Madonna and Stevie Wonder delivered a tribute to music legend Prince at the Billboard Music Awards that has won both praise and criticism. See video highlights and photos of the performance and the homage and find out more about the social media backlash.
As did Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie at the Grammy Awards, Madonna’s tribute to Prince — with an assist from another legend, Stevie Wonder — has also received mixed reactions. Not least because when paying tribute to a legendary artist who’s incomparable and who is a towering giant above others in his generation, it’s always going to fall short. Not only that it’s always going to be the performance that we wish we didn’t have to witness.
After all it was just three years ago, in 2013, that Prince was on stage accepting the much-deserved Icon Award and delivering the kind of showstopping performance that reminded us of why that award was just the very least Billboard could do to acknowledge greatness.
Questlove of The Roots –and musical director for ‘Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ — gave an introduction that began with solemnity — “All of us live in the land of music, and his departure from it was an earthquake” — and was peppered with humor at times. And from that a transition to the voice of Prince himself, his iconic “Dearly beloved we are gathered here today…” intro to “Let’s Go Crazy.”
As for Madonna, she took the homage route, performing in a purple paisley suit and even appropriating Prince’s signature cane. She sang the hit ‘Nothing Compares 2o U’ and in her singing, the heartbreak song became much more than that. It was a meditation upon the loss we’ve all experienced. While the execution was not flawless — far from it — she, as a longtime friend of Prince and sometime collaborator — notably on “Love Song” from her “Like a Prayer” album — delivered emotional gravitas.
As she was joined on stage by Stevie Wonder singing the open line of ‘Purple Rain’ and as the orchestration of the iconic song brought out the gospel inflections, and as audience members wearing glowing purple wristbands illuminated the dark arena, one had a sense of being in the public memorial service that’s not yet taken place for Prince. As the song ended, Madonna thanked Stevie Wonder and went on to say, “Most of all, thank you, Prince Rogers Nelson, for all that you have given us.”
But all that said, there are a billion opinions at the very least as to whether this was a fitting tribute to a legend whose loss we’re still collectively grieving. Social media went into overdrive, swiftly and, with characteristic brutality. While some praised it, of course, it’s those zinger memes that get shared and commented upon.
And, as E!News reports, the zinger that really went viral was BET’s Tweet (below) both an exquisitely timed promo for their own Prince tribute slated for next month’s BET Awards and voicing what many were thinking if not also Tweeting: “Yeah we saw that. Don’t worry. We Got You.”
The uproar continued and Madonna responded to the backlash on Instagram, saying in part, “Anyone who wants to do a tribute to Prince is welcome to. Whatever your age Gender or skin Color,” she tweeted. “If you loved him and he inspired you then show it!!!! I love Prince 4 ever.”
For his part, Questlove also responded to the backlash via Twitter. In part he Tweeted, “So I know there is gonna be ALOT of ‘feel a certain ways’ about who you want to see do his music justice—but you gotta put that aside yall.” Continuing, he added, “Every Prince rendition will not be a life changing orgasmic xperience. Just to SING his work is brave enough.”
It’s sure to become one of those iconic performances that will continue to divide both critics and the general public, even as the memes and gifs will live on in social media. Watch video highlights and see photos below, as Madonna and Stevie Wonder pay tribute to Prince at the Billboard Music Awards.
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) May 23, 2016
— BET (@BET) May 23, 2016
Pictures: PR Photos