The backlash was swift for Madonna’s rambling, egocentric tribute to Aretha Franklin at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York on Monday night (Aug. 20), with media and Queen-of-Soul fans wondering why she got the gig in the first place.
Dressed in flowing black with grandiose flourishes of African jewelry, Madonna’s send-off came before she presented the video of the year award to Camila Cabello. She spoke at length about her own start in the business and her own career before thanking Franklin for “empowering all of us. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.”
Cabello then collected the biggest award of the night for her “Havana” video with a bow to Madonna, dedicating the trophy to, you guessed it, Madonna. There was a short video of early Franklin that played before Madonna said that the icon who died Thursday (Aug. 16) “changed the course of my life,” and Franklin’s “Respect” played as the night’s closing credits rolled. But there was no live musical performance honoring the legend.
Some accused Madonna, in her spiky silver headpiece, heavy necklaces and beaded bracelets, of cultural appropriation. Far more accused her of making the show’s only tribute to Franklin all about herself.
“I’m so lost,” radio host Charlamagne Tha God tweeted. “I thought Madonna was supposed to be paying homage to Aretha but all I heard was her paying homage to herself.”
I’m so lost. I thought Madonna was supposed to be paying homage to Aretha but I all heard was her paying homage to herself. HEAVY on the Mayonnaise……
— Charlamagne Tha God (@cthagod) August 21, 2018
After describing her teen exit from Detroit to make her name in show business, Madonna said at one point, “So, you are probably all wondering why I am telling you this story.” Why, yes. Before she got to the point (she sang “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” a capella at an audition of yore), Madonna meandered through references to Paris, poverty, guitar lessons and finally her backside hanging out at a VMAs show after breaking a stiletto.
“Does Madonna know Madonna didn’t die?” ESPN’s Katie Nolan tweeted.
does Madonna know Madonna didn’t die
— Katie Nolan (@katienolan) August 21, 2018
Marc Snetiker of Entertainment Weekly described the speech on Twitter as “Madonna presents an Aretha Franklin tribute by Madonna featuring Madonna with Madonna and Madonna as ‘Madonna’.”
Madonna presents an Aretha Franklin tribute by Madonna featuring Madonna with Madonna and Madonna as “Madonna”
— Marc (@MarcSnetiker) August 21, 2018
The response was not unlike that from some fans of Prince when Madonna donned a “Purple Rain” suit to honor him soon after his death, at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards. The Madonna Twitter roasting included this from one angry Franklin fan: “Only madonna would tell her life story while honoring a dead Black Woman lmaooo.”