Madonna appeared at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards Monday night to present the award for Video of the Year and while on stage gave a lengthy speech in honour of the late Aretha Franklin, an oration that was intended to be laudatory but ended up perceived by many as self-indulgent. Below is the text of her speech (and here one can read her Instagram post that responds to the backlash that ensued).
"Aretha Louise Franklin changed the course of my life. I left Detroit when I was 18. Thirty-five dollars in my pocket. My dream was to make it as a professional dancer. After years of struggling and being broke, I decided to go to auditions for musical theatre. I heard the pay was better. I had no training or dreams ever ever becoming a singer, but I went for it.
"I got cut, and rejected from every audition. Not tall enough. Not blend-in enough, not 12-octave-range enough, not pretty enough, not enough, enough. And then one day, a French disco sensation was looking for backup singers and dancers for his world tour. I thought, 'Why not? I could 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.' That's right, I'm a rebel heart.
"So I showed up to the audition, and two very large French record producers sat in the empty theatre, daring me to be amazing. The dance audition went well. Then they asked me if I had sheet music and a song prepared. I panicked. I had overlooked this important part of the audition process. I had to think fast. My next meal was on the line. Fortunately, one of my favourite albums was Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin. I blurted out, "You make me feel." Silence. "You make me feel like a natural woman."
"Two French guys nodded at me. I said, "You know, by Aretha Franklin." Again, mm-hmm. They looked over at the pianist. He shook his head. I don't need sheet music, I said, I know every word. I know the song by heart, I will sing it a capella. I could see that they didn't take me seriously, and why should they? Some skinny-ass while girl is going to come up here and belt out a song by one of the greatest soul singers who ever lived? A capella? I said, 'Bitch, I'm Madonna.' No, I didn't. I didn't say that. Because I wasn't Madonna yet. I don't know who I was.
"I don't know I said. I don't know what came over me. I walked to the edge of the pitch black stage and started singing. When I was finished and drenched in nerve sweat. You know what that is, right nerve sweat? They said, 'We will call you one day, maybe soon.' Weeks went by and no phone call. Finally, the phone rang, it was one of the producers, saying. 'We don't think you are right for this job.' I'm like, 'Motherfucker, why are you calling me?' He replied, 'We think you have great potential. You are rough around the edges, but there is good rawness. We want to bring you to Paris and make you a star. Well, we will put you in a studio, with the great Giorgio Moroder.' And I had no idea who that was, and I wanted to live in Paris, and I wanted to eat some food.
"So, that was the beginning of my journey as a singer. I left for Paris, but I came back a few months later. Because I had not earned the life I was living. It felt wrong. They were good people but wanted to write my own songs and be a musician, not a puppet. I needed to go home and learn to play guitar, and that's exactly what I did. And the rest is history.
"So. You are probably all wondering why I am telling you this story. There is a connection, because none of this would have happened, could have 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.
"Another anecdote I would like to share: In 1984, this is where the first VMAs were, in this very building. And I performed at this show. I sang 'Like a Virgin' at the top of a cake. And on my way down, I lost a shoe, and I was rolling on the floor and trying to make it look like it was part of the choreography, looking for the missing stilleto, and my dress flew up, and my butt was exposed, and oh my God, Quelle horror. After the show, my manager said my career was over. LOL. So. I would now like to present the nominees for the video of the year."