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Madonna, Only More So

The pop icon finds little in her storied life that's not affected by the birth of her daughter--especially the themes of her latest album.

March 01, 1998|Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic

If you've thought that Madonna has often seemed petulant and self-indulgent in her rise from sex goddess to media mogul, you're not alone. She thinks so too.

One reason her new "Ray of Light" is the most satisfying album of her career is that it reflects the soul-searching of a woman who is at a point in her life where she can look at herself with surprising candor and perspective (review, Page 88).

In both her singing and writing on the album, which is due in stores Tuesday from Warner Bros. Records in association with her own Maverick Records, Madonna expresses herself so convincingly that you don't feel you are listening merely to the latest career reinvention of a master pop strategist.

"I traded fame for love, without a second thought . . . ," she sings in the opening lines of the album. "And now I find I've changed my mind."

In an interview, Madonna, 39, says that several experiences contributed to the tone of the album, which speaks about the importance of finding and nurturing love. But one factor stands out for the star of the film "Evita": her 16-month-old daughter, Lourdes Maria. "I feel like I'm starting my life all over in some ways," she says. "My daughter's birth was like a rebirth for me."

Madonna has no plans to marry the child's father, personal trainer Carlos Leon, and is unsure whether she wants ever to marry anyone again. Her three-year marriage to actor Sean Penn ended in divorce in 1989. She would, however, like to have another child.

In the interview, Madonna talks about her music, her image and her baby.

Question: How much richer has your baby made your life?

Answer: It's infinitely richer. Every day, I'm so excited to wake up in the morning and see her.

Q: Do you have a nickname for her?

A: Sure, Lola. . . .

Q: And, does Lola get whatever Lola wants?

A: Nope [laughs]. I do spoil her, but I have my boundaries. If she had her way, she'd be eating candy all day. She loves candy. She doesn't like playing with toys, but she loves taking the top off of every writing implement in my house and drawing all over the walls. Unfortunately, all of my friends do spoil her when they come around. But what can you do?

Q: What do you think the baby will mean in terms of your career ambition?

A: You have different priorities. . . . When my publicist says you have to do this and this, I go, 'No. I don't,' where I once would have done it all. Now, I'll say, 'Cut everything in half.'

Q: How do you think that'll translate in terms of future albums and films and tours?

A: It means I'm going to really have to pick and choose the things I do. My managers want me to go on tour for a year, but I just had to throw my head back and laugh because there's no way I'm going to do it. My lifestyle has changed, immensely. Where I'm going to be and how much time I am with [the baby] is always going to come into the picture before I make any decision.

Q: Let's talk about the record. Do you feel critics have been guilty of reviewing your image at times rather than your music or acting?

A: Absolutely. I think that for many years now people have been consumed with me--choices I've made personally versus my artistic contributions. It's like people act as if I'm the first one who tried to use image in rock 'n' roll. When is it new for people to create a strong image? What about Mick Jagger? Prince? And you can go on and on. Besides, I [feel that] 50% of that image is what I put into it and the rest is what others put into it.

Q: Your voice sounds truer on the new album than I remember from the earlier records. Do you think there's a difference?

A: Yes. For one thing, there was the training that I did for "Evita." I started working with a vocal coach and I suddenly discovered that I was only using half of my voice. Until then, I had pretty much accepted that I had a very limited range, which is fine. Anita O'Day and Edith Piaf had very limited ranges, too, and I am a big fan. So, I figured I'd make do with the best I had.

But then I realized I had to make some adjustments to sing those Andrew Lloyd Webber songs. I needed to increase my range. I did a lot of work with an incredible coach and on top of that I've been practicing yoga very seriously for a little over a year and I believe that helped my voice and affected my singing.

Q: What about the album's themes? They seem more personal than before. Are they or are you just expressing yourself better as a singer?

A: I feel it's probably a combination of the two. I've written lyrics that were quite personal before, certainly in the "Like a Prayer" album, and even stuff on "Bedtime Stories" felt very personal. But perhaps I was in a much more vulnerable place when I was recording this album and because I feel I've done a lot of growing and evolving spiritually and emotionally.

Q: Is there a reason you were more vulnerable?

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