Madonna responded Tuesday to a social-media backlash from what critics considered her self-absorbed tribute to the late soul legend Aretha Franklin at Monday's MTV Video Music Awards, saying producers had asked only for her to contribute a personal reminiscence.
"And just to clarify,” the pop-music icon, 60, wrote on social media in a post congratulating VMA winner Camila Cabello, "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! I shared a part of my journey and thanked Aretha for inspiring me along the way. 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 added, "Unfortunately most people have short attention spans, and are so quick to judge. I love Aretha! R.E.S.P.E.C.T."
During the ceremony at Radio City Music Hall, Madonna began her speech by saying Franklin, who died Thursday at age 76, "changed the course of my life." She then wound out an anecdote about auditioning for French disco producers, for whom she performed an a capella version of the Franklin hit "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." This eventually led to a Parisian sojourn, she said, in which she made a major career decision.
Madonna later concluded that portion of the speech by saying Franklin "led me to where I am today and I know she influenced so many people in this house tonight . . . and I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T," and added, following audience cheers, "Long live the queen."
The long anecdote struck a sour note with many observers. Radio personality Charlamagne Tha God tweeted, "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."
Temple University professor and BET and CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill tweeted, "For the record, I LOVE Madonna. I'm a huge fan. She just shouldn't be anywhere near Aretha. She shouldn't be Aretha adjacent."
Madonna also had her defenders. One fan tweeted that the star "can open schools, hospitals and raise almost a million dollars for underprivileged kids and Twitter judges are silent . . . but let her tell a story about how Aretha influenced her and she is trending. It's not Madonna with screwed up priorities it's you."