She made her name as a queen of controversy, stirring up equal parts laud and criticism for her provocative presentation and demeanor. In the 37 years since her first record, simply titled Madonna, dropped in 1983, she’s consistently remained at the forefront of pop culture, gossip, awards shows, red carpets and tabloids. We knew everything about her; and simultaneously, we knew nothing about the woman born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan.
Then came 2020, and like many stars, her activity and lock-down routine was livestreamed on her social media. We suddenly had a portal into Madge’s world – and what a world it is. There was the bizarre, milk-bath quarantine monologue, there was a holiday trip to Malawi – loudly denounced by her critics, but seemingly planned and executed within local and regional coronavirus guidelines; and a whole lot of self-promotion regarding her $1 million donation to the Gates Foundation to fund research for the coronavirus vaccine.
The coronavirus is, after all, personal to her. The pandemic ended her 2020 Madame X European tour abruptly when the government of France banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people last year in March. Later, she tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
Without a tour to complete, she focused on philanthropic endeavors last year, notably her charity Raising Malawi, which is a nod to the native country of four of her children: David, Mercy James, Estere and Stella. In December, she organized a trip, dubbed #Homecoming, to Malawi and documented it on social media. At the time, Malawi was open to foreign travelers and only required a negative coronavirus test result within 10 days of entering the country. Sporting pink hair and an assortment of floral kaftans and safari hats, the Queen of Pop posted 15 Instagram videos from the family’s trip across the Continent. The warmth and fondness that oozes from the posts gives new meaning to her “Living for Love” hit from 2015’s “Rebel Heart” album.
She’s endured up-and-down relationship with government officials of Malawi, who have both approved high-profile adoptions and barred others, citing fine-print technicalities. In 2018, she boasted that her then-12-year-old son David could be the next president of Malawi. That same year, a spokesperson for Madonna said that the government held a grudge against her charity there. Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations, is heavily dependent upon organizations and charities like Raising Malawi, but like many developing nations, red tape and special interests join forces to compel foreign-funded projects to work within certain scopes and limitations – at least in times of non-critical crisis. The global pandemic tipped the scales back to the favor of well-funded organizations and charities.
In any case, Raising Malawi is quietly working within local communities to increase basic, yet effective, measures against the spread of coronavirus. “Frequent handwashing with soap and water remains one of the easiest and more important ways to prevent spread of the coronavirus,” Madge said when we came to the topic of the pandemic and Malawi. Nearly 6 million school-age children in Malawi haven’t participated in classroom learning since March when the government closed education institutions to control the spread of coronavirus. Raising Malawi and school construction partner, buildOn, have been retrofitting primary schools to be ready to receive faculty and student again in a safe and practical manner.
Madonna, known for her equestrian interests, was photographed for this month’s cover by Steven Klein, a close friend who’s photographed her dozens of times over during her career, often with horses. Provocative by nature, Klein captured Madonna positioned behind her equestrian partner, lovingly caressing the pure white tail.