Sometimes art imitates life, and other times art is changed by life.
In light of the war in Iraq, Madonna has made some last-minute edits to her upcoming video for "American Life."
"We have our dream version, but it's not the right time for it," she said Thursday. "We've been planning the video for months and months and months, and we didn't know everything that was going to be happening in the world [when we first did it]."
Director Jonas Akerlund shot the video with Madonna in Los Angeles the first week of February (see "Madonna Defends Her Violent 'American Life' Video"). While the clip was always supposed to feature Madonna and overweight dancers in military fatigues creating chaos at a fashion show, and while Madonna was always supposed to toss a grenade at the end, there were several endings filmed.
"It turned into a [short] film," she said. "The original version was like 10 minutes long. We had lots of stops in the music and lots of car chases and conversations with people, and it kept going on in the end. And we realized we were getting a little carried away. So we had to edit it for time. Then we had to get rid of all the 'F' words."
The biggest challenge for Madonna was reshaping the video in a way that was entertaining, thought provoking and didn't compromise her artistic integrity. Many have interpreted the video to be an angry protest of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but that's not exactly the case. Madonna considers herself a pacifist, but like many Americans she's conflicted about U.S. military action in Iraq.
"Saddam Hussein is a guy we just want to get rid of," she explained. "So there's a part of the video where I'm carving 'Protect me' into the wall, and you could almost feel like I want to go there and kick some ass and protect all those beautiful children and innocent families and people that have been tortured for years. But do I have the solutions? No. Do I have the answers? No. I'm just completely freaked out by what's going on there like everybody else."
There are three points Madonna hopes to make with the video for "American Life." The first and most obvious is that regardless of whether or not she supports Bush, war is a cosmic bummer.
"War is a manifestation of everybody," she said. "We have our personal karma and we have a global karma. So for me, it's about trying to get a message out that if we want peace and love in our life, then we have to make it happen in the world.
"The ending of the video is really important," she continued. "I throw this hand grenade. ... But it gets caught. And the one who catches it takes something that could be violent and destructive and takes the destruction out of it by turning it into something else. That's my hope for an alternative, not only to this war, but all wars. Also, I hope that I've also gotten across [the idea that] the soldiers that have gone over there are flesh and blood. They're real people, and my heart goes out to them, and I want them to all come back in one piece."
The second idea the former Material Girl wanted to express is that materialism is superficial.
"We chose the setting of a fashion show because that's the epitome of superficiality. They're not trying to be anything except 'Let's celebrate the surface.' Fashion is fun, and I respect that, but at the end of the day people take that stuff a little too seriously. So it is easy to poke fun at that, especially when you juxtapose it against the real things that are happening in the world.
"No matter how many distractions we put up for ourselves, whether it's a fashion show or reality TV shows or a hot contest, what's happening in the world is still going on, and the ugliness and the chaos and the pain and the suffering is immense. So it's a statement about our obsession with the world of illusion."
Such commentary may seem absurd coming from someone who was once the biggest icon of pop culture, but Madonna said she's learned some valuable lessons over the course of her career.
"I fought for so many things," she said. "I tried so hard to be number one, stay on top, look good — to be the best. And now I realize that a lot of the things that last and the things that matter are none of those things."
Madonna intentionally chose chubby dancers for "American Life" because she wanted to show that conventional ideas of beauty are flawed and even damaging.
"The girls I used are big, real, voluptuous girls, and they're beautiful," she said. "I wanted to explore that taboo as well, because you don't know people that have fat rolls as attractive. You just don't see that, and that was important to me. There are people going, 'Will you love me more if I'm thin? Should I remodel myself for your approval?' "
"That's so crazy. I have fat rolls. When I first started out, everyone was like, 'Wow, she's chubby. That's cool.' And then I started getting really into working out, and there were a lot of people that were bummed out because I think I was a role model for chubby girls. And now I'm a role model for chubby girls again. I've gone back to my roots."
- Jon Wiederhorn, with additional reporting by John Norris