June 18, 2004 -- She's one of the most famous women in the world. She's got wealth and fame, a husband and two children, but Madonna's still searching for more. This time, though, the Material Girl is looking for something to settle her soul.
Watch the full Madonna interview tonight at 10 p.m. on 20/20 p.m.Read more excerpts on Madonna's views on mysticism and motherhood here. Read more excerpts on Madonna's reflections on her racier days here.
Madonna told ABC News' 20/20 there's something she wants but doesn't have: "I want to be more liberated from my ego … less concerned with what people think of me."
Madonna says she's less concerned about others' opinions of her than she used to be, but still has "a long way to go."
"Once you enter the popularity sweepstakes, which you do when you become famous, whether you're a singer or an actress or a model, or a journalist — a TV journalist, whatever — you enter the world, of 'How am I doing? How's my ratings? How's my, you know, how do I look? … Where am I in the 50 most beautiful people poll?' "
An artist who's built a career on controversy, she now admits she sometimes rebelled simply for the sake of rebelling. "The stance of a rebel is, 'I don't care what you think.' But if it's just for the sake of upsetting the apple cart, you're not really helping people. You turn the apple cart over and then what? Then everyone's looking at an apple cart that's turned over and they're like, well, now what do I do?"
Liberation Through Erotica?
Her days of taking her clothes off for photographers and pushing the censors' buttons on TV, she says now, were examples of going a bit too far just for the sake of it.
Still, she says her "Erotica" period and her critically panned 1991 book Sex were not only part of her ongoing effort to recreate herself, but were also an attempt to find some "deeper meaning."
"I thought I was liberating mankind, but like I said, I wasn't really offering an alternative," she said.
"To a certain extent I was saying, 'Look, you know, why do men only get the job of objectifying women in a sexual way? I want to do it too.' There was an element of that, but there was also an element of being an exhibitionist and saying, Look at me.' … It wasn't that altruistic. I can admit that.
"I choose to look at myself, as a person who's now awake, and a person who's now trying to be part of the order, not the chaos of the world," she said.
And her romantic life certainly had a chaotic aspect. For the record, her conga line of men included Sean Penn, Dennis Rodman and Warren Beatty. "In my personal life, I was part of the chaos. I just ripped through relationships," she said.
She is thinking, she says, about how to make herself a better person and the world a better place. She attributes her new philosophy to the study of 13th-century Jewish mysticism called Kabbalah. Kabbalahists believe in immortality, and that you can overcome death and illness by how you think and how you behave.
Kaballah has become hip in some circles with other celebrities such as Demi Moore and Britney Spears said to be followers. Believers sport a red string bracelet on their left wrist as a symbol of their faith. Madonna wears one, as does her 7-year-old daughter, Lourdes.
But Madonna bristles at the thought that people think she's simply jumped on a celebrity bandwagon by studying Kabbalah. "I'm very serious about it. … It's true Paris Hilton did come to the Kabbalah Center once, because her parents brought her. They wanted to help her. They were desperate. And suddenly, Paris Hilton studies Kabbalah. I mean that's what happens and people don't know the whole story."
Touring with an Anti-war Message
Madonna has often rejected critics' contentions that she adopted new personas to prolong her career. "I felt that it trivialized what I did. … It's not that easy. I mean, because it requires investigation. It requires work. So, I've just reflected what I have been influenced by so you can call that reinvention or you could call it evolution."
Call it what you will, she's calling her new tour "Reinvention." But the tour isn't simply a survey of her career, it's also part anti-war protest. Her "American Life" video, which she decided not to release last year as the country was poised for war with Iraq, plays a prominent role in the concert.
Madonna said the self-censorship grew out of her sensitivity toward what she saw as the polarization in America. "There was a lynch mob mentality that was going on that wasn't pretty and I have children to protect and I just didn't think it was the right time," she said.
In the final image of the video, a President Bush look-alike kisses Saddam Hussein on the cheek. But Madonna says she's not trying to be a provocateur with the image. "I don't want to equate George Bush with Saddam Hussein. But I believe that George Bush and Saddam Hussein are both behaving in an irresponsible manner. So, in that respect, they're alike," she said.
Her reluctance to release the video last year was likely a savvy business move as well. Country group the Dixie Chicks got in a lot of trouble for criticizing the president, with some radio stations boycotting their music.
Still Dealing with the Pain of Her Mother's Death
Despite her candor on sex, religion and fame, Madonna has rarely talked candidly about losing her mother to cancer when she was 5 years old. "I just felt such an emptiness and such a feeling of lack," she said, "and I don't want to go back there ever."
She says her strengthening faith in Kabbalah has also led her to detach herself from some of that pain by inspiring her to adopt a Hebrew name for herself: Esther. The names is derived from the Persian name Satarah, meaning "star."
"I was named [Madonna] after my mother," she explains. "My mother died when she was very young, of cancer, and I wanted to attach myself to another name. This is in no way a negation of who my mother is. I wanted to attach myself to the energy of a different name."
Her marriage to filmmaker Guy Ritchie and children, Lourdes and 4-year-old Rocco, have helped her move on, she says. But, she says, she and Ritchie are very different in that way. "He's always trying to recapture his youth, and he did so many fun things as a child that he still loves to do. And I don't. I'm not interested in recapturing my childhood at all."
As for her own children, Madonna says she see a lot of herself in her daughter. "Girls are so clever," she says, "more clever than boys."
"I see myself in her and you know, sometimes I'm repulsed and sometimes I just want to put my arms around her," and say, "I know exactly what you're going through right now."
With Rocco, Madonna says, it's a less complicated relationship. "You have a son. It's just. It's just love. They can do no wrong."