On August 16, Aretha Franklin passed away at the age of 76 after a long secret battle with pancreatic cancer.
The Grammy-winner, who rose to fame in 1967 with four number one singles on the R&B charts, was known for her songs "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," "Baby I Love You," "Chain of Fools," and of course, "Respect," which earned Franklin her first Grammy nominations and wins, and turned her into a global icon.
Of course, when an artist is as legendary as Aretha, people expected her to be honored in a special way at the MTV Video Music Awards, which took place on August 20.
In the days leading up to one of the music industry's biggest nights, fans began to speculate who would be chosen to pay tribute to the Queen of Soul at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Ariana Grande, who recently sang a rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and was part of the VMAs performer lineup, was a favorite to serenade the crowd in honor of Aretha.
However, that's not what the show's producers had in mind.
Viewers were surprised to see Madonna, who took the stage to present the "Video Music Award," pay tribute to the late singer before announcing the winner. However, instead of performing, she delivered a bizarre speech that did not go over well with many of Aretha's fans.
Madonna started her speech by mentioning Aretha and revealing that the musician "changed the course of my life," but things quickly took a downhill turn.
The 60-year-old Queen of Pop then told a story about how she got into the music industry, including an audition where she sang "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" after showing up unprepared.
"'I know the song by heart, I will sing it a cappella.’ I could see that they did not take me seriously — and why should they? Some skinny a** white girl is going to come up here and belt out a song by one of the greatest soul singers that ever lived? And a cappella … I said, ‘B***h, I’m Madonna.’ No, I didn’t, I didn’t say that. ‘Cause I wasn’t Madonna yet. I don’t know who I was. I don’t know what I said, I don’t know what came over me."
"So you’re probably all wondering why I’m telling you this story. There’s a connection, because none of this would’ve happened — could’ve happened — without our lady of soul. She led me to where I am today and I know she influenced so many people in this house tonight, in this room tonight, and I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Long live the queen."
People on social media criticized the "Like A Prayer" singer's so-called tribute because it left viewers feeling like it was more of a self-appreciation speech that detailed the trajectory of her career rather than an homage to Aretha's life and work.
Madonna gave herself a tribute featuring Aretha.— LoveYourself (@ScottieBeam) August 21, 2018
That was such an awkward tribute to Aretha Franklin. I was hoping Madonna would talk a liiiiiiiitle less about herself and more about Aretha but idk lol 🤦♀️🤷♀️— Kathleen Lights (@KathleenLights1) August 21, 2018
*Aretha Franklin dies*— Hannah (@HannnSandwich) August 21, 2018
MTV: “You know what would be really good? If Madonna talked about herself for 10 minutes and mentioned Aretha once”
Madonna’s tribute to Aretha Franklin is Madonna telling a story about herself while acknowledging she loved the “Lady Soul” album. #VMAs— Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick) August 21, 2018
Some fans couldn't help but draw parallels to the "ruined" Prince tribute at the 2016 Billboard Awards.
Others demanded that MTV issue an apology for giving Madonna the green light to "disrespect Aretha Franklin's legacy like that."
I hope the vmas plan to issue a public apology for allowing Madonna to disrespect Aretha Franklin's legacy like that #VMAs— Kia Kia (@kiiajai) August 21, 2018
Even Madonna's "lifelong" fans were disappointed in how she handled her time on stage.
As a lifelong Madonna fan it pains me to say this...but this is what happens when you don't have anyone in your life who tells you that you shouldn't do something or tells you that you're acting out of control.— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) August 21, 2018
Madonna is no stranger to controversy and scandalous moments, and this is just another blunder to add to her list. She has yet to comment on the backlash.
You can read the transcript of her speech below:
Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life. I left Detroit when I was 18. $35 in my pocket. My dream was to make it as a professional dancer.
After years of struggling and being broke, I decided to go to auditions for musical theater. I heard the pay was better. I had no training or dreams of ever becoming a singer, but I went for it. I got cut, and rejected from every audition. Not tall enough. Not blends-in enough, not 12-octave-range enough, not pretty enough, not enough, enough.
And then, one day, a French disco sensation was looking for backup singers and dancers for his world tour. I thought, “Why not?” The worst that can happen is I could go back to getting robbed, held at gunpoint and being mistaken for a prostitute in my third-floor walk-up that was also a crack house.
So I showed up for the audition, and two very large French record producers sat in the empty theater, daring me to be amazing. The dance audition went well. Then they asked if I had sheet music and a song prepared. I panicked. I had overlooked this important part of the audition process. I had to think fast. My next meal was on the line.
Fortunately, one of my favorite albums was “Lady Soul” by Aretha Franklin. I blurted out, “You Make Me Feel.” Silence. “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.” Two French guys nodded at me. I said, “You know, by Aretha Franklin.” Again, “Mmmhmm.” They looked over at the pianist. He shook his head. “I don’t need sheet music,” I said, “I know every word. I know the song by heart, I will sing it a cappella.”
I could see that they did not take me seriously. And why should they? Some skinny-a– white girl is going to come up here and belt out a song by one of the greatest soul singers that ever lived? A cappella? I said, “Bitch, I’m Madonna.”
No, I didn’t. I didn’t say that. ‘Cause I wasn’t Madonna yet. I don’t know who I was. I don’t know what I said. I don’t know what came over me. I walked to the edge of the pitch-black stage, and I started singing.
When I was finished and drenched in nerve sweat. Y’all know what this is, right, nerve sweat? They said, “We will call you one day, and maybe soon.”
So weeks went by, and no phone call. Finally, the phone rang, and it was one of the producers, saying, [French accent] “We don’t think you are right for this job.” I’m like, “Why are you calling me?” He replied, “We think you have great potentials. You are rough for the edges, but there is good rawness. We want to bring you to Paris and make you a star.”
We will put you in a studio . . . it sounded good, and I wanted to live in Paris, and also I wanted to eat some food. So, that was the beginning of my journey as a singer. I left for Paris.
But I came back a few months later, because I had not earned the luxury life I was living. It felt wrong. They were good people. But I wanted to write my own songs and be a musician, not a puppet. I needed to go back home and learn to play guitar, and that is exactly what I did. And the rest is history.
So, you are probably all wondering why I am telling you this story. There is a connection. Because none of this would have happened, could have happened, without our lady of soul. She led me to where I am today. And I know she influenced so many people in this house tonight, in this room tonight. And I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Long live the queen.
Another anecdote I would like to share: In 1984, this is where the first VMAs were, in this very building. I performed at this show. I sang “Like a Virgin” at the top of a cake. On the way down, I lost a shoe, and then I was rolling on the floor. I tried to make it look like it was part of the choreography, looking for the missing stiletto. And my dress flew up and my butt was exposed, and oh my God, quelle horreur. After the show, my manager said my career was over. LOL.
So I would now like to present the nominees for the video of the year.
Do you think her tribute was disrespectful? Let us know in the comments!