At last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, Madonna somberly took the stage to pay tribute to Aretha Franklin, who sadly died at age 76 on Aug. 16. But after Madonna’s speech, many people slammed the singer on Twitter for actually making the tribute more about her than Aretha.
“Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life. I left Detroit when I was 18. Thirty-five dollars 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,” the 60-year-old began.
“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 blend-in enough, not 12-octave range enough, not pretty enough. Not enough,” Madonna told the audience.
“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 can go back to getting robbed, held at gunpoint, and being mistaken for a prostitute in my third floor walkup that was also a crackhouse.’ That’s right, I’m a Rebel Heart,” Madonna recalled.
“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 me 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,'” she continued.
“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 ass 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-tch, 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,” Madonna said onstage.
The music icon then concluded her speech with, “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.”
Following Madonna’s tribute to Aretha, people flooded Twitter with their opinions of her message. “Is this about Aretha or Madonna? #VMAs,” one person wrote with another similarly adding, “Did Madonna just make Aretha’s death about her?!”
Prior to last evening’s award show, VMAs executive producer Jesse Ignatovic told Variety that the night’s tribute to Aretha was going to be a “big focus” of the program but had ultimately been “a scramble” to put together. “We have to make sure whatever we do is true to her art. We don’t want to do anything too kooky, it’s got to be organic,” he shared.