhood?
What is the worst and the best thing about being recognized?
Tell us about your financial conditions in your early days.
What is marriage to you?
When you take away the Madonna packaging and marketing, who are you at your core?
I'm just a scruffy, tough girl from Michigan who really loves learning and is curious about life—hair back in a ponytail.
Tell us about your fears.
I've got lots of fears. My job is to conquer my fears. The irony of being a performer is that I have huge insecurities. People are shocked to hear that I think my legs are fat or I don't like the way I look. We all have insecurities. We'd be lying if we said we didn't.
It is said that you no longer want people to dress like you. What do you mean by that? Do you still think the same?
I mean just that. In the beginning of my career, I was consumed with fashion and the way I looked. I think about clothes all the time—you see the boots and pants I'm wearing. But who cares? You know as well as I do that clothes don't make the woman.
What is Kabbalah?
It's a belief system that gives you tools to deal with life. Many of its principles resemble concepts in Christianity or in Buddhism.
What is the fundamental principle of your life?
Each of us is responsible for everything that happens in our lives. When good things happen—we win an award, meet the love of our lives, or get a promotion—we take ownership of that. But when bad things happen—we get fired or we divorce—we often don't take responsibility. We call it something that just happened. I now understand that just as we can draw the positive, we can draw the negative.
How has the spiritual change you believe in affected your creativity?
I've never felt more creative. One thing I've learned is that I'm not the owner of my talent, I'm the manager of it. And if I learn how to manage my talent correctly—and if I accept that I'm just channeling things that come from God—the talent will keep flowing through me.
You’re the queen of reinventing yourself. Have your transformations always been calculated?
My physical transformations—like changing my hair—are usually a reflection of what's inspiring me at the moment. The change starts inward and moves outward. For instance, I went through a whole period when I was obsessed with geishas, because I'd read that amazing book Memoirs of a Geisha. I dyed my hair black and had a geisha outfit made for myself for a video.
You see yourself as limitless and constantly in transformation. Tell us about this.
One of the things that helps me tell a story through music is to create a character. I have to have a muse, whether it's Frida Kahlo, Martha Graham, Marlene Dietrich, or Pippi Longstocking. My muse for my newest album [American Life] was Che Guevara. I never think, "Oh, I can't do that." I think of myself as a blank canvas, and I can paint anything on myself.
What’s your proudest moment away from the limelight?
I can't think of just one, but it would involve learning and some kind of exchange with somebody I love. Like teaching my daughter how to read. Or being given a guitar by my husband three years ago and finally learning how to play.
Do you worry about aging in general? Is yoga what’s kept you ageless?
Of course I do worry about ageing. Yoga is part of it. The other part is my attitude.
What’s most important to you now?
My family. Loving my husband unconditionally. Raising children who feel as responsible for helping their fellow man as I do.
It’s been said that children are a message you send into the world. What’s the message you hope your kids will embody?
That there's no such thing as fragmentation—we're all connected and responsible for one another. Also, you can want all the things in the world, go for it, ask for everything in life, but it should be for the sake of sharing.
What’s one thing that people misunderstand about you?
Some believe I don't care what others think. I'm not as hard as everyone thinks I am.
What are the things you are sure of in your life?
I am sure that my husband is my soul mate. That I'm going to meet my mother again someday. That there are no mistakes or accidents. That consciousness is everything and that all things begin with a thought. That we are responsible for our own fate, we reap what we sow, we get what we give, we pull in what we put out. I know these things for sure.
What would you say are your biggest flaws?
’m impatient. I’m intolerant of other people’s weaknesses. And I’m really hard on myself.
Do you do anything else to keep yourself on an even keel? Like meditate?
Well, exercise is absolutely necessary for me, because I don’t dance anymore. Dancing sort of brought me out of myself. Before I started dancing, I felt really physically awkward too. Not comfortable with my body. So what it does for me is twofold. I feel I can purge bad things when I exercise, and I also feel better physically. I feel superior, I feel like a warrior.
You were the oldest girl in a family of eight, and spent most of your adolescence running the household and nursing the other kids after your mother died. Did you resent having to do that?
I didn’t resent having to raise my brothers and sisters as much as I resented the fact that I didn’t have my mother. And that my ideal of my family was interrupted. My stepmother was very young, and she just wasn’t ready for a billion kids who were extremely unwilling to accept her as an authority figure. So it was rough. We all resented it.
Did you have any heroines or role models when you were a kid?
It’s weird, people always ask me that question and I can’t think of anybody specifically. [long pause] I think a few nuns, I thought they were pretty incredible. They seemed all powerful and perfect. Above everything. Really disciplined. And really clean. [laughs] For a while I was obsessed with being a nun, for those reasons. I just thought they were so superior. Then, when I realized that nuns didn’t have a sex life, I was incredibly disenchanted.
Is vulnerability an important quality to you? Most people equate vulnerability with femininity.
Yes, it’s absolutely important. And I think the most interesting men I’ve met are the ones who are in touch with their femininity. They are the strongest men.
Do you find that a lot of men feel threatened by you, by your self-confidence and sense of sexual challenge?
I think only a few men are threatened by it. I think most men are inspired by it or entertained by it. Or may be challenged by it, but in a good way.
What motivates you to change your image or to create a new character for each album of yours?
Well, I sort of get into certain kinds of moods. And then all the songs I write come out of that mood. I don’t say to myself, Now I’m going to be in that mood. It just happens.
Does it annoy you that the press has devoted more attention to your image than to your music?
It used to annoy me, but now it doesn’t anymore. Because somehow I feel that, as much as people complain and moan and groan and criticize me, they’re affected by me. I’ve touched a nerve in them somehow.
How do you develop a song?
All different ways. Sometimes, the music is sort of there, already written by either Pat Leonard or Stephen Bray. They give it to me and it inspires or insinuates a lyric or feeling. Then I write out the words in a free form, and we change the music to fit the form. Other times I’ll start out with lyrics, or I’ll have written a poem and I’ll want to put that to music. Then I end up changing the words a little bit to make them more musical. Sometimes I’ll hear the melody in my head. I don’t write music and I don’t read music, so I’ll go to Pat Leonard, who is an extremely talented musician, and I’ll sing it to him and make him play it, making chords out of it. Then I write the words to the song.
Do you think acting and making music are very similar? Do they require you to use the same aspects of your personality?
Yeah. Definitely. I used to think they were different, because I felt with music you could be more revealing. I felt music was more of a personal statement, and acting was more about being someone else. But now I realize that acting is really about being yourself too. It’s about being true to yourself, about being honest, and so is music. In music you can choose to be a certain kind of character, if you wish, but you use your experience to fill that character’s shoes. So I think they are very similar.
Of the films and plays you’ve done, which do you think best shows your abilities as an actress?
None of them. Not yet. I don’t think I’ve had a great part to play yet. There have been moments in each movie where I feel I’ve really explored things or done what I set out to do, but nothing as a whole.
What do you do to prepare yourself for a role?
It’s all emotional. If I’m attracted tot he character, then I’m attracted to something emotionally. That’s the main thing that helps me get into it.
Are you motivated by political concerns?
Yeah, I am. I would say that I am subconsciously more than consciously so. I’m aware of things. And my involvement has mainly been giving money to causes that I think are worthwhile. I have the resources to help people, so I do. But in the typical way that one would describe being political, I’m not.
Tell us something about your closet/s. What do you do with your old clothes?
Tell us about your early behavioural issues which do not exist anymore for you.
Do you think getting involved in gossips has become a part of culture now?
What do you think the essence of fame is like?
What expectations did you have of yourself earlier which you don’t have any longer?
Tell us why you prefer yoga over gym.
How has Princess Diana’s death changed your life?
How tough was it for you in New York city as a young girl who went there to be a dancer?
What brought you and your father together after your rebellious behaviour towards him?
Are you your father’s favourite singer? If not then who is his favourite?
When was it that you realised that you wanted to be a singer as well as a dancer?
Did you have a plan in your mind about the kind of artist you wanted to become?
What was the image you created for yourself when you became Madonna the superstar?
People say that you reinvented and changed yourself. Was that a deliberate effort on your part?
Earlier on there had been a lot of anger in you. Where was it stemming from?
Apart from touring around the world for your shows, wouldn’t you like to take part in movies?
How did it feel to receive the Advocate for Change honour at the GLAAD Media Awards?
Why did you get emotional while receiving the Advocate for Change honor at the GLAAD Media Awards?
How personal is LGBTQ activism for you?
What did the word ‘change’ mean for you?
Have you ever been afraid of being an activist?
Why was the Stonewall riots important for you?
Is there a lot of work yet to be done for the LGBTQ Community?
What do you have to say about your new song ‘I rise’?
What message do you have for people?
Why did you decide to write the book now?
I’ve been thinking of writing a book for a while … but I never thought it was the right time. I think I got to the point where I could actually examine my life as a story — it was all just scattered for so many years, but then it all kind of made sense. Since then I found out through other people how they knew it was time to write a book and they all said the same thing, “A life lesson was learned.”
What was your life lesson?
I settled down in my personal relationship with [husband] Alex [Carr]. A radio guy’s life is typically nomadic, moving from town to town, and even though I’ve been in New York at Z100 since 1989 it still felt like I was moving from apartment to apartment and really not unpacking all my boxes, in a way. I finally found life was solid. I was having a relationship with someone I wanted to get married to [Duran and Carr were married Sept. 14 in New Mexico] and we found another home out in Santa Fe and we’ve talked about moving there eventually full time. I guess I grew up, which is kind of frightening.
Was there anything off-limits that you wouldn’t talk about?
No. What I wanted to do is try to talk about things I don’t talk about on the radio, which is my family life, my parents, what my household was like, why I was intrigued with radio … and then talk about the crazy years. There’s a chapter about when I was in Houston and did way too many drugs. Look, I was very out there and active and partying in the beginning ages of AIDS. I survived that, thank God.
You came out during a phone call with a listener in 2010. How did you feel about that?
It wasn’t planned at all. I think it was more of me being honest about my real life than it was about just being gay. In all these years the show had been about the dating lives of people on the show but I never really talked about my home life. I never wanted to be the center of attention as far as my personal life — I wanted to be the emcee. Then, I realized I was dating in the city of New York and the trials and tribulations involved with that and thought, “This could be interesting, let me open up.” It just so happened that I was gay. Everyone in the room [when I came out] looked at me like I just dropped a bomb. It was just an unremarkable event [and] no one really gave a s–t. It was like, “OK, you’re gay. What else?” That’s when I realized I could have done this a long time ago, and it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
What’s your takeaway from the book?
It’s the story about a little kid who dreamed of being on the radio and here it is, 50 years later, and I’m still doing it. Writing the book I got to know myself, and I like myself: It sounds corny but it’s true, and I think it’s important for everyone to examine their life. It’s not just one big blurry mess; it’s a story and you can figure out who you are and why you ended up like you are. It was always my dream to find a way to connect with people; I was a geeky little kid, I was gay and didn’t know it for a while, and I didn’t understand how to make friends. I found that through radio. And doing it now, especially with social media, there’s an immediate connection with people and that’s what we’re all looking for: communication, friendship and connection. That’s what radio is, and that’s why I love doing it.
Is there any one guest you’ve never been able to get?
There is. I want a one-on-one with Justin Timberlake with my questions and my own connection. He’s been sort of an elusive interview, but that’s the one I’m waiting for. He’s talented and so fun, and I want a crack at him.
Can you name some bad interviews over the years?
When I met Barry Manilow he was a huge jerk, and I wrote about it in the book. His people got in touch with someone at [syndicator] iHeartRadio and said, “Why is he calling Barry Manilow an a–hole?” Because he was the night I was with him. There are artists I want a redo with. I had a bad experience with Usher. We just didn’t connect, and he didn’t want to be interviewed that day. Madonna is another one. I want a redo with her because I never really feel like I connect with her. She’s difficult. I’ve interviewed her four times, and it never worked. I don’t know what it is with her — or with me.
What prompted your move away from New York?
Soccer. My son David, who is going to be 13 on September 24th, has wanted to play soccer professionally for years. I’ve been desperate to get him into the best academies with the best coaches, but the level of football in America is much lower than the rest of the world. I saw his frustration, and I also felt it was a good time. I felt like we needed a change, and I wanted to get out of America for a minute – as you know, this is not America’s finest hour – not that leaving America makes anything different or changes anything. I’ve lived in other places; I lived in London for 10 years. I like to put myself in uncomfortable situations and take risks.
You mentioned that you like to challenge yourself. In 1979, you left Michigan for New York with just $35 in your pocket. So this time around, what kind of challenges have you faced as a single mother moving to a foreign city with four kids?
It’s a different kind of challenge. When I moved to New York it was just about me, and taking care of the child in me. I’m still in survival mode, but now I have four younger children to think of, their education, looking after them and making sure they’re happy. Lisbon is an ancient city and no one is in a hurry to do things. You can have all the romantic notions you want, but once you are in a house and your staff doesn’t show up and the pipe starts leaking and you don’t speak the language, all of a sudden you’re like, what have I done? [Laughs].
Was life in New York quite claustrophobic in comparison to Lisbon?
Pretty much people leave me alone in Lisbon. Every once in a while someone would ask a photo or an autograph, but I got around a lot and was left alone. New York is a giant city. When you go to New York you feel like you’ve plugged into the center of the universe, however artificial it may seem.
As an artist, whether it’s in film or music or writing, do you think your work is political?How so?
Completely. Because I'm political. I believe in freedom of expression, I don't believe in censorship. I believe in equal rights for all people. And I believe women should own their sexuality and sexual expression. I don't believe there's a certain age where you can't say and feel and be who you want to be. All you have to do is look at my career—from my Sex book to the songs I've written, kissing a black saint in my "Like a Prayer" video, the themes I explored on my Erotica album. As I get older and I get better at writing and expressing myself, then you get into my American Life era, and I start talking about politics and government and how fucked our country's politics are, and the illusion of fame and Hollywood and the beautiful people.
How do you stay motivated after accomplishing so much?
Art keeps me alive. I've obviously been devastated or heartbroken all my life, since my mother's death. I've had so many challenges throughout my career, however successful people perceive me to be. The only way I've been able to survive the betrayal of lovers, family members, and society is to be able to create as an artist.
Do you still feel the same rush when you accomplish some new milestone? Or does it become commonplace?
No. When I made secretprojectrevolution [the 2013 short film that Madonna directed with the photographer Steven Klein, which dealt with the subject of artistic freedom], that was really exciting because it was a very political statement. And whenever I do my live shows, I feel artistically inspired and excited because I get to do and say a lot of things that I can't if I just make a record. A lot of times it's the only way people are going to hear my music because you don't get to have your music played on Top 40 if you're above the age of 35. It's always exciting for me to perform. I'm liking the idea more and more of just standing up with a microphone and talking. I like talking; I like playing with the audience. That's what I've started to do with "Tears of a Clown" [Madonna's most recent stage show, which combines music and storytelling]. I'm obsessed with clowns and what they represent and the idea that clowns are supposed to make you laugh, but inevitably they're hiding something. That's how I look at my life. I keep telling Amy Schumer and Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock that I'm going to do stand-up and they'd better watch out. I'm coming. I'm coming right behind them.
What books do you read?
'm reading several books. I cheat on my books a lot, which is not a good thing because it's good to stick with one book and get to the end of it, but I'm a book philanderer. I'm reading The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman, and before that I was reading All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. I was also reading Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, even though it's not a new book.
What do you like most about the art that you make?
I think it depends on what I'm making. I like pushing the envelope. But I don't like to do it just for the sake of doing it. I don't like to be provocative for the sake of being provocative. I like to be provocative. I like to make people think. I like to touch people's hearts. And if I can do all three of those things in one fell swoop, then I feel like I've really accomplished something.
You worked with some notable fresh talent on Rebel Heart, like rising hitmaker MNEK and a pre-Coloring Book Chance the Rapper. Who has your ear right now?
Well, as you know I moved to Lisbon, and I’ve been listening to a lot of music here, like fado, which is the music of Portugal. There’s such a cultural mix of people and music here. You could go out every night and hear different kinds of music. There’s a great jazz scene here. So right now I’m listening to a lot of local artists I’ve never heard of before, and that’s been really inspiring.
What are the songs you don’t want to do again?
Well, I tend to not want to do the songs I did on the tour before. That's what I mean. So if I did Material Girl on the tour before, or Express Yourself on the tour before, then I'll say, "OK, I did that for 88 shows. I can't do it again."
How do you keep a healthy balance between new songs and your back catalogue?
It's just playing in rehearsal. It's really hard for me, especially with my older songs, to do them with the original arrangement. Because 33 years later, after doing it for so long, you just have to reinvent things. Well, I do. And it's fun for me to take an '80s pop song and turn it into a salsa song, or turn it into a samba, or make an uptempo song into a ballad.
I saw the Rebel Heart tour when you were in London and the DVD does a really good job of capturing what it was like to be in the audience. How do you go about that?
I was there every step of the way, every day for months and months. It's really hard to capture the true feeling of the excitement and the passion and the heat and the blood, sweat and tears. I'm pleased with the way it came out.
How do you put a show True Blue together? Where do you get the ideas?
Everything's based around my song choice. So first, I go through my catalogue of songs with my band and I start working on things that excite me and inspire me in the moment. Some songs I'm sick of doing and I don't want to do them. Other songs I say, "No, I did that on the last tour, I don't want to do it again." So I try to rotate things and I also try to reflect my current mood and what I've been feeling, and what's been inspiring me artistically or filmically, politically, philosophically. I try to put songs together in groups that have thematic connection, and then I try to tell a story. And then I do the visuals. It's quite a process.
Where’s your stage style from?
It’s psedo-Puerto Rican punk rock freak out. A Motorcycle baby. It’s a combination of my two oldest fantasies. One was to be Nancy Sinatra; the other was to be a nun.
Make lots of records, or make lots of money?
I want to make a lot of love. I don’t think about money.It just gets there. Up until a year ago I was still broke and living on the street. But I still feel the same way. Money will never be a problem for me. If you worry about it, it’s a problem.
Did you ever fall in love?
I’m always fallin in love. But I get in trouble because I think it’s love then I realize it’s not, but the other hperson is in love and then I have this problem til I think it’s love again and have the courage to get out of the last one.
You had spoken about reincarnation. What were your past lives like?
don’t really…I only have images and reelings, no specific chronological events or anything like that. I do feel really transient in a way. I feel like when I meet people I can absorb their character and be them. And I find that no matter what I’m doing I’m always doing the same thing. Basically. What ever it looks like on the outside. And it just makes me feel..I don’t know…I can’t really describe it verbally because no one’s ever asked me this before, no one really cares. Haha! People just want to hear me sing.
How come you do soul music or ”soul pop”?
Because I have soul. Because you can dance to it. Cause you can, you know. I grew up in an all black neighborhood and I wanted to be a black girl. I really did. There was something about me that was so much freer than the white kids I knew and they didn’t go to the Catholic schools I went to. They went to other schools and they wore short dresses adn they didn’t have to take baths all the time and their knees were always dirty…I liked the fact that they could braid their hair and it would be sticking up…that’s not why I’m braiding my hair right now…First of all, all the black girls in my neighborhood had these dances in their yard where they had these little turntables with 45 records and they’d play all this Motown stuff and they would dance, just dance, all of them dancing together and none of the white kids I knew would ever do that. They were really boring and stiff. And I wanted to be part of the dancing. I didn’t like my friends. I had to be beaten up so many times by these little black girls before they would accept me and finally one day they whipped me with a rubber hose till I was like, lying on the ground crying. And then they just stopped doing it all of a sudden and let me be their friend, part of their group.