She's one of the most powerful women in the world. According to TIME -- which is very keen on lists -- she is one of the 25 most powerful women of the last century. She looks a million dollars, and is worth several hundred million more. But there's one thing Madonna's millions can't buy her. Yup, you've guessed it: love.
"Every girl," she told Graham Norton this week, "wants to be swept off her feet by a knight in shining armor." We "like to think," she said, "that Mr. Right" is going to "take us into the sunset, and we're going to live happily ever after." She would like, she said, to get married again.
The top-selling female artist of all time, who once appeared at the MTV Music Awards on a giant wedding cake wearing a wedding dress and bridal veil (which people at the time took to be ironic) was speaking at the premiere of her film, W.E.
It's about Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. It's about, in other words, a social-climbing American divorcee who tried to break into English society and did rather well. But that, apparently, wasn't what made Madonna want to make the film. "I know what it feels like to be loved a lot," she told another interviewer, "but no one's ever given up their kingdom for me." She was trying, she said, "to understand the nature of their love story" and to "figure out" if there was "such a thing as perfect love."
You might think that a woman who has been married twice, and divorced twice, and who's 53 (but who could, according to the Daily Mail, "easily pass for 15 years younger" apart from the "wrinkly hands" which give away her great and shameful age), might have worked out by now that even love stories that involve giving up kingdoms have their moments of disappointment. Since they also involve, you know, human beings. But you might, in that case, be wrong. "I am," says Madonna, "a hopeless romantic."
Some people might be a little bit disappointed that a woman who always said that writhing around without many clothes on, or being photographed without any clothes on, was about something called "female empowerment," still dreams of being rescued by a man. They might think that a woman who has sold more than 300 million records and has built a massive business empire, and directed films, and written books, and turned herself into a bestselling global brand, might look at her life and think it looked pretty good. They might think, in fact, that it was the kind of life that showed that women in the 21st century didn't actually need a man to survive, or thrive.
They might also think that someone who had done all these things and still hoped to be rescued by a man, when she was not just over 40 but over 50 (which puts you in the category of "older" women that men seem to want to be given a medal for saying they fancy), was being rather optimistic. They might want to suggest that she reads some of the studies that say, for example, that a woman's marriage prospects fall by 40 percent in relation to each 16-point rise in her IQ, and that show that men don't like women who earn more than them. They might think that the word she needs to stress isn't "romantic," but "hopeless."
And they might also want to point out that while romantic love has been a theme of art and literature for a very long time, and pretty much the only theme of pop (which may be part of the problem), it has only rarely been the basis of marriage. That, throughout history, in the West as well as the East, marriage has been largely a practical and economic arrangement which meant that two people could pool their (usually very limited) economic resources, and use these to feed the children which were the inevitable by-product of sex.
They might want to add that the pursuit of romantic love is, for the most part, a hobby for those with time and money to spare, and that there are certain things, like, for example, being "swept off your feet," that can't always be found by looking. That seem, in fact, to suggest an element of surprise.
But they might also note that while heels have got higher, and skirts have got shorter, and necklines have got lower, and while more and more women are wearing "vintage" clothes and boasting about the scarves they've knitted and the cupcakes they've baked, something seems to have happened to female desire. That women who said, for a while, that what they wanted was a partnership of equals, even if this was difficult to find, now talk about their power as if it was something they want to give up. Something they want to give up for a man.
It has taken women centuries to get a little bit of power. It seems a shame to want to give it up so soon. It seems a shame, too, to hear one of the few women in our culture who's got an awful lot of it fantasize about having less.
Madonna, by the way, has a boyfriend. He's a dancer. He's 24. I think we can assume that he isn't her "knight in shining armor." And if he ever dreamt he might be, he sure as hell won't now.
Madonna is, whatever her fantasies, behaving as powerful people have always behaved. She has entered into a transaction where youth is balanced by power. She's behaving, in other words -- though it's strangely reassuring -- like a man.