Madonna’s tribute to Aretha Franklin at the VMAs on Monday night has received considerable online backlash. The speech, which Madonna gave before presenting the Video of the Year Award, has been criticized as being more of a tribute to Madonna herself than to Franklin.
Madonna began the speech by saying that Franklin changed the course of her life. “I left Detroit when I was 18,” she said. “35 dollars in my pocket. My dream was to make it as a professional dancer.” Franklin grew up in Detroit, and also left home at a young age to pursue a career in music.
From there, however, the speech began to devolve into an autobiography of Madonna’s early years. She described her early struggles with finding work in musical theater and her deplorable living situation. She described “getting robbed, held at gunpoint and being mistaken for a prostitute in my third-floor walk-up that was also a crack house.”
Madonna briefly described singing Franklin’s ”(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman” in an audition for a role as a background singer, before returning to her own story. After more lengthy anecdotes about her growth as a singer and artist, Madonna seemingly remembered who she was supposed to be paying tribute to.
“So, you are probably all wondering why I am telling you this story,” she said. “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.”
She finished her speech by recalling her 1984 VMAs performance of “Like A Virgin.”
“I sang “Like a Virgin” at the top of a cake,” she said. “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. After the show, my manager said my career was over. LOL.”
Many viewers took to Twitter to criticize what they saw as a disrespectful tribute to Franklin’s legacy.
Check out Paste archival video and audio from a 1971 Franklin show and a 1985 Madonna show, respectively, below.