Madonna celebrates Like A Prayer music video’s 30th anniversary and the ‘controversy’ that made it iconic
Back in 1989, the queen of pop sparked sheer outrage with the Mary Lambert-directed visuals, which saw Madonna kiss a black saint alongside images of burning crosses and stigmata. Oh, the drama.
Reflecting on the controversy with fond memories, Madonna wrote in an Instagram post: ‘30 years ago today I released Like a Prayer and made a video that caused so much controversy because I kissed a black saint and danced in front of burning crosses. I also made a commercial with PEPSI that was banned because my video was seen as inappropriate. Happy Birthday to Me and Controversy! #likeaprayer.’
Before Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball or Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, Madonna’s Like A Prayer was at the centre of one of the biggest scandals pop had seen at the time. In January 1989, two months before the video’s release, Madonna signed a staggering $5 million (£3.8 million) endorsement deal with Pepsi meaning she was deemed family-friendly enough to front one of the biggest brands in the world. However, it all came crumbling down just two months later when the full visual for Like A Prayer visuals were released. Madonna had initially teased a clip which showed her singing alongside a gospel choir, which seemed innocent enough. So it’s no surprise that Pepsi felt completely blindsided to see the pop star seducing a black saint and burning crosses.
An advert she had filmed with the soft drink brand, which featured scenes from the Like A Prayer video, did air following the controversy but Pepsi pulled the commercial after threats of a boycott. The brand quickly distanced themselves from Madge, 60, and promptly terminated the contract they’d signed just weeks before. Reacting to the controversy, Pepsi told the New York Times in 1989: ‘When you’ve got an ad that confuses people or concerns people, it just makes sense that that ad goes away.’
Naturally offended by the anti-religious imagery, the Vatican condemned the video. Still, Madonna managed to perform the song in front of the Pope in 2008. Gotta admire her tenacity. Despite the outrage, Like A Prayer spent three weeks at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and was voted MTV’s most groundbreaking music video of all time, proving the song’s weight amongst fans. When so many musicians play it safe, Like A Prayer perfectly symbolises the fearlessness that pop can and should represent.