Like a prayer - Madonna - 80sneverend - The religion of music

The religion of music

Madonna – Like a prayer

When you call my name it's like a little prayer
I'm down on my knees, I wanna take you there
In the midnight hour I can feel your power
Just like a prayer you know I'll take you there
#Madonna #LikeAPrayer

March 3, 1989 was one of those special days when, from that moment on, nothing is the same as before. In fact, on that day Madonna launched a new single, highly anticipated for various reasons, not least because three years had passed since her last album True Blue and since Papa don’t Preach, Open Your Heart and La Isla Bonita.

In recent years, however, Madonna’s life had completely changed. Her private life had been marked by the end of her marriage to Sean Penn. Furthermore, Madonna had turned thirty, the age her mother was when she died (Madonna was only five). This coincidence awoke feelings and guilt in Madonna that she evidently carried with her as if it were a divine punishment. Even from her professional point of view there had been changes, after her experiences as an actress, definitely less successful than as a singer.

In this period of great reflection, Madonna still relies on the symbolism of religion to express her feelings. And so, if several years earlier the album was called Like a Virgin, this one is called Like a Prayer, and the video of the first song makes great use of religious symbols and words to touch on delicate themes, such as violence, racial prejudice, but also mysticism, with the presence of saints and stigmata, but in reality today we know that religion with its symbolism closely accompanied Madonna’s entire career and perhaps her entire life.

She was a different Madonna, we said, and you could tell from the first scene, when she showed up with black hair for the first time. We are truly at a turning point not only for Madonna’s career, but also for the world of music.

In fact, for the first time a song was released as a commercial before even arriving in record stores and on the radio. An upheaval that is perhaps at the basis of modern communication, in which the times and boundaries between the various art forms are now non-existent. But let’s go in order, because the matter is interesting.

As part of the all-out war between Pepsi and Coke, Pepsi marketing offered Madonna a contract worth around five million dollars. With Madonna’s image and songs, Pepsi executives were certain they would reach the young people of the “Pepsi generation”, that group of teenagers they wanted to snatch away from their feared competitors. This contract also included the creation of an advertising spot which was actually made.

The commercial would have launched Madonna’s new song, Like a Prayer, for the first time. The wait, as you can imagine, was considerable and Pepsi even went so far as to prepare a teaser, a kind of advert for the commercial which would then air in the following days.

On February 22, 1989, on the evening of the Grammy Awards, the teaser for this commercial was broadcast, entitled Make a wish, focused on the wishes of a little girl celebrating her eighth birthday. After a few days, on the evening of March 2, the full commercial finally aired: the little girl celebrates her birthday and watches in admiration a video of Madonna singing and dancing in the streets and in a club (full of Pepsi signs of course).

At the end of the video, which lasts about two minutes and which can easily be seen online, Madonna addresses the little girl directly, inviting her to make a wish. A very beautiful advert, certainly motivational and also with a principle of girl power, if we want, because Madonna effectively invites the little girl to follow her own ambitions and desires.

The problem arose the following day, precisely on March 3, 1989, with the release of the album and above all with the release of the actual video for Like a Prayer, of which Pepsi was absolutely unaware. And the themes of the video are very different: Madonna, witness of a crime, takes refuge in a church where, among other things, she receives the stigmata, with the statue of an African-American saint (the victim of the crime) who comes to life and then kisses her, and with Madonna dancing first accompanied by a gospel choir, and then amidst a series of burning crosses.

The video was shot in California by Mary Lambert, who had directed other famous Madonna videos such as Like a Virgin, Material Girl and Borderline. However, Mary Lambert had not directed the innocent commercial that had been broadcast on television the night before.
The Gospel choir that sang on the song was a fairly famous choir called The Andraé Crouch Choir, and the previous year they had sung for Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror backing vocals. It must be said that in the video we see actors, because the real members of the choir did not want to appear in the video.

One thing was clear: the official video for Like a Prayer wasn’t exactly the little girl’s birthday video! All this mix of sacred and profane obviously aroused the rage not only of the Vatican, but also of many family protection associations and American consumer associations who, in response to Madonna’s provocations, decided to boycott Pepsi products. The video was also censored, obviously.

In the Pepsi offices they didn’t take it so well and decided to terminate the contract with Madonna, although in reality the contract included two more advertising videos, and above all the sponsorship of the Blond Ambition Tour by Pepsi. Incidentally, they also left the compensation to Madonna, in order to quickly end the relationship. Naturally, all these controversies dramatically increased the curiosity and attention for the video which became one of the pillars of MTV in that period (and after all Madonna had always been one of the absolute protagonists of MTV), so we can truly say that the video was an integral part of the success of this song which naturally reached the top of the charts in many countries.

In short, Like a Prayer really marked the beginning of a new phase in Madonna’s career, a more mature, deeper phase, but with even more determination in affirming her principles and beliefs, obviously at the cost of being pointed out by a moralistic public from which Madonna had always distanced herself. And it is no coincidence that Madonna, in addition to being the queen of pop, has always been a director of provocation, but a provocation in grand style!

Madonna on Wikipedia

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