Lessons from Aretha from the other side

Serena Williams, making a point, or something.
Serena Williams, making a point, or something.

Has Aretha Franklin definitely left the building? No sightings at McDonald’s? OK, it’s safe to reflect on the Queen of Soul’s final gig and discuss what makes a true diva.

‘Diva’ is used today to label what can best be described as a sniffy princess. Take, for example, Serena Williams. Just to recap, she lost the US Open to Naomi Osaka (aka the first Japanese person to win a Grand Slam singles title). Williams’ behaviour was not that of a diva. She was acting like a pork chop. A muppet. She was channelling Miss Piggy. 

NICE WORK: The winner of the US Open, Naomi Osaka (front). She beat the bad-tempered person behind her.

NICE WORK: The winner of the US Open, Naomi Osaka (front). She beat the bad-tempered person behind her.

I used to respect Williams’ power game and attitude until she sniffed defeat at the Open and got all crazy abusive. At one point she bizarrely pulled out the ‘mum card’ to claim, I think, the moral high ground. She also demanded that the umpire apologise. The only one owed an apology (from Serena) is Osaka, whose historic victory was buried in an ugly pile of abuse. Actually, Williams owes me an apology. She robbed me, and millions of others, of the chance to see an amazing female player bask in the joy and glory of her astounding achievement.

Williams grandly said afterwards that she would continue to fight for women. Call me hysterical, but I don’t think her spray was about the greater good, or the sisterhood. It was about Serena. Of course there are double standards, but I don’t buy it was about that either. I would have had more respect for Williams if she had owned her bad behaviour instead of wrapping it in a cloak of worthiness.

On the other hand, there’s the deluxe diva, Aretha Franklin. Her Detroit funeral was a four-day festival, which she orchestrated from the other side. For crying out loud, the woman had two dress changes while lying in state. We only saw her ankles at the foot of the open casket, but her shoes were Christian Louboutins.   

Thanks to a life of artistry, strength, intelligence and hard work, Aretha’s influence was massive. Her songs and words are forever woven into the history of the civil rights movement, US politics in general and feminism. She was powerful. She was influential. She demanded, and was given, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And she kept it classy.

Game, set and match to Ms Franklin and, of course, Naomi Osaka.

deborah.richards@fairfaxmedia.com.au