“THERE ARE NO LIVING ROLE MODELS FOR ME. BECAUSE NOBODY DOES WHAT I DO. AND THAT’S KIND OF SCARY”

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I don’t know, but it doesn’t look good. Could be civil wars,
could be riots, more intolerance, more hate crimes, more global
warming, and climate change.” The urge to wake up is not,
she clarifies, directed exclusively at America. Brexit, she adds bleakly, is “dreadful”. She sits very still and upright, feet planted firmly on the floor and delivers her words in a faintly tremulous monotone. I ask if she feels radicalized by the current state of world affairs, and she nods slowly. “Yes, I do. Absolutely.”

This is very much the Madonna who delivered a searing acceptance speech in 2016 for the Billboard Woman of the Year award when she talked of the “blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying and relentless abuse” she has endured throughout her career. Back then, prior to the #metoo movement, “People didn’t talk about misogyny when they received awards,” she observes. “Now everyone’s talking about it every time they get up and make a speech. It’s expected now. But I felt like I had to talk about what a long, crazy war I’ve had to fight as a woman to get to where I am now. It’s important that people recognize that.”

This ceaseless momentum, even more than her feted power to intimidate seems to me to be the defining quality of Madonna. The same forensic drive with which she first applied herself to the task of getting famous in the early The 1980s has sustained a career approaching its fifth decade. Her mother died of breast cancer when she was five, leaving her Italian-American father to raise six children alone; money was short and horizons narrow in her Detroit childhood, and she arrived in New York aged 19 to pursue her dreams as a dancer with nothing more to her name than raw ambition. During her first year in the city, she was raped at knifepoint. I ask who looked after her following the attack. “No one.” She went home to her tiny, roach-infested apartment alone, and didn’t leave it for days. “Who would I tell? I didn’t have any girlfriends. Most of my friends were gay, and I don’t recall having any close female friends to speak to. I wouldn’t have dared to call my father to tell him, because he would have said, ‘What were you wearing?’ – it was a hot summer day, and I was wearing white shorts and a white T-shirt.” She had, she adds softly, been on her way to a tai chi class.

“You don’t want to tell people you were raped. It’s a shame. You feel bad, you think, ‘Someone will think I did something wrong.’ But when life gives you a lemon, you have to make lemonade. I’d rather not be a victim. I’d rather learn from all the things that have happened to me.” So she said nothing to anyone and put the ordeal away in a box. “It’s there like all the other experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly. They make me who I am today.”

Her career still feels like a battle. “People have always been
trying to silence me for one reason or another, whether it’s
that I’m not pretty enough, I don’t sing well enough, I’m not
talented enough, I’m not married enough, and now it’s that
I’m not young enough. So they just keep trying to find a
hook to hang their beef about me being alive on. Now I’m
fighting ageism, now I’m being punished for turning 60.”

The Daily Mail, she remarks with caustic irony, seems to find it “rather rude of me to survive, to keep going, to be relevant, to have things to say, to still be excited and enthusiastic about life and creativity. You know, they’re really offended by it.” I wonder what feeling under attack for her entire life has done to her. “It does lots of things. Sometimes it makes me feel disappointed in the human race, and sometimes it makes me feel inspired.” Is the criticism galvanizing? “It makes me motivated, yes. I’m going to make it easier for all those girls behind me when they turn 60. I hope they appreciate it.”

Madonna’s duty of care to younger generations is often overlooked by the celebrity gossip narrative. “This is a very sexist thing we do in our world, where we like to pit women against each other. Never men, just women. We like to turn them into bitchy, jealous enemies.” She looks weary when I mention the excitement generated by the photo she posted from her Oscars party earlier this year, showing her draped around Lady Gaga, her alleged long-time nemesis. The photo was widely interpreted as a sign their feud was over, but she sighs. “People got very excited about that we were enemies when we never were enemies.”

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