Madonna appeared at the VMAs on Monday to present the award for video of the year and honor Franklin, who died last week after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Her so-called tribute, however, left viewers scratching their heads, with some saying her speech was as much an appreciation of herself as it was to the Queen of Soul.
‘Long live the queen’
Madonna opened her statement by saying Franklin “changed the course of my life,” but from there, it evolved into a story about Madonna’s journey into the music business.
The singer shared her experience at an audition where she sang Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in a last-minute decision after she had failed to bring sheet music or prepare another song.
Madonna said she ended up singing the tune, which she knew “by heart,” acapella. Though, she said, the two men who she was auditioning for didn’t believe “some skinny-ass white girl” was going to “belt out a song by one of the greatest soul singers that ever lived.”
According to Madonna, she impressed the men, but the gig ended up leading to a dead-end opportunity. While her big break would come later, she said Franklin “led me to where I am today.”
“I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” she said. “Long live the queen.”
Viewers reacted swiftly on social media to Madonna’s story and her attempt to honor Franklin.
Some people complained that Madonna’s remarks were too focused on her own triumph rather than Franklin’s legacy.
“So instead of an actual tribute to Aretha you let Madonna talk about herself for 30 minutes?! @MTV our beautiful black queen deserves better,” wrote one user.
Others lambasted MTV for failing to find an artist of color to speak to Franklin’s impact.
“#Madonna is demonstrating a dynamic performance of peak white womanhood. This was not an #Aretha tribute but a monologue on how another iconic Black woman is being reduced to how she helped a white woman,” one person wrote.
MTV has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.
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