I’ve made it clear that I understood booking Madonna for a Prince tribute at this year’s Billboard Music Awards was BS in theory. So, now after actually watching the tribute last night, believe me when I tell you that I am reveling in all my truth the day after. God bless Madonna because I am a fan, but that tribute was not it. It was not even a lil’ bit of it.
The first problem with the tribute was song selection. I understand that Madonna really, really likes to sing, and to her credit, has worked hard over the years to maintain the voice that she has. Unfortunately, that voice remains incapable of delivering the emotion attached to the Prince songs she opted to cover. I wish she had hit her girl, Ursula The Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid on the hip and asked for a solid in order to secure a better voice for the occasion. Or, you know, Madonna could have just danced through a bunch of Prince’s uptempo tracks while others – including, I don’t know, some of the folks Prince worked with extensively over the years – would be left to handle the heavy weight.
Let’s talk about the set list, shall we? Madonna should have been covering “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss,” or hell, even “Raspberry Beret.” Not, by any stretch, the two she opted for: “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Purple Rain.” Speaking of the former, why exactly was Madonna singing the Sinead O’Connor version of “Nothing Compares 2 U?” If you’re going to sing a Prince song, sing the Prince song the way Prince actually sang it.
And what was with that cheap added instrumentation behind the track? Prince, the legendary and extremely gifted musician, would not have been pleased with such dollar-store sounding trickery. I know the always touring Madge knows better.
Speaking of well-meaning intentions going the way of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, why was Madonna dressed more like Liberace than the Purple One? Let’s reflect more on this: Madonna, queen of the visual, dressed like Michael Douglas’ body double in Behind the Candelabra for a Prince tribute.
Not surprisingly, Stevie Wonder showed up to join Madge as she sang “Purple Rain.” Now, I’ll say that it was sweet to see two iconic figures from separate sides of the music industry pay tribute to one who served as a bridge between each of their worlds, but that doesn’t mean it sounded good. I love Stevie, but I sometimes wonder if he would show up at a church bingo if you paid him enough and offered him an extra fish plate.
In response to the overwhelming criticism about the performance across social media, Questlove, who introduced Madonna and the subsequent musical tribute, took to Twitter to defend it.
Questlove wrote: “So I know there is gonna be A LOT of ‘feel a certain ways’ about who you want to see do his music justice – but you gotta put that aside y’all. Every Prince rendition will not be a life changing orgasmic [experience]. Just to SING his work is brave enough. Again feeling are on high, and EVERYBODY wants and deserves a chance to say goodbye in their own way. But remember: there will be AMAs, SoulTrain, NAACP, mtv, GRAMMYS, and a gazillion other tributes. But the point is let’s not get ugly with playing the ‘Prince would and wouldn’t approve’ game.”
There is validity in his arguments, though I don’t think basic competency is too much to ask. I also understand that Madonna may have been overcome with emotion during the set. Nonetheless, it simply wasn’t good. It could have been so much better. It could have been more inclusive. It could have come with more appropriate song selections and costuming.
And we have every right to state such. We wish them all well, but the tribute lacked. The end.