Madonna being chosen to pay tribute to Prince stirred some controversy, with a lot of stuff about whether Prince would approve, but I tend to agree with Questlove that just to sing his work is brave enough — and that it’s not necessarily helpful wandering down the road of imagining what Prince would or wouldn’t get. Besides which, is it really so off-base? Madonna was Prince’s contemporary. When Prince died, in the wake of also losing David Bowie, people Tweeted stuff like, “SOMEBODY CHECK ON MADONNA.” And they weren’t entirely kidding. Prince was a groundbreaking musician, and so was/is Madonna — I mean, she paved the way for the female artists of today, and the ways they can express themselves and their sexuality. I highly doubt Prince would have resented those parallels. Seeing Madonna up there singing it adequately but not lights-out was also sort of poignant, in that it reminds you how fragile all our old musical heroes inevitably become.
And in the end, this worked for me better than Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute. That one was less like, “Look how great David Bowie was,” than it was, “Look how great I am, doing all these Bowie songs.” By contrast, this was a purple-hued, heavy-on-imagery, light-on-spectacle performance of two iconic Prince songs, with Prince himself providing the intro via the “Dearly Beloved” piece of “Let’s Go Crazy.” It kept him the star, which is as it should be.