FEW people seem
to respond to Madonna as if she were human. Rather, she polarises
opinion as a one-woman zoo of controversy, ambition and marketing.
Of course, it’s
this combination that has kept her in the public eye for more than
two decades, but lately the zoo has not been the attraction it once
flopped, her music sucks and now she’s writing kids’ stories,"
says one industry insider, succinctly. "It’s time to wind
down. Unless she’s writing Harry Potter and the Packet of Three,
I’d say that Madonna’s star is heading west."
very least, it may be time for yet another image overhaul, although
the public may be wearying of a pop singer who has more heads than
past we have had Madonna the sexpot, the material girl, the bendy
yoga toy, and currently Madonna the earth mother girl. Musically,
however, she has bumping along the bottom for years, relying on her
eye for the zeitgeist to boost interest.
be losing her touch even here; her new music video for ‘American
Life’, which features her throwing a hand grenade at a George
W Bush lookalike who then uses it to light a cigar, has been doing
the hokey-cokey in and out of the schedules.
as a critique of the war in Iraq, it seemed guaranteed to stir up
a hornet’s nest - until someone got cold feet and the video
was finally pulled altogether. Not the act of a radical or a rebel,
but every bit the action of a woman anxious not to alienate any section
of her record-buying public.
a pop icon has given her the leverage to do anything she wants, and
that has included making movies, despite the fact that for most of
us, a Madonna film is something you see if it’s a demand made
by someone who has kidnapped your family.
vehicles, films like Who’s That Girl (1991), The Next Best Thing
(2000) and Shanghai Surprise (1986) have all turned out to be Trabants.
recently there was Mr and Mrs Ritchie’s Swept Away, where Madonna
played a character who went from rich bitch to love slave on a desert
island. Like most of her movies, it was hobbled by the fact that Madonna
plays vulnerable with all the conviction of Pol Pot. It opens here
next month - on video - and if the Ritchies ever contemplate divorce,
they may both consider using it as grounds for cruelty.
is at work with her first story for children. Of course, some years
ago, she released an album called Bedtime Stories; but her cover picture,
with her Madgesty in full panda eye make-up and "helloo boys"
mode, suggested an approach that JK Rowling could not have dreamt
such as ‘Inside of Me’, ‘Why It’s So Hard’
and ‘Deeper and Deeper’ also suggested that Bedtime Stories
would raise some rather curious questions before the nightlight went
Madonna has not been a conventional mother. Madonna and the kids do
not swing in the park, sing nursery rhymes or make mudpies on the
beach. "The nannies do that bit," she says. "I take
Lourdes with me to pick out light fittings or sit in my office. I
like her to see me as I am."
And what does
Lourdes see? "A very scary lady," says one former employee.
"She goes everywhere with a huge entourage." She once swept
into a room that had been especially redecorated for her, and instantly
demanded a redesign because it clashed with her trousers.
businesswoman, Madonna’s clout is legendary. It is also one
of the few aspects of her life that she prefers to keep from public
view. For her 1991 fly on the wall documentary, Truth Or Dare, Madonna
invited the camera to witness everything except business meetings.
are countless stories - some apocryphal - about her fiscal alertness,
from moans about electricity bills to the time she sued her financial
advisers for $2.5m after alleging they made her pay more tax than
necessary. Madonna herself hates to be described as a Material Girl.
moment her talk is of yoga and spirituality and she has even disowned
her 1985 hit, redolent of Reaganomics and New Money. After pointing
out that she didn’t write Material Girl, she has vowed: "I’ll
never sing it again as long as I live."
Yet Madonna knew
the value of a dollar from the time when she arrived in New York from
Michigan with just $30 to her name. It was three years before anybody
took her singing ambitions seriously. New York’s star DJ, Mark
Kamins, supplied her big break, creating a club-scene hit with one
of her demo singles, ‘Everybody’, and introducing Madonna
to Warner Brothers records, who gave her a contract.
number one, ‘Like A Virgin’, came in 1984. In 1985 Madonna
sold more singles and albums than any other artist, with bouncy songs
offering incentives to dance and record covers featuring lingerie
track of her 1989 album, Like A Prayer, won condemnation from the
Pope after its video featured a scantily clad Madonna dancing with
a black Jesus and burning crosses.
on into Playboy country with Erotica and movies such as Body of Evidence,
assuring her fans that she was reclaiming the territory on behalf
of girl power, rather than setting up gold-digging as some kind of
distaff ideal that did nothing for female emancipation.
This was agendaless
exhibitionism, as hollow and self-serving as turkeys taking a stand
against Christmas, but it took Sex, a photo album of Madonna and chums
having a "good time", to make her rethink and retrench.
The book was, by her standards, a failure, suggesting that La Ciccone
had stayed one stop too long on the sex train.
apparently so interested in sex, she has had difficulties pairing
it up with lasting love. At first her boyfriends were high-profile;
John F Kennedy Junior, and Dennis Rodman were consorts, and in 1986
she married actor Sean Penn, who now says, rather magnificently that
"I am no better an expert on her than anyone else. I was drunk
most of the time."
could have been on a Burton and Taylor scale of bad behaviour and
lavish living, but the pair parted more quickly and even more acrimoniously
after four years.
bedtime companions included the odd woman, and there were few odder
than the letter-box-faced comedian Sandra Bernhardt. Later Madonna
aimed her cupid’s arrows rather lower down the social scale.
Bird has been described as a British filmmaker, although Alan Parker
may have little to fear from a man who crashed on friends’ sofas
when not living with Madonna. But eventually his indolence allowed
the relationship to fizzle out.
she asked boyfriend and former fitness trainer Carlos Leon to father
her child and a financial agreement was drawn up whereby Leon would
give up his claim to Lourdes. Carlos was not the first boyfriend she
had approached about her desire for children.
most vanilla of rappers, Vanilla Ice, dated her for eight months in
1993, during which time she persuaded him to strip for her Sex book
("She looked like a slut and so did I.").
she asked him to father a child, he was regularly abusing heroin and
cocaine, but that is not the only reason why he turned her down. "She
kept on at me. She freaked me out," he recalls, adding gallantly:
"I didn’t want her to be the mother of my child because
I thought she was too old."
who know the Madonna story, it is irresistible to link this obsession
with motherhood and motherly love to the loss of her own mother to
cancer when the singer was six. Madonna’s adolescent rebellion
against her sternly Catholic father, Tony Ciccone, lasted 20 years.
hand she would try her hardest to shock him, but on the other she
craved his approval. Now she seems to be imitating his style of parenting:
television was restricted in her youth. Now she is forbidding Lourdes
to watch it.
Maria Ciccone Leon is precious cargo, even after the birth of half-brother
Rocco. Named after the sacred Catholic site, at first Madonna was
fiercely protective of her child’s privacy and professed outrage
when the paparazzi snatched pictures.
afterwards, however, Madonna and child appeared together on the cover
of Vanity Fair. Lola’s world changed very quickly when Madonna
met Guy Ritchie. From being an adored single child of an adored single
mother, she now has to share Madonna with a new half-brother and a
sense, however, Madonna has found the best match possible; a partner
who is just as ambitious and as infatuated with fame and image as
she. Once an indolent upper-class public schoolboy, Ritchie has now
transformed himself into a film director and a diamond Cockney geezer
who likes to take the "missus" for a pint down the old rubadub.
he is not intimidated or impressed by his wife’s greater fame
or wealth, and to prove it, directed not only the humiliating Swept
Away, but also a car video where she appeared to wet herself.
be forgiven for suspecting that Guy is secretly trying to sabotage
his wife so she’ll spend more time back at the cat and mouse.
Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald commented that, in the end, the life
of his hero, Jay Gatsby, amounted to a collection of successful gestures.
And the same may be said of Madonna, who has made it her business
to seize opportunities whenever they wafted into reach.
has made her tough, controlling and guarded. According to former lover,
Vanilla Ice, "sexually, she was available, but emotionally she
was like Fort Knox".
But is there much
more to Madge than meets the eye anyway? Her past suggests a woman
who does not have convictions as much as an ability to get behind
every fashionable trend of the past 15 years - big hair, personal
trainers, affairs with personal trainers, yoga, motherhood, hip porn,
Kabbalah, nose rings and himbos - but nothing seems to stick.
her next move may be to save the planet: "When you think about
the state the world is in, the terrorism and imminent war, the planet
being destroyed and desecrated, it is a public figure’s responsibility
to not just raise public awareness but to offer solutions and to be
very involved," she says, ominously. "I think it is my responsibility
to enlighten people on a spiritual level."
This, from a woman
who cannot even disabuse her husband of the notion that London has
moved on from the era of the East End hardman. Or that Vinnie Jones
is an actor.