"I wanted to be able to go back to that time in my life when I was just starting out in New York and I didn’t care what people thought."
Madonna’s new album, Madame X, marks a return to her roots as a “naïve” teenager in New York who gave “zero you-know-whats” about what people thought of her, the singer said during an exclusive onstage interview at MTV’s London offices.
Appearing in front of an invited audience of around 150 fans and media on Wednesday evening (April 24), the 60-year-old pop star was in a characteristically playful, flirty and combative mood as she took part in a 30-minute globally televised MTV special that culminated in the world premiere of her video for “Medellín,” featuring Columbian singer Maluma.
Hosting the event was British DJ Trevor Nelson, while Madonna -- drinking pink champagne, holding a riding crop and dressed as what can only be described as a dominatrix pirate in high heels, fishnet tights, leather skirt, punk-style black blazer, eye-popping bodice and bejeweled eye patch -- also took a number of pre-approved questions from the floor and fans at simultaneous MTV listening events in Milan, New York City and São Paulo via satellite.
“This is a weird conversation,” said the singer after one of many painful, eventually comic silences caused by a five-second satellite delay that, at times, felt far longer. When Nelson subsequently complimented her on the “incredible” beginning of her career, Madonna exclaimed, “What about now?” and pretended to whip him.
A few minutes later, during an ad break, the now-Portugal-based singer made Nelson read out a press release biography of her Madame X alter ego as she stood behind him trying to put him off. It was just one of several surreal moments in an entertaining, slightly odd and over-far-too-quickly interview that provided some revealing insight into her new album.
Below, rewatch the conversation and see some of the most interesting things Madonna had to say.
How Madonna's adopted home of Lisbon influenced the record.
“I didn’t go to Lisbon to make a record. That was the last thing on my mind. It was because my son wants to be a professional soccer player and he was never going to have the highest level of training in America. So I spun the globe, did a lot of research and found the top five academies for boys to train. Lisbon ended up being my favorite city of the [five] options. … So I went to Lisbon to be a soccer mom, which is a crazy story, I know. That’s the last thing you would expect from [puts on a posh accent] a controversial gal like myself.
"I went there and I thought it was going to be super fun and adventurous, but then I found myself just going to school and picking up kids and going to soccer matches, and really being netty-no-mates. I got a little bit depressed and thought, ‘I’ve got to make friends and I got to meet people.’ So I started to meet people and go out a bit - I'm not like a goer-outer per se -- and most of the people I met were artists – either painters or musicians. I started getting invited to people’s homes and they have things called living room sessions. So everyone would congregate. People would bring wine, they would bring food, sit around the table. And then suddenly musicians would get up and start playing instruments and singing fado music and samba music. I was like, ‘Wait. What’s going on here? Like artists just get up and perform and you don’t get paid and they're just doing it for fun and love and passion?’
Why she believes music is "the soul of the universe."
"No matter where we are. Where we travel. No matter who we’re with or what language we speak, when we hear music, even if we don’t understand the words, we can still connect to the vibe, to the soul, to the feeling, the emotion that the artist put into that music. You can still relate to it. It doesn’t matter what language people are singing in, or the beat or genre. We will always, in a primal way, be connected through music. I feel that my record, because Lisbon is a melting pot of culture, from Angola to Spain to Brazil to France -- I had the pleasure and honor to meet musicians from all these places and be inspired by their music and let it influence me. And that’s how all these songs came to be. … We were connected before Instagram, people."
On reuniting with French producer Mirwais, whom she previously worked with on 2000’s Music, 2003’s American Life and 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor.
"I hadn’t worked with him in probably about 10 years and so I wasn’t sure whether he was going to like the direction I wanted to go in, and I sent him some music -- some Portuguese guitar that I had assembled from the living room sessions. I said, ‘What do you think you can do with this?' And he wrote me back a couple of days later and he [had] already added an 808 to it, gave it a beat, cut it up and turned it into something amazing. … He’s a very intelligent guy. Very philosophical. Very educated. Very cultured and very political. So inevitably all of my work will end up becoming those things."
How she came to choose the directors for the “Medellin” video.
"I worked with two directors from Barcelona: Diana Kunst and Mao Morco. It was really Diana’s work that I had seen first. She is also very influenced by a lot of the same painters and filmmakers that I am interested in. Surrealist painters like Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington. I felt that all of her videos are very painterly and I loved her color palette. I wanted this video to look like a painting. Hopefully it does. I just vibed with what she was interested in culturally."
Why Madame X marks a return to her roots and the meaning of the "Medellin" lyric: “I took a pill to be naive, to be someone I’ve never been.”
"What I mean by that line is naïve in terms of not caring what people think. I feel like when I started my career as an artist, I was naïve. The good thing about being naïve is that you don’t think about judgment. You don’t think about what people are going to say or think about what you’re doing. You are free and pure in your expression. I wanted to be able to go back to that time in my life when I was just starting out in New York and I didn’t care what people thought, and my music really came without listening to all the noise and recommendations or suggestions, or whatever. That is also the time in my life, when I was 19, when I was given the name Madame X. So the whole story has come full-circle…. Madame X is back to her roots. She doesn’t care zero you-know-whats."