Madonna’s new studio album Rebel Heart is her best in a decade. It’s an eclectic mix of classic pop and folk, along with edgier, more progressive dance and hip-hop sounds.
While the 19 track version available in South Africa may at first appear to lack cohesion, Rebel Heart is held together by the iconic singer/songwriter’s honest, reflective take on life, love, fame and, well, simply being Madonna.
In this revealing interview, the star, as vital, relevant and uncensored as ever, speaks about making the album (her 13th studio offering) with a raft of co-producers, including Diplo, Avicii, and Kanye West.
On being a rebel:
A rebel is someone who asks questions… You know that Shakespearean line “(the lady) doth protest too much”? A rebel is someone who protests too much… or maybe not enough, who questions convention, who thinks outside the box, who doesn’t take the road most travelled. At the end of the day, it’s the rebels, like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley and John Lennon. These people are the ones who have changed the world. They went against the grain. They took the road less travelled and that’s what made all the difference.
You can’t be a rebel and not be willing to take the consequences. Like Michael Moore says, “You can’t stick your chin out and not expect to get punched.” That’s the way it works. He’s a rebel heart too, by the way.
On spirituality, religion and sex:
I think they are all subjects that beg to be challenged and dissected. I’m constantly trying to come to terms with the ideal of spirituality, religion and sexuality. These are topics that are very prevalent in society, that are taken out of context in society, that are misrepresented in society, that are used to help people grow and feel self-empowered. They are also used to keep people down and imprison people. So for me, they’re topics you can never exhaust.
It gives me a lot of satisfaction to know that I was somehow involved with liberating people – making somebody feel proud of who they are or liberating someone in making them feel good about what they stand for.
On having opinions:
I have opinions. What else can you do if you’re an artist? I don’t know any other way except to offer up my heart or say “Come on, you wanna fuck with me? Let’s go.”
We’re living in the age where popular figures or pop icons or pop culture are not nurturing people to have opinions. It’s about being a brand, playing it safe and being familiar and not offending anyone… and I will never be comfortable being that.
I feel (that) on all my records I write songs that are revealing about my feelings but sometimes I don’t like to be so literal or so specific. I like to be more mysterious, so I guess it depends on the mood I’m in.
On misinterpreting and the haters:
I think if people are looking for something bad, they’re going to find it. As I’ve said before, we’re living in a fundamentalist, literalist society where there can’t be any duality to something. No one has an understanding to the meaning of irony. No one has a sense of humor. There’s no complexities to things. Everything is just surface value. Does is bother me that people will misunderstand my songs? I like to think that my songs will find the audience that they are meant to find. And the people who can’t understand them or can’t connect to them, well, they’ll find something else that they like.
On making Rebel Heart:
My original intention was that I was just going to sit with various songwriters and write songs. That was my goal. I’m just going to write songs and I want all the songs I write to be something that I could sit and strum a guitar to and sing from top to bottom without any other people involved. Even Bitch, I’m Madonna I could sing on acoustic guitar. It’s actually quite good. So, that was my goal.
And then after I wrote some of the songs, I chose a lot of my favorites and started going out to various producers to work with. Sometimes I would get together with producers, like Diplo for instance, and they would have ideas for songs that I hadn’t written already.
That is how Bitch, I’m Madonna came about. It started off as just an exercise, an experiment, so to speak, in song writing with lots of different people – to see what would come out of it. Then I started to pick up steam with sounds and producers. Then I started going in directions (while) I was also still in songwriting mode. And then I would bring along some of the songwriters I had in the beginning, along with some of the producers, because I really loved working with Toby Gad and Mozella as songwriters.
So, I ended up bringing them (back) into the mix once I started working with various producers. So, like I said, it was a train – people getting off and getting back on the train, until the very end. I didn’t have a specific vision except I wanted to explore the duality of my personality which is renegade – romantic. And I wanted to write good songs. That’s it.
Madonna instructions on how to play her new album: