Aretha Franklin's Legacy Deserved More Respect At The MTV VMAs
Honor Aretha Franklin correctly, or not at all.
When Aretha Franklin passed away on Thursday (Aug. 16), the world not only lost a musical giant, but also the undisputed Queen of Soul. For over five decades, Ms. Franklin used her God-given talent to entertain and inspire. She was raised in the church and had a soul-stirring voice. She learned how to play the piano by ear and could go up against any classically trained pianist with her skills. Simply put, she was an icon and a legend.
In the midst of mourning the Queen, music lovers were also gearing up for a more lighthearted affair, the MTV Video Music Awards, four days later. Although her four-day homegoing celebration was set for Aug. 28-31, the event would be the first chance, on national television, to properly honor one of the greatest voices ever.
In an act of haste (and one arguably free of thought), MTV opted to bundle up an Aretha Franklin “tribute” with the presentation for Video of the Year, and in a head-scratching decision, requested Madonna do the honors. If that sounds absolutely absurd, that’s because it is. While Madonna is a legend in her own right and also hails from Detroit, one could only wonder how and why such a pick would make sense? As if her so-called tribute to Prince wasn’t enough of a disaster, Madge decided to outdo herself for Franklin, of all people.
"If MTV didn’t feel as if they could quickly pull together a tribute fit for a queen, then they should have simply ended the show with words from a close peer of Ms. Franklin’s and one of her old performance videos…. or just nothing at all."
Madonna’s speech started out on the right path and quickly took a hard left. “Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life. I…” From the first I, viewers were then tuned into the Madonna monologues. One minute she was auditioning to be a dancer. Then, we found out she once lived in a third-floor walk-up that was also a “crack house.” Somehow, she tried to relate her me-myself-and-I story to the Queen of Soul. Apparently, Madonna’s favorite album at the time was Franklin’s Lady Soul, and she was able to sing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for an audition. However, we didn’t learn of any friendship between the two and weren’t treated to a rousing performance by any soulful artists. Not one single note was sung in honor of one of the world’s best and most recognizable voices.
For someone who sang about “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” with so much conviction, earned it through her work and demanded it at every turn, Franklin certainly didn’t receive that reverence on Monday evening. When you commit to doing a tribute, especially for someone of Aretha Franklin’s stature, you go big or kindly sit this one out. That goes for MTV and Madonna.
According to Madonna’s Instagram post on Tuesday (Aug. 21), she was only set to present the Video of the Year award, but MTV then asked her to make remarks about Ms. Franklin. Being an industry vet, Madonna should have known to kindly decline that suggestion if she did not feel comfortable with a responsibility of that gravity. The Queen of Soul and her 50-plus year career isn’t something you casually mention while presenting an award. You give her the time, energy, words and song that she deserves.
Im with the Winner!! The beautiful @camila_cabello ! So proud of her! 🌈💕🎉. 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! 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. Unfortunately most people have short attention spans, and are so quick to judge. I love Aretha! R.E.S.P.E.C.T. 🙏🏼. I Love Camilla! Congrats! I LOVE my dress! AND. I love-L O V E!! ♥️ and there is nothing anyone can say or do that will change that. #vmas #postivevibes
After all, we’re talking about the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, four years after the organization was established. A Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. A Kennedy Center Honors honoree. The voice heard at three different presidential inaugurations. The one who earned 20 No. 1 R&B hits. Your favorite singer’s favorite singer. Detroit’s finest, Aretha Franklin.
Would the Queen of Soul be pleased? Absolutely not. Ms. Franklin aimed for the best and only wanted the best associated with her name. In 2010, Franklin suggested that Oscar winners Halle Berry and Denzel Washington carry out the roles of her and her father, the late Rev. C.L. Franklin, for a future movie adaptation of her biography. That is just one example of her demand for excellence. What MTV provided was lackluster, thrown together and, given Madonna’s narcissistic rant, borderline disrespectful.
Sure, MTV’s current demographic may not know much about the Queen of Soul. That was evident with the fact only one artist, Travis Scott, acknowledged her passing. However, respect and a proper tribute should have been top of mind for MTV, a television channel that was once primarily focused on music and honored the so-called best in music every year. It’s only right to properly honor the voice that stretched across genres and touched the hearts and blessed the homes of many. Ms. Franklin gave her all in every performance and music video throughout her career until the very end. If MTV didn’t feel as if they could quickly pull together a tribute fit for a queen, then they should have simply ended the show with words from a close peer of Ms. Franklin’s and one of her old performance videos…. or just nothing at all.
"When you commit to doing a tribute, especially for someone of Aretha Franklin’s stature, you go big or kindly sit this one out. That goes for MTV and Madonna."
Although airing in September 2018, Black Music Honors was taped the night Franklin passed away. However, they still put together a proper tribute with performances by Angela Winbush, Syleena Johnson and Paris Bennett. Why couldn’t MTV think to attempt the same? Sure, a Jazmine Sullivan, Kelly Price or Fantasia may not have been right for the VMA’s crowd, but was Christina Aguilera busy?
So, now we wait for Black Girls Rock, the Soul Train Music Awards, the Grammy Awards and the BET Awards to properly pay homage to the woman who meant so much to the music world, and who poured her soul into every note she sang. The world is waiting for a tribute stacked with greatness to match her own, so they better deliver.