Wearing an on-trend custom Gucci pantsuit embroidered with tigers and flowers, Madonna used her Woman of the Year acceptance speech at the Billboard Women in Music Awards, taped Friday, to summarize her controversial career and speak out against sexism in the music industry.
Introduced by longtime friend and fan Anderson Cooper, Madonna kicked off her speech with a biting intro, saying, "I stand before you as a doormat... oh, I mean, as a female entertainer," Billboard magazine reports.
Recalling her early years of struggle in NYC, she remembered, "People were dying of AIDS everywhere. It wasn’t safe to be gay. It wasn’t cool to be associated with the gay community... In the first year [in New York], I was held at gunpoint, raped on a rooftop with a knife digging into my throat and I had my apartment broken into and robbed so many times I stopped locking the door. In the years that followed, I lost almost every friend I had to AIDS or drugs or gunshot."
After praising female musical trailblazers Debbie Harry of Blondie, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, the 58-year-old icon called pop chameleon David Bowie her ultimate inspiration, saying his career had led her to believe there were no rules. To her dismay, she said she soon learned there were and are rules for women that do not apply to men.
"If you're a girl, you have to play the game. You're allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that's out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world. Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticized and vilified and definitely not played on the radio."
The famously regrets-free Queen of Pop shed tears while recalling the backlash she received following the release of her "Sex" book in 1992, saying she had felt utterly alone. Ending on a positive note, she encouraged the women in attendance — including fellow honorees Shania Twain, Kesha, Andra Day, Maren Morris, Halsey and Alessia Cara — to "start appreciating our own worth and each other's worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and be enlightened by."
Madonna's eye-popping pantsuit even delivered its own strong message — the writing on the back translated to, "The Greek goddess of music that brings joy."
Madonna also gave a warm shout-out to her fans, thanking them for their unwavering support. She even invited one fan, Edward Phoenix Pichardo, to be her guest at the ceremony as part of a contest to write her introduction.
The full Billboard's Women in Music ceremony — including musical performances by Fifth Harmony, Labrinth, Halsey and Andra Day — airs Monday, December 12, on Lifetime at 9 p.m. ET.