With the MTV VMAs taking place only a few days after the passing of beloved Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin, there was much speculation over how the late icon would be honored during the show. Rather than a musical tribute, Aretha’s legacy was entrusted in the hands of one of pop music’s biggest stars, Madonna, who shared some words about the singer’s impact on her life. Unfortunately, as many fans have pointed out, her speech didn’t really have much to do with Aretha at all.
It started out fine. “Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life,” she said, but quickly the focus turned to a story of an audition in which Madonna sang an Aretha song. While it seemed the intention was to show how Franklin had inspired her to push forward as a woman in the music industry, the lack of focus on Aretha was somewhere between bizarre and disrespectful for many viewers. As one Twitter user Darlene26811165 so eloquently put it: “Aretha in heaven sitting on her throne looking down at Madonna like Bitch did You die or me?” On top of that, her outfit was criticized as culturally appropriative.
Eventually, Madonna got to the point, but it didn’t seem to win anyone over. “You’re probably all wondering why I’m telling you this story,” she said. “None of [my success] 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. I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us: R-e-s-p-e-c-t. Long live the Queen.”
The speech came just before Madonna announced the award for Video Of The Year, which went to Camila Cabello’s “Havana.” In the closing credits, Aretha’s “Respect” was played.
View some reactions from Twitter users below, and watch Madonna’s tribute above.