Madonna & Janet Jackson Pay Tribute To Michael Jackson At The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards

"Michael Jackson was a human being, but dammit, he was a king."

The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards opened up with a touching tribute by Madonna for the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. In what seemed like a semi-off-the-cuff address, Madonna delivered a speech that sought to highlight the similarities that she shared with Michael Jackson in an attempt to outline what went wrong with his life. While some felt that the speech focused too much on her (and, to be honest, I can understand why), I personally feel it was a touching tribute that was very Madonna (right down to the chastisement to the viewing audience that “we abandoned Michael Jackson” with the implication being that we are somewhat to blame for losing him) … and very well suited for MJ‘s memory. Here are a few photos of Madonna on stage delivering her tribute address:


Michael Jackson, who was not only one of the most influential forces in MTV’s history but also provided its Video Music Awards with some of its most irreverent moments, got reverential treatment Sunday as Madonna and his sister Janet provided emotional tributes — one through words, one through song. It was a tender, special moment — a rarity for the Video Music Awards. But the mood didn’t last for long, thanks in part to another onstage outburst from Kanye West. Madonna kicked off the show at Radio City Music Hall with a poignant speech about her relationship with Michael Jackson, which began when she was a youngster idolizing the then-child star, then morphed into a friendship when both were at the apex of their careers, and later, grew distant. Madonna lamented the negative publicity that dogged him in his later years. “Sometimes, we have to lose things before we can truly appreciate them,” said Madonna, dressed in black. “Yes, Michael Jackson was a human being, but yes, he was a king,” she told the celebrity-studded crowd, which included Michael’s brother Jermaine and father Joe Jackson. “Long live the king.”

Once Madonna stopped talking about her, she really let her personal feelings about Michael Jackson come to the forefront of her speech and honestly honored his memory. After the jump, watch video of Madonna delivering her address (along with a full transcript of her speech) and watch video of Janet Jackson and her troupe of dancers paying homage to MJ in their own way — in song and dance …


“Michael Jackson was born in August, 1958. so was I. Michael Jackson grew up in the suburbs of the Midwest. So did I. Michael Jackson had eight brothers and sisters. So do I. When Michael Jackson was 6 he became a superstar and was perhaps the world’s most beloved child. When I was 6 my mother died. I think he got the shorter end of the stick.

I never had a mother, but he never had a childhood. And when you never get to have something, you become obsessed by it. I spent my childhood searching for my mother figures; sometimes I was successful. But how do you recreate your childhood when you are under the magnifying glass of the world for your entire life?

There is no question that Michael Jackson was one of the greatest talents the world has ever known. … That when he sang a song at the ripe old age of 8, he could make you feel like an experienced adult was squeezing your heart with his words. … That the way he moved had the elegance of Fred Astaire and packed the punch of Muhammad Ali. … That his music had an extra layer of inexplicable magic that didn’t just make you want to dance but actually made you believe that you could fly, dare to dream, be anything that you wanted to be. Because that is what heroes do. And Michael Jackson was a hero.

He performed in soccer stadiums around the world, he sold hundreds of millions of records, he dined with prime ministers and presidents. Girls fell in love with him, boys fell in love with him, everyone wanted to dance like him, he seemed otherworldly, but he was also a human being. Like most performers, he was shy and plagued with insecurities.

I can’t say we were great friends, but in 1991 I decided I wanted to get to know him better. I asked him out to dinner: I said, ‘My treat, I’ll drive, just you and me.’ He agreed and showed up to my house without any bodyguards. We drove to the restaurant in my car. It was dark out, but he was still wearing sunglasses. I said, ‘Michael, I feel like I’m talking to a limousine, do you think you could take off those glasses so I could see your eyes?’ He paused for a moment, then he tossed the glasses out the window, looked at me with a wink and a smile and said, ‘Can you see me now, is that better?’

In that moment, I could see both his vulnerability and his charm. The rest of the dinner, I was hell-bent on getting him to eat French fries, drink wine, have dessert and say bad words, things he never seemed to allow himself to do. Later, we went back to my house to watch a movie and we sat on the couch like two kids, and somewhere in the middle of the film, his hand snuck over and held mine. It felt like he was looking for a friend more than a romance and I was happy to oblige him. And in that moment he didn’t feel like a superstar, he felt like a human being. We went out a few more times together and then for one reason or another we fell out of touch. Then, the witch hunt began and it seemed like one negative story after the other was coming out about Michael. I felt his pain. I know what it’s like to walk down the street and feel like the whole world has turned against you. I know what it’s like to feel helpless and unable to defend yourself because the roar of the lynch mob is so loud that you are convinced your voice can never be heard.

But I had a childhood, and I was allowed to make mistakes and find my own way in the world without the glare of the spotlight. When I first heard that Michael had died I was in London, days away from the opening of my tour. Michael was going to perform in the same venue as me a week later. All I could think about in that moment was that I had abandoned him. That we had abandoned him. That we had allowed this magnificent creature that once set the world on fire to somehow slip through the cracks. While he was trying to build a family and rebuild his career, we were all busy passing judgment. Most of us had turned our backs on him.

In a desperate attempt to hold onto his memory, I went on the Internet to watch old clips of him dancing and singing on TV and onstage and I thought, ‘My God, he was so unique, so original, so rare. And there will never be anyone like him again.’ He was a king. But he was also a human being and alas, we are all human beings and sometimes we have to lose things before we can truly appreciate them. I want to end this on a positive note and say that my sons, age 9 and 4, are obsessed with Michael Jackson. There’s a whole lot of crotch-grabbing and moonwalking going on in my house, and it seems like a whole new generation of kids has discovered his genius and are bringing him to life again. I hope that wherever Michael is now, he is smiling about this.

Yes, yes Michael Jackson was a human being, but dammit, he was a king. Long live the king.”

I’m not sure how it came across on TV but in the auditorium, Madonna‘s speech seemed to go on forever … again, once the focus was off her and on MJ, the tribute felt touching and appropriate.

After Madonna was finished, a whole bunch of dancers took to the stage to perform with a medley of Michael Jackson music videos including Thriller, Bad and Smooth Criminal … with the finale being Janet Jackson dancing virtually with MJ along with their music video Scream … behold:


The entire night was presented in honor of MJ‘s memory and these tributes that opened the show really tried to set the mood for the rest of the show … it’s horribly unfortunate that Kanye West‘s outrageous and selfish behavior really marred the whole show and ruined the entire night, IMHO. Still, I think true tribute was paid to Michael Jackson and I’m sure he enjoyed the spectacle wherever he is right now.

[Photo credit: Wireimage; Source, Source]

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  1. Janet gave me chills, that entire tribute gave me chills.

  2. erin

    am I the only one who thought it was in bad taste to say ‘long live the king’ in reference to someone who’s dead?

  3. Mela

    I absolutely thought Janet did a fantastic job. Ooo her voice was so edgy, right? I did have major chills watching her and I was really touched too by the honest to God excitement in Beyonce’s face when she new that Janet was coming on.

    @Erin…really it’s his legacy that will live long.

  4. meg

    Bah, Trent. I love all your coverage of the VMAs and appreciate you telling your readers what the experience was like from the perspective of someone in the audience, but I kind of wish this post didn’t end on a note about Kanye West. What Kanye did was so obviously childish, I think we should all channel our “inner Beyonces” and not give him more attention than he deserves.

    • @meg — I totally see your point … but it really does suck that the WHOLE NIGHT was ruined by Kanye. What should’ve been a thoroughly touching event was ruined … even now, I knew it as soon as it happened — Kanye’s asshole behavior became THE story of the night ;(

  5. Paranel

    How tacky. She constantly made references to herself, herself, and herself, that’s what it was all about , wasn’t it ? self centered bitch. And what’s up with that over inflated face ?

  6. jamie

    WOW! Everyone is taking Kanye West’s little childish outburst on VMA’s too seriously. GET OVER IT..IT’S DONE. taylor Swift has moved on and it HAPPENED TO HER.
    I’m sure Spencer Pratt will do something equally retarded for ATTENTION and the American Public will turn all of their hate towards that.

    Just a bunch of ADD children.

    • @jamie — I don’t know that commenting on Kanye’s asshole behavior is taking anything “too seriously”. This is a blog, we comment on what’s going on. Yes it happened but this is pretty much the talk of the day.

  7. Keishon

    Although I’m not a Madonna fan (probably the only one in the world who isn’t) I was touched by how honest she was about how everyone turned their back on MJ when he needed them. I cried yet again for the King of Pop. I think, however, that there were too many references to her own life and that someone who was connected to him could have delivered a more heartfelt tribute.

  8. jamie

    @Trent — I agree with you..it IS the talk of the day. I just hate how people are taking it PERSONALLY like it happened to them. IT – IS – NOT- THAT – SERIOUS.

    BTW, Madonna looked hella young @ the VMA’s!!! i couldn’t believe it. Whatever she’s doing..she needs to keep it up.

  9. Shelly

    Kanye definitely didn’t listen when Russell Brand said to love one another like Michael did to honor his memory.

    But back to Madonna and Michael, yes Trent the speech seemed long but I think it flowed better watching it on tv. I can imagine sitting there that it felt like it when on forever.

    It was a nice opening and I absolutely loved it when Janet came out. I felt so bad for her when she was dancing alongside her brother on the screen because he’s no longer around. They were really close and I’m glad she did this tribute. It wasn’t too low key or too outrageous. Just a fitting tribute.

  10. Frog

    See now, I thought that Madonna was right on point, comparing and contrasting herself with MJ. She was kickin it old school, middle school days when we all learned how to compare and contrast books in 3-5 pages lol.

    From my couch the speech really put things into perspective, pulling for a broader audience who already accepts and loves her in their lives…to see the parallels of how society can really alter perceptions and realities. These two individuals offer up the same talent, but are just viewed completely differently. I loved it.

  11. mika

    I think Madonna did a great job explaining the juxtaposition of her vs. him. By doing so, she’s was letting it be known how MJ didn’t have a childhood, something that’s irreplaceable. It made me look at how he probably was indeed always searching for his youth. She also let it be known how she turned his back on him when he needed someone the most.

    Be honest, just about everyone can think of a time when they joked or have been around someone who joked about MJ. He was always being judged. Being judged ourselves is something we all despise.

    It came across to me that Madonna might be going through guilt for distancing herself from him because she didn’t want to tarnish her image. See. That’s me judging, and it sucks.

    I do think that there could not have been a better person to do the tribute because Madonna is very much in MJs league IMO. I think it’s cool that you got to see, live in person, a legend giving a tribute to another legend.

  12. jo

    @Frog, I agree! I thought it was a nice way to begin a speech, and yes an homage to junior high school reports, haha. And they do share a lot of striking similarities that I never noticed in the past – namely birth month/year and # siblings. Her point in drawing those similarities was to point out that *for once* she wasn’t the victim and wasn’t the focal point – that Michael actually had it worse than her. I thought it was tasteful and interesting – we’ve already heard from his family members and the people closest to him so it was an interesting perspective to hear from Madonna. And I’m happy she didn’t stand there and try to act like they were best friends.

  13. mika

    meant to say how she turned *her* back on him. oops. ;)

  14. Justin

    Loved it. Madonna was very touching.

  15. Jennie

    i agree that watching it on tv it was fitting and didnt seem self indulgent, she came across as being sincere. And she looked amazing. Thought the dancers during the tribute were some of the best ive ever seen.

  16. meg

    @Trent– I completely understand! He definitely turned what should have been a sweet night into a very sour one! I really do appreciate the way you cover everything… Keep blogging the way you do! :D

  17. Kendra

    I thought Madonna’s speech was WAY too much about herself..Even my 13 year old picked up on that..However, by the time she was done speaking, I had tears in my eyes..I thought she ended really strong. The dancing was amazing and then Janet really opened the floodgates for me..After spending a really great weekend with my own brother and knowing how much I love him, it made me admire Janet for pulling off what she did..I STILL can’t believe he’s dead..It’s just so crazy..

  18. LOVE

    In my opinoin, Madonna did a fantastic job. Her speech was HONEST, personal and touching.

    BY the way, she looks fucking great!!!

  19. Jacinta

    While Madonna did talk about herself a lot, I never got the impression that the speech was about her. I enjoyed it personally and I’m not even a big Madonna fan.

    I loved the actual tribute though. I’ve said it before, but Janet is SO strong. I don’t know that I’d be able to power through it like she did last night, and seeing her dance with Michael was BRILLIANT.

  20. ERIKA

    THE TRIBUTE WAS GREAT

    I FIND IT FUNNY THAT J-LO WAS IN THE AUDIENCE WITH HER HUSBAND MARC ANTHONY AND HER EX-HUSBAND CRISS JUDD IS DANCING ON STAGE….I DON’T KNOW I JUST FOUND THAT TOO BE HIGHLARIOUS

  21. Jadedkitten

    Not gonna lie all I was thinking was why is she trying to make it about herself…………

  22. Jennie

    @erika me too, And Chris Judd is an amazing dancer/choreographer

  23. Lana

    The performance was beautiful. I love Janet so much. I’ve seen her live before and she put some amazing energy into that performance, it was epic.
    Madonna’s speech was beautiful as well.

  24. Robin

    I thought the tribute was incredible, but does anyone know what was up with one of the dancers in the front when they were doing the lean from Smooth Criminal? It looked like there was an issue that prevented them from doing it properly

  25. Janelle

    I’ve never seen ‘Scream’ performed. It’s one of the best songs by Michael and Janet, and I wish they could have at some point performed this together. (If they did, PLEASE let me know.) She did a spectacular job.
    Janet rocks.

  26. eightiesaddict

    Chris Judd has a lot more class than J-Lo.

    She needed to disappear for a least 5 years before returning, it feels like she never left.

  27. Juniper

    I thought Madonna did a great job presenting her own feelings about Michael and how no one really knew him. He was lost, lonely and insecure. The man who seemingly had it all in fact didn’t have the one thing that meant the most to him. I agree that we all did abandon him at one point or another, something that even though I didn’t know him personally, I have felt quilty about since his death. I was always a huge MJ fan, but over the years all of the negativity got in the way and I stopped being excited about him. I always thought it was a witch hunt and that he really was misunderstood, but how much can one person take? Addiction can affect anyone, rich or poor, famous or average, it doesn’t matter. If only someone could have gotten through to him sooner. But his life and legacy will live on, there will never be another one like him, that’s for damn sure!

  28. Lisa

    I liked Madonna’s speech. Yes, there was a lot about her, but that’s kind of how everyone reacted to his death, isn’t it? We all thought about who Michael Jackson was to us. That’s what we do as people, we relate to one another; it makes us human.

    I’ll be honest, we were confused by Janet’s performance. Was Janet singing, or was she lip syncing to Michael’s vocal track?

  29. karen

    I thought Madonna’s speech was excellent and did not go on too long.

    She spoke more honestly than anyone else I’ve heard since he died. She did not ignore the negatives or pretend that she had been continuously supportive of him, which is something I feel everyone else has done — none of the celebrities who have spoken about him seem to acknowledge that they, too, turned their back on him.

    I thought it was a beautiful speech and that the parts about her were right on target — they humanized the experience we all had of his death. And having someone who is equally (or almost equally) iconic to Michael humanize herself actually helped to humanize him, which is part of what she was trying to do. If she has a human story, and human reactions (didn’t we ALL go on the internet to watch old clips of him?), then so did he.

    I am glad she did not do the typical speech about how he influence her as a performer; she easily could have gone that route, as most others have. Her speech brought something unique and a more honest, helpful dimension. I am truly impressed by it.

  30. CHASE

    Madonna’s speech was good despite her talking about herself. A lot of the time I felt like Madonna wanted to say, “He’s the greatest artist of all time, besides me, of course.” I don’t know. It was good but she shouldn’t have talked about herself so much at the same time. And jeez, her face was scary! Botox much? She reminded me of Paris Hilton and her little “wonk” eye(s). Is there bad blood between Janet and Madonna? Oh, and Janet’s performance gave me chills… I thought her dancing was going to be a bit better, to by honest. But she killed it. Absolutely.

  31. LOVE

    Chase- way to be petty and critical

  32. Kendra

    I thought Madonna looked like the clown from the Saw movies..

  33. Devon

    Did anyone else notice that some of the dancers were some of Christina Aguilera’s regular tour dancers or am I obsessed to know that?

  34. PixiesBassline

    I don’t think Madonna talked too much of herself. I think she said everything perfectly. Kanye is a bitch.

  35. Lydia

    I’m not really a Madonna fan (although I love Bedtime Stories) and I usually think she appears to be arrogant. But I think her speech was heartfelt and gave us the opportunity to look at both her and Michael as people. I feel that not only was it a tribute to him, but also an attempt to get the public to realize that these people that we idolize and look up to are people as well and we should take into consideration and not be so quick to cause harm. I applaud her and her speech.
    Janet was AMAZING. Of course, she usually tears down the house, but to see her do it for probably the most personal reason she ever has/will, gave me chills. She rocks!

  36. Jimmy

    I thought Madonna’s speech was great….and I thought the comparisons made it more personal since she actually DID know him. Anyone remember that they went to the Oscars together. Madonna haters….give it a rest.
    Let’s hope Kanye used up the last of his popularity and just goes away, he has proven time and again that he has no class….just like when he was seated next to the Vice Pres of PETA at a fashion show and complained that there wasn’t enough fur in the show. IDIOT!

  37. rockcandy

    Madonna forgot to compare her plastic surgery with MJ’s. She is starting to look freaky. Enough with the filler and botox Madge.

  38. shirlena

    what a self-absorbed bitch.

  39. Marelle

    I couldn’t listen to her. I kept flipping channels. And, yes, she went on and on….but the musical tribute was pretty amazing and I am not one to get caught up in any of the hoop-lah. But, it really seemed like he was there. And, Janet was really great too.

  40. mimi

    RIP MICHAEL JACKSON! <3
    the tribute was very fitting and touching.
    btw did anyone notice how one of the dancers in the front messed up that legendary "fall" move during the smooth criminal number. but what can we expect. nobody could ever do it as good as mj did<3
    the scream tribute with janet was incredible and very touching!
    LONG LIVE THE KING!

  41. gemma

    Wow, great speach from madonna. It was really special

  42. Sandman

    Agree with most people here… Only Madonna could make a tribute to someone else be all about herself. It was tacky and rude.

  43. obama1fan

    the danser in da tribute killed da whole show. So stupid; how could he? How could he live with himself I hope other people noticied. Kanye-dissapointed

  44. vanessa

    I really like Madonna as an artist- but we could do without hearing all the similarities between them. Just say your piece and leave the stage (like everyone else). The speech DID seem like it went on forever watching it on t.v and that’s because she spent half of it making reference to herself.

    LOL at the person who said she looked like the clown from Saw. Laughing my ass off.

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