VMAs: Madonna Tribute to Aretha Franklin Prompts Backlash, Charges of Culture Appropriation

Though it was an attempt at a touching tribute, the singer was slammed for speaking about herself and dressing in traditional African garb.

In the midst of celebrating the best in music, Madonna made a special appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards to not only present the award for video of the year, but also to pay homage to the late Aretha Franklin in a tribute that drew heavy backlash from social media users. 

The iconic African-American singer, known as the Queen of Soul, died Thursday morning at her home in Detroit following a battle with advanced pancreatic cancer. She was 76. 

Speaking in front of a projected image of Franklin onstage, Madonna began chronicling her musical origins, explaining that she consistently got "cut and rejected" after every audition for not fitting the status quo with other musicians.

The singer then explained that she struggled to find success in the industry for she was "not tall enough, not 12-octave range enough, not pretty enough and not enough enough." "I had no training or dreams but I went for it," Madonna said in a dialogue that was heavy on her achievements and light on Franklin's.  

Madonna, who seemingly had come straight from her 60th birthday festivities in Morocco and Malawi, and was dressed in traditional African garb, then explained that she would go on to audition with a performance of Franklin's
"(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" to which she said she knew "every word" by heart. 

Though she was aware that those who she was auditioning for would simply view her as a "skinny-ass white girl" who "is going to come out here and sing a song by one of the soul singers that ever lived," Madonna credited Franklin for being the reason she is as successful as she is today. 

"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!" 

Though it was an attempt to be a touching honor, viewers were not pleased with the singer's tribute to the soul singer. Critics slammed Madonna for making the speech about herself, rather than truly honoring Franklin's legacy. The backlash is not the first time Madonna has received criticism for paying homage to a music legend. During the Billboard Music Awards, Madonna was also criticized for "ruining" the tribute dedicated to late singer Prince.