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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Madonna's VMA outfit: appropriation of the Berber culture? 

It doesn't help that the haphazard way that she put the outfit together made it look more like fancy dress than anything else

Madonna at the New York MTV VMAs - homage or appropriation of the Berber culture? 
Madonna at the New York MTV VMAs - homage or appropriation of the Berber culture? 

Madonna seems to be up to her old tricks again. Never shy of courting controversy, the 60-year-old singer turned up to the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) – bizarrely – wearing traditional Berber clothes. (A look she has since defended, saying in Instagram posting, "I love my dress!"

epa06961509 US singer-songwriter Madonna poses in the press room at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York, New York, USA, 20 August 2018. EPA/JASON SZENES
Photo / EPA
Traditional Berber dress. Nawzad Shekhany.
Traditional Berber dress. Nawzad Shekhany.

Now, this is a strange choice of garb for anyone who isn’t a Berber. Quite why she decided on this outfit is mystifying.

We know she recently celebrated her birthday in Marrakech, and obviously took to the souqs for a spot of shopping. Last night she wore a traditional black wool dress, multiple coin necklaces and a headband adorned with metal protrusions.

A post shared by Madonna (@madonna) on

This is the cultural heritage of the Berber, or Amazigh people, a distinct ethnic group found across vast swaths of Morocco, Algeria, northern Mali, Niger, Tunisia and even Egypt, dating back almost 2,000 years. Today, an estimated 25 million people still speak the Berber language, and identify themselves as Berber first and Arab second.

A Berber woman in traditional dress. Angela Fisher
A Berber woman in traditional dress. Angela Fisher

While some may find it flattering that the star chose to shine a spotlight on a foreign culture, by donning this outfit, Madonna also opened herself up to severe accusations of cultural appropriation. It doesn't help that the haphazard way that she put the outfit together made it look more like fancy dress than anything else.

Madonna poses in the press room at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on August 20, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
Photo / AFP
Traditional Berber dress. Angela Fisher
Traditional Berber dress. Angela Fisher

She also took to the stage to pay heartfelt tribute to the late, great Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Except, being Madonna, she did no such thing.

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Instead of celebrating Franklin – a woman whose voice and personal conviction set the scene for much of the fight for racial equality in America – Madonna instead set off on a rambling speech about herself and her journey to fame, mentioning the late soul singer only fleetingly. Predictably, the Twittersphere lambasted both her and the VMAs for being disrespectful.

Madonna in Morocco:

A post shared by Madonna (@madonna) on

Of course, this is just Madonna being true to form. The VMAs is where she first made a name for herself in 1984, when she sang Like a Virgin while writhing around on the floor, making herself and the awards famous overnight because they were both perceived as pushing boundaries. Back then, Madonna seemed obsessed with offending polite sensibilities. Last night, while casting herself as the star of the evening, she just seemed hopelessly out of touch.

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