“Yeah we saw that. Don’t worry. We got you.”
This is the caption from BET’s Prince tribute promo, which started circulating on Twitter shortly after Madonna’s Billboard Awards tribute to the late star. While many entertainment news outlets have reported that reviews of Madge’s performance were mixed, it’s clear that BET was not pleased and feels strongly they can do better.
BET has done it once before. During 2010’s BET Awards, Prince Rogers Nelson received the Lifetime Achievement Award. That tribute included memorable performances from Esperanza Spalding, Alicia Keys, Janelle Monae, and the legendary Patti Labelle. That performance was full of life, energy, and verve. The same can’t be said for Madonna’s performance last night.
All of the hype about her highly anticipated tribute was really much ado about nothing. After a touching intro from Questlove, the opening moments of “Let’s Go Crazy” blasted through the arena. For a moment, I was truly excited about what I was about to witness. The stage lights shined on a glittery throne. Madonna sat with her back to the audience and her hand resting atop a luxurious cane. After the throne slowly turned to reveal Madonna to the audience (clad in a Purple Rain-inspired suit complete with a frilly woven shirt), she howled her way through a rendition of the Prince-penned Sinead O’Connor single “Nothing Compares 2 U”. She then launched into an abridged version of “Purple Rain”. She was joined onstage by Stevie Wonder for the second half of the song. As her tribute concluded, the audience joined in on the inevitable “Purple Rain” singalong.
"The Billboard Music Awards had a considerably larger amount of time to craft something spectacular. But it seems they invested the majority of their time and money into Madonna’s outfit and her throne."
One thing is clear: the Billboard Music Awards were probably already close to finishing production at the time of Prince’s death. This tribute was the best they could do with the limited time show producers had to churn something out. If we recall, the Grammys pulled a similar half-baked tribute stunt in honor of Whitney Houston back in 2012. Jennifer Hudson admirably belted out “I Will Always Love You” while standing in front of a bare, dark stage. However, the Grammys production team had a lot less time to put something together. The Billboard Music Awards had a considerably larger amount of time to craft something spectacular. Prince passed on April 21, which means they had approximately 1 month to flesh out some strong ideas. But it seems they invested the majority of their time and money into Madonna’s outfit and her throne.
It’s not that I don’t like Madonna. I’m actually a HUGE fan. Unlike many diehards, I’m very fond of her late-career turn into electronica and house. I love her when she’s in her element. She’s a performer for the ages who has undoubtedly helped shape the pop landscape. Without her, we’d have no Britney or Beyoncé. But that being said, Madonna has built a legacy as a performer-not as a vocalist. Prince was known for his incredible vocal range, and much of his catalog is notoriously difficult to sing.
"Madonna’s tribute wasn’t bad just because it lacked life and thought. She simply didn’t have the chops to recreate the magic of two vocally complex songs."
Madonna’s tribute wasn’t bad just because it lacked life and thought. She simply didn’t have the chops to recreate the magic of two vocally complex songs. Both compositions demanded a lot of her. We demanded a lot of her. And she didn’t deliver. Though I fear Lady Gaga may soon become a tribute special staple, I can’t help but imagine what she would have accomplished had she been given the spotlight here. Despite the criticism of her David Bowie Grammy tribute for its inclusion of too many songs, it was truly magical. A spectacle. A joy to behold. An extremely fitting tribute. After seeing her dazzle and embody the spirit of Bowie, she raised the bar for what we expect. Perhaps she’s raised the bar so high, not even industry veterans can reach it.
I’m looking forward to what the team at BET can accomplish with a new Prince tribute. The network has delivered before, and I have no doubt they’ll do it again. After throwing some tremendous public shade via Twitter, they have no choice.