Madonna is not often given to explaining herself, but the pop star offered a sense of her motivations in a new essay for Harper’s Bazaar in which she explained that life is a little like a game of truth or dare. “People usually choose ‘truth’ when it’s their turn because you can tell a lie about yourself and no one will be the wiser, but when you are dared to do something, you have to actually do it,” she writes. “And doing something daring is a rather scary proposition for most people. Yet for some strange reason, it has become my raison d’être.”
The essay recounts Madonna’s early years in New York (including references to being mugged, raped at knifepoint and having her apartment burgled three times), her discovery of Kabbalah, moving to England and her decision to adopt children. Here are five forthright moments from the singer’s essay.
Madonna wasn’t so popular in high school. “Most people thought I was strange,” she writes, in part because she didn’t shave her legs or her armpits, and wore scarves around her head “like a Russian peasant.” Her other-ness was fine by her: “When you aren’t popular and you don’t have a social life, it gives you more time to focus on your future. And for me, that was going to New York to become a REAL artist.”
New York was a shock to her system. “I felt like I had plugged into another universe. I felt like a warrior plunging my way through the crowds to survive. Blood pumping through my veins, I was poised for survival. I felt alive.” There were drawbacks, though, and not just the violent crimes she experienced. “I was also scared shitless and freaked out by the smell of piss and vomit everywhere, especially in the entryway of my third-floor walk-up.”
She still doesn’t understand why her interest in Kabbalah caused such an uproar. “You would think that studying the mystical interpretation of the Old Testament and trying to understand the secrets of the universe was a harmless thing to do,” she writes. “I wasn’t hurting anybody. Just going to class, taking notes in my spiral notebook, contemplating my future. I was actually trying to become a better person.”
Moving to England was “a very daring act” that was harder than she thought. “But I stuck it out and I found my way, and I grew to love English wit, Georgian architecture, sticky toffee pudding, and the English countryside. There is nothing more beautiful than the English countryside.”
Adopting a baby from Malawi was somehow more controversial than her various sexual provocations. “I could get my head around people giving me a hard time for simulating masturbation onstage or publishing my Sex book, even kissing Britney Spears at an awards show, but trying to save a child’s life was not something I thought I would be punished for.”