Sunday Times Style
Today’s Sunday Times – Style Cover Story: When Missy Met Madonna
Hip-hop’s first lady and the queen of pop are mixing it up in a new ad campaign. Just don’t ask them who’s more bling, says Jessica Burton
Picture the scene. The queen of hip-hop, the queen of pop and a group of improbably beautiful teenage dancers, all kicking back together in the afternoon sun. The air is balmy. The vibe is right. And somewhere on a sound system, someone is playing … Is it? Yes, it is. It’s early Madonna! Well, what could be groovier? All we need now are the Kids from Fame to burst into view, propelled by an uncontrollable urge to dance and sing.
We are on the backlot of LA’s Paramount Studios, on the set of a Gap commercial for corduroy trousers, dubbed autumn’s new jean?. The female rapper is “Misdemeanour” Elliott, the pop icon is Madonna, and both are reputed to have signed multimillion-dollar deals to be here. But what we are witnessing is much more than the making of an advert. This – the first collaboration of music’s two most influential ladies – is what you might call a “pop-culture moment”.
The focus of the shoot is a song that the two have recorded together, a raggle-taggle mix of Madonna’s Into the Groove and her latest single, Hollywood, topped off with Elliott’s hip-hop magic. The track is titled Into the Hollywood Groove and will be given away free with every pair of cords bought from Gap this autumn. “Ahwwwahh. Who dat be? Misdemeanour on the MIC,” raps Elliott over Madonna’s delectable 1985 riff. “I got the fresh kicks, thick hips, best believe. Me and Madonna ’bout to hit ’em like a tag team. You gonna love us in our Gap jeans.” And, my, the duo do look fine in their new cords.
On one side of the set is Elliott’s entourage – hair, make-up, choreographer, stylist and assembled hangers-on. On the other is Madonna’s. Both performers have been given a pair of blue cords to wear for the shoot. Their stylists have been hard at work customising their looks. Gap likes everyone to “be themselves”. Which is nice.
Elliott – hip-hop’s most successful female performer – is in full Missy regalia. Her cords are baggy, five-pocket boot-cuts, now studded, appliquéd and airbrushed beyond recognition. She’s wearing a man’s T-shirt with a picture of her face spray-painted onto it, a zipped hoody, a similarly studded and appliquéd jacket, hoop earrings, a baseball cap and a lot – a lot – of “ice” (that’s diamonds to you and me). Elliott describes her look as: “Funky-fresh, dressed to impress, ready to party.” Just like Elliott herself.
On the other side of the studio, Madonna, the icon, is wearing a low-rise cropped version of the cords with Lady M embroidered down one side. The heels are chunky, the vintage driving cap is tipped to one side just so, and the diamonds … aah, the diamonds. They are more plentiful than anyone on the set has seen in their entire life. “This guy unfolds this big black case with $20m worth of jewellery in it,” says the commercial’s director, Paul Hunter. “And Madonna looks over to me and says: “I’m not going to be out-blinged by Missy.” That was pretty funny.” The pièce de résistance? A wallet chain – previously a rope necklace made by her jeweller friend Neil Lane – containing 100 one-carat diamonds.
Madonna didn’t meet Elliott until a week before the shoot. But, serendipitously, Madonna adored Elliott. And Elliott adored Madonna. Then again, doesn’t everyone? During a quiet moment, Madonna is talking to the dancers, and doesn’t the 45-year-old look good standing next to all those young colts? “She looks so cool alongside those kids,” says Trey Laird, who conceived the idea for Gap. “A lot of people know what they like, but they don’t have amazing taste. Madonna is the real thing. Style, fashion, music – nobody has brought them together like her.”
The campaign is the crossover of hip-hop to pop and pop to hip-hop, a lucrative manoeuvre. But it isn’t just money that the two stars have in common. There’s the naked ambition, the huge network of collaborators, the experience of winning in a male-dominated world, the ability to invent and reinvent themselves, and the recently acquired moral streak. Little wonder they loved each other. “I identify with Madonna as a person who has always followed her gut instinct,” Elliott says. “And she has never let outside influences affect her music or how she lives. I think I’m the same.”
When Madonna and Missy finally jump in front of the cameras to shake their booty and sing their song, magic happens. “The moment the camera was on, there was a chemistry,” Laird says afterwards. “They both had such an energy and magnetism. It was real. I mean, you can’t fake that.”
The fashion photographer Regan Cameron is shooting stills for the ad campaign at the same time. “I mixed a CD and let them boogie on down to it. Luckily, they liked it. I just let it roll, pushed the shutter, and the rest will be history.”
Elliott and Madonna bump their bums together, and for a second, everyone is fixated by the matching Ms embroidered onto the back pockets of their cords. “It’s a wrap,” Hunter says. And then the moment is gone.
Into the Hollywood Groove will be available at Gap stores from mid-August.