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Rock Hall Anniversary: Madonna’s Like a Prayer and Pepsi Controversy

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Madonna speaks onstage at the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival at Barclays Center on February 5, 2014 in New York City.
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Madonna speaks onstage at the Amnesty International Concert presented by the CBGB Festival at Barclays Center on February 5, 2014 in New York City.
Photo by Theo Wargo

1989 would prove to be a critical year for Madonna.

In March of that year, she released the confessional Like a Prayer, the most acclaimed album of her career. On this album, Madonna tackled many personal issues, including her struggle with growing up Catholic (the title track), her mother’s death (“Promise to Try”), failed marriage to actor Sean Penn (“Till Death Do Us Part”), and the importance of family (“Keep it Together”). Other notable tracks include “Oh Father”, “Love Song” (co-written and produced by Prince), and “Cherish”.

Upon its release, Like a Prayer was universally praised by critics as a major artistic statement, well noted for the autobiographical songwriting and improved vocals. Commercially, the album hit number one, where it would stay for a month. The title track also topped the charts, but not before running into controversy.

Before the album’s release, Madonna signed an endorsement deal with Pepsi, and the video for the title track was soon featured in a commercial titled “Make a Wish”. It was going well until Madonna released the actual video, which was blasted as blasphemous by religious groups (most particularly for the scene of burning crosses), and a boycott of Pepsi and their subsidiaries soon followed. Madonna’s endorsement deal was eventually cancelled, but she was able to keep the five million dollars advancement. Despite the controversy, the video won a MTV Music Award for Viewer’s Choice.

The album’s title track was soon followed by other hits. “Express Yourself” and “Cherish” both hit number two (and both spawned classic videos), “Oh Father” hit the top twenty (also including a classic video), and “Keep it Together” went to number eight. Like a Prayer has sold over fifteen million copies worldwide, and remains as one of the most influential albums of all time, further making Madonna one of the most important artist of her generation.