One of the most legendary pop icons of the century, the name Madonna requires no introduction and her long list of achievements is, perhaps, household knowledge to most of us. So, what better way to wrap up 2019 than to have her as our cover star and to be dressed in Versace?
But instead of us talking about Madonna, we have someone better to tell her story. Someone who has known Madonna as a friend for years and has also collaborated with her for three advertising campaigns.
And she is none other than, an icon of her own right, Donatella Versace. Enjoy.
By Donatella Versace
Thus ends the song Dark Ballet, taken from Madonna’s latest album, Madame X. A strong, powerful message, which only Madonna is strong enough to unleash on the world. Her social justice activism is matched only by the absolute discipline she applies to her work in the studio and on the stage, and that is how it’s always been.
When I was asked to write this short introduction, I became reflective. I have known Madonna for many, many years; she has been the star of three Versace advertising campaigns.
But more than the celebrity, I have had the rare fortune of getting to know the woman. Of talking to her not only about work but about life. Because Madonna is extremely informed and culturally aware, she can hold her own on any subject, from music to art, on politics and our environmental crisis.
In her latest album, I have found that same spirit of protest we first saw in her early work. Her only mission then seemed to be to shock the world— whereas her real goal was and has always been to expose things which, as a society, we didn’t have the courage to discuss.
That is why she has always been criticised, misunderstood, minimised and at times, vilified. Her reaction was to crucify herself voluntarily.
During the Confessions on a Dance Floor tour, there was a really powerful moment when she enters the scene on an enormous cross, wearing a crown of thorns, to sing Live To Tell. Her beauty is—and excuse the wordplay—divine. Meanwhile, the screens around her show a number.
Everyone saw Madonna on the cross as another one of her “provocations”—because the intelligentsia has never taken her seriously. A woman who dares to lift her head up and say what she thinks?
To expose the rot we are all trying to hide? No one noticed that, in reality, the message she sought to convey was a much different one. When the count on the screens stops, the information which leaves you breathless—like a punch in the stomach—begins to appear.
It’s the number of children who would soon die from AIDS if society didn’t do something to help them, not just with medicine, but through prevention, research, education and discussion.
In reality, we were all crucified, yet many of us hadn’t realised it yet. Madame X really struck a chord with me. I listen to lots of music, especially music that experiments with sound. In this album, I not only found experimentation but also powerful, relevant lyrics.
I found a Madonna uninterested in currying favour. I found the Madonna of Like a Prayer and of American Life — perhaps one of her least understood albums.
Not long ago, Like a Prayer turned thirty years old. I can still remember the scent when I opened the CD sleeve. Despite the cultural stigma of AIDS, the record was accompanied by lyrics that focused on the epidemic that was claiming so many victims , and on the importance of global education about a monumental health crisis that would touch all of society, and which above all required compassion and empathy for those infected.
The day after the launch of the video, religious groups all over the world protested against the use of Catholic imagery, and even the Pope went out of his way to ask “fans” to boycott the disk.
Both tracks went straight to number one on the charts and sold over 15 million copies. The album became a manifesto for the battle against those who want to keep us ignorant and oppressed, against stereotypes, against all those who want a society trapped by bigoted and ignorant preconceptions.
That is what Madonna has always been to me: A lioness. A fighter. Besides the records sold, besides her ability to interpret society like no other artist, to create fashions that have inspired us all; besides the countless records made and awards won, Madonna to me, more than a fantastic performer and the female artist who has sold the most records in the history of music (well yes...), is a woman.
A mother, a great businesswoman, one who began marketing before the word or even the discipline had been invented, and who has always challenged us to be a more cohesive society, to fight together against injustice and to respect our neighbour.
I admire Madonna’s fearlessness. She has never been afraid to go out on a limb. In concert, always, she asks the crowd: how many people talk the talk and how many walk the walk?
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Photography: Ricardo Gomes
Styling: Eyob Yohannes
Hair: Andy Lecompte
Makeup: Aaron Henrikson