There was one type of Madonna before Like A Prayer, and a very different type of Madonna after. The song, arguably the most widely acclaimed in her lengthy catalogue, reset all expectations over the “Queen Of Pop”’s ability to craft the perfect hit single, and showcased a more layered approach to her music, where art and performance played across that now-trademark melodic punch.
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On this landmark song, the chorus actually plays second fiddle to a broader theatrical build across five minutes and 43 seconds of atmospheric storytelling (it has one of the longest running times across Madonna’s many hit singles), with the gorgeous gospel framework elevating it among the very best 80s songs in a demanding field. Madonna’s carefully curated showmanship, already so familiar by the single’s 3 March 1989 release date, wasn’t ignored, either – the song was trailed in a unique Pepsi TV commercial, but even that would be brushed aside by something far bolder.
Creative energy in peak flow
If the TV advert – run just once stateside in the top-rated The Cosby Show and during an episode of The Bill in the UK – created plenty of buzz (there were even teaser ads to trail the main event), Like A Prayer’s Mary Lambert-directed video caused a sensation. Pressing all the sensitive buttons of contemporary North America, sex, religion and race was whipped up into a classy piece of performance art that sits among the best 80s music videos. The burning crosses, of course, served to enflame the fuss and caused Pepsi to back out of an overarching commercial partnership. She’d need to find a new sponsor for her upcoming world tour, but that wasn’t likely to prove too much of a challenge…