Pitchfork: You have worked in lots of different mediums—acting, directing, theater, philanthropy—but always come back to pop music as your primary means of expression.
Madonna: Yes, my home base—pop music and the Catholic Church.
Pitchfork: And sex.
M: [laughs] Yes. Why not? All three together, if possible.
Pitchfork: What makes pop music such a powerful medium for you?
M: It’s very primal. It’s also like poetry, when it’s good. I like that you have four minutes to zero in on something and evoke a specific feeling and take people on some sort of journey. When I discovered that I could write music, it felt like the most natural way for me to connect with people and tell my stories. I’ve always thought of that as what I do: I tell stories.
Pitchfork: I was really surprised by this new record. To be honest, I was also kind of relieved…
M: That you didn’t hate it? [laughs]
Pitchfork: Yes, actually. I mean, you never know…
M: Totally. That’s to be expected.
Pitchfork: This is your 13th studio album. Do you tend to go into the making of a record with a sense of what you want the record to be, or does that reveal itself as things unfold?
M: Generally I start by choosing producers to work with, which determines the direction the overall sound is going to go in. But this time around, my goal from the very beginning was just to write good songs that don’t require any production to be felt or understood. I wanted to be able to sit in a room with a guitar and play the song from beginning to end and have it be as impactful as if you heard the studio version with all the bells and whistles. In the beginning I was writing songs with Avicii, whom everyone associates with EDM, but I worked with his team of writers and everything was very simple—vocals and piano, vocals and guitar. It almost had a folk feeling to it.
It wasn’t until I got about halfway through the album that I started thinking about sounds, and that’s where Diplo came in. He started adding these monster beats and punch-you-in-the-stomach bass sounds and 808s like you’ve never heard before, and that pushed me in a certain direction. Then I looked at the songs I had that still didn’t have producers and started asking around for people I thought it would be fun to work with.
I wanted to work with a hip-hop producer, but not a conventional hip-hop producer, and DJ Dahi had worked on a Kendrick Lamar record that I really liked. Then [Diplo] brought Blood Diamonds into the picture, and I’d never heard of him before. It was like a train that started moving: Along the way, new people would get on while other people would get off for a while only to return again later. So not only was I the primary songwriter, but I was also the schedule keeper trying to manage the comings and goings of crazy DJs who all have ADD. [laughs]
Pitchfork: When I was listening to the record I started to make a division between the “party” songs and the “personal” songs—the party versus the personal…
M: Party versus funeral. [laughs]
Pitchfork: I found myself much more drawn to the personal songs.
M: Which song in particular?
Pitchfork: “Joan of Arc”, for example. Maybe it’s just because…
M: You feel like a martyred saint? [laughs]
Pitchfork: I was gonna say because I’m a 40-something gay dude—same thing. I was just drawn to the songs that seem to deal with getting older, making sense of things.
M: I can understand that.
Pitchfork: You’ve never been afraid to put yourself out there in terms of talking about provocative topics like sex or religion, but is it somehow scarier to talk about your personal, intimate feelings?
M: Hm. I think “scary” is probably the wrong word. You just have to be ready. You know, I just don’t ever want to sound like a victim, or like a person that is feeling sorry for themselves. However, I did want to share some aspects of my life experiences that were painful that I think people can relate to—especially in this age of social media where people can hide behind the Internet to say a lot of disparaging, hateful, discriminatory things to other people. It’s not that people got crazier or more hateful, it’s just that now people have the courage to say stuff without any fear. As much good as it does, social media can also encourage stupidity and degradation.
Do you know [‘60s poet] Anne Sexton? I worship her. She came up in a tough time, and she definitely wasn’t encouraged to be a poet or to speak her mind or reveal anything personal. When I made Truth or Dare, I got so much shit from people for everything, for allowing cameras to follow me around all the time. Can you imagine, in this day and age?
Pitchfork: Now everyone has a camera following them at all times.
M: When that movie came out I was constantly referencing this Anne Sexton poem called “For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further”. She was given so much shit for being too personal in her work, but that poem is her way of saying, “Look, I don’t know how to do anything else.” That poem always gave me solace, especially at a time when everyone told me I was being crazy.
Pitchfork: What has inspired you recently in the realm of pop music?
M: To be honest, pop music isn’t exciting me too much right now. I mean, do you consider James Blake pop music? I love his music, some of his songs just kill me. He’s a great songwriter. It’s the kind of thing that makes me jealous, like, “Oh! I wish I’d made that!”
Pitchfork: You’ve talked about how having kids is like the best A&R, because they keep you up to date on what’s happening in the world.
M: Oh yeah, they’ve certainly turned me on to lots of great music.
Pitchfork: Are they harsh critics as well?
M: Yes. They’re like, “Please, Mom, no. Please stop. Oh, here she goes again…” And then I say, “Shut up, this is paying the bills!” [laughs]
Pitchfork: Two of your children are from Malawi, and I think it’s important to acknowledge the work you continue to do there.
M: Yes. My work there gives me a sense of purpose that I never really had before—it gives me a lot of joy, and it would be wonderful to invite other people to get involved. You witness extreme suffering but also extreme joy. I know it’s a cliche, but it really puts everything else in perspective. You just have to pour yourself a great big glass of “shut the fuck up” because you realize that you literally can’t complain about anything.
I love taking my kids there because not only does it stop them from ever complaining, it lets them become adults and takes them out of their comfort zone and they get to do this amazing work to help people. Being able to step outside of yourself in order to help someone else is why we’re all here, it’s what we should all be doing if we can. I don’t talk about this too much because I’m not in it so people can pat me on the back. Even when the former president there was trying to run me out of the country when we were trying to build schools and hospitals, it never stopped me, because I do this for love. It’s as important as anything I have ever done.
Pitchfork: You also really advocated for gay people—and talked openly about AIDS—at a time when not a lot of people were willing to do so.
Pitchfork: I appreciate that you’ve been so supportive of my people.
M: [laughs] Your people? My people.
Pitchfork: Are you surprised by how radically things have changed, particularly in respect to things like gay marriage?
M: Well, it’s about time. I’m not surprised really. There are too many powerful, intelligent voices in the gay community for things not to change. So, I’m happy and I’m relieved. I feel vindicated.
Pitchfork: In preparation for this interview, I spent a lot of time watching lots of YouTube videos of your past performances…
M: Oh god, you must be so sick of me.
Pitchfork: Are you still excited about being on stage in front of people?
M: Yeah. I like coming up with these spectacular extravaganzas that will, hopefully, totally blow people away. But I also like the intimacy of stopping it all and sitting at the edge of the stage and connecting with individual people in the audience. Actually, I quite like the idea doing a different kind of tour—and don’t get any ideas because this is not gonna happen right now—where I would sing songs and play guitar and just have maybe one other musician out there with me; it’s just me and a guitar and a good bottle of wine. I could talk in between each song and tell stories, or do some of my stand-up comedy, which I’m actually quite good at. I love it when I see a stand-up comedian have some amazing back-and-forth dealing with a heckler in the audience. I could really have a field day with something like that. I don’t think you understand how funny I am—I mean, maybe not right now, but in general. I do some of my best stand-up comedy during sound checks.
Pitchfork: I always thought it might be frustrating how big stadium shows don’t allow for much spontaneity.
M: I actually always try to have a moment in my show where I can just lay down on stage and talk to people for a little while. Also, I like to fuck with people sometimes. [laughs] I might be responsible for as many gay marriages as I am for heterosexual divorces, because there have been circumstances where see couples in the audience and there is a husband sitting there with his arms crossed, looking bored out of his brain, while his wife is up on her feet dancing and having such a good time. I’ll stop the show and point them out and say, “Who’s that guy sitting down right now?” And she’ll reply, “Oh, he’s my husband.” And I say, “Divorce him—right now.” And then they do! Just kidding. I hope they don’t, really.
Pitchfork: Could you imagine a time when you wouldn’t want to tour or make records anymore?
M: This might be verging on a stupid question. [laughs] You might need to take a drink for that one. You know what, I’ll have a drink too. [pours tequila shots] Cheers! Here’s to a stupid question!
Pitchfork: Here’s to apparently never retiring!
M: Here’s to never retiring!
Source : Pitchfork