For a french fansite of Madonna, News of Madonna, Mirwais give a interview on he work for Madame X.
You have known Madonna for a number of years, can you tell us how you met?
It was in the autumn of 1999. We talked over the phone several times and then, once we had agreed on some songs to try out together, we met up at Studio Sarm West in London. I think she really liked my video and song “Disco Science” and was interested in trying out other titles together.
You said that to be able to work together, you needed to be compatible
When I said “compatible,” I meant that it’s necessary to share at least some essential things. Love of art, a certain sense of the esthetic, risk-taking, not being afraid to affirm your ideas, even sometimes oppose her opinion.
Her music has evolved since the last time your worked together. Is that the same for Madonna herself would you say?
Absolutely, like everyone – and this is a personal opinion – but I think that she deserves her current success that’s not based on ways of doing things with the same old formulae that all pop stars “use and abuse.”
We live in a stifling mainstream world where Pop Stars bring out the same sort of song every 3 months.
They change a chord, slightly change the text around and then the marketing labels take care of shouting about how great the new song is - so new and revolutionary etc…! Whereas in fact it’s the more or less the same harmless banal song – just a bit different from the last one.
The album “Madame X” was announced as being politically oriented and it is! Certainly even more so than American Life: it mentions the problems of the system and denounces those that exploit it. She talks of democracy, she calls on people to wake up Madonna said “all that Mirwais & I do together always ends up becoming politically oriented”. Is that the reason for you getting together again? No, not at all. To start with we agreed on the Portuguese and latino influences she wanted to explore and then gradually as you say, I suggested some more experimental songs to her such as “Dark Ballet” which she liked straight away. Then of course, we talked of things like gun control in the US and then that turned into a song.
Could you tell us about how the album was created?
Madonna is a person who really inspires people. At the demo stage, there’s no artistic limit which is fine with me as I don’t like to impose limits on myself either.
Once the songs have been written, there can be a fairly long production process and arrangements with exchanges backwards and forwards with her to find the final form the song is to take. Even at this stage, the craziest ideas can still be added.
There’s a real cohesion between the different songs on Madame X. Did Madonna ask you for your opinion on the songs that you didn’t produce?
No, but sometimes when I heard songs of other singer songwriters I would of course give her an opinion. She knows what she is doing.
Has streaming brought changes in the music industry?
Yes, streaming is at the heart of the biggest change in consumer habits for a long time. I think Madame X could serve as an example of a conceptual album that ends up by finding its way little by little in the digital economy that for the moment puts the priority on singles but that won’t last. Albums will make a comeback.
You pushed your experimentation into a 'global futuristic album' (while still keeping the typical Madonna style of melodious, clean-cut pop music) Was that the start of wanting to revolutionize pop music? What was the biggest challenge on this album?
Clearly, Madonna wanted to get away from the traditional “pop” format in both lyrics and in the form. Having asked me to work on songs for her, we were obviously not going to do traditional latino. Folklore or latino pop is not exactly my thing.
Could we say that music of latino inspiration could be used for something other than to sell holidays and automatic sunshine? Fado has a sad dimension to it and I find other types of Latino are also musically very motivating. Why not try something new?
Let me tell you what I really think. I think that many people and critics are missing something essential in her way of exploring Latin/Portuguese music. They missed the global political thread that Madonna has all through the album.
In Trump’s America, where the latinos are insulted just about every day, and where the minorities are provoked all the time, the fact that one of the principle American superstars, who’s white, has chosen a lead single duo in English & Spanish with a Columbian is a very strong political sign. It makes me think of Marlon Brando when he sent a native indian to refuse his Oscar in 1973, even if the context’s not the same.
That’s the reason one day I termed the “Madame X” album a “global futuristic album”, saying that it ‘s “perhaps the first record of its kind”. It’s not World music, it’s music about intelligent integration : fitting in and sharing cultures, adding a political dimension. It’s certainly not about trying to use specific cultural influences as some are trying to make us believe.
Although the music is very modern, it’s more Madonna’s attitude and her lyrics that are ahead of their time on this album. It was certainly time to put lyrics and meaning back into the center of the mainstream debate.
And if some tend to think that some words are rather naïve (not at all what I think myself) it’s always far better to do something rather than nothing at all.
Due to or rather thanks to streaming, the Anglo/American supremacy of mainstream music will no longer exist. In let’s say ten years time from now, everything will be more fragmented with very important markets such as the Latino one which is growing fast.
It is this cultural and artistic openness across the borders, that Madonna naturally integrates, that was interesting to develop on Madame X.
Strangely, she is not ethnic centered which is not the case of most American pop artists.
In a word, in her rap song “American Life” that had little success and that no-one really understood at that time, she clearly said she was living outside the American Dream. That didn’t mean she wasn’t American. On the contrary she’s a true American! That was very intelligent.
Does Madonna always control her music like that?
Yes, of course but not more than I do! It’s perfectly normal to keep control of your own music.
Some people say you make intensive use of vocoding/autotune and even go as far to say that M cannot sing without this. What do you say to them?
Nothing at all. It’s an esthetic choice. Listen to “Extreme Occident” her voice transcends naturally. Nobody bothers Kanye West or Travis Scott about autotune because it’s their choice. Sometimes we talk about it, whether to use it or not but she’s the one who decides. It’s her record.
Out of all the albums that you have produced for M, which song do you prefer?
Difficult to say. I like all of them. I really like “Don’t Tell Me” for it’s inventiveness in electro folk, “Nobody’s perfect” for having brought autotuning to the masses, well before rap; “American Life” as it’s really sincere & I like the fact its unusual style. Die Another day is a truly innovative piece as a James Bond theme song & “God Control” because I feel that with this we invented the concept of “Disco Protest Song”,together, am I wrong?
Can we hope to see you at her side during the Madame X Tour like you were for the American Life promotion concerts?
Not for the time being but you never know.
Can you share something with our readers something about your work with Madonna that we don’t know about?
Sometimes we treat mutually each other of crazy ! but in a friendly way
You plan to return in the autumn. The fans are waiting for you. Do you have a date you can give us? We enjoyed “Production”. It has a melancholy dimension. Will that be present in your next album?
It’s a bit of a « conceptual » album like I often do. I don’t have a date yet but I’m thinking of bringing out a few songs & videos, hopefully in the autumn.
Are you still aiming for experimental music?
No, I get bored when I I go too into depth of one or the other. What I really like is to have a strong artistic, experimental or commercial dimension, whichever.
Will Madonna be present on this album like she was on « Production »?
I don’t think so. After all, we have already done a lot of songs together.
Is there a message you’d like to give us?
I’d like to say that it’s been a great pleasure to work with her again. I, myself was astonished that we still share such a very close musical connection. Working together again was just like we’d never stopped.
And if there’s one thing to retain from my interview it’s this: Madonna doesn’t make any come back with Madame X, she’s just arrived! Like a cool newcomer !
And this is just the beginning. It’ll get even better in the future with or without me!
I am really happy at the huge responsiveness of the fans to this album. I get the feeling they are happy about this new chapter and I want to say them a big thank ! They are the best!