Madonna: Catholic Girl, Material Girl, Post-Liberation Woman

Madonna, a/k/a Madonna Louisa Veronica Ciccone (b. 1958), may not be the first name you'd think of as a leading Baby Boomer, yet whether you're keeping score by wealth, fame or influence, she definitely rates. Here, in an interview conducted in 1985, she tells of her youth, her early struggles, her rise to fame, and the price she's paid for it--as well as revealing how she became one of the fashion icons of her age.

By Michael Gross
Interviewed in 1985 in New York City for her first cover story in Vanity Fair

MG: What’s your whole name. I’ve seen it three different ways.
Madonna: My name, my now-legal name, including names given at birth? Madonna Louisa Veronica Ciccone Penn.
MG: What does your driver’s license say?
Madonna: Madonna Ciccone. But I got it before I was married. So depending on what kind of a mood I’m in, I conjure it all different ways. A lot of my legal papers just say “Madonna,” because that’s my professional name. Other things, like accounts and different things that I have are “Madonna Ciccone,” and I have checkbooks that say “Madonna Penn.”
MG: Of all of them, what name do you like?
Madonna: Madonna is the easiest. [laughs]
MG: And if you had to describe yourself like a newspaper writer, “Madonna, a [blank]…” What are you? Are you a singer, or you an actress, or are you an entertainer?
Madonna: I work as all three. I hope that I’m entertaining people when I’m singing or acting. Is there a word for all three? Multimedia something-or-other. I don’t know. It seems like the more words you add, the more egotistical it becomes. I can’t think of a word to describe what I am.
MG: When were you born?
Madonna: 1958. I’m actually born in several different years, depending on what you read.
MG: Were you in Catholic school right from the getgo?
Madonna: Yes, until the 10th grade.
MG: So you always wore uniforms?
Madonna: Yes.
MG: And out of school, did you get the chance to rebel at all?
Madonna: Not really. I mean, when I got out of school I had to change my clothes and do my chores and do my homework. And we had a really big family, so my parents didn’t have lots of money to buy lots of fancy clothes. My stepmother sewed clothes for us all the time, and she would often sew the same dresses for me and all of my sisters, so once again I felt it was still part of a uniform. You know what I mean? I still was dressed the way they were dressed, even though it was a different color.
I’d see pictures of movie stars and stuff, and I’d love the way they were dressed — Ann-Margaret or Brigitte Bardot. I loved their sense of style and I longed to be able to wear tight sweaters and pointy bras and stockings. I remember starting from the fifth grade I would just cry every year because I wasn’t allowed to wear stockings until I was in high school, and I was devastated. And also lipstick. I wasn’t allowed to wear lipstick until I was in 10th Grade. I mean, I remember crying in my bed thinking it’s the end of the world. It’s the end of the world because I cannot wear lipstick.
I felt a constant desire, until I left home, to dress [according to] my own expression, not [that of] the authority that told me I must dress this way. And I pretty much felt like I had to dress the way my parents or my teachers or whatever wanted me to dress until I left. And very often I was very jealous. I had girlfriends who were in public school or girlfriends whose parents gave them money and they’d go out shopping and stuff. I never really did that. My stepmother always bought our clothes for us. So I would go over to their house with them to feel their clothes. It was such a thrill to get out to wear something that I felt was fancy or elegant or something. If I’d go out with them, you know, go to the movies, I would wear their clothes, go to their house, change, wear their clothes, go out, go back to their house, change back into my clothes and go home. Or, when I was in public school, I would come downstairs in one outfit that I knew that my parents approved of, go back upstairs change into something that I thought was slightly more risqué, put my winter coat back on, leave and go to school that way. Or I would change in the bathroom at school, wear that through the whole school day, change at the end of the school day and come back in my other outfit. I mean, I was at PAINS to do this. Sometimes I got caught, so I was in big trouble.
MG: Did your father and your stepmother have an attitude about this? Was it just “we have to be economical.”
Madonna: It was economical, and they always wanted me to dress very modestly.
MG: There was a Puritanism that went beyond the economics?
Madonna: Yes. Skirts down to your knees and no…
MG: What happened when you got caught?
Madonna: I was punished. I got grounded. My movie-going privilege that week was taken away. I’d have to do dishes every night of the week. Something silly.
MG: Did you have like fantasy escapes? Were you into going to the movies or looking at fashion magazines?
Madonna: Oh, I love fashion magazines. That is one of my Jones. You know, some people buy cigarettes, some people buy big Cadbury candy bars, but I might spend $100 on French magazines or Italian magazines, and look at them — and throw them all away!
MG: Were you allowed to bring “Vogue” home? It sounds like the household you wouldn’t…
Madonna: It’s not like we weren’t allowed. I didn’t have any money to buy one. I mean, if I got any money I went to the movies. That was definitely an indulgence, buying a magazine. Because that didn’t last, and you didn’t do that with friends. I mean, that wasn’t a social thing.
MG: Did you have heroes and heroines at that point?
Madonna: Everyone’s asked me that, and I can’t remember. I remember thinking when I was younger that people like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn and then Brigitte Bardot, who was certainly very different stylistically than them, that they always had a great sense of style, and there was something very feminine about them that I admired. Very put-together and feminine. I liked that. But I don’t think I dreamed to be like them when I went to bed at night. My consciousness was that they had a better life than I did! [laughs] And that’s what I wanted.
MG: You used to play around with your school uniform.
Madonna: Mostly I would just roll it up when I got to school and make it real short. And all the girls would have a…would compete. Do you know what petit-pants are? Since you couldn’t be different on the outside, you’d have to be different on the inside, and you’d go in the back and then see who had the nicest underpants on. And a few of us, the more dangerous ones, would hang upside-down on the monkey bars in the playground, so our skirts would fly up and the boys could see.
MG: Did you ever get in trouble with the nuns?
Madonna: Mmm-hmm. For being immodest? Yes. One time I liked a boy a lot, and I was chasing him in the playground, and I was getting hot in my uniform so I pulled down the strap. It was one of these uniforms that had two pieces that came up, and then two like very wide straps so you could see the insignia of the school, and one of those white blouses with a little bow. I pulled down those things, took off my blouse. I had a boy’s T-shirt on underneath. I chased the boy in the playground until I caught up with him and tackled him so I could kiss him.
MG: How old were you?
Madonna: Fifth grade. And I got in trouble for that. When I was really young, I used to lift my skirt up on the desk, so that boys could…when boys were going up to sharpen their pencil, they could walk down the aisle and…That was in third grade when I did that. I think I was a bit of a class clown know. But I was also in need of attention, really. I mean, that’s what that’s all about.
MG: A writer recently said this about you: “Female adolescence will never be the same.” She was talking about your appeal, that you’re like a human Barbie Doll, and that you had reclaimed your sexuality.
Madonna: I think what they were trying to say is that for so many years you couldn’t be sexy and strong. You couldn’t dress sexy and be strong at the same time. And I think I gave young girls a different outlook. I mean, they hadn’t had it since the ’50s, you know, the idea of dressing up and having fun and still being in charge of yourself. Know what I mean? And I think that it’s innate in little girls, and was really kept down, suppressed all of these years, and then finally it got to be okay that they could dress that way.
MG: When you were 10 years old, 1968, there weren’t really women who–
Madonna: There were a few women who I felt were really strong that I looked up to, but they were women like Martha Graham or Georgia O’Keefe. They were painters or dancers.
MG: You were aware of them when you were that young?
Madonna: Yeah, because I was a dancer, and my older brothers were painters and my sister is a painter, so I was getting art courses and stuff like that.
MG: Did you have a sense of there being hippies and a counterculture?
Madonna: Yeah, they were in my school. And I had uncles who were very young, and they had long hair and they always had peace signs. My older brothers were into it to a certain extent. I remember all the fights that they had with my father about cutting their hair and the music they listened to. In the high school I went to, there were the Jocks, that drank beer and went out with cheerleaders and had very short hair, and they were very much Establishment. Then there were the guys who took all the jewelry classes and the pottery classes and had long hair and smoked joints. That was the two factions.

MG: What year did you switch from parochial school to public school?
Madonna: ’73.
MG: David Bowie was starting to happen…
Madonna: I love David Bowie. In fact, I made a big story and snuck away to a David Bowie concert, which my father had forbidden me to do it, and risked being grounded for the whole summer if I was caught — and I went anyway. And I was caught. I had a great time, though. I ended up playing in the same arena when I was on tour where I had gone to see David Bowie. God, that was a trip.
MG: Did you ever take part in the moratoriums and all of that? Were you into bellbottoms and smoking pot?
Madonna: Not really. I didn’t really fit into anything. I think I was more observing things. I think I was much more into what I wanted to do with my career. I didn’t really feel like I fit in with any group in school — the jocks or the hippies. I pretty much wore what I wanted to wear; I mean, what I could wear and what I could get away with, obviously. But it was a source of frustration to me, because I didn’t feel like I fit in. And when I really started getting involved in Dance in high school, it meant it took up all of my free time when I wasn’t in school, and then I started going to school half-days and going to a college in Detroit to dance with the company and stuff. I didn’t pay attention to peer groups and stuff like that. I just felt like I was older than everybody else. I didn’t need to think about it. And I was really self-absorbed, you know?
MG: How did Dance happen? How did you discover it?
Madonna: In Michigan, I knew a girl when I was young who took ballet class every day, and she had a real serenity about her, a real sort of intelligence. She didn’t fit in with everybody around her. And I liked her and I got to know her, and she took me to a ballet class. Her father was a professor. She came from a very liberal, intellectual kind of a family, very different than mine. And she took me to these classes, and I met this guy who was a dance teacher, and I became his favorite pupil because I worked so hard. I didn’t start as early as all the other girls. So I just threw myself into it. And he gave me a sense of culture and style and stuff that I had never had before, and he was the first homosexual I’d ever known. It was just a whole new life for me. He opened up the door.
MG: How old were you?
Madonna: I was 15.
MG: You were helping take care of your family then because your mother was fragile. Do you think that your strength and your sense of purpose comes from that?
Madonna: Yes, it comes from that. But also, just being disciplined and having to follow a certain regimented lifestyle every day. Whether your discipline is going to church every morning, or getting up and running 5 miles every morning, or meditating, or whatever, it sort of sets up your whole life. If you can make yourself do that every day, it carries over into everything else that you do.
MG: Were you conscious of wanting something different?
Madonna: I was.
MG: So when dancing happened–
Madonna: –I said, “Oh my God, I’ve found it.”
MG: How did that change you? Did you become aware of things that you hadn’t been aware of?
Madonna: Very.
MG: What sort of things?
Madonna: That there were people who dressed the way they wanted to dress, and who were outlandish and stylish and flamboyant but intelligent all at the same time, that sort of defied being categorized as one kind of a person. That you could do many different things and still be good.
MG: So when Lou Reed sings “My life was saved by Rock-and-Roll,” really in a sense your life was saved by discovering Dance.
Madonna: Mmm-hmm. Yes. The girl that brought me into the world of Ballet was very much a rebel in a lot of ways. She read certain kinds of book that I had never read before. She didn’t shave her legs. She didn’t wear any makeup. She was a complete vegetarian. And my older brothers were into all this stuff, too. Up until that point, I really cared about dressing for boys and stuff, and being sexy and at that point, when I got into ballet, I didn’t give a shit about boys in my school. I didn’t care what they thought about me. I dressed the way I wanted to dress. I did become a rebel, but only in that I stopped feeling peer pressure. I stopped feeling the great need to fit into a group at school and to have a group of friends and have people like me because I had found something that I could feel good about all by myself. So I was very lucky.
MG: So at that point was there more awareness of the outside world as well?
Madonna: Well, I was made more aware of the political climate in the world, and I was made more aware of more pioneering kinds of women, like Martha Graham, and more artistic women who were doing things off the beaten path, and had also great style, but their own style.
MG: But was the Style thing important to you at that point? I mean, were you conscious of it?
Madonna: Yes. I mean, I saw pictures of Martha Graham and the way she was dressed, and she was very different.
MG: Did your self-image change?
Madonna: Yes. I think I went through a whole period of my life where I felt very androgynous. Because I had lost a lot of weight. And I was very underweight for several years. And I did cut my hair off, and I did feel that I wanted to get away from the of idea of identifying with that feminine aspect of myself, being a certain way for men. Because at that point, I also was under the impression that you had to be one or the other, you know; that you could be really sexy and feminine and soft, and be submissive and do it for other people, or you could be for yourself and be more masculine. And obviously, when I was dancing, it was very much a gay environment. Most of the men that I would be dancing with were gay. All the teachers were gay. All the great places to go dancing were gay bars in Detroit and in Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan was. So after a while it just didn’t really matter. And I was so obsessed with dancing and stuff that I didn’t care. There was just a whole period in my life where I didn’t have a boyfriend and I wasn’t interested in it.
MG: Would it be fair to draw the analogy that you were sort of in a chrysalis-cocoon stage?
Madonna: Yeah, I pretty much was evolving into something else, and I wanted to go back to maybe being nothing, which is what androgyny is. It’s like neither here nor there.
MG: Was there a point at which you realized that you were beautiful?
Madonna: Yes. When I started dancing. I was told I was beautiful in a classically beautiful way, like the shape of your head, the shape of your nose, things like that. I wasn’t told that I was sexy or cute or pretty. I was told that I was pretty. So I felt, “Oh, really? I am?” So I started looking at myself differently. I started to feel like I didn’t HAVE to do certain things. And felt, if you’re going to like me, you’re going to like me for what I am, not the way I look — that sort of thing.
MG: Was there ever a temptation to stay in Michigan?
Madonna: Never. I wanted to leave Michigan since I was 5 years old.
MG: You began reading Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.
Madonna: That seems like part of the chrysalis stage, too. Remember, I had older brothers who were listening to Tom Waits and reading Richard Brautigan and Charles Bukowski and were into Zen Buddhism. They were going through all their spiritual things. So those kinds of things were always there for me to pick up and read. And my sister and I became very big fans of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath when we were in high school, and then even more so when I left. Because they were very strong women. Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath weren’t your “intellectual” types that went to colleges. They were like housewives who had children, who came from very sort of sheltered environments, who weren’t rebels per se. They just started writing poetry. They had this magic gift. If someone had nurtured them, who knows. So in a way, you can relate to that. It comes from a very different place.
MG: In college, you went through a Punk phase, spiking your hair, wearing safety pins…
Madonna: Yeah, which continued when I moved to New York. Because once you get into Ballet, you get a uniform. So once again, I was trying to get out of a uniform. Do you know what I mean? I didn’t want my hair back in a bun. I didn’t want to wear pink tights and a black leotard.
MG: So ripping the dance clothes was an attempt to change that uniform?
Madonna: Mmm-hmm. And that began with an “I’m not like everybody else. I may be taking these classes and things, but I’m not like everybody else. I want to be different.”
MG: Did you have trouble with dance people? Did they treat you differently?
Madonna: Not in Michigan, but in New York, yes, because there are so few chances for a dancer to ever really make it and be successful, so it’s a lot more cut-throat and very elite, and if you didn’t go to ABT or New York City Ballet and all the prestigious studying since you were 8 years old, you don’t fit the mold.

MG: Was there a moment when you felt for the first time that you were dressed as yourself, where clothes and who you were coincided?
Madonna: Yeah, as soon as I moved away from home, when I got to dress the way I wanted to.
MG: That was when you went to college or when you came to New York?
Madonna: I came to New York first, and then went back home to college. Summer of ’76.
MG: You started school in Fall of ’76?
Madonna: Yeah. Then I came back to New York the following summer.
MG: What did you do that first summer in New York?
Madonna: Danced. Took dance classes. I hung out with people that I knew from dancing in Michigan.
MG: Was there a revelation? Was there a moment the first time you got dressed up and you were in New York and you said…
Madonna: “I can wear what I want!” Yeah, but my idea of being dressed up was just putting on a leotard and a pair of tights and my skirt over it, and wearing lipstick.
MG: When you came to New York, did you have any sense of rebelling or busting out or anything like that?
Madonna: You’d better believe it.
MG: It always seems to me that Catholic school kids make the best rebels.
Madonna: Mmm-hmm. Because they’re the most repressed. There are so many rules and stuff You’re always being told you can’t do something, but you never get told why. You just get told that it’s wrong. In other words, you just get tons and tons of rules piled up, and the most natural thing happens. You just start getting really curious about all these things that you’re told you can’t do, because you don’t know why, but you just know you can’t do them. You have to find out why. So you do. You get very rebellious.
MG: When you dropped out and came to New York, what was the motivation?
Madonna: I started thinking: Why am I going to school? I don’t need to go to college to be a dancer. I can dance in New York and be in the center of it all.
MG: Did you want to be a ballet dancer?
Madonna: No, but ballet is a very good training, and what it gives you is the strength to be able to do anything.
MG: Did you have a sense of what you wanted at that point?
Madonna: I wanted to be a dancer, and [I knew that there were] modern dance companies like Graham, Paul Taylor and Lar Lubovich. And there were jazz dance companies, and then there was Broadway. I never thought that I was going to be Cynthia Gregory or Gelsey Kirkland or someone like that. I wanted to learn the classics to give myself a base. But I knew that there were other kinds of dance that was being performed. I came to New York in ’77 and got a scholarship at the Alvin Ailey School. I danced there. I took classes there every day, and I had small jobs here and there, and I met people, made friends. A lot of companies came and taught classes at Alvin Ailey, so they were always looking for new dancers, so there was always the chance that if you’d really stick out in class or shone in some way, you’d get chosen for their company. And I eventually was. I did that for a year.
MG: Were you aware that New Wave Rock-and-Roll was happening?..
Madonna: No, I was very unaware of New Wave music per se. I was completely wrapped up in the dance world, and mostly was listening to classical music, and Joni Mitchell or Tom Waits — people my brothers had turned me on to. Very unaware of Talking Heads and B-52s and Blondie and all that. I wasn’t made aware of that until I started my music. I never went to a nightclub in New York. Never. It wasn’t until I came back from Paris that I actually got involved with all of that. After dancing for a year, I started feeling like just dancing wasn’t enough for me; it just wasn’t enough of an outlet. So I started reading the trade papers. I was living like a gypsy, here and there…
MG: Were you really poor?
Madonna: Very.
MG: Were you happy? Were you having a good time?
Madonna: I was miserable sometimes. I felt very lonely. I used to cry and I would wonder whether it was all going to work for me. Because I didn’t have a network of friends, I didn’t have financial aid from anybody, and I really was on my own. So every once in a while I would feel lost and forlorn. But then there’s always been a little streak in me that won’t give up — so I never did.
MG: There was still a sense of purpose, though?
Madonna: Only in that I wanted more. I knew that I could sing. I was always singing. Dancers around me would always say, “You have a really great voice.” And I always loved music. So I started reading the trade newspapers, and I started going to Off-Broadway musical auditions, the things that asked for dancers who could sing or singers who could dance. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t have a resume. I didn’t have pictures. I used to show up at these things, and there would be cattle calls, and I’d go in there and I always thought that I’d be good–but I didn’t fit in. Once again, I wasn’t out of that school of dancers…everybody dresses [a certain way] when they go on auditions, with the legwarmers and the high heels and all that. Well, once again, I didn’t fit in. You know?
But I just got lucky one time. I went to an audition for this French singer who was going on a world tour. And he said, “Come to Paris; I can make you a star.” So when I got to Paris, obviously, after living there for a month, you…it’s such an education. I was taken to all the nightclubs there. I saw a whole different world. I had a lot of money for the first time in my life. They gave me a salary. And I had a little apartment.
MG: Right before you left for Paris, what did you look like? What did you dress like?
Madonna: I was very thin. I had long blonde hair. My hair went short, long, short, long, cut, long. I’d get sick of it being long and I’d chop it off, then I’d let it grow back, then I’d chop it off. I was wearing old thin flowered dresses that I got in antique stores. Ballet slippers; I’d wear them everywhere. I was really very much a waif. But when I went over to Paris, this is when I changed my image. I had a different image, very startling, striking image. Because they gave me all of this money to go shopping. Well, I went out and I bought a pair of black jeans and black leather jackets and black boots with Cuban heels and pointy toes–and that was my uniform. Of course, they didn’t like what I bought and they would buy me other things, or give me money to buy other things, and I would just throw the clothes away.
MG: What did they want you to look like?
Madonna: They wanted me to wear flashy disco clothes. And I wasn’t into it. So I gave my money away. I started hanging out with poor people. I started hanging out with this bunch of Vietnamese kids, a motorcycle gang, and I would drive around in my black jeans and my black leather jacket and my black boots. Once again, I kept placing myself in places where I wanted to rebel. Because they were saying, “Do this-do this-do this,” and I was saying, “No-no-no-no!! I don’t WANT to look that way or want to be that way; this is what I want.” So I’d wear the same thing every day. That was my uniform. And one day I just got really pissed off at them. They weren’t doing what they said they were going to do. I wanted to be a singer, so I said, “Well, fucking do it.” At that time I couldn’t play any instruments. I was always writing poetry and prose, and stuff in my journal, but I didn’t know stylistically what direction I wanted to go in. So I got really pissed off at them one day and I went to complain. I said, “When are you going to do something with me?” Because I was taking dance classes and taking voice classes, and I was not doing anything. I mean, I was hanging around the city and we were traveling around Europe, which is great, but after working so hard and going to New York and stuff, you just don’t want to like be a princess. You want to BE somebody. You want to work! So whenever I would complain, they just gave me more money to shut me up and I got so pissed off. So I cut all my hair off again. But I cut it off so it was really spiked up, and I pierced my ears and I put face paint in them. I would see these Punks in Paris at the Fontainebleau and I liked the look and I started behaving that way, and that pissed them off.
I was getting more and more frustrated musically, and I finally left and I went to New York. Before I’d left [for Paris], I had met this guy who I was somewhat romantically involved with, but only for a short period of time because I left. He was a musician, and I looked him back up when I got back into town, and he had a band and that’s how I got into the whole music thing. He started teaching me to play guitar and keyboards. And I just submerged myself in the music, teaching myself every day; sax, drums, keyboards, guitar — every day. I had day jobs and I worked. But once again, I devoted myself to this, because I wanted to have the training, and I wanted to learn, I wanted to write songs, and I had words, but I didn’t know how to play an instrument.
Eventually I became a member of that band, and that’s when we started doing gigs at CBGB’s and Max’s, and that’s when I became aware that there was this Punk movement. But I was certainly not there in the beginning of it.
I became aware of Blondie when I was in Paris; you know, groups like that. I liked her style and I thought she was great, but what I liked mostly about her was that she had a great sense of humor. You know what I mean? She seemed like a very smart woman. She didn’t seem like a bimbo or anything. So I first became aware of her and the Punk groups when I was in Paris, but didn’t really come into contact with any of them until I started playing gigs and stuff. But I’d already missed it. You know what I mean? I had already missed seeing the B-52′s and those people for the first time. Then I started becoming aware of it, and started going out to nightclubs and stuff like that, and becoming aware of people like Andy Warhol and all of that, and the whole cultural-social-Downtown scene in New York. Up until that point I had no idea what I was missing.

MG: You developed a look crossing dance clothes and New Wave.
Madonna: Uh-huh. It was a real organic evolving for me of the things that I had been exposed to and what I felt comfortable wearing. After I had already gotten a record deal, and I started hanging out in dance clubs, because rap clubs and Puerto Rican clubs were the first clubs to play my records, and I had a boyfriend who was Latin, and I started hanging out, and he would take me around to all these discos, take me to the Bronx and places like that. And I became very aware of a whole ‘nother culture –break dancing and Latin music and Graffiti and all that. And that added a whole new element to my education in Musical Fashion. It all seemed so new to me and exciting, and so kind of private, like a little world unto itself. But then that got really famous and everything, and then it was like boring, you know?
I had a boyfriend, and he was a graffiti artist, and we would go out at night and so he would have his tag name. He was always telling everybody that my name was Madonna. But I said, “Oh, I want to have a tag name!” So we sat around talking about it, and we came up with “Boy Toy,” because in the world that I was in, I was a flirt. I played with a lot of boys. So it was a play on words. You know what I mean? Not that I was a toy of boys, but I toyed with boys. So “boy toy” sounded good. So it became my thing. And with graffiti people it’s how much you get up; if you get your name up everywhere, in all parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn and wherever. And everybody had their name on a belt buckle, all the guys that were Down, Bad by Law. There were a few places you could go and get them made. I got mine made at 8th Street, the first one; 8th Street near McDougal. It’s like a little Korean joint, and they sell stud bracelets. That’s when I started wearing all those things, because all the Puerto Rican boys wore them, too. And I was really emulating their style.
So eventually, when I did start becoming an image with pictures and stuff like that, it was a combination of the dance and the Ragamuffin, and the New Wave, and then this Puerto Rican Street Style, you know. I mean, there was a time when I wore my Adidas sneakers with different-colored laces, and I was wearing nylons, those track suits that come in all bright colors, and belts, and leather caps, and like the gloves with the fingers cut off, you know…
MG: When you first came to New York, there was period in which, whether it was conscious or not, you ended up being exploited. First, a guy put you in a movie and he smears you with ketchup and rips your clothes off, then you end up posing nude…
Madonna: I needed the movie thing. The three people who are in the movie with me, they’re all dancers that I knew. We all studied together, and we were just fooling around, you know. We met this guy, and he wanted to make a movie, and it was all a kick for us. We didn’t give a fuck. I was used to being with all these people. Angie, the girl who was there, was a bass player in the band I was in. So I knew everybody already. We were all pals. We had all dressed and undressed together countless times. You know how dancers are. They’re like cats. They can live a million people in one room. They’ll undress in front of each other because everyone is so into themselves, and not each other, you know?
I didn’t feel that I was being exploited. At the time that it was being done, it was just a kick for me. It was like an experiment. I never knew we were going to do anything with it. Then eventually I started to dislike his personality towards the end, but I had already made a commitment to finish it, so towards the end I was like doing it and hating it. And when it was finally done, I was like, “Oh God, I’m glad that’s over with — and I hope I never see that guy again!” Then years later it came up because I was very popular.
As far as the nude photographs, I was very poor at the time I was dancing. I could never hold a waitressing job or anything; I always got fired! But I could model for different art classes. They had night classes, they had day classes, and I could call up and say, “Look, I’ve got these hours free today.” And they liked me, because I was very thin and my muscles were very defined, so it was perfect for an anatomy drawing class, but also photography classes, where there were nude study classes, and it was pretty good pay, ten dollars an hour, and you just worked 4 hours a day. I met a lot of people in those classes who said, “You’re a great model,” women, painters, who said, “Come to my studio on Saturday; I have painters who come…” They paid me twice as much, they gave me longer breaks, they gave me food, it was very relaxed — and it was fun! People painted me all the time, and then they would turn me on to photographers, who were “Art photographers” who did pictures of nudes. And I had seen art books with nudes, pictures with men they had done and things like that that were very beautiful. I didn’t think that I was being exploited at all. I had absolutely no inkling that that’s what was happening. I got paid very well. I worked very short hours. And these men were very gentlemanly with me. They did their pictures and they left.
MG: But when they reappeared years later, the world looked at them and–
Madonna: I know how the world looked at them! You said it seemed like I was exploited. The exploitation came well after the fact!
MG: Did that seem like bad luck to you?
Madonna: No, it didn’t seem bad luck. It seemed like that’s the way the world is. When someone does very well, there are always the kind of people who wish you [were] not doing well. And I just think there are people who have a lot of negativity and they are envious and live on trying to make other people fail. And those are people who don’t have goodness in their live. I guess it was inevitable. Once you get fame, all your skeletons come out of the closet. Not that I was ashamed of what I had done, but the way that it was being promoted and the way that media has that sort of power over people… It’s something that I was not able to control at all, and I knew that it would be taken wrong.
MG: Just after the nude photos appeared in magazines, I was watching Live-AID, and you came out and you looked at the camera and you said, “I ain’t takin’ shit off,” it was so strong.
Madonna: I had a lot of support from people who are close, from people who were around me and close to me, and that helped me sort of get out of it. The chance to get up on stage and do Live-AID was my chance to not sit in my room and not be upset about it and not think that the world was stronger than me, but get out and say, “Fuck you!” I can’t tell you how good I felt.
MG: The element that lots of people focused on as you started getting famous was your innocence-provocation, innocence-provocation. Where did that come from?
Madonna: You know where it came from. Catholic upbringing. Where you’re innocent and you’re provocative. You’re either a virgin or you’re a slut. And my father wanted to be a nun when I was growing up, and I was fascinated with nuns; on the other hand, I was fascinated with sexy girls who had boyfriends. So it’s just the two extremes that were in my system. I had grown up with those two concepts of what a woman could be. And I was kind of really exorcising them. Making fun of them. Putting them up on the wall, throwing darts at them.
MG: Were you doing that right from the get-go once you were making the records?
Madonna: Yeah, pretty much. I’ve had a collection of rosaries since I was young, one that I had got when I was 3, one that I got for my confirmation, my grandmother sent me rosaries, and when one of my grandmothers died I got this beautiful one that glowed in the dark. There was something beautiful and mysterious about them; something that looked like suffering. It wasn’t necessarily that it was Jesus Christ or that I was a practicing Catholic or something. I liked them. And one day I put one around my neck, and I liked the way it looked. It was kind of like a necklace, but it also provoked. I hung out with a group of people, all these girls in stud bracelets and the layering of jewelry had already begun. So I started like putting ALL of my rosaries around my neck. Then it became a THING. People started giving me them as gifts–beautiful rhinestone rosaries. That’s the way I dressed when I was performing and then pictures were taken, and then all of a sudden I was this girl. You know? And that’s who you are. No matter how many times you may have evolved since then. Yes.
MG: How did people react to that look? Did you ever get…
Madonna: What look?
MG: The piled-up hair and the bows…
Madonna: You know how they reacted! Some people thought it was the best, some people thought I was just a trashy little girl who didn’t wash her hair, you know. I wash it.
MG: And those were the people who didn’t get the joke.
Madonna: Right.
MG: Did you have a sense that what you were doing was going to provoke people?
Madonna: Mmm-hmm. I was provoking people since I was a little girl, so… I mean, I knew I was provoking people when I rode my uniform skirt up. So, yes.
MG: Do you feel like a rebel? Do you feel like someone who’s middle class?
Madonna: Mmm-hmm. I am middle-class. I came from a middle-class family. And yes, I am a rebel.

MG: How does it feel to have the attention of the world focused on your belly button?
Madonna: Well, it’s probably not focused there any more, but women have always exposed legs and cleavage, obviously, because those are the places that are sexy on your body.
MG: Do you have favorite clothes?
Madonna: Sure. I have these little black, like, Capezios, flat shoes. They’re really comfortable; I wear them everywhere. I wear them when I go dancing. And they go with EVERYTHING. I’m not a real big fan of high heels, so you know, I wear those every day. There’s a black leather jacket [that] every time I can, I work into a video.
MG: I thought I saw the same black leather jacket in 4 or 5 videos. I once had one pair of yellow socks that I’d always wear to important meetings. Do you have any clothing that–
Madonna: –that I think brings me luck?
MG: Yes.
Madonna: No. But I do have certain articles that sort of, I think, cover a lot of different areas. I feel more comfortable wearing black.
MG: Why?
Madonna: Because it’s simple and elegant and mysterious all at the same time, and sensual and flattering, no matter what kind of a mood you’re in.
MG: Do you have a favorite category of clothes? Like, some people like shoes best.
Madonna: I’m not freaky over shoes. I like them, but I’m not freaky over shoes. I don’t think I have any favorite category.
MG: Has anybody ever ripped your clothes off?
Madonna: Oh, lots of times in hotel rooms, I’m sure. Whenever I stay in a hotel, something is missing, a pair of underwear, a nightgown, a piece of jewelry, if I have socks. And I can never find out who did it, but obviously somebody did. It could be a man or a woman.
MG: I think I meant has anybody ever ripped your clothes off…
Madonna: Oh, RIPPED your clothes off. Uh…yeah. But that was in a movie that I don’t really like to remember.
MG: Is there a difference between stage clothes and what you wear normally?
Madonna: Actually, not that much of a difference. I like my stage clothes to be a variation of what I wear on the street, slightly embellished. I like to be really comfortable on the stage, because I can never get on stage with high heels and a miniskirt or something so tight, like down to my knee, that I couldn’t move in it. I have to be able to move and feel comfortable and not feel like it’s falling off of me or it’s going to get too wrinkled It’s got to be pretty durable. I mean, it’s got to be something that I’d want to wear if I was going to go out dancing in a nightclub, and can really move around.
MG: People perceive you as having had an image change in the last year.
Madonna: I’ve always been the kind of person that from year to year really changed. But I mean, obviously if you spend a couple of years wearing lots of layers of clothes and tons of jewelry and it takes you forever to get dressed, and your hair is long and wild and crazy, the next thing you know, you get the urge to take it all off and strip yourself down and cut your hair all off (you know what I mean?), just for a change, just for a relief.
MG: Did you ever get to the point where you felt locked in by the clothes and the bracelets?
Madonna: Only in retrospect. That was just one way that I like to dress, and people perceived that that was the only way that I dressed.
MG: Do you feel that you have access to more Fashion now?
Madonna: Well, more designers want to give me clothes. [laughs]
MG: Do you dress for yourself or for other people?
Madonna: Sometimes I dress for myself and other times other people. A lot of times I dress for my husband. I mean, when I know that he likes certain things that I wear, when we go out I want to make him happy, or I want to look attractive so I dress for him. If I’m going to go out and meet people, or an interview or a reading or to work on a movie, I’ll try to dress appropriately. I think people like it when someone is dressed nicely. I have one girlfriend that always looks great. She’s got a great sense of style, and it chews me up when I see her. So I know it affects people that way.
MG: Lately, do you dress to hide on the street? Do you care about that?
Madonna: I never dress to hide. Maybe if I’m walking to the store and I really want to go as unnoticed as possible or something, I’ll just put on a simple pair of black pants and a black shirt and a T-shirt and some sunglasses. It’s impossible for me to hide. People hang out in front of my apartment and wait for me to come out. So it’s just pointless. I might as well just dress the way I want to dress, and not go through all the trouble. I go running, and I wear like big baggy T-shirts and big sweatpants and sunglasses and a sun visor, and people still know it’s me. So I don’t get it.
MG: A silly question. What excites your eye?
Madonna: Oh, God! [laughs] That’s not a silly question; that’s an endless question. People, clothes…movies?
MG: Color? Drama? Pure abstract visuals? Visuals that have meaning behind it? Nature? Cities?
Madonna: A woman hanging out the clothes in the back yard on a line. You know? Some woman who looks like she had a million kids and worked very-very hard. I look at people who have a secret of pain in their eyes. Those are the kind of people that turn my head the most, if they have a lot of life in them or adventure. Like, somebody who walks down the street who looks like they’re like a panther or something, like somebody who looks wild and primitive, and is real sleek, the way they move. And people, like I said, who look like they have a secret, who look like they know something or they’ve got a tale to tell.
MG: Are you at all the kind of person who looks at people’s clothes on the street? Do you look at style?
Madonna: I think mostly I’m captured by someone’s eyes or face, and then I look at what they’re wearing. Then, obviously, if somebody comes by and they’re wearing fluorescent sneakers and, you know, a dress with tree leaves all over it, I’m going to look at it, you know. But anybody would look at that.
MG: If you wanted to talk about your style, would your style be something that comes from inside of you or something that incorporates what’s around you?
Madonna: More from inside of me, the way I feel, yeah.
MG: Are you into the way clothes feel on you?
Madonna: Mmm. Oh, definitely. I love, like, cashmere sweaters and the feeling of silk or satin, and those are all beautiful fabrics that are nice to the eye but also look good on the body — they move well. And you can tell when you put something really nice on. You can just TELL. Good fabrics make you feel good, and they feel good, and they look good.
MG: When was the first time you ever saw a wannabe?
Madonna: Oh, I don’t know. Sometime before I started going on tour, I guess, right around the time when the “Like A Virgin” album started really doing well, and there were all those posters of me, and then I started seeing girls in nightclubs and on the streets of New York dressed like me.
MG: Did you talk to them?
Madonna: Not really. I’ve gotten lots of fan mail from girls who tell me why they want to dress like me, or why they like to look like me, or why they like my image, why they want to look like me. They say that I’m their idol and that they like dressing up, because it’s fun being sexy, because it’s strong at the same time, and they don’t feel like they’re being jerks, they feel like it’s a very individual kind of style. It’s a paradox, because obviously they’re not being individual if they’re dressing like me. But I think that they get a sense from my spirit and the way that I present myself that I didn’t really take any shit from anybody and that I was doing what I wanted to do, believing in my dreams, taking chances, and that dressing the way I dressed, they hoped to acquire that same sort of strength or individualism. It wasn’t really so much the clothes. I was dressing provocatively and sexy, and still being in control. And I think that their mothers were brought up completely differently.
MG: Do you feel like a hero?
Madonna: Yeah. To a lot of young girls, yeah.
MG: Do you feel like what’s happening to you is a fast-moving car and you’re just hanging on?
Madonna: No.
MG: Do you feel you’re driving the car?
Madonna: Yes, I am.
MG: People sometimes say you are a conservative symbol. Do you feel conservative?
Madonna: To a certain extent I do, yes. Yes and no. I don’t want to go backwards. I want to take things from that, and I want to take things that were prevalent and good and acclimate them to what’s happening now. Because obviously, in the ’50s people were a lot less aware and a lot less sophisticated than they are now.
MG: Do you think that images at this point are being imposed on you?
Madonna: Oh yeah. Definitely. That will happen, and then after I’m 50 years old or after I die, they’ll realize that I was my own person.
MG: What do you do to take of yourself?
Madonna: I work out every day. I don’t necessarily run every day, but I always work out. I’m always sweaty and stuff. I’m also a vegetarian.
MG: How would you describe your own interest in taking care of yourself? Would you say it’s an obsession?
Madonna: Yes. I want to feel good as long as possible. I want to feel like I can do anything as long as possible.
MG: Does it ever bother you when people take the surface of what you’re doing more seriously than the music? People latched onto you, the Madonna phenomenon and the wannabes and the lookalikes and all that?
Madonna: Mmm-hmm. I was flattered that people wanted to look like me and dress me. But I think it was all part of a spirit that I had, and I think that the people who wanted to dress like me saw the humor more than anybody else. That’s what was most important about [the Like a Virgin] album, there was a underlying subtext to it, and that was very tongue-in-cheek and very humorous. I thought mostly children fell into that, and mostly adults didn’t. [laughs]
MG: How do you feel about designers paying tribute to you?
Madonna: I’m very flattered.
MG: Did you ever think that Arab ladies would be spending $15,000 to dress like you?
Madonna: Of course not. But I never felt like every country in the world would buy millions and millions copies of an album I made.
MG: You really never felt that?
Madonna: No. You don’t think about that when you… I mean, you think about it… When you say, “God, I want to make my dent in the world and I want to be somebody and I want people to know who I am,” you don’t think about it that way. You want it on a large scale, but you can never truly encompass the magnitude that it can reach in your brain. No, there’s no way. It’s too hard. How could anybody have that dream?
MG: So when you said you wanted to move the world…?
Madonna: I meant it in an exaggerated way. I just meant, I want to be somebody. I want to make my mark on the world. I guess you get what you wish for! [laughs]