She’ll be the “Material Girl” and the “Queen of Pop” forever, and even though she has grown in social conscience and a sense of responsibility to the planet, that’s all right with Madonna.
She may have moments when she wishes she could fade into anonymity, but Madonna told TODAY’s Ann Curry that she’s happy being who she is.
“I don’t want to wish that I’m not me. I don’t wish I was someone else,” she said in New York for the debut of the Tribeca Film Festival. She’s promoting her documentary about the struggle to survive faced by the children of Malawi, entitled “I Am Because We Are.”
She’s also promoting a new album, “Hard Candy,” which features collaborations with Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams and Danja. It’s being released in the United States on Tuesday, April 29, but Madonna barely mentioned it. Instead, she talked about her work with orphans and the long process she’s endured in adopting David, an orphan from Malawi.
She said that when she went to that African nation in October 2006 to build an orphanage, something connected deep inside her. “I was going on my own journey and connection to these children and wanting to, in a way, heal myself whilst helping them,” she said, her voice carrying the tinge of a British accent acquired during her many years of living in England.
“I grew up as a motherless child,” she said, referring to the death of her own mother when she was just 5. “I had a roof over my head and I had food and I had a school to go to. And I still thought that my world was going to collapse on me. So how could it be for these children who, most of them having lost both of their parents, having no roof over their head and no food to eat — how horrifying and frightening it must be for them.”
Madonna had two children of her own when she went to Malawi — Lourdes, now 11, and Rocco, now 7 — and being a mother had changed the way she looked at life.
“I think having children and having a family forces you to think about people besides yourself. You don't really have a choice,” she told Curry. “And sometimes you think, ‘I'm the lucky one. How did I get to be the lucky one?’ So I think I just got to a point in my life where I thought, I have so much. And it's a great tragedy if I don't use what I have to make the world a better place. I know that sounds silly or cheesy or, like, a cliché or whatever. But it's the truth.”
Curry noted that any time a big star gets involved in a social cause, people can be cynical about her motives.
“I appreciate and understand how people could be cynical,” she said. “That's fine. I accept that because I think we live in a society where people are naturally suspicious of acts of altruism or generosity.”
Curry suggested that in Madonna’s case, people might look at her involvement with orphans as simply another phase in the life of a woman who’s perpetually reinventing herself.
The woman who’s sold more records than any other female artist did not apologize for that. “My reinventions are part of my evolution and my growth as a person,” she said. “There are aspects of it that are frivolous. And there are aspects of it that are real.”
But, she said, her motives in adopting David should not be questioned.
No one, she said, would put herself through the long and invasive process that she’s gone through without being serious about it. She and husband Guy Ritchie signed the adoption papers a year and a half ago, and they’re still a month away from being granted full adoptive custody of their son.
“For the last 18 months I've been a foster parent. I've been visited every six weeks by social workers who come into the house and make sure that you're being a good parent and that David's health is thriving and ask you all kinds of invasive questions,” Madonna said. “And you have to put up with it and endure it. I've been fingerprinted about 20 times and undergone psychological evaluations. Everybody who goes through adoptions has to do this, I'm not alone.”
And yet, she told Curry, “I’d do it again because David is amazing, because he's brought so much joy to our lives. I love him. So it was worth it, and I think most people will suffer for the things they love.”
“At this point in your life it seems that you're opening, that some part of you that's softening, something that's looking for wisdom, usefulness,” Curry told Madonna,
“Well, thank God I'm searching for wisdom and usefulness,” she said. “One hopes that one gets to that point in their lives sooner or later.”
It’s been a long road to get there for the woman who turns 49 in August. She came to New York from Michigan 31 years ago as an 18-year-old with nothing more than $35 in her purse and dreams of being a dancer in her heart.
She did all right, releasing her first single, “Everybody,” in 1982 and going on to establish herself as one of the most important female recording artists ever. Along the way, she became a show woman without equal, the female Michael Jackson, but without a self-destruct mechanism.
Her life’s quest, which has taken her from Material Girl to S&M Girl to Jewish mysticism to crusader for third-world orphans is not over, nor, she said, is there a destination in sight.
She just hopes that when she gets there, she can say, “My soul reached its true potential and that I did everything that I was put on this earth to do.”
“Which is?” Curry asked.
“Who knows?” Madonna answered. “We’re here to find out.”