I don’t need to define “caucacity” for some of you. I feel like I don’t need to define it at all because what Madonna did last night on the VMA stage was such an egregious act of caucacity, it really speaks for itself in this context but if you don’t know, it’s a term coined by Desus and Mero and here’s how Urban Dictionary defines it:
A boldly rude or disrespectful behavior motivated by excessive pride, self-confidence, or an undeserved sense of entitlement; characteristic of a stereotypical prerogative of white Americans (Caucasians), usually at the expense, inconvenience, or detriment of others, particularly non-white people.
I want to make sure you know exactly how caucacious it was for Madonna to turn the Aretha Franklin tribute at one of the biggest nights in music, one week after the death of the Queen of Soul, into a story about the hardships of HER career. My jaw was on the floor. I was truly astonished by Madonna’s nerve and the nerve of whomever at MTV decided that this was OK.
Four days ago, VMA Executive Producer Jesse Ignjatovic told Variety that their Aretha Franklin tribute was still in the works but that it was their “big focus.”
“Even [considering] how many times she performed here, her connection to MTV in the heyday of music videos on the channel, and just what she means to music. We have our pie-in-the-sky dreams, but she’s one of the all-time greats so we have to do her justice.”
Spoiler alert: they did not do her justice. I understand that putting something together four days before a massive live show like the VMAs is not easy, and I was pretty confident they were going to f-ck it up no matter what they did, but I just didn’t think they were going to f-ck it up this hard. I thought at the very least the tribute to Aretha Franklin would BE ABOUT ARETHA FRANKLIN.
Off the top of Madonna’s story, she mentions that Aretha Franklin changed the course of her career and that they were both from Detroit. Then she proceeds to tell a long, dumbass story about going to a musical theatre audition in which she sang “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” acapella. Here’s a taste of Madonna talking about herself and how hard it was for HER in the beginning of HER career.
“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 walk-up that was also a crack house.”
There was literally a picture of Aretha’s face in the monitors behind Madonna as she rambled on about herself. She eventually promises that there is a point to her ramblings and that her self-aggrandizing word vomit is all connected to Aretha.
“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. I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
So, all Aretha Franklin was good for was singing a song that Madonna sang in an audition? She’s great because Madonna wouldn’t exist without her? The more I type and relive this blatant display of disrespect, the more my hands shake in rage.
Madonna is a legend. No one is disputing that. But of all the legends that Aretha inspired, Madonna is not the one that comes to mind in terms of musical legacy or vocal capacity. Were all the black women incapacitated? Have Madonna and Aretha even met? You wouldn’t know by Madonna’s “tribute.” MTV paid their respects to the single greatest soul singer to ever live by barely mentioning her music and not at all mentioning her legacy on stage or off. Historically black women have too often been systematically erased, degraded and ignored by the music industry and now we know that even in death, after an unmatched career, not even this black woman, considered to be the greatest singer of all time, is exempt from belittlement and the eradication of her accolades.
Not a single Aretha Franklin accolade was mentioned. Madonna didn’t even go on stage to solely tribute Aretha. She was there to give out Video of The Year. Aretha Franklin was an afterthought. MTV has done tributes in the past. Even Jared Leto managed not to talk about himself when paying tribute to Chester Bennington last year. MTV didn’t tribute Prince or Bowie in 2016 and people were rightfully upset but honestly, no tribute would have been better than what Madonna did.
At the 2009 VMAs, MTV devoted over 12 minutes to honouring Michael Jackson, as they should have. Madonna opened that tribute by listing off Michael Jackson’s achievements juxtaposed with moments from her own life. She did make the tribute more about herself than she should have (MTV should have known better than to let her do this AGAIN) but she spends a good amount of time talking about the importance of Michael’s music and what he meant to the world. Madonna gave Michael Jackson enough respect to actually speak about Michael using hyperboles and emotion. Aretha got crack house jokes and a story that included the words, “I’m Madonna, bitch.”
Aretha Franklin’s music was personal to so many black women. Leading up to writing my tribute to Aretha, I read the words of so many writers I admire and their connections to Aretha’s music and what her legacy means to them. The fact that Madonna thinks her career struggles are more important than celebrating Aretha Franklin’s life feels personal. By not honouring Aretha’s legacy properly, Madonna seems intent on messing up her own. As Lainey put it, “why can’t she just let me remember her?”
I’ll never forget that when Madonna had the chance to honour the Queen of Soul, she centered herself. She showed us exactly who she is. I do not have the capacity right now to critique her outfit. I don’t know what culture she’s appropriating or what the hell she’s trying to do here but I’m mad at it. I’m mad at all of it.