Fans slate Madonna's rambling 'self-absorbed' VMA tribute to Aretha Franklin

Ben Arnold
Madonna presents a tribute to Aretha Franklin at the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, in New York. (Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Madonna decided to use her slot presenting an award at the MTV VMAs in New York last night to pay tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.

But viewers have slammed the singer for then embarking on a rambling tale which was more about her than about the soul legend.

The Like A Virgin star took to the stage to award the gong for the Video of the Year, and things began well enough, as she proclaimed ‘Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life’.

It ended well too, with her thanking Aretha, who died on August 16, for ’empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Long live the queen’.

But in the middle, a story about an audition for a slot as a back-up singer and dancer appeared to get away from her, as she spoke at length about the experience of struggling to get work when she arrived in New York.

Suffice to say, Aretha’s achievements didn’t get quite as much airtime during the tribute as Madonna’s did.

As ever, Twitter was swift and brutal with its condemnation.

Some were quick to note that she also blundered a tribute to Prince at the 2016 Billboard Awards.

Here is the rambling tribute in full:

“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 audition for musical theater; I heard the pay was better. I had no training or dreams ever, ever becoming a singer, but I went for it. I got cut and rejected from every audition. Not tall enough. Not blends-in enough. Not pretty enough, not enough, enough. Then, one day, a French disco sensation was looking for backup singers and dancers for a world tour. I thought, why not? I could go back to getting robbed, held at gunpoint and being mistaken for a prostitute in my third-floor walkup that was a crack house. I am a rebel, hard.

“So I set up for the audition. Two large French record producers sat in the empty theater, daring me to be amazing. The dance audition went well. They asked if I had sheet music and a song prepared. I panicked. I overlooked this important part of the process. 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… you make me feel like an actual woman.’ Two French guys shouted at me. ‘You know, by Aretha Franklin.’ They looked over at the pianist. [I said] ‘I don’t need sheet music, I know every word. I know the song. I will sing it a cappella.’ I could see they didn’t take me seriously. Why should they? Some skinny-ass while girl is going to come up here and belt out a song from one of the greatest soul singers ever, a cappella? I said, ‘B****, I’m Madonna.’ No, I didn’t. Just kidding. I wasn’t ‘Madonna’ yet. I don’t know who I was. I don’t know what came over me.

“I walked over and started. When I was finished, I was drenched in nerve sweat. You know what that nerve sweat? They said, ‘We will call you one day, maybe soon.’ Weeks went by. No phone call. Finally, the phone rang. It was one of the producers: ‘We don’t think you are right for this job.’ ‘Why are you calling me?’ He replied, ‘We think you have great potential. You are rough around the edges. We want to bring you to Paris and make you a star. We will put you in a studio, with the great Giorgio Moroder.’ I had no idea who that was, but I wanted to live in Paris and I wanted to eat some food. So, that was the beginning of my journey as a singer. I left for Paris, but I came back a few months because I had not earned the life I was living. It felt wrong. They were good people. I wanted to write my own songs and be a musician, not a puppet. I needed to go home and learn guitar. That is what I did. And the rest is history.

“So, you are probably all wondering why I am telling you this story. There is a reason, 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.”

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