Our Exclusive Madonna Interview
BY Ari Karpel
February 02 2012 5:59 AM ET
As Madonna reinvented herself, gay fans hung on through thick and thin, through Who's That Girl and Body of Evidence, weathering reported flings with Dennis Rodman and Vanilla Ice. Fans bowed down at the sight of her as Evita and shored up support upon hearing Ray of Light, only to have to endure Swept Away and American Life and that British accent. It's been a bumpy ride for Madonna fans.
Perhaps Madonna wasn't the only one to "confuse" her personal treatment with that of gay men. The feeling was mutual. As she exploded in popularity Madonna became identified with the collective gay male sense of self. So when she moved on, devoting less and less time to her gay compatriots, many felt a twinge of abandonment. That's when bitching about Madonna became the great gay pastime.
"I never left them," insists Madonna, echoing a lyric from Evita. "When you're single, you certainly have more time to socialize and hang out with your gay friends, but then you get married and you have a husband and you have children, and your husband wants you to spend time with him. I'm not married anymore, but I have four kids, and I don't have a lot of time for socializing." She's been back in New York for two years, after splitting with Ritchie.
"I hope nobody's taking that personally. It certainly was not a conscious decision. As it stands, most of my friends in England are gay. But I'm back," she says, adding reassuringly, "Never fear."
Madonna is most certainly back. And love her or hate her (or love her, then hate her, then love her again) one thing is for sure: The world-renowned provocateur, boundary-pushing mother of reinvention still makes news. Tidbits about her latest film and MDNA, her first album in four years, even her high-dollar, three-record deal with Interscope have sparked a host of headlines. As did the announcement of her Super Bowl halftime show. You can't get more all-American than that. (And, yes, she was warned to avoid a repeat of Janet Jackson's Nipplegate.)
Indeed, who hasn't already seen Madonna's nipples? Whether she was writhing in a wedding dress at the Video Music Awards or photographed while hitchhiking naked, when she rose to fame Madonna was all about pushing sexual boundaries. But sex is old news. Madonna paved the way, and everyone since — including Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj, both of whom she's smooched — has walked that path.
One such successor speaks to a new generation of LGBT fans. Recently Time magazine referred to Madonna as "the Lady Gaga of the '80s." When I ask about this, a bit of a chill sweeps over the room.
"I have no thoughts," she says. "What's the question?" So I ask it a different way: What do you think of how Gaga connects with her fans, and is it parallel to the relationship you had with gay fans early on?
Madonna pauses for a moment, composing herself. "It seems genuine," she says, also seeming genuine. "It seems natural, and I can see why she has a young gay following. I can see that they connect to her kind of not fitting into the conventional norm. I mean, she's not Britney Spears. She's not built like a brick shithouse. She seems to have had a challenging upbringing, and so I can see where she would also have that kind of connection, a symbiotic relationship with gay men."
To many fans, that symbiosis has the outward appearance of the relationship Madonna had with her gay fans earlier in her career. Gaga has an intertwined dependence in which her fans' pain and alienation are bound up with her own. Perhaps every generation gets the gay icon it needs. For today's wave of queer youth, it's Gaga, who is spreading the antibullying gospel. But she has undoubtedly taken cues from the Madonna playbook. Whether she's singing the "Express Yourself" — reminiscent "Born This Way" or producing her Truth or Dare-like HBO concert film, Gaga is following a trail that Madonna blazed.
"I'm magnificent!" Madonna says initially when asked what she's like as a director. Then she gets serious. "I don't know — I'm pretty methodical and detail-oriented, very specific with everybody from the camera crew to the actors to the costume designer to the hair and makeup people. I was very specific with everybody all the time. I love giving actors as much information as possible and helping them as much as I can and then leaving them alone if they want me to."