And here come the excuses. Responding to the widespread criticism she received over her surreal appearance at Monday’s MTV VMAs, during which she told a seven-minute story about herself in front of a giant picture of Aretha Franklin, Madonna wrote on Instagram that she did not intend to perform a tribute to Franklin. If only she continued with, “I intended to pay tribute to me,” I might believe her.
Madonna wrote, “And just to clarify: I was asked to present video of the year by MTV! And then they asked me to share any anecdotes I had in my career connected to Aretha Franklin!” And that is where she should have said, “No, I’m sorry, MTV, I can’t do that because I don’t have any of those.” But instead she decided to share a bland, humorless self-hagiography that slowed down the already crawling show to a coma. That’s what she thought she was being asked to do?
“I shared a part of my journey and thanked Aretha for inspiring me along the way,” she wrote. “I did not intend to do a tribute to her! That would be impossible in 2 minutes with all the noise and tinsel of an award show. I could never do her justice in this context or environment.”
Madonna, in fact, took seven minutes, which she had already proven was adequate time to properly salute a peer. In 2009, she did just that for Michael Jackson at the very same awards show; her story, yes, was largely about Madonna, but she talked tenderly and vividly about her personal experiences with the King of Pop. As the rare human who spent time with the King of Pop, Madonna was an expert voice, and I think she did a far better job of putting this life into perspective. I get the sense ultimately, she just didn’t have much experience with Franklin or her music.
The Aretha thing last night was obviously a tribute, by the way—it had been reported before the show that a tribute segment was being planned for the Queen of Soul and the portion of the night when Madonna came out and stood in front of a giant picture of her was clearly it. Call it what you want, backpedal your intentions until your calves are sculpted enough to terrify, but in the borrowed words of Aretha, a rose is still a rose.
It just seemed like Madonna had nothing to say about Aretha Franklin (not even how weird it must have been for her to die on Madonna’s 60th birthday). That’s okay. Let this be a lesson to everyone that it’s often better not to talk if you don’t have anything to say, no matter how tantalizing the opportunity.