- Madonna’s controversial “Like a Prayer” Pepsi commercial turns 33
- Pepsi faced significant backlash leading to the ad being pulled after one airing
- The commercial directed by Joe Pytka led to Madonna’s single reaching No. 1
Madonna’s divisive “Like a Prayer” Pepsi advertisement celebrated its 33rd anniversary recently. The commercial, which first aired on March 2, 1989, was met with considerable backlash from religious groups, leading Pepsi to pull the ad after just one airing. It was directed by Joe Pytka and played an essential role in helping Madonna’s music single reach the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.
The commercial featured an iconic scene where Madonna entered a church to pray after witnessing a crime and escaping an angry mob. The ad showcased the unreleased song “Like a Prayer” from Madonna’s then-upcoming new album. However, it drew criticism from religious communities, including the Vatican, due to the provocative combination of religious imagery, including crosses and burning churches, and the pop star’s sultry presence. The scandal ultimately led to Madonna losing her contract with the soft drink brand.
The ad was seen as a turning point in Madonna’s career, highlighting her ability to create controversy and capitalize on it for her success. Like a Prayer’s music video also sparked a cultural debate on the role of women, race, and religion in modern society. In a bold move, Madonna’s video featured her in an interracial relationship with a Black Jesus figure played by Leon Robinson and intercut scenes of a gospel choir on church steps, continuing the conversation initiated by the provocative commercial.
Despite the uproar surrounding the advertisement, Madonna maintains that her creative vision was more about spirituality than religious commentary. In a 1989 interview with The New York Times, she said, “The theme of the video is about bigotry and persecution. But the song itself is about a passionate young girl in love with God, who’s the only male figure in her life.” In context, Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” Pepsi commercial has become a significant part of her storied career and a reminder of how pop culture can wield social influence.