“Queen of Pop” Madonna led an impassioned tribute to “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin on Monday as the music world paid its R-E-S-P-E-C-Ts to the superstar at the MTV Video Music Awards.
The show came four days after 76-year-old Franklin died of pancreatic cancer and the industry used the telecast to send Franklin off in style.
“She led me to where I am today, and I know she influenced so many people in this house tonight, in this room tonight,” said Madonna, who turned 60 last Thursday — the day Franklin died.
Franklin has influenced generations of singers with iconic hits including “Natural Woman” and “I Say a Little Prayer.”
But “Respect” (1967) was her signature tune and the broadcast ended with a recording of Aretha belting out the Otis Redding cover as the audience danced wildly.
“I want to thank you, Aretha, for empowering all of us. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Long live the Queen,” Madonna added.
Fast-rising rapper Cardi B — who recently became a mother — was expected to launch the show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall with a song but instead turned heads by simulating breastfeeding onstage.
She left performing duties to Canadian singer and songwriter Shawn Mendes, who treated fans to his acclaimed single “In My Blood,” which chronicles his struggle with anxiety disorder.
– Whips, masks, conical breasts –
Cardi B started the show as frontrunner, narrowly taking more nominations than Jay-Z and Beyonce, who ended the evening with just one award — best cinematography — for their Louvre-shot video “Apeshit.”
But artist and video of the year — for “Havana” — went to former Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello, who earlier had to endure comedian Tiffany Haddish struggling to pronounce her name before joking awkwardly: “I only speak English.”
Unlike the industry-led Grammys, the VMAs prides itself on outrageous made-for-television moments with less focus on who wins the awards.
As ever, the industry’s most controversial stars strutted the red carpet in outrageous awards garb featuring whips, masks and, in model Amber Rose’s case, conical breasts.
All big awards shows these days are political and accordingly MTV debuted a new campaign, “+1 the vote” to encourage young people to go to the polls for November’s midterm elections.
Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” which racked up more than 100 million views in its first week on YouTube with its powerful take on gun violence and racism, won best video with a message, choreography and direction.
Gold was an unofficial motif for the night and former child star Ariana Grande, 25, was dressed accordingly in gilded sequins as she sung “God Is a Woman,” her newly mature track about the delights of sex.
– ‘We are all human’ –
Rapper Logic and Ryan Tedder offered one of the night’s first big emotional moments when they performed their collaboration “One Day.”
Tedder was onstage as Logic entered the venue with dozens of immigrant children following him, wearing T-shirts that said, “We are all human beings” and holding candles.
There was a hometown takeover from Jennifer Lopez, who sizzled in a sequined body suit with a medley of some of her biggest hits, including “Ain’t Your Mama,” “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” and “Get Right.”
There was a change of costume and tone — not to mention fake falling snow — as she sang “Jenny From the Block” and was joined by Ja Rule for “I’m Real” and “Ain’t It Funny.”
It was a first appearance since 2001 for the bilingual, New York-born diva, who won best collaboration alongside DJ Khaled and Cardi B, for “Dinero.”
“There’s so much more to do and I know in my heart the future is even brighter,” she said as she received the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award for her lifetime contributions to pop culture.
Cardi B, who in little more than a year has become one of the most prominent women in the male-dominated world of hip-hop, also took best new artist.
“A couple of months ago, a lot of people were saying, ‘You are gambling your career, you are having a baby’… but I had the baby and now I still win an award,” she told the crowd.