The best Howard Stern guests fall into two basic categories: bottom feeders with everything to gain, and megastars with nothing to lose. It’s about time that in Madonna’s three-decade career, she stopped by the Sirius studio to spill some tea and give a definitive uncensored radio overview of her life and work. The truth is, she’d need a week’s worth of sessions to scratch the surface, so perhaps the shock jock should’ve taken Ellen Degeneres’ cue.
And in a manner, Howard dug in and addressed some subjects that would be off-limits for most interviewers. He also expressed his admiration for the Queen in a way that only another professional at the pinnacle of his form could do without groveling.
In the conversation, Madonna explained why the Guy Ritchie marriage didn’t work out, how her children feel about the word “pussy,” and why peasant roadies made set-up for her Super Bowl halftime show a nightmare. She talked about being a dorky Midwesterner roaming Times Square, earning a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey school, couch-surfing, and wearing fishnets to thankless hat-check jobs.
Here are five of the best moments from Madonna’s sit-down:
5. Madonna the producer. In an industry full of pop assembly lines, Madonna scarcely gets the credit she deserves as a producer. Howard got her to talk a bit about her record label, Maverick, and how it launched Alanis Morissette to international superstardom. Since 1995, Jagged Little Pill has become one of the most successful releases of all time, with more than 33 million records sold. It also reveals roots to Madonna’s theretofore-unseen need for female singer-songwriter credibility.
4. Madonna goes Al-Anon. Madonna espoused some candid opinions about her experience with substance-addicted lovers. From Jean-Michel Basquiat to Sean Penn, her life has been populated with men who couldn’t seem to find recovery.
“[Basquiat] wouldn’t stop doing heroin. He was an amazing man, deeply talented,” she said. “When I broke up with him, he made me give [paintings] back to him and then he painted over them black. It’s difficult to watch people destroy themselves. I’ve also been with alcoholics and we think we can fix people, but we can’t. Just change yourself.”
From Whitney Houston to Michael Jackson, some of Madonna’s most formidable contemporaries have succumbed to chemical dependence. Asked about her own drug use, Madonna admitted to dabbling in ecstasy in the 80s and demurred that she gets drunk occasionally. The truth is, we wouldn’t have a fit and brilliant and top-of-her-game Madonna in 2015 if she couldn’t “Keep it Together.” Madonna is a miracle. [praise hands]
3. Album promotion! Rather than a perfunctory and courteous discussion of the debut Madge is making the rounds to plug, Howard seemed genuinely interested in the new material and called the record her “finest” since Ray of Light. If you’re not sold on “Joan of Arc,” Madonna gives a history lesson to educate the people about her martyred hero.
2. Real survivor talk. In the conversation’s most personal moment, Madonna opened up about her experience of sexual assault in Manhattan, before she became a star. Despite being a well-documented survivor of domestic violence and rape, these are experiences that barely make footnotes of Madonna’s life story.
Breaking down the cycle of abuse, shame, and fear, Madonna elegantly summed up her decision not to pursue legal action against her attacker, a sentiment that many survivors share:
“You’ve already been violated,” she explained. “It’s just not worth it. It’s too much humiliation.”
1. From donut shop to “Candy Shop.” In anecdote rivaling Nicki Minaj’s legendary history at Red Lobster, Madonna admitted that she was fired from a Dunkin’ Donuts for playing around with the jelly-squirter. As you do. Howard insisted that if she’d remained on the straight and narrow, Madonna could be managing a Dunks today. In a withering deadpan, the Queen made this wholly conceivable declaration:
“I’d be the CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Listen to the entire interview below: