In January 1984 Madonna had just one album under her belt when she told American Bandstand's Dick Clark she had lofty plans: "To rule the world." (Watch the rarely seen clip here, in our Iconic Madonna Moments gallery.) Over the past three decades, she has provoked, innovated and inspired; she's set and broken her own records, most recently wrapping the highest-grossing tour ever by a solo artist with her Sticky & Sweet show. And now that she's released the two-disc retrospective Celebration, the pop superstar who rarely looks back sat down with Rolling Stone's Austin Scaggs for a revealing trip through her early days in New York, some of her biggest scandals, and of course, her most massive hits in our new issue, on stands today.
Even as a seventh grader in Michigan, Madonna reveals she knew how to push her audience's buttons. For her first ever performance, "I had my girlfriends paint my body with fluorescent hearts and flowers," she recalls of a rendition of the Who's "Baba O'Riley" that left her fellow students speechless. "I wore a pair of shorts and a midriff top, and I just went mad. ... I'm sure everyone thought I was insane. That was the beginning of my provocative performances, I guess."
But having innate stage savvy didn't mean Madonna grew up a wild child. Though she tells Scaggs about her days as a graffiti artist when she was running with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York City (her tag: Boy Toy), life was tamer before that. "I was a geek in high school. I didn't really have a drink until I got divorced for the first time [from Sean Penn] when I was 30," she admits. " 'Geek' is not a word anyone uses to describe me, except perhaps [Confessions on a Dance Floor producer] Stuart Price, who once said, 'You know, you're a nerd at heart, nobody knows it.' I took it as a compliment."
She credits her first major shift in style — from punky brunette club kid to blonde wedding wonder — to getting dressed and styled for more photo shoots and videos as her career progressed. "I think people put a lot of emphasis on the whole reinvention of my image, and it's always been a lot less calculated than people think," she says. " I think it's boring to stay the same. A girl likes to change her look." But if she had to pick her worst fashion moment: "It was the purple lipstick, fluorescent-green sweater combo. ... It's OK, it was the Eighties. It was a bad-hairstyle era. Let's face it."
But Madonna doesn't have many musical regrets. She tells Scaggs about writing "Live to Tell" and "Vogue," returning with a head full of brand-new ideas on Ray of Light and teaming with some of the industry's biggest hitmakers on Hard Candy. But after all these years, she admits she still can't sniff out a Number One. "I've never been a good judge of what things are going to be huge or not. The songs that I think are the most retarded songs I've written, like 'Cherish' and 'Sorry,' a pretty big hit off my last album, end up being the biggest hits," she tells RS. " 'Into the Groove' is another song I feel retarded singing, but everybody seems to like it."
Madonna's Rolling Stone interview is on newsstands now. Stay tuned for bonus Q&A from Scaggs' conversations with Madonna, and don't miss our look back at the megastar's most iconic moments.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
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