Following the tragic passing of music icon and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin on Thursday, August 16, MTV quickly made sure to put together a tribute for her at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards, but many are not happy with the result.
Franklin’s October 9, 1970 performance of Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer” was aired and Madonna was selected to make a tribute to the singer before presenting video of the year. Unfortunately, Madonna’s speech seemed less like a tribute to Franklin and more just about Madonna herself and viewers were not happy.
“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,” she said.
“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,” she said. “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.”
“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,” she said. “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, ‘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.”
After sharing the beginning of her journey as a singer, Madonna concluded: “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.”
Of course, many took to social media to voice their opinions about Madonna’s “self-indulgent” speech with comments like, “does Madonna know Madonna didn’t die,” and “I can’t believe Madonna took Aretha’s moment to do…that??! Like, wooow.”