In an Instagram post of her with Cabello, 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! 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.”
During her speech, Madonna had told the audience: “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.”
She continued: “I had no training or dreams of 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,” she said. “And then one day a French disco sensation was looking for backup singers and dancers for his world tour. I thought, ‘Why not? The worst that can happen is I can go back to getting robbed, held at gunpoint and being mistaken for a prostitute in my third floor walkup that was also a crackhouse.’ That’s right, I’m a Rebel Heart.”
“So I showed up for the audition and two very large French record producers sat in the empty theater, 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,” she said. “I had to think fast, my next meal was on the line. Fortunately one of my favorite 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.’”
Madonna went on: “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 cappella.’ I could see that they did not take me seriously — and why should they? Some skinny ass white girl is going to come up here and belt out a song by one of the greatest soul singers that ever lived? And a cappella … I said, ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna.’ No, I didn’t, I didn’t say that. ‘Cause I wasn’t Madonna yet. I don’t know who I was. I don’t know what I said, I don’t know what came over me.”
She added: “So you’re probably all wondering why I’m telling you this story. There’s a connection, because 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.”