Many 2018 MTV Video Music Awards viewers are calling Madonna out for d-i-s-r-e-s-p-e-c-t after she spent a good chunk of time talking about herself while she attempted to pay tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.
The 60-year-old singer presented Video of the Year to Camila Cabello, and in her introduction opened up about how the Queen of Soul, who died last week, helped to launch her own career. But her so-called tribute left many people annoyed, with some saying it was as much an appreciation of herself as it was Franklin.
"Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life," Madonna told the audience. "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 theatre."
"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 continued. "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."
She told the story of how she showed up for the audition and nailed the dancing part — but had completely forgotten to prepare sheet music for a song to sing. "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.'"
"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?"
Her lengthy story continued: "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."
Eventually, Madonna tried to connect the dots of her story and Franklin's unparalleled legacy. "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."
But a flurry of viewers took to Twitter to complain about the attempted tribute. While many griped that she made it all about herself, others took issue with the fact that MTV chose Madonna in the first place for the tribute, rather than a black artist.
"Does Madonna know Madonna didn't die," sportscaster Katie Nolan wrote.
does Madonna know Madonna didn’t die— Katie Nolan (@katienolan) August 21, 2018
One person used a GIF of Franklin to call the tribute "lies, lies and more lies."
Someone else used a Franklin GIF to point out the tribute's flaws.
"is this about aretha or madonna?" another asked.
The Root wondered where Kanye West, who famously interrupted an acceptance speech from Taylor Swift, was "when you need him."
Did Madonna just make Aretha’s death about her?!August 21, 2018
One person pointed out how Cabello dedicated her Video of the Year award to Madonna after her "self-indulgent 'tribute' to Aretha Franklin," writing "And that describes how #VMAs treated Black artists the entire night."
Camila Cabello got on her knees and praised Madonna and dedicated her undeserved Video of the Year award to her......after Madonna just gave a self-indulgent "tribute" to Aretha Franklin.
And that describes how #VMAs treated Black artists the entire night...— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) August 21, 2018
Someone wrote that Madonna's speech demonstrated "a dynamic performance of peak white womanhood."
#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.— Anansi (@blaqueerflow) August 21, 2018
Another wondered why MTV didn't ask a black artist to give the tribute instead.
So all the black artist they could call to talk about the legacy of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and MTV brought out Madonna to mention Aretha one time in her long ass story???? #VMAs D.I.S.R.E.S.P.E.C.T. pic.twitter.com/9wAmpxH74k— Joy Henry (@joibella19) August 21, 2018