Update: Madonna has spoken out regarding the backlash she received for peculiar onstage moment at the MTV Video Music Awards. In an Instagram post, Madonna gave a little more context to her "speech," if we decide to call it that.
According to the singer, her story about the late Aretha Franklin was meant to be a story about herself, not a tribute to Franklin, as many perceived it to be. "I was asked to present video of the year by MTV!" she wrote. "And then they asked me to share any anecdotes I had in my career connected to Aretha Franklin! I shared a part of my journey and thanked Aretha for inspiring me along the way. I did not intend to do a tribute to her! That would be impossible in 2 minutes with all the noise and tinsel of an award show. I could never do her justice in this context or environment. Unfortunately most people have short attention spans, and are so quick to judge. I love Aretha! R.E.S.P.E.C.T."
Im with the Winner!! The beautiful @camila_cabello ! So proud of her! 🌈💕🎉. And just to clarify: I was asked to present video of the year by MTV! And then they asked me to share any anecdotes I had in my career connected to Aretha Franklin! I shared a part of my journey and thanked Aretha for inspiring me along the way. I did not intend to do a tribute to her! That would be impossible in 2 minutes with all the noise and tinsel of an award show. I could never do her justice in this context or environment. Unfortunately most people have short attention spans, and are so quick to judge. I love Aretha! R.E.S.P.E.C.T. 🙏🏼. I Love Camilla! Congrats! I LOVE my dress! AND. I love-L O V E!! ♥️ and there is nothing anyone can say or do that will change that. #vmas #postivevibes
This story was originally published August 21 at 12:20 a.m.
In 1984, the MTV Video Music Awards created Madonna, and Madonna created the MTV Video Music Awards. Madonna, who was then a burgeoning pop star, sealed her fate as a provocateur during her very first live performance of "Like a Virgin." Her shoe caught in her tulle wedding dress. Instead of pausing, she writhed around on the floor of Radio City Music Hall like a bride experiencing carnal delights on her wedding night. That moment established the VMAs place as a site where youth culture met the cutting edge — and where Madonna reigned supreme.
But it's 2018, and Madonna's stunts at the VMAs aren't as intentional as they once were. Back in 1984, Madonna was deliberately challenging a culture so conservative it would go on to ban her racy music videos from airing on TV. Now, her scandals stem from her being out of touch. Case in point: Madonna's speech at this evening's VMAs. Ostensibly, her speech, which preceded her announcement of the Video of the Year award, was supposed to be a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin, who passed away last week. Instead, Madonna delivered a long-winded story about her own rise to fame, in which Franklin only played the most minuscule of parts.
Apparently, Madonna once sang Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" at a pivotal audition. To the people judging the performance, the young Madonna knew she'd come off as a "skinny-ass white girl." But of course she could sing it – she was "Madonna," as she explained.
Instead of speaking about Franklin, Madonna mostly just thanked Franklin for the existence of her own career. "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!" Madonna said.
Though Madonna meant to earnestly praise and honor Franklin, her delivery of that message – not to mention her get-up with confusing cultural references – was undeniably questionable. (No word yet on why show producers didn't plan a proper, musical tribute to Franklin.) Twitter was quick to criticize her long-winded speech and its skewed proportion of Madonna content to Aretha content. (Once the speech was over, Madonna presented the Video of the Year award to Camila Cabello for "Havana.")
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
Madonna's fans were having an especially hard time reconciling the icon with the content of her speech.
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
The speech was derided, especially Madonna's detour into talking about her time living in a "crack house," but so was Madonna's outfit, which was criticized for being culturally appropriative. Madonna seemed to be wearing traditional African clothing, having just returned from a 60th birthday trip to Morocco and Malawi.
Madonna forged her career from splashy scandals, and this certainly counts as one.