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Toward the end of the ceremony, Madonna—who was presenting the video of the year award—took the stage to tell the crowd how Franklin’s music helped launch her career. According to Madonna, she had gone to a musical audition for French producers early in her career after struggling as a dancer.
“Why not?” she said of her mindset about the audition. “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 walk-up that was also a crack house.”
She hadn’t prepared a song to perform for the audition but she knew how to sing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and performed an a cappella rendition for the audition. She didn’t get what she was trying out for, but it led to another job in Paris. And the rest is history.
Madonna’s story does mention Franklin, but Franklin is hardly involved—and it’s more about the existence of a Franklin song than about Franklin herself. And on a night where she was supposed to pay tribute to Franklin, many felt that she pivoted so that it ended up being more of a Madonna tribute with a Franklin musical cameo.
Enough‼️ Be mad at me if you want. But, we as a nation ... must stop letting #Madonna do the tributes to great black music legends. First there was that Billboard debacle to Prince. And NOW ... Madonna babbling about Madonna, in that faux #MTVVMAS “#Aretha tribute”. #nomore 😡— Arsenio Hall (@ArsenioHall) August 21, 2018
does Madonna know Madonna didn’t die— Katie Nolan (@katienolan) August 21, 2018
I’m so lost. I thought Madonna was supposed to be paying homage to Aretha but I all heard was her paying homage to herself. HEAVY on the Mayonnaise......— Charlamagne Tha God (@cthagod) August 21, 2018
Madonna presents an Aretha Franklin tribute by Madonna featuring Madonna with Madonna and Madonna as “Madonna”— Marc (@MarcSnetiker) August 21, 2018
But it’s not the first time that Madonna’s paid tribute to another artist who recently died by making it about herself, as some pointed out on Twitter.
Idk why folks are surprised at Madonna’s self-serving Aretha Franklin tribute at the #VMAs because I still remember how she began her Michael Jackson tribute back in 2009 🤦🏻♂️ pic.twitter.com/aYJQKbfwLe— Dallas Hawes 💬 (@DeeEmAych) August 21, 2018
Madonna ended her tribute by thanking Franklin for the impact that Franklin’s music had.
“She led me to where I am today and I know she influenced so many people in this house tonight, in this room tonight,” Madonna said. “I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Long live the queen.”
H/T NBC News
Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and the resident Game of Thrones expert at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has brought her knowledge to conventions like Con of Thrones. She is based in New Jersey.